Posted by fxckfeelings on June 25, 2015Share This Post
Taking on responsibility is like drinking fine wine; the right amount will make you feel pleasant and, as of the latest study, improve your health, but the wrong amount will either leave you flat or flat on your face. Unfortunately, how much responsibility we decline or assume is too often a matter of thoughtless emotion and habit rather than reasoned consideration. So develop your own procedures for examining the responsibility that you should really claim. Your result will always reflect your best efforts if you drink/choose responsibilities, well, responsibly.
My girlfriend is very nice to her father, who doesn’t like to let her out of his sight during her visits (which are every weekend, rain or shine). He’s always had weird mood swings though, going unpredictably from doting to totally paranoid, so she does her best never to rock his boat. I thought she’d be happy when I offered to come along—given that the visits take up most of her weekends, going with her would make it easier for us to see each other—and initially, she was excited for me to join her. As his mood started to change during that first visit, however, she became very controlling and nasty with me. She said she wanted to protect me and also make sure I didn’t upset him, but she was just plain rude, and I felt she needed to know how abusive she’d become, which then triggered a big fight. My goal is to see her father get some help, because if he can work out his issues, maybe she will have no reason to become so unpleasant.
It’s not unusual for people who bend over backwards with kindness to snap into rage; bend anything too far and it’s bound to snap eventually. Unfortunately, the person who gets snapped at isn’t always the person who was doing the pushing in the first place.
These types knock themselves out to be unselfish and meet the needs of others, but instead of getting thanks and cooperation, they get obstruction, demands and criticism, which, understandably, can make them a bit testy. Then they feel guilty for their nasty words, and have to try even harder to do the backwards-bending Pilates. If they didn’t snap, they end up twisted into a human Cinnabon.
It’s understandable that you’d think that healing your girlfriend’s father’s mental health problems would make her feel less overcommitted and overwhelmed. But if you thought your girlfriend was stressed when she just felt responsible for making her father happy, imagine how twisted up she’ll get when you’ve made her responsible for making her father sane, especially given how impossible that task will be.
Your primary obligation is to protect yourself and, if possible, your girlfriend, from demands that you don’t think are necessary. If your girlfriend’s father is impossible or you think your presence is negative, your job is to exit. It’s also to make sure the exit isn’t blocked by heavy furniture, a lack of transportation or an obligation to stick around until the next babysitter comes.
Once you’ve limited your responsibility to what you think is right and necessary, given how impossible he is and shall always be, spell out the responsibilities you need your girlfriend to take in your relationship. If she spends too much time caring for daddy dearest, there won’t be enough time for the two of you, and both of you will suffer.
While you’re entitled to feel resentment or criticism, keep that to yourself and instead spell out your differences in a positive way. Tell her you admire her commitment to her dad but you think he would do just as well with less care and delegate certain tasks to others. If she acts according to what she thinks is necessary rather than reacting to her father’s feelings, she can find enough time for the relationship you both want.
Avoid extending her responsibilities further and stretching her into knots. Instead, persuade her to limit those responsibilities and build her life by listening to her conscience. Then, instead of snapping, she can let her own priorities snap into place.
“I can’t see my girlfriend fussing over her needy father without feeling as if I’ve lost her, but I will support her in providing whatever care for him is necessary, while challenging her to give herself what she needs for a life of her own.”
My wife says my being disorganized and distracted drives her crazy and probably makes it harder for me to get anything done, and she’s constantly on my ass about all the home improvement projects that I haven’t finished and the bills I sometimes forget to pay and the way I put off telling her important news, as if I’m doing any of this on purpose. Besides, I told her back when we started dating that I’m ADD, so she knew what she was getting into. My goal is to get her to acknowledge that I warned her, she knew what she was getting, and she needs to accept me and get off my back.
You’re right about the powerful influence ADD can have on your ability to finish tasks and keep up with important obligations, and it’s important for you and your wife to accept that your problems are real. What your response doesn’t make clear, however, is your own standards for managing these problems. Having ADD and surrendering to it are not the same thing.
Remember, ADD often makes kids over-reactive to the expectations of others—they’re always catching criticism for not doing homework or chores, and it bothers them—so they get stubborn and do less while dismissing and avoiding their responsibilities. It’s human nature, and it can get carried into adulthood, as well.
So don’t do your bills to please your wife, your mother, or your frustrated fifth grade math teacher. If you think too much about what others expect of you and your resentment for never meeting their expectations, your anger will motivate you to do less, not more.
Remember, just because you have ADD doesn’t protect you from the consequences of not paying bills on time or annoying your wife, so it’s your job to figure out what’s important and develop methods for doing whatever you think is necessary. For instance, you can develop a system for piling bills on a certain space on your desk and then reward yourself for clearing that pile at the same time of the day on a certain day of the week. You can also set a phone alarm that will remind you of that task.
List the tasks that your wife believes are important and decide for yourself whether you agree. If you think it’s part of doing your share and caring for your own responsibilities, then own it. If it isn’t, then find a polite way of telling your wife that it’s something she’d be better suited to handle.
Then find a book on organizing your life or get a coach and develop methods for protecting yourself from dropping balls or losing projects that you believe are important. As long as you’re doing it for yourself, and not to please others, you’ll find good motivation. You’ll also find, incidentally, that others are happier with your work. The more you’re willing to accept and work with your ADD, the more others will, too.
“I hate it when my wife makes me feel like a fuck-up, but I know my fucked-up attention span can interfere with jobs that are important to me. I will define what tasks are important, regardless of who’s nagging me, and will find ways to get them done, even if it takes extra effort.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname