215: ADHD and Couples with Anita Robertson

Welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch! This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

In this episode, we’re talking ADHD and couples with Anita Robertson. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots, and watch it on YouTube – follow and leave a 5-star review.

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The Couples Therapist Couch 215: ADHD and Couples with Anita Robertson

Learn more about the Couples Therapy 101 course: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/

Learn more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new

In this episode, Shane talks with Anita Robertson about ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and couples. Anita is an ADHD & Relationship Therapist and the Author of ADHD & Us: A Couple’s Guide to Loving and Living with Adult ADHD. Hear how ADHD impacts couples signs of ADHD, how to approach therapy with clients who have ADHD, some games she brings into sessions, and the importance of getting support.

This episode covers everything from ADHD to couple therapy. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • Do Anita's clients know one of them has ADHD?
  • What is neurodivergence?
  • Do people discover their ADHD by reading Anita's book?
  • What are the signs of ADHD?
  • How do you give partners a voice?
  • What games does Anita have clients play in therapy sessions?
  • How important is it for clients with ADHD to get additional treatment outside of therapy?
  • Should clients listen to podcasts if they have ADHD?

To learn more about Anita, visit AnitaRobertson.com

Check out Anita’s book, ADHD & Us: A Couple’s Guide to Loving and Living with Adult ADHD

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below: 



 Show Notes


What is The Couples Therapist Couch?

This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Many of the episodes are interviews with leaders in the field of Relationships. The show is meant to help Therapists and Coaches learn how to help people to deepen their connection, but in the process it explores what is most needed for each of us to love, heal, and grow. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

Learn more about the Couples Therapy 101 course: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/

Find out more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Anita Robertson 0:00
Because you want to create a home environment that is ADHD affirming, you want to be connecting and supporting in a way that's ADHD affirming. And I think that's really important because so much of ADHD adults have just been given the wrong tools that don't work for their brain and then they're blamed.

Intro VO 0:21
Welcome to The Couples Therapist Couch, the podcast for couples therapists, marriage counselors, and relationship coaches to explore the practice of couples therapy. And now, your host, Shane Birkel.

Shane Birkel 0:36
Everyone welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch. This is Shane Birkel. And this is the podcast that's all about the practice of couples therapy. If you enjoy the show, you should definitely go on over to The Couples Therapist Couch Facebook group and join 6,000 other therapists who just like to talk about couples therapy. So go on over, Couples Therapist Couch, just type that in the search in Facebook and you can find the group there. Today, I'm speaking with Anita Robertson. She's an ADHD relationship expert. So we're talking all about generally speaking, neurodivergent relationships, more specifically ADHD relationships. This is a topic that has been coming up a lot more that people have been asking to learn more about and Anita does a great job talking about all the aspects of it. So without further introduction, here's the interview with Anita Robertson. Everyone welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch. This is Shane Birkel, and today I'm speaking with Anita Robertson LCSW, ADHD, relationship expert, speaker and author of the book ADHD and us a couples guide to loving and living with adult ADHD. Hey, Anita, welcome to the show.

Anita Robertson 1:51
Thanks, Shane, for having me on. Excited to be here.

Shane Birkel 1:54
Yeah, I'm really excited to talk with you about ADHD and relationships today. I think a lot of people can resonate with that topic. But why don't you start with telling us a little bit more about yourself.

Anita Robertson 2:06
So I am a therapist based in Austin, Texas, I primarily started with couples counseling and work and had my training in that. And I have ADHD myself, and motherhood kind of like took me a little bit by storm. And I was like, huh, even though I had a very ADHD friendly, affirming life, I was like, I need a little bit more fields, kind of, it's not helping me too much on this one. And so and one of my one of the conferences that I was at, and I was doing mostly like, you know, couples counseling, trainings and stuff like that, I just would sneak into any ADHD ones. And that's sort of where I started kind of learning how to tweak some of the really great interventions that are out there in couples counseling with couples and learning how to assess and therefore that's, I think, where my reputation grew, and I started to see more couples. And from there, like, the book came out the ADHD relationship bootcamp, which I did in person before, the pandemic, where I was like, Okay, you, you all just need some skills, we don't need to talk about things, you need to learn how to like, talk to each other's brains, which is really fun. And I miss that part of the work that I do, but that's sort of a little bit about me, and where I kind of got some of my training and how it kind of evolved from there, which, you know, now the book is out, and then I do a lot more speaking and training events. Yeah, that's

Shane Birkel 3:29
great. So when people find you, for couples therapy, they probably already realized that one, either one or both of the partners has ADHD, or possibly as ADHD at that point. So right

Anita Robertson 3:44
now they do Yeah, in the, in the beginning, like several years ago, or like, maybe 789 years ago, that that wasn't necessarily the case. Some people you know, if you're lucky enough to have been diagnosed as a kid, or even as a young adult, but it would be part of some of the assessment that I would start doing in couples counseling, but now that a lot more awareness is around you know, the pandemic also sped up a lot of information and people getting diagnosis and services and realizing that maybe there was some neuro divergence or ADHD or other things going on. I think now it's a lot different where people are, know my work and they're actively seeking me out. So it's not like where it was before. Which is great because it is really helpful when people know earlier and get the skills earlier because then a lot of the common problems and issues that happen when you have ADHD and non ADHD, it doesn't get stuck and that's what I was realizing over time that you know, the the same patterns because it's all about executive functioning challenges. sensory differences is all about the brain differences. And so it was almost like clockwork of how, how everyone's journey in their relationship really happens. So yeah, when I wrote the book, I was like, Oh my gosh, every single client of mine is going to think that this is exactly there. It's just about them. And I was like, That is not true. But a lot of people who read it, they just are like, Oh, this is my life, because it is really a story of kind of undiagnosed unsupported ADHD, which in that world is really growing and changing and we're learning a lot. So I think it is, you know, it's a very interesting place to be. And I love couples work, I love relationship work, I think it's one of the most restorative healing things that can happen that make huge changes in your life. And, and that's why I love kind of giving the tools to couples and relationships and families. Because all this stuff works with, you know, parents as well. So that way, they get to have a different experience, and they get to see the person they love thriving. Because so much of ADHD adults today, not necessarily kids really just were so unsupported, you have a lot of trauma, you have a lot of relationship injuries, you have a lot of things that tend to happen when you didn't have the right environment, you didn't have the right supports, you didn't even have kind of the names to understand why things felt different or work different for you. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 6:14
and like you mentioned, I'm sure every situation is unique. And sometimes people are like, Well, no, that part doesn't fit for me or that part doesn't fit. But I imagine on the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of people who read your book and are like, Oh my gosh, like this is actually a thing, right? Like, no one ever told me that this was something that a lot of people struggled with.

Anita Robertson 6:36
Yeah, and they could have been in like couples counseling for years. And they were missing those, like key parts that really work with ADHD. And so I think it provides a lot of hope and resources to be like, Okay, this is what it is. And these are the things that I can do. And you almost immediately see a difference. And I think that's something that's really helpful for, for people who get the information. And I would say to you, you know, in all my couples counseling training, when I was like realizing this, I was searching, Googling, and I was like, Where is where's the ADHD, you know, adaptation, and all of these great, you know, couple of trainings that I was going to, and I just couldn't find it. So then in true ADHD fashion, I'm like, Well, I'm just going to do it.

Shane Birkel 7:19
That's great. Yeah, so important. And just for the sake of setting up the conversation here, can you say what you mean, when you use a term like neuro divergence? Can you describe what you mean by that? Well,

Anita Robertson 7:34
so neuro divergence is like a whole umbrella term. And ADHD just falls into that, like autism, dyslexia and a whole bunch of other things. And so you can also have, like, you know, autism and ADHD, which a lot of people lump into audio HD. But really, my expertise is on ADHD and ADHD only. And so that is, like, where I've done a lot of the research and dives to understand like, why do things work the way they do, because I've found that's really, really helpful for non ADHD brains, you know, whether they're neurotypical or neuro diverse in their own way to understand why their person is doing the things that they do, because so much, it's so much of it like with, with every relationship, it's the stories that happen, and the stories that people tell themselves that can create a lot of hurt and frustration and understanding when they don't understand why somebody can do something in one environment, but they can't and the other, which I think is very unique to ADHD.

Shane Birkel 8:33
You mean, like, you know, few? If I had an ADHD partner, and they forgot my birthday, or something, like the story that I could tell myself is that they don't hear about me or don't think I'm a priority, as opposed to being more understanding or compassionate about the things, their strengths and weaknesses, perhaps,

Anita Robertson 8:53
yeah, and normally, it's not necessarily on these big symbolic things. Because ADHD does tend to do a little bit better when it's big and exciting and fun, like birthdays, but they can miss it. But it's more about like, Hey, I'm asking just to do the dishes or not put your shoes on the floor or do these things, and I'm explaining how it impacts me and all this other stuff. And, and there tends to be like a curve where the other person will, like, try to do all these things and then fall off. And it's those stories over time that that eventually happen that's like, well, obviously, this person just doesn't care about me. And I think like the two things that I really talk about in my work that make ADHD interesting for relationships is because of two parts. I mean, there's a lot of differences. But the default mode network is one of those things that is the resting network in your brain and for ADHD, kids because almost all the studies are done with kids. That part doesn't turn off when you start doing a task, the task positive network so the When that comes on, most people's brains have this default mode network that just turns off. So like, that's part of the challenge with ADHD, right? For mundane tasks, they have like almost these two competing like, sounds in their brain. I describe it, if you had a toddler, you know, it's like you can't do anything. When you have a toddler, it's constant disruption, and everything's harder. That's like ADHD constantly. However, when there's a very high reward, that default mode network turns off, or in certain medications, that default mode network turns off, which is why like, a lot of times people describe when they take medicine, it's like having glasses, they can see things, it's just different. And because of the brain wiring, and then my whole thing, which a lot of kids are getting, but adults don't is the sensory processing differences. And those correlate a lot with like the hyperactivity and a lot of ADHD traits that are really in the sensory processing category, even though our, you know, DSM diagnostic code has just lumped it into autism and kind of made it challenging to actually treat in under like the medical model and insurance and stuff with that. But the sensory processing is huge. And I use that a lot with couples in my interventions, because it really helps like your brain and body, like understand why certain things are challenging, or why certain environments work for you. So like, for couples, a lot of times where you see ADHD peers who are thriving who who are successful in their careers, you tend to see them in like very, like high adrenaline crisis, you know, things where their brains are really good at. So like cyber security management, a lot of ER doctors, er, nurses, places where they have a little bit of structure, a lot of novelty and a lot of crisis where their brains are really interested in or in that like hyper focus, like you do get some software engineers and stuff like that, like people are really interested in what they're doing. Because they also like the reward of interest, right also turns off that default mode network. So what happens is, you know, you're like, Okay, well, how can you keep all these things that like, in your office clean, or make your appointments on time, or show up on time, or do all these things in this environment, but you can't do it with me? Right? And so because they don't understand how to make this environment in your relationship, ADHD affirming, right, because most people were never modeled that. And what we got as kids was pretty, like, toxic and horrible for ADHD, like fixed mindset, a lot of criticism, a lot of punishment, those types of things. And so when people get frustrated, they like, want to teach them a lesson and use the stuff that was modeled with them, which is just horrible for ADHD. And so it kind of

Shane Birkel 12:38
the partner of the person with ADHD, you're saying, My go into blame or criticism or these things?

Anita Robertson 12:45
Yeah, the things that ADHD has probably heard a lot growing up of like, well, everybody else can do it, why can't you it's not that hard. Like, you're just not trying, you just don't care. I'm gonna withhold this in this in this like, as a punishment, not a boundary. You know, and a lot of criticism, a lot of like, anger and resentment were ADHD years really need that positive acceptance, that growth mindset approach that, you know, a lot of things that really help turn their brain on and help them function in a way that's really helpful that doesn't have all the side effects that most unsupported ADHD adults have, which is like that negative self talk, you just like, punish yourself until it like or wait till it's like the sense of urgency in order to have your brain be able to do the thing or have a lot of anxiety. And that's why you have a lot of comorbidities with ADHD too, because you just have a lot of, you know, coping skills, that they're figuring out work for their brain. But then can it's harder over time, if that makes sense.

Shane Birkel 13:47
Yeah, so you start, you're starting to talk about some of the problems or issues that exist with relation ADHD relationships. Can you just say a little bit more about, you know, if I'm a therapist working with couples, and I have someone who Well, me, I mean, now I have two different questions. One is like, what is should we be assessing? Even if the couple doesn't identify either one of them as having ADHD? Are there things that we should be on the lookout for? Because maybe they've never been diagnosed? Or have never thought about it? And, you know, are there things we should be considering? What are some of the signs that we might see, when we're working with couples? That could be something that's going on? And then the second question was, what are some of those? What are some more of those problems and issues that, you know, you perhaps if they have been diagnosed, one partner has been? Maybe we can get to that next? Mm hmm. Yeah,

Anita Robertson 14:46
it's definitely easier when you know, right. And there's definitely some fines and I do think it's important to assess I mean, you know, we all want to like kind of work within our areas of expertise, but know enough to be able to refer out or have some awareness is, because it does make a really big difference, because a lot of the interventions work really well. But there's small things that just won't, right. And it actually is really, it's harming that person. And that's what we don't want to do. So when we talk about executive functions, right, that is kind of like the control center of your brain that's part of like the inhibition, you know, to pause before you act, it is also part of that organization, and, you know, being able to prioritize tasks. And the way that makes sense, right. So like, when you're looking at somebody who might have ADHD, that's like trying to cook, they're going to be cooking things all in the different orders. So it all comes out differently. Whereas somebody who's like, oh, I'll just follow this recipe, or, I'm going to cook the potatoes first. Because those take longer, it's easier for their brain to organize. And so those executive functions, which over time, you know, as you get older, and it kind of peaks in midlife, they get, we have more and more demands, especially in the US, because like, if you become a parent here, like, oh, it's tough. I mean, seriously, if you haven't booked summer camp already, you're you're, you're screwed. You know, like, that isn't how it is in every other country. But here, like there's really big consequences to not planning ahead, and not being on top of those things. So our country also has, I just want to preface that, like in the US, has a little bit of harder consequences for ADHD adults that can come into that couples dynamic, but you're what you're going to be seeing though, is somebody who either is like, Yay, yes, sure. Okay, what do we do all these things? Yeah, we're going to do it. And then week by week, by week, nothing changes or nothing happens. And then you see the other person getting more frustrated. And they'll forget, a lot of times like that weak working memory, not all ad shares have it but like, it's like, just wipes out like, No, you didn't tell me this, or they remember things really differently. Another big one is RSD, rejection sensitivity, dysphoria, so that defensiveness that like, almost like this very intense reaction. And it can present different ways. But that also can be like this translator, and kind of how I look at it is that, you know, the common statistic out there is that ADHD kids by the age of like, 10, or 12, they get 20,000 more negative comments than a non ADHD kid. And so it's almost like this hyper vigilant response, that they're looking for criticism, and I think I see it like in a developmental way where, like, you know, it would make sense, if you're seven, or eight, and somebody gets mad at you. And they're like, well, if they didn't, if this thing didn't happen, if they understood how hard I was working or this like, then it, then everything would be okay. And that never gets broken down and explained to them in a way that that helps them understand relationships, their emotional regulation, all these different types of skills. And so you see that play out in relationships where one person is really trying one person, you know, might feel like a failure all the time, they just can't seem to, like do the task or follow through. But you know, they're, it's, and they might, and they might have that rejection sensitivity, dysphoria. So like, when they have criticism, they completely shut down. Or instead of being able to do a repair, or be accountable for when they for when their actions do have an impact on the one they love. They have to like over explain, it's almost like this, like, oh, but this and this, and this, and this, and they this over explanation, because they're so afraid somebody's going to be mad at them. So you can see it. Like, you know, there's a lot of different ways people cope with RSD when it's unsupported, some of it is the people pleasing perfectionism, like if I'm just perfect, and I can anticipate everybody's needs, you know, then nobody can be mad at me. And then I don't have to feel this bad, right? Or that complete withdrawal to where it's just I'm shutting you out, you can't impact me. And that tends to be the kid who got in trouble a lot at school that I see that coping mechanism. That's more men, women tend to be a little bit more of the perfectionist ones. But it's really you where you see it is around those executive functioning skills and that are really challenging. So like, what I'm when I'm training therapists, you know, what I really look for is like, Well, how do you make sure that you as a therapist are being ADHD friendly, right? So like, if there is any action items, I always send an email, sometimes a text with very clear bullet pointed, broken down step by step, right? Because that's what an ADHD brain needs. And that's why they have sometimes these weird ways of doing things to other people because they just never have gotten it broken down step by step for their brain to understand it. It makes sense for everybody else, but not their brain. And so like for example, one of the things that can work really well in ADHD relationships when they're looking at home management systems is one person writes it down or uses like goblin AI. Now, AI will do all this breakdown for you of all the tasks like clean In the kitchen, you put it laminate it, you put it right there, you put a little dopa booster is what I call it like, so for a little dopamine high of like, this kitchen, you are the best, or whatever it is that works for that person, you know, like, I'm going to be so happy with a clean kitchen, like reminding their working memory of what's the why, what's the why, and kind of setting them up for success where they have all those things broken down. Because for them, cleaning the kitchen might look very different for them than it does for the person that they're talking about. And that's where a lot of the conflict comes from. And I think that's why it's so important to at least know if ADHD is there. And if you're not ADHD informed, at least be working with somebody who specializes in ADHD so that way you're giving them actual tools for success. Because you want to create a home environment that is ADHD affirming, you want to be connecting and supporting in a way that's ADHD affirming. And I think that's really important because so much of ADHD adults have just been given the wrong tools that don't work for their brain, and then they're blamed for like, Oh, you're just not trying that hard. Or you, you know, like these, these things, that it's just like, You're the problem where it's like, actually, no, that environment is the problem. And really, if we look at public schools, like I mean, that it's not really ideal for any kids, but it's really, really hard for ADHD, because it's like, we're just not made to sit and not play and not socialize and focus and do boring tasks. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 21:28
and I think that's, I'm so grateful that you brought up the societal impacts, you know, of, you know, growing up in this society, there's an expectation that you have to be perfect, or you have to live up to these, these expectations, I guess, like, whether it's in school, or whether it's with your parents or whatever, in your family, and there's no compassion or understanding of someone that doesn't fit for someone and doesn't fit for anyone I agree. And, particularly, it's particularly hard, if you, you know, qualify for a diagnosis like ADHD, and then it becomes that whole part of the way the person deals with the world, you know, starts magnifying as far as the issues like because now they're just afraid of the criticism, like, if they would have had an affirming parent, or teacher or something from the beginning, you know, it wouldn't be nearly as bad. But that starts to add on this feeling of well, what's wrong with me that I can't follow through on these things, in addition to just struggling with the executive functioning, so by the time they're an adult, in their relationships, that if they haven't had that kind of relationship, or haven't had that kind of understanding, I imagine it just gets so much worse and so much harder. Yeah,

Anita Robertson 22:47
it really does. It really does. And that's why I love with the couples work or relationship work that like it, there is a lot that can be healed of that kind of relational trauma, right? That relational rejection, because the amount of rejection kids experience at a very young age, starting with the teacher, and then the peers mimic the teacher is is is heartbreaking, really, you know, because the percentages are so high. And I think I think the hardest ones to know is like kind of the people pleasing and that and anxiety, like anxiety, which legitimately can be, you know, one of the CO occurring illnesses, but anxiety is also this fuel, right? That you've learned, like, if you stress yourself out, that default mode network shuts off, which they don't know what they're doing, and then they get the tasks done. And so like, instead of having a system and knowing the tools to be able to kind of like manage your house in a way that works for you, you know, you're stressing yourself out is like, Oh, my partner is going to be like so angry at me if like the dishes aren't done, right. Or if I don't put this thing in there and it takes it hurts the relationship long term, they don't know anything else. So you want to give them the right like tools and support and the relational supports that they've needed, right, kind of breaking things down and making sure that like, you know, it's not a make or break if the dishes aren't done. But you do want to be able to say, Well, okay, if this is a challenge, how do we move through it together? And how do we support each other together and find ways that work for both of our brains and both of our needs, because those are both important, and they do have an impact on them. And that's the other thing too, with that RSD that it can be so overwhelming that the other partner might feel like they can't bring anything up, if that makes sense, you know, because it's like, they're going to beat themself up, they're going to have such a huge reaction that they're like I'm trying to protect my partner so I'm just not going to have share my needs. If that makes sense. You'll see that too. And that in that dynamic

Shane Birkel 24:48
and how would you work with that type of situation

Anita Robertson 24:52
with with the rst so I use How

Shane Birkel 24:55
do you help the partner have a voice without you know being hurtful to the other partner.

Anita Robertson 25:01
So the model that I use is I talk about five pillars in my book, because the editors were like executive functions, executive function challenges. And so I wrote all that and was like, Wow, this sounds horrible. This actually is not really what I'm trying to communicate at all, like, it's good information. But we also need to see like, what works, not just why things are hard. So I kind of use these five pillars as like a compass or guide for relationships that I think, you know, they don't need to know, like, all the right things to say, but when they're like, something is not lining up, right? They can use this and a therapist could use these five pillars to to kind of like recenter and kind of say, Okay, well, the in these five pillars are great. They're like growth mindset, you know, where we all grow and change, which is super important positive acceptance, which is where boundaries come from. And that's where the boundary work that I would do for the situation that I just described, but with that positive acceptance, because that is so huge acknowledgement. Because understanding those differences go a long way of just when you name it, to tame it, it doesn't come into the story that they don't care. It's like it, you externalize it, then you have this thing that you're working on together, games, which is just playing novelty, like we all need it, it's the thing that always goes away when you're stressed. But it's so important. And it's really, really important for the ADHD, brain and praise, which is like probably the most controversial one, especially in the older generations, because you're not allowed to get a good job or any of those things. And I think most people don't even know what high quality praises unless you're a parent, and you're really trying to do high quality praise today. So those are the five pillars that I kind of give couples or give therapist as seen at least this is like your guide or compass to kind of navigate the situations. And then I kind of created like an ADHD check in. So it kind of goes into the values based like relationship values, which is so important because ADHD ears need to know the why. And it helps them be accountable if they're like, Yeah, you know, I'm, I'm respectful. Yeah, these are the things that I want. And then when they get that pause, they're like, oh, wait, huh, am I am I you know, showing up in the way that I'm really wanting to in this relationship that I've committed to. And then I kind of use a lot of those tools for RSD of these grounding statements of things that are really working on some of those relational traumas that get in the way, because that also helps with that working memory. And also really kind of gives that like, warm hug feeling inside of the things and the needs that you didn't really meet. And then I use some of the tools of for communication and a structure, the reflection, and then have fun, right. And I think that's the biggest thing, like when I'm doing skill buildings, for even trainings for therapists or couples, and that's why I love, love, love doing this in person, I practice all of these pillars through games and play, right, where we get a little bit like I do a little challenge that gets you a little frustrated. So then the couples are getting getting frustrated. And then you get to see, because really, the trick is practicing the skill, like practicing growth mindset. And so for the ad, international ADHD conference that just happened in November, they're trying to do more interactive ones. So they asked me to do it. So I did like a modified version, where it was like an escape room, where they did like a challenge for each like pillar. And it's just a really fun way to like to practice these skills, because so much of it is our responses. And I think if you're a parent, you can see that, because it's like sometimes I'm like, Oh my gosh, why? Why am I wanting to say this to my kid, I know, this is not the right thing. Wow, that really sucks that I like experienced that. And I think those are the things and that's one of the reasons I love working with parents, because they will do stuff for their kids that they won't do for their partner. And I'm like, You got the skill, you can apply it to yourself. And giving that really solid foundation with those five pillars is I think one of the ways that like that secure attachment happens that freedom to fail happens. I mean, like I give out failure trophies. I mean, I am a little over the top, I do work with more younger generations. And all the older ones I refer to Melissa Orlov because she has really great work and the ADHD relationships. But I mean, like we're silly, where we have movement, we have all these things that are great for trauma responses, and I have all the evidence like I've realized people need to get here explanations of why we do things differently, because it's out of their comfort norm right of how we learn. But I'm like, but that's prioritizing your comfort, right, and this other person that's really struggling has never gotten that experience. And I think that's really restorative for people to like when they get a really true ADHD affirming environment. It's like life changing, because it's like maybe the first if they have never experienced it. It's like one of the first places that all of a sudden they're they're thriving, things are easier. It's just feels different. And this last training that I did in Austin for therapists That was really kind of learning about sensory processing and integrating it and just to treatment, ADHD treatment, like it was, it was fantastic. Everybody walked out of that training feeling like, I've never felt so much better. Because we're learning about our sensory processing systems, we're using them environment, we're going into nature, where we're learning about what is our sensory needs, which is so important, especially if you have ADHD. And it's well known in autism, but not really an ADHD, which is why that's kind of my new thing of really wanting to kind of have more overlap with the occupied occupational therapy fields, and the mental health field because they are so important. And there is this huge overlap that when we miss it, we're not giving the right comprehensive treatment that the person needs and deserves. If that makes sense. That was a very long winded answer.

Shane Birkel 30:53
Curious, can you give an example of the games or the play that you bring into the session or that couples can bring into their relationship? Oh, yeah,

Anita Robertson 31:04
for sure. Um, I have, you know, like, I have like a word scramble thing of like, you have to with a with a task where you take a spoonful of like a chocolate kiss, and you throw it across, and the partner catches it. And then they get some letters to try to unscramble the words of what, what what high quality praise is, I have like a puzzle with like black lights that you like, have to solve, to like, go review the brain differences. One of the ones that I've done in a lot of trainings is, you know, just these little tricks, right, where you take like two cork screws, and you do something like this, that's like, a Party favorite trick, where most people, when they look at it, they kind of get like stuck, right here. And so just bringing, like, you know, introducing a skill, or, and the why short bursts, practicing it. And then kind of creating these challenges where you're going to get a little frustrated, right? Most people unless they've seen this trick, they don't know how to do it. And it's another great way where it's taking the initiative of like, you have to ask for help you get to be in charge of asking for, I'm not going to read your mind. And so it's all of these things that that one I loved working in person that I got to do with couples or I also ran like at nature immersion camp, and I worked in schools and stuff like that. So I have gotten like ADHD training from that. And now I know, like was working in great ADHD environments where at least 50% of my staff definitely had ADHD. Not at the time, but have like all of these skills and knowing how to kind of work with the ADHD brain. And I think, you know, I was really lucky as an undiagnosed kid, my brothers were diagnosed, I wasn't not that they got good treatment at all. But you know, that I really had some really, really positive affirming environments that like, I don't have all the trauma and all the other challenges. And my relationship is great. You know, and I have tons of ADHD friends who their relationship is great, because it's like, okay, if somebody doesn't have it has ADHD, it doesn't mean that it's like a horrible relationship. I think they're one of the best relationships ever, because they bring so much novelty and energy and excitement and this intensity for love. Because as Dr. Halliwell will call it, you know, the counterpoint to rejection sensitivity. Dysphoria is this recognition euphoria, where you get a little bit of praise, you get a little bit of recognition, you get a little bit of love, and you just want to take it and you just build. And so it's, I mean, and that's what a lot of people say like when, when they do have an ADHD partner, they've never been loved so intensely. But then it's those little things that tend to get in the way. Because it's like starts with the wedding planning, right? That's normally the first thing where you're like, Wait, hold on, why are these things not working? Or why are you not showing up on time? Or why is this falling off your radar? Because those are all one offs. They're out of routine. All those things. parenthood, oh, my goodness, like the executive functioning challenges. So huge. And then when you start becoming in the sandwich generation, which most of us are, were you having aging sick parents or parents who die and taking care of young kids like it is, in a society that has no social support, it is completely overwhelming and unsustainable for everyone. But for somebody who hasn't had treatment, like their systems can get toppled over really easily. And then they have a lot more consequences over time. And that's the stuff that starts coming into the relationship that you see it and before the pandemic and before I wrote my book, I definitely saw a couples who were in more of this what we call a parent child dynamic where one person's over functioning, and they start over functioning and the other person's under functioning or resentful of that. And that's kind of like What happens when you have these executive functioning challenges, and you don't realize what's going on, one person just keeps on ticking more and more. And in the beginning, it might be really loving and caring of like, oh, let me help you with this, or here, let me make your lunch or here, let me help you with your keys. And they feel really great, because it's really easy for them to do it, and their person really appreciates it. And then over time, as all of those like the mental load, the executive functioning demands increase, they're like, I can't do anything, or I can't trust you with anything. And there is a trauma response on the other person's side, if it keeps on going, where they don't know, will this person do it? Or will they won't, because they don't understand why and neither does that a person, they don't understand why they can do things some of the time, and why they can't do things the other time. And so that's why building those like, those ADHD skills, the executive functioning systems, giving them the tools that actually work for them. Right. You know, we're, for example, you know, in an ADHD household, you really don't want to shove anything away out of sight out of mind, right? Instead of like folding laundry and putting it in a drawer or having like a coat closet, that's not by the door, no, those visual reminders, throw things in, kick you off your shoes, like having things that don't have lids, having things that have visual labels, like those things are huge, and like making somebody successful or not versus like, well, it's not that hard, you should just do it. And then it's like, well, if you look at the ADHD brain, this is what you're asking for. And this is very challenging, you know?

Shane Birkel 36:31
No, that's really hopeful, you know, to continue to think about, there are a lot of advantages of these relationships, and a lot of ways that the, you know, they're, they bring strengths to the relationship that are really beneficial. And, and like you were just saying that last part where, you know, there might be a lot of little changes that can be made in the household and in the family and in the relationship that will really set them up for success.

Anita Robertson 36:59
Yeah, and if you're thinking of having kids, the chances of having an ADHD kid is huge, high. So you also want to kind of be setting that up so that your kids can be successful too. And I think there's like there's this kind of like ableism, or entitlement that it's like, well, because we're all taught this, this, it shouldn't be this harder, it should be this way. And those are the things that can come out, or can be reflected back in in with the couple's counselor, right of like, well, you're just not trying or like you just have to change. That's what that's what a lot of people say, well just show up on time, or just do the thing. Like you just have to do it and not understanding Well, what are the supports that will really help them or even help, you know, both people in that relationship, be able to like, be successful, and make sure they're staying connected, because it's really about staying connected through all those struggles and challenges that life throws at you versus that disconnection. And so I think that's also really important, because like when it doesn't make sense, or you don't understand it, then that's the time to be a little curious about it. And then also use those supports, like when I work with a lot of ADHD relationships, and a person doesn't have a lot of good systems and skills and knowledge around ADHD, I have a whole list of vetted groups for executive functioning groups that they'll go to, because that makes it a lot easier, right? Because there's so much that the relationship can do to support and make things easier. Because I do think especially when you have ADHD and non ADHD brains, it's a great combination. And in retrospect, when I worked at the camp, that was all my counselors were in pairs, I was the director, I always put the ADHD and non ADHD person together, because there's one person who was really good at like, the novelty and oh, there's like, you know, some stuff going on with the kids and they could like create something or a song and it was like, everybody was amazed by it. But then they could forget, like the medical cards, or the sunblock or, or the other things that the other person was really strong at. And it was just a really great way not realizing it at the time. You know, I was in my late 20s and early 30s When I was doing this, but it's also true with I think true with like the relationships and that can be true for like, you know, when most people have ADHD, because ADHD, depending on your interest presents very differently. Like if you really love like a clean house and organizing, you're not going to have trouble putting things away because that's your interest, right? And there's like some sensory components to have like how things touch and feel and look and you have movement. And you're like picking things up and putting things down. And that's part of the vestibular sensory processing system. So like it, that's the weird thing, right? It doesn't necessarily look the same, because because it makes sense when you understand what a why ADHD, how your brains work, and where you're really set up for success where like we are set up for crisis, you know, like you do want 90% of the population to run away and be like, Oh, that's overwhelming. Were like 10% Like, whoa, fire, ooh, this is great. And we're going to do here. And that's kind of a lot of ADHD years claim to fame is like, wow, you know, like, I'm known for being great in a crisis, or they have these stories where like, they're cool, calm and collected, and they kind of save the day. Because that's where our brains are really designed to thrive. And it's important, but then when you look at like, our day to day life in the US, like, it's, it's kind of, it's really hard. And it's not that fun. And I think most people just don't know of other environments, or what that looks like, where they can thrive. And so I think that's like, my hope, really, is that more people have more modeling, because I think that modeling is really helpful and decreases a lot of this, you know, like, negative self talk of like, Oh, why am I different, this shouldn't be so hard, all of these things versus like, Okay, this, okay, it's hard, it is, okay, if I need praise, it's okay. If I need to do like a celebratory dance, when I like, do a 10 minute pickup, like, that's cool, I need I need that my kid needs that, we're just going to have to have like, something that is making our brain turn on and keep us entertained when we do these boring things. And that is like a very freeing liberating thing, because it allows you to actually use your brain and work with it versus trying to fit it into a way where like, well, I shouldn't need that, you know, or this is this shouldn't be so hard, or in a lot of it is those icky messages that they got as kids, which is really sad. And that's why it also Yeah, I

Shane Birkel 41:33
was gonna say I'm sure every situation is different. But how important is it for you, if you're working with someone in couples therapy for people to get into individual treatment, or therapy or other treatments, medication, whatever else.

Anita Robertson 41:50
I mean, I am a proponent of like, hey, you know, like, the more the more support you get, the better, right, the more things you can try the better. And it varies from person to person on what comes up from for them, that is a barrier, right? to that. But I I find now because of the book. And because of more awareness, there isn't that much as there was before, like, even five or 10 years ago, of that resistance, but I encourage it, and then I it's just more about that acknowledgement. And that accountability is like breaking it down. And these are the consequences so that way, they're empowered to make their own choice. And that's where part of that positive Acceptance comes in is that boundary setting is like this is really challenging for you. But this impacts me, what am I going to do to keep myself safe, or to be okay without like shaming and blaming and all these other things. Because there there is, you know, sometimes a lot of those like daydreams or fantasies, where it's just like, I'm just going to do this one thing, and it will be great. Or if this one person could do this one thing, then everything, all the other problems will go away. But I kind of lost my train of thought. So I What was the question again, that's like in true ADHD fashion. That's

Shane Birkel 43:05
okay. This if we're if we're working with someone in couples therapy, just making sure that they're getting all of the support that they need as an individual, whether it's individual therapy, medication, occupational therapy, whatever else, you know, how often do you see that as being an important component for that person? Oh,

Anita Robertson 43:25
thanks, great deal, that's a great tool of knowing my brain, I can just start talking and forget about the original question if I didn't write it down. And I think it is really important, I think it's the therapists job to give the information and encourage it, and then also help the other the relationship communicate the impact, because it might not be impactful, like there are people like that are totally fine in different environments, but then there can be this conflict of needs, right, where one person needs a lot of the visual reminders for their working memory, which is like the clutter and the other person needs like a very clean sterile environment to feel restful and calm and there's definitely tips and tricks that you can do as a couples therapist to introduce different ideas. But I think with anything else, right you know, like if you're if you're seeing a lot of trauma, you've seen a lot of you know, anxiety or depression encouraging insane and and also recognizing the limits where it's like, if we're working in here in your relationship, there's only so much a relationship can do. And I see that you're working really hard, I see that you're trying but like that you're the you keep on trying in the same way because you don't know the things that are easier and kind of working on like normalizing that it's really scary. I really talk about and sometimes like I've had people it's taken a year or two years individual clients before they even get into a group and then once they get into the group it's so much easier and then I go back and I'm like wow, look we can do so much different work because you have these skills, because they wouldn't even like go to bed at the same time like to get any type of routine is like it And I and I'm not a, I don't have in my schedule or the bandwidth to be able to do some type of coaching or that executive functioning skill building that a lot of these ADHD groups do. Because you do need that repetition in order to learn these skills, because you're also unlearning all these other ones that have gotten you where you are. So that's great. But you also have to unlearn them. So you can trust like these new skills that are a lot in systems that are a lot easier. And that's like in that's a transition process. And I think that's also really important to bring into the couple's room, right of saying, okay, this person is getting help. And as they try new things, it's important to communicate it, but they're learning. So like things are going to fall off the radar. So let's choose the things that can they can try these new systems with, because there's, I'd be worried if they if, if it didn't work, right, like because they're replacing something that works for them stress and anxiety, normally urgency with something else, right, that excitement that dopamine boosters, those other things that are really important for like turning on your brain in the same way, but like without the side effects. And so I think that's important to kind of talk about the process, and then just reflect back, but I love the collaborative approach. Like I have a team of like psychiatrists, the occupational therapist, that works with adult ADHD. And I refer really only to her when I see a larger sensory need that I'm not able to handle, because I've just done some my own training. And she's taught me a lot of things. But I love the collaborative approach, because I think that is really, really important. And I and because now I refer to a good group of people, it's really easy for me to be in constant communication with them. And I think it's huge. And I always reflect that back of like, you know, this is the benefit of you going here, or this is an extra person that you can talk to when things feel really scary in your relationship or things feel really tricky and hard. So I do encourage it. But then I also, you know, so come from this place of like, everybody's on their own journey, and there's only so much you can do. And there's in a lot of it is coming from that relationship and packed in like breaking it down in a way that their brain will understand. But I also just feel like there's just so much more information. And that's just been like, that's been the revolutionary part of why it's so much easier. So a lot of times what I you know, let's say if you don't, if there is somebody who's like, oh, I don't know, I refer him to podcasts, you know, ADHD podcast, where they're talking a lot about ADHD stories, and all these other things. And that really helps because it normalizes it, they hear somebody talking about going through medicine, they hear somebody talking about going in a group coaching situation, right? Because there's been so much relational harm, you also have to hold like, there's things that are really scary. And it's not something that can just happen overnight. And let's like work on what is like the underlying challenge, or what are you trying to keep safe or protect yourself from, and that being able to give that information. And I think there are so many creators now that talk about their ADHD journey. I think that has been a huge help. And even with my individual clients that have been seen for a while, I do think them hearing more and more of that has helped release a lot of some of their like, self talk, negative self talk or other coping skills and being able to really embrace who they are. And I think that's such a beautiful thing to see.

Shane Birkel 48:26
Yeah, that's great. Good. Well, thank you so much. Can you mention your website, or where people can find out more about you?

Anita Robertson 48:35
Yeah, it's AnitaRobertson.com. And then I'm also on social medi @AnitaRobertsonLCSW on Facebook and Instagram. And then I also have a TikTok where I post a lot more random things that I'm like, I don't know if that's like Instagram friendly or not video, but I get a little sillier over there. And then, you know, I also have like online courses that teach a lot of these skills or I'm coming up with this new hybrid course that is going to be looks very ADHD friendly of breaking things down into small steps. And with like, some live sessions, too, so I'm really excited to offer that this spring and this upcoming fall.

Shane Birkel 49:18
And can people find out about that on your website? Yep.

Anita Robertson 49:22
It's the very first button you can click of learn more.

Shane Birkel 49:26
Good. Yeah. And mentioned your book again, so everybody can go find your book as well. Yes,

Anita Robertson 49:31
ADHD and us a couples guide to loving and living with adult ADHD. It is a great intro. Every time I'm at the ADHD conference, there's always people who come up to me and it's like, oh, this changed my marriage or like, you know, my partner bought my your book for me and highlighted things. It gives a nice platform and it gives a nice understanding. I don't really go into as many sensory processing stuff in the book, as I do in my courses, but it gives at least like a stepping stone For people to at least have some words and some awareness around it, and some of the tools like the five pillars I talked about to at least kind of make some changes. And, and so yeah, so the book is great to took a long time to write, or not really that long, but it was a lot of effort. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 50:16
I'm sure I'm sure. It's a big undertaking. Yeah. Thank you so much, Anita, I really appreciate it. I've learned a lot. And I really encourage everyone to go check out your website, get the book and just get more education about this. Because, like you said, I think it's really missing from a lot like you said, like, the world of couples therapy, you know, you could learn a whole model and never have anyone even mentioned ADHD. And I think there's so many people even if they haven't been diagnosed that are affected by it. And so I think this is just such great information. So thank you so much. Yeah,

Anita Robertson 50:53
thank you for having me. Yeah.

Shane Birkel 50:54
Hopefully we can catch up again at some point.

Anita Robertson 50:56

Shane Birkel 50:57
All right. Thank you so much. And Anita, I'm so grateful for you and so grateful for all you listeners out there. This is such an important topic, and I appreciate you taking the time to come on. And I learned a lot. Also go to CouplesTherapistCouch.com. And you can find all of the episodes there, more free resources that you can take advantage of. And I'd really love for you to join the Couples Therapist Couch Facebook group, you can join over 6,000 other therapists who just like to talk about couples therapy, ask each other questions, give each other support. Thank you again for listening. I'm Shane Birkel, I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and this is The Couples Therapist Couch. Have a good week, everybody!

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