Life with a partner that struggles with concentration issues has been likened to living inside a tornado while being blind. At times you’re in the eye of the storm and everything seems to be calm and quiet. At other times you’re suddenly caught up in a disorienting whirlwind and being buffeted with debris! Your blindness prevents you from seeing the cause of the disruptions and leaves you stressed from an inability to react appropriately. What makes life especially difficult is when those you should depend on for support - abandon or condemn you because of all the turmoil in your life. They don’t seem to realize that you didn’t create this storm! Impossible to prepare! Life with a partner who exhibits these traits is something few partners are ever prepared for. While no partner in a relationship comes with a written set of instructions, at least most partnerships have some guidelines or role models they can emulate which results in a sense of “normalcy” when applied consistently. There is some sense of cause and effect when a concentration struggle is not part of a relationship. Alternatively it’s almost impossible to prepare for a relationship with a person who has this struggle. They often seem to lack common sense and their behavior is willful, unpredictable and frankly overwhelming. If they came with a set of instructions the words would be jumbled or appear to be written in a foreign language! Ignorance + Inconsistency = Emotionally Overdrawn The lack of preparation for the unique challenges and the inconsistent thoughts, behavior and moods associated with those distractions can leave a person confused, exhausted and emotionally overdrawn. Partners who don’t face this difficulty will relate how their partner’s behavior just “doesn’t make sense.” Well meaning partners will describe battle after battle over seemingly simple and reasonable tasks. How is it that their partner just can’t act “normal”? No Previous Experience! Partnering with a person who has concentration issues is like taking on a new job where a there is little or no on the job with experience. Most partners who do not understand this struggle have never lived with a person who experiences it. The same can be said for their family and friends who should be the greatest source of support when problems arise. Sadly that is often not the case. Few if any books contain the unique knowledge necessary to be in, or support, a successful relationship with a partner that has difficulty focusing like this. The “job” of being in a relationship with this person is unlike any other job. It will last a lifetime and can be the most challenging as well as rewarding. A person can have ideas about how to interact with partner that is struggling and think there is a “right way” to handle upsets. The reality is the experience of being someone who doesn’t struggle in this way is unlike anything a person has ever done before. You don’t get paid for it, it’s full time, and there really aren’t any vacations! In all too many cases, the reality of this even being an issue is not considered until the relationship is at its highest risk of failing. Family members often criticize or disappear when support is needed most! In life it is far easier to criticize than to create. It’s easy for the critic to look at a painting and say all that is wrong with it. The artist on the other hands knows that in order to create a truly beautiful painting requires significant skill, training and time. The same is true of family and friends who should provide vital support during the turmoil that is often a component of these relationships. Well meaning family members often criticize both the partner who is struggling (for their bad behavior) as well as the partner who is not, for being ineffective. This criticism only creates more tension and stress between the two partners in the relationship. Often coming from family, teachers, and peers, they create negative messages to the already overwhelmed partners. Those messages often sound like “if they would just work and try harder everything would turn out fine”. When things don’t turn out fine those same critics often choose sides in the partnership or simply slip away because the situation appears to be unfixable. When help is needed the most the troubled relationship is often without support. How do you provide support for a relationship that involves concentration difficulties? Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on conformity especially when it comes to what a relationship should look like. A relationship that involves these battles is simply not the average partnership and will require different approaches and support from the outside in order to be successful. Much of the criticism of friends and family regarding these relationships comes as a result of trying to compare the relationship to the vision of what a “normal” relationship looks like. When the comparing stops, and a real effort is made to accept BOTH partners in this relationship, everyone involved will be one step closer to providing the support that can yield real results. Here are the top 8 ways friends and family can support the partners in this unique relationship: 1. Don’t choose sides – supporting both partners in these relationships is vital. Never choose sides! Choosing one partner over the other elevates confusion and can add stress to an already stressful situation. If you want to see the relationship survive support both partners equally. 2. Get educated on struggles with concentration – learning as much as you can about it will dramatically improve your ability to support these relationships. One thing you will learn is that a person that faces these difficulties can look at the same situation their partner is viewing and interpret it in a completely different way. This can be maddening if you’re expecting a “normal” interpretation. By understanding this dynamic there can be empathy instead of confusion. 3. Stay connected – if you’re a family member or a friend of someone in this type of relationship it is easy to get overwhelmed with the frequent upsets. There can be a tendency to withdraw or completely disconnect from one or both of the partners. While you may not want to be immersed in the relationship it is important to stay connected and provide support in any way you’re comfortable. Your support and connectedness will provide much needed stability. 4. Be understanding – learn to give these partners that feel stuck the benefit of the doubt. It’s common to have unmet expectations when dealing with couples like this. Things won’t go as planned, they might frequently be late and mood swings can be quite dramatic. Be understanding and supportive. Changing your expectations is the result of truly understanding the unique dynamics of the relationship. 5. Attend their support group – support groups are in abundance for couples in this situation but many times only one partner will attend (the other may not think they need it). It’s no fun going alone and an offer from a close friend or family member to accompany them may be the best support. You will also be amazed at how much you’ll learn hearing what others have to say about their similar experience. 6. Listen more and give advice less – in order to support one or both partners it is vital that you develop the skill of really listening when they come to you to talk. They are probably getting advice from way too many people. Simply listening intently can be soothing and extremely supportive. Many times just allowing them to talk about an issue will help them take the next step forward. 7. Emphasize the positives – it was noted that it’s far easier to criticize than to create. With positivity comes creation. Look for the good in the relationship and do all that you can to support a positive change. Criticizing is easy and anyone can tell the couple all that appears to be wrong with their interactions. Focusing on what is good and sharing those observations can be more difficult but far more productive. 8. DON’T COMPARE – this relationship is totally unique! The biggest mistake people outside of these relationships make is expecting any similarity to the “normal” relationship. Treat the couple as a totally unique relationship. Comparing only adds stress and frustration to an already turbulent interaction.
A relationship that involves such difficulties can benefit greatly from the support, love and understanding of friends and family. Providing support requires a unique perspective of the forces that are at work within the couple’s daily interactions. Removing preconceived notions of what a “normal relationship” should look like is often the first step required for providing support. Adding some of the other steps listed above may offer a breath of fresh air for a partnership that may be struggling.