2018, November

Our Sensitive Couple

In the early days of our couple, I would have compared my overall sensitivity to that of rubber. This particular material is solid, yet not obvious like stone. Thick skinned might paint a clearer picture.

My husband, on the other hand, was completely the opposite, especially in response to my communications. Growing up a quiet, suppressed child, it was only a matter of time before I broke out of that cage and practiced speaking my mind. I’ll admit the pendulum had swung too far in the opposite direction and when I met Thomas it was still in the process of swinging back down to a sensible level.

For years, I examined our fights and discovered the sequence of events leading up to the tipping of the apple cart. Thomas would do something objectionable, in my opinion, motivating me to immediately communicate my dissatisfaction. Because isn’t communication a healthy practice in relationships? Some may have labeled it nagging, but from where I stood, the intention was to prevent future repeat offenses. Looking back, I can see how it may have landed for him as being parented by his partner.

After doing the work to uncover my femininity from the rubber coating, I was able to witness my negative habitual communication patterns and practice zipping my lips. Unfortunately, Thomas continued to react as if I were delivering a debilitating verbal lashing. How could this be? I had softened in my approach and only spoke what was truly necessary in moments of disagreement. It was as if he was still stuck hearing me based on our past exchanges.

The educated female coach that I am tried to explain this phenomenon to him and it only resulted in him feeling blamed. In my defense, my desire was to eliminate his over-the-top reactions anytime I expressed even a minor moment of dissatisfaction to him. Surely, if he was aware of the intensity, he could practice toning down his expressions. At some point, I started to call them emotional shit shows. Even when I was at my calmest and committed to having a rational discussion, he would go off the deep end. Widened eyes, increased energy, misplaced defensiveness … that all lead to yelling. No amount of research helped me figure this one out and I could not believe my man was bi-polar.

It wasn’t until early this year, after discovering the work of William Dodson, M.D., when I caught the break I was looking for. He introduced rejection sensitive dysphoria to the ADHD community. RSD is “an extreme emotional sensitivity and emotional pain triggered by the perception – not necessarily the reality – that a person has been rejected, teased, or criticized by important people in their life. RSD may also be triggered by a sense of failure, or falling short – failing to meet either their own high standards or others’ expectations.” Bingo! (Here is Dr. Dodson’s article about it in ADDitude Magazine.)

With this new information to explain his behavior, I have space to witness my own level of intense reaction to his activation. What’s that about? The inquiry is still in motion with a few theories about where the healing can happen within me. Oftentimes, with ADHD, the solution to the “problem” is medication. My intention with this particular speed bump is to be such that I can gracefully dance with his RSD when it arises, as well as be adept with the triggers.

Stay tuned as I report on our progress!

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