How to deal with a distractible partner

Some individuals complain that their partner is unfocused, remiss about simple tasks, forgets or consistently fails to follow through on requests, is disorganized, regularly loses basic items, can’t concentrate, is easily distracted and seems to not listen when spoken to directly. This conduct is agitating and frustrating to the partner who wishes these behaviors would change.

Mates of distractible individuals describe themselves as acting like parents in their relationship. They feel overburdened with extra chores, having to supervise, advise, and even reprimand their loved one’s conduct. They tend to become very frustrated, critical, ascribe labels and even threaten their disorganized counterpart.

The distractible individual often justifies the distractibility as a reaction to excessive demands, pressure, having a bright mind that concentrates on important matters while ignoring inconsequential ones and reports feeling needlessly prodded by a controlling spouse.

Life for both mates gets harder with time. Some seek to obtain a medical diagnosis that may lead to treatment of their disorganized, “immature” “irresponsible” and “impossible to live with” spouse.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists several conditions that may be associated with some of the above symptoms, such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), some forms or traits of autism, and more. Although it is wise to rule out a possible neurological disorder and seek appropriate treatment, the behavior may not be a result of any definable disorder. In either case, it is wise for the partner to re-align his/her view of the mate in more positive terms.

The distracted individual does not benefit from titles as stated by Richard W. Smelter, Principal of Manteno Elementary School, Illinois and his staff. In their article “Is attention deficit disorder becoming a desired diagnosis?” the authors state that the use of the terms “disorders”, “afflictions,” “dysfunctions,” and “shared responsibility” evoke sympathy and allow the individual to “seek to escape from societal censure by claiming the role of victim”.

To avoid this dynamic, accept that your distractible partner is different from you in these traits as in many others. Though this variance can be very annoying, it is more agitating when you ascribe belittling terms to it. Labeling it is ‘childish’ and ‘irresponsible’, creates a distinction in maturity between you and your mate. Labeling these behaviors as common for an “absent minded professor”, a brilliant individual whose small tasks elude him/her, may help you feel more forgiving and kindly toward your partner and help you more readily tolerate these habits.
Mates of distractible individuals describe themselves as acting like parents in their relationship. They feel overburdened with extra chores, having to supervise, advise, and even reprimand their loved one’s conduct. They tend to become very frustrated, critical, ascribe labels and even threaten their disorganized counterpart.

The distractible individual often justifies the distractibility as a reaction to excessive demands, pressure, having a bright mind that concentrates on important matters while ignoring inconsequential ones and reports feeling needlessly prodded by a controlling spouse.

Life for both mates gets harder with time. Some seek to obtain a medical diagnosis that may lead to treatment of their disorganized, “immature” “irresponsible” and “impossible to live with” spouse.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists several conditions that may be associated with some of the above symptoms, such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), some forms or traits of autism, and more. Although it is wise to rule out a possible neurological disorder and seek appropriate treatment, the behavior may not be a result of any definable disorder. In either case, it is wise for the partner to re-align his/her view of the mate in more positive terms.

The distracted individual does not benefit from titles as stated by Richard W. Smelter, Principal of Manteno Elementary School, Illinois and his staff. In their article “Is attention deficit disorder becoming a desired diagnosis?” the authors state that the use of the terms “disorders”, “afflictions,” “dysfunctions,” and “shared responsibility” evoke sympathy and allow the individual to “seek to escape from societal censure by claiming the role of victim”.

To avoid this dynamic, accept that your distractible partner is different from you in these traits as in many others. Though this variance can be very annoying, it is more agitating when you ascribe belittling terms to it. Labeling it is ‘childish’ and ‘irresponsible’, creates a distinction in maturity between you and your mate. Labeling these behaviors as common for an “absent minded professor”, a brilliant individual whose small tasks elude him/her, may help you feel more forgiving and kindly toward your partner and help you more readily tolerate these habits.

A common conclusion, born out of frustration is that the distractible partner is behaving this way because he/she does not care about you. This is incorrect and is very destructive to your relationship.

A more practical and loving approach is to discuss with your distractible mate ways in which he/she can feel facilitated in sharing the tasks so each of you can feel better about yourself and each other.

• Remember, your mate’s hyperactivity is not intended to annoy you, punish or defy you-nor does it reflect your partner’s love for you.
• Avoid becoming frustrated by viewing this behavior as volitional. Your mate can no more be focused, than you can become distracted and neither behavior makes you more or less precious.
• View distractibility as a disability, whether or not it is diagnosed as such. You would not insist that a wheelchair bound person could walk, if he/she only chose to do so.
• Learn to compensate for what your partner misses. If you don’t define it as a weakness or immaturity, it will be easier for you to lovingly fill in.
• Recognize that being scattered is painful to your mate and causes him/her ongoing anxiety. Help your partner relax, and calm down to reduce agitation and increase productivity.
• Shakespeare’s Hamlet taught us “nothing is good or bad – but thinking makes it so.”

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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