ADD/ADHD Men and a Lack of Impulse Control

I Can Resist Anything but Temptation – ADD/ADHD Men and a Lack of Impulse Control

Is your garage full of thousands of dollars’ worth of useless products that your ADD/ADHD husband bought while watching late-night infomercials? Have you had to extricate yourself from one too many time-share purchases he locked you into when you briefly turned your attention to one of his other fires that you have to put out? Do you cringe every time your husband walks out of the house and heads to the mall, wondering what strange purchases will accompany your husband when he returns home?

If any of these situations brings up a knowing sense of dread, then you are already familiar with another challenge faced by the wives of ADD/ADHD husbands: Lack of impulse control.

To be sure, your husband’s constant need for something new and exciting to focus on may not always extend to needlessly spending your hard-earned cash. The lack of impulse control exhibited by ADD/ADHD men extends to a number of areas, including how they act at work, with friends, and in social situations. However, many wives fear their husband’s lack of control in the financial realm more than anything else, because it leaves them feeling particularly vulnerable, because once the money is gone, it’s really gone.

Repeatedly, wives of ADD/ADHD men describe their personal horror stories related to their husband’s lack of impulse control, particularly in the financial realm.

“One day, my dear husband decided we needed a Grand Piano, “ recalled Ann Marie R., a physical therapist from Red Bank, New Jersey. “I have no idea where the idea from, but believe me, he had it all figured out. He was going to borrow half of the money from the bank, based on my parents co-signing the loan, and the rest was going to go on the credit card. Thank G-d I was able to talk him out of it – this time. This is the kind of thing I have to deal with constantly!”

Marla W., who owns a consignment shop in Windsor, Ontario, didn’t get off so easy. Her ADD/ADHD husband wound up buying a $35,000 minivan that turned out to be a complete lemon.

Others report even more harrowing experiences due to their husband’s lack of impulse control. Lori N., a Physician’s Assistant in Austin, Texas, tearfully recalled how her husband bought a three-bedroom house on an Island – sight unseen. Getting out of the deal cost them thousands of dollars in legal fees.

And perhaps most heartbreakingly, Cheryl W., a homemaker living outside of Chicago, Illinois, woke up one day to discover that her husband had, on the “advice” of a salesman, purchased a Laundromat. They lost more than $200,000 in the venture, which ultimately when out of business.

Beyond the anxiety and the aggravation that comes from watching their ADD/ADHD husbands careen through life, many wives are at a loss to explain why their husbands cannot simply control themselves.

“It’s one thing to have to pick up his dirty clothes all the time,” said Cindy A., who has been married to her ADD/ADHD husband for seven years. “I get it. He can’t stop himself from dropping his socks.

“But how does this translate into spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on stuff we don’t need?”

Lack of Impulse Control or Poor Decision-Making Strategies?

When it comes to ADD/ADHD, some research appears to support the notion that the lack of impulse control is actually linked to faulty problem-solving abilities. In other words, rather than giving into their impulses (which may in fact be the case), ADD/ADHD men fail to take their brains through the normal problem-solving steps that other people use as a matter of course. This, in turn leads them to give up too early in the process, and the result winds up looking like a lack of impulse control.

A study tacking this subject by Susan Young, PhD., a clinical psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, was published in an addition of Neuropsychology. The study called for participants to solve a series of on-screen puzzles at varying levels of difficulty, requiring an increasing number of moves on the part of the participants. One of the components tracked by Dr. Young and her team included planning time between the appearance of the puzzle and a participant’s first move.

As the puzzles became more difficult, participants with ADD/ADHD failed to allocate additional time to planning. Instead, they plowed through the puzzle at the same pace they used for the easier puzzles. Predictably, their success rate declined as compared to a control group.

According to Dr. Young, the ADD/ADHD group favored speed over accuracy, resulting in what she termed ineffective, haphazard strategies.”

Making a big purchase is essentially a complex problem-solving exercise. Someone willing to put down thousands of dollars on a business venture without properly reviewing the different facets of the deal is likely to be skipping a series of important decision-making steps. The need to have resolution to the problem has overwhelmed logic – a classic ADD/ADHD challenge.

While it is unwise to draw definitive conclusions from one study, the results of Dr. Young’s research may offer some hope to wives who wish to help their ADD/ADHD husbands conquer their lack of impulse control. Instead of trying to constrain her husband’s spending habits, for example, a wife may achieve better results but working with her husband to improve her husband’s decision making process. This helps tackle the problem closer to the source, rather than after it has already expressed itself in behavior.

In other words, once a husband changes the way he solves problems, the problem of impulse control is less likely to wreak havoc on a marriage.

One Approach to Improving Decision-Making Strategies – Help Him Color Code His Thoughts!

One way to wives can help their ADD/ADHD husbands gain a bit more control over their impulsive behavior is to color-code the decision-making process. The brain-child of Maltese physician, author, inventor and consultant, this strategy is known as “six-hat thinking,” which he described in his book, Six Thinking Hats.

When it comes to ADD/ADHD men, one of the benefits of this system is that it includes a built-in method of changing perspectives. Thus, instead of skipping the uncomfortable process of linear decision-making, adults with ADD/ADHD can purposely shift focus.

In brief, the technique assigns a color to six distinct methods of processing information:

White Hat: This style of thinking centers in on the information available at the moment. This is the opportunity for your husband to quickly gain a sense of costs, stated benefits, and other relevant facts and figures. It also offers a chance to become mindful of gaps in the information that need to be filled in.

Red Hat: The color of emotion, red-hat thinking draws on emotion, gut reaction, and intuition with regard to a proposed course of action. This is a chance to factor in other people’s reactions to a decision as well, which may already put a break on following through.

Black Hat: Like the bad guys in the cowboy movies, black-hat thinking focuses on the negative and bad points of going with a certain decision. For ADD/ADHD men who are also mis-matchers, this offers of chance to be their own personal devil’s advocate.

Yellow Hat: On the other end of the spectrum, yellow-hat thinking focuses on the upside of the decision. It allows your husband to dream the dream, but since he will be changing focus momentarily, you do not have to worry that he will get locked in this state of mind with regard to the decision being considered.

Green Hat: Green means go, and in this case, it stands for creative thinking. Green-hat thinking focuses on other ways to solve a problem. This also fits well with the ADD/ADHD mindset, because it allows for free-thinking without limits.

Blue Hat: Blue hat-thinking creates an overall process to this decision tree. If your husband can agree to the process of going through the steps any time he faces a major spending decision, then he is successfully employing blue-hat thinking.

The beauty of six-hat thinking is that it can be easily incorporated into your husband’s routine. For example, any time he goes shopping, he can carry six color-coded cards and allow himself to flip through each card – at whatever speed he wishes – prior to making a final decision. The shift in focus may be sufficient to overrule the momentary desire to act on the buying impulse (or other impulses as well).

It can also be easily incorporated into your ongoing communication habits. Instead of nagging or expressing concern, you and your husband can agree beforehand to simply do the six-hat dance. This will put a more enjoyable face on the issue and reduce tension all around.

The Sachs Center is New York City’s premier center for the evaluation and treatment of ADD/ADHD in children, teens and adults.  We believe in holistic full-service approach that includes therapy, testing, medication, nutritional and organizational coaching.