Episode 62: Marriage and Neurodivergence: A Conversation with Dayna Abraham

by | Last updated: Feb 22, 2024 | Podcast

When one or both partners in a marriage is neurodivergent, you face quite unique challenges… In this episode, I’m joined by Dayna Abraham to explore neurodivergent marriage and more!

Now, you don’t need a diagnosis of ADHD, OCD, autism, etc. to enjoy this episode… rather, Dayna explains how learning to communicate better with your partner is actually about understanding them (and yourself!) better – neurodivergent or otherwise.

You’ll also learn about neurodivergent labels & diagnoses, the wide variety of neurodivergent experience, how neurodivergence can impact marital intimacy & affection, and how you might build better systems & processes within a neurodivergent marriage. Plus, Dayna shares her own framework for thriving inside a marriage with one or both neurodivergent partners. (This framework applies to parenting, business, and more!)

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

1:40 – The difference between a label & a diagnosis
6:59 – Neurodivergent people receive 10X more negative feedback…
11:45 – The female experience of being neurodivergent
15:28 – What to do if you think your partner is neurodivergent
23:20 – How to NOT take your partner’s neurodivergence personally
27:54 – Neurodivergence, intimacy & affection
31:08 – How to build systems & processes in a neurodivergent marriage
40:40 – Dayna’s frameworks for neurodivergent parenting, marriage & more
48:38 – Okay, radical acceptance… but what about unacceptable behavior?
57:44 – The most beautiful part of Dayna’s neurodivergent marriage

Featured On It’s Time for a Different Conversation in Your Marriage

Dayna’s Website: LemonLimeAdventures.com
Dayna’s Book, Calm the Chaos: https://calmthechaosbook.com/

Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage? Book a Truth & Clarity Session.

Want even more tools to navigate a disconnected marriage? Join me on social media: Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTube

If you have a suggestion for a future episode or a question you’d like me to answer on the show, email us.

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Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.

Welcome to the Loving Truth Podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now your host relationship expert and certified master life coach, Sharon Pope. Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope and this is The Loving Truth. Today we're going to be talking about the specific challenges that can show up inside of marriages when one partner is neurodivergent.

And then we are going to give you really actionable tools, not just some new things to think about, but some actionable tools that you can apply to calm the chaos in your marriage. Now, I have brought you a very special guest because I am not the expert in this field, but I happen to know some people. So I want to introduce to you parenting expert Dana Abraham.

She is an educator, a parent of three neurodivergent kids and an A DHD adult herself. She's on a mission to create a more accepting world through working with parents, one challenging kid at a time. As the creator of the Calm the Chaos Program, she has reached more than 41 million viewers and conducted online workshops for more than 200,000 people. She's the bestselling author of Calm the Chaos,

the Super Kid Activity Guide and Sensory Processing 1 0 1. Her work has been featured in HuffPost, scary Mommy, Buzzfeed Attitude Magazine, life Hacker and USA today. Thank you so much for being here, Dana. I am so excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me. Yes. Now this is a marriage podcast, but before we go diving into that,

I wanna go to where your sweet spot is, which is working with parents of kids of neurodivergent kids. So talk to me about the, so I think we have to get clear about the, the label, if you will. And I'm not a fan of labels. I don't love labels because I feel like it limits the, the totality of the person.

But I also understand the need for some of the labels because it helps us understand people's experience when we can wrap a name around it. So talk to me about like, all right, when we say neurodivergent kids and or adults, what are we talking about? Yeah, so Neurodivergence is the idea that in the concept that we all have different brains, just like we have different cultures,

different learning, you know, learning modalities, just like we have different races, all the different things, right? Yeah. So it is, it is a difference in how our brains are developed and wired. And so not everyone though is neurodivergent, meaning they veer off of what is considered the typical path. So the typical path is what you find in,

you know, what to expect when you're expecting, what to expect when you have a toddler, those sorts of things that tell you what the milestones are when children should talk. And we're looking at, you know, the general public should, you know, start talking, start walking, start doing these things at these certain ages and neurodivergent is that your brain is wired differently.

And so that might be a DHD, that could be, that could be autism, that could be bipolar. There could be so many different things that go into being neurodivergent, but your brain operates differently than the quote unquote traditional public. And, and so the problem that arises is not necessarily the label because the diagnosis I see as a tool in a toolbox.

Had I known about A DHD growing up, I think it would have li Well, if I had grown up in today's world, yes, I think it would've really reduced how much I thought I was broken. Something was wrong with me because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I tried it to fit, no matter how much I masked,

which is like hiding who you really are and hiding these tendencies that are natural to you, no matter how much I did that, I still couldn't fit in. I struggled to make friends, I struggled to keep friends, I struggled to not procrastinate, to stay on task, all those things. Now I'm a high achiever, so that's the other side of my A DHD.

So I was able to hyperfocus and still achieve a great bit. But growing up and well into my young adulthood, I just thought something was wrong with me. And I had, I known about A DHD in the way that we know about it now, I would've known, wait a second, my brain works differently. That means I require different systems.

That means that I need to look at things differently. I need to approach things differently and I don't have to try to change who I'm to be able to fit into the world around me. Right? And I feel like today we're, we have a, thankfully we have a lot more conversation around these topics for our kids, but as you pointed to,

we didn't, you know, adults today didn't grow up in a time where we were talking about that. So we have a lot of adults that don't have the diagnoses to make sense of those differences. And they too might have had the same sort of feeling that like, I know something's wrong with me, or at minimum something's different about me. Yeah.

And so, yeah, absolutely. And so I need to hide that or I, I need to mask it or I need to overcompensate. Or The amount, the amount of negative feedback that neurodivergent children and adults get from the world around them is, you know, four to 10 times higher than your average child or average person. And it, that's where the labels come in,

right? Is that you are bad, you are naughty, you are disrespectful, you're strong-willed, you are wild, you are unruly, uncontrollable, highly sensitive. Right? There's like, there's so many, that's where the labels come in, right? So I differentiate, a label is like this box we're trying to put people in. Yeah. Where as a diagnosis is helpful in understanding why we might do what we do or why others might do what they do.

And it can lead to some supports. So it gives us some information about who we are or who this other person is, why they might do what they do, and what are some general supports that could be helpful. And, and we can create a much more affirming and accepting relationship when we understand each other. If we don't have to have that diagnosis to be able to understand each other.

As long as we remove the idea that what people are doing is against us, that it's spiteful, that it's malicious. Now I know once we get older, sometimes it does feel like that when adults are being, you know, hurtful or doing hurtful things when an adult, you know, even especially like in a marriage, maybe they cheat on us or they lie to us or they hide things.

But if we can remember that most adults grew up hiding who they were lying about the things they were doing. Yeah. Or being talked down to about the things that they naturally tried to do. And then not being taught systems not being taught, emotional regulation, not being taught how to manage these, these harder ways of dealing with life. Well, and then what did you say that they get,

did you say four times the amount of negative feedback or 40% more? What was the stat? Yeah, it's like four to 10 times. It depends on, you know, the, the severity of how much they veer from being different from their peers. Yeah. But it is far more common to get negative feedback instead of get feedback for who you are and the positive parts or the positive traits about who you are.

Yeah. So our spouse might have grown up with that 10 times the amount of negative feedback that a normal child would have. And just talking, you know, some gender norms. Men grow up being taught that they need to be men. Many men, not all. Yes. But many men grow up being taught they need to be tough, they need to be strong,

they need to do well in school, go to college. They need to get a good job and they need to be the breadwinner for the family. And if you are neurodivergent and you think out of the box, you might struggle in school, you might struggle to get good grades, you might struggle with authority. None of those things are necessarily bad or inherently bad.

But the experiences you've had growing up are going to tell you that you have to fit in, that you have to conform if you wanna be successful in life. And now those are our spouses, those are the fathers of our children. And so they're gonna have this belief, well I had to make it work. Well I turned out okay. And the truth is,

is that they're probably hiding lots of pieces of themselves because they don't understand themselves. So there's a, there can be a little bit of the idea like from a parenting perspective of suck it up buttercup. I did it like Hundred percent. This is Just how you do see it all the time. Yeah. And then that can be destructive of course. Yeah.

For our kids Too. And, and what I see is more times often than not, it is the female in the relationship who is doing the research, who is learning about what we know about brains, about child development, about children, about parenting. That has changed. They're the ones in it. They're following the people on TikTok and on Instagram and they're reading the books and they're doing all of the things.

And then they're going to their partner and their partner's like, this is ridiculous. We should know how to parent. People have parented for thousands of years. Right. And it's like, yes. And this is the most important job we have that and having a relationship with our partner, those are the two most important jobs we have. And yet we,

we like leave it to chance. We leave it to like hope and love. Yeah. And that should be plenty with no tools. I always say no tools, No information, no background. I mean, yeah, we're dealing with humans and so we're not dealing with a computer that has very clear set instructions of how to fix it or how to work on it or how to solve problems.

Yeah. You're dealing with human beings and yet there is this overarching belief that we don't have to learn how brains work, how relationships work, what is the science behind it. And it's so important to know how to communicate and how to solve problems and how to recognize when your partner is triggered or when your partner has an underlying challenge that is part of who they are.

Yeah. Like let's say they leave their socks around the house and you are just like, oh my gosh, you absolutely disrespect me. You leave your socks around the house, you never pick them up. How hard is it to pick 'em up and put 'em in the laundry basket? Yeah. And I'll tell you, I'm that spouse and it's incredibly difficult to pick up my laundry.

It is incredibly difficult to do very mundane, everyday task if like I do not fit the mold of the traditional like female figure in a relationship. I'm not the one that meal plans, I'm not the one that clean the house. I'm not the one that does the laundry. It was up to me. We would like just buy new clothes every week because I mean I,

I wouldn't really do that, but I wish I could. But wait a minute. Look, so you talked about the male experience. I'd be super interested in the female experience of when you grow up neurodivergent and how that sort of can fly in the face of these traditional, like what a woman should be. Yeah. What a successful wife and mother should be.

So a mother should, a successful woman should, you know, go to school, do well, but for the sole purpose of getting married and having kids and thank god this is changing, right? Thank, thank God this isn't what our kids are growing up with. But it wasn't that long ago that we grew up with this like, you go to school,

you get a good job, you, you know, and then you live your life for a little bit and then you get married and you have kids and this is gonna be the best thing in your entire life. It's gonna be wonderful for you. And then you're gonna help in the school and you're gonna organize play dates and all these things. Well if you're neurodivergent,

like you're gonna miss appointments, you are gonna forget to sign, you know, permission slips. You are going to get overwhelmed with sensory input by your kids. And so you're gonna get triggered easily. You're gonna yell more. You're not gonna be that calm parent. So you're gonna feel like a failure as a parent. You're gonna feel like the most massive failure because you are not fitting these norms of,

you know, like I went to, I went to a mom's night out the other night and they're all highly successful women. They have great jobs and they still fit the norm of a mom who has it together, has a really pretty house host parties go to galas, you know, like their kids are gonna go to like the best college in the world.

All these things. And I'm sitting over there going, oh my gosh. Like I am still the black sheep. Like it doesn't matter how old I get, I am still so not the norm in most groups. You know, it's kind of crazy like hearing you say that I, it it, it hit me. 'cause you said early on you said our brains work differently and it's,

I mean it's one of the things that I teach, like my women that like the male brain is not the female brain and our brains work entirely differently. But hearing you say that is like, well of course we don't like why has it taken us so long to get to this place that of course our brains work differently. Everything about us is unique and has all these little puzzle pieces and they all fit together very,

very differently. And why would our brains and how we process the world and information be that dramatically different? So I feel like if we can crack that open a little bit, then we can open people's minds to the fact that, that it's okay. It's all okay. Everyone's just processing things differently. And there's no right or wrong. It's more different than having like an introvert and an extrovert.

Right? Or having someone who is highly, highly motivated to be that achiever. I think of the Enneagram, right? So you've got those ones out there, anyone's listened or knows anything about the Enneagram. You got those ones who are like high achievers, perfectionists, like need to be right all the time. And then you've got like your nines who are like loving and compassionate and they just want a big like warm hug and they don't really care about any sort of achievements,

right? Like that's just differences in how we all operate. And I think the more that we can understand whether we have a diagnosis, no diagnosis or not, if we can stop assuming that what someone is doing is malicious and instead stay curious, we can learn so much more about the other person and we can come from a place of compassion and understanding.

Alright, so how do you, let's say that you have a hunch, like let's say your partner hasn't been diagnosed with anything. That's, a lot of the times that I hear about this, they haven't necessarily been diagnosed, but in my research I have diagnosed my partner. We like to diagnose our spouses with lots of things. I've diagnosed him. I think,

I suspect there might be something there. So does that mean I'm screwed in my marriage? Like No, absolutely not. I mean I think that you can bring, just like you would in any conversation, let's say you're, you're noticing something about let's say your finances and you take it to your spouse and you say, you know, I was doing some research and I noticed that when you're doing this thing that is a sign that in 10 years we might,

you know, we might not have enough money for retirement. And I, I wonder if it's something we might wanna look into. Maybe it's something we wanna check into. Maybe it's something we wanna fix. Maybe it's something that we just wanna be aware of. You can bring that same conversation to your partner and say, so I've been doing, I've been listening to this great podcast or I was reading this book and man,

it just really resonated with me and it helped me understand you on a deep level. Like I, I, I saw you in so many of the examples in such a good way. Here's all the things that I saw about you. And then I started realizing that some of your struggles might also be very common. And so I noticed we fight a lot about these things,

but this gave me such an understanding about you. I'm curious if you wanna know more about it and then you can open it up that way instead of, hey I think you might have a DHD. Like we joked forever that I had a DH adhd. Yeah. Or growing up I would've been diagnosed A DHD. And it wasn't until like four years ago that it was like very clear Nope Dana,

like you are an A DHD adult and it's a lot of who you are. Yeah. And so once we started recognizing and radically accepting that this is who I am, my husband was a, was able to stop trying to change these very small things about me. But we still talk about some of the things that maybe I can work on that are hard for him.

But we have some systems where, you know, once a week I go through and do a sweep to make sure I've gotten all of my, all of my dishes and all of the extra things. I mean my work desk right now, if you could see it, my daughter laughs at me. There are three water bottles, there are two coffee cups and a brand new one that just came today that was like my desk on a norm and my husband's desk is over there.

And there is not an ounce of trash, nothing is out in place. Everything like probably even has a post-it note for where it goes back. Yeah. Because he is like, so like meticulous about his space. So instead of a blame or shame type of thing, if we can bring it from a place of understanding of, oh now that I know that you prefer to have clean meticulous space,

I'll try to make sure that you, I don't intrude in your space with the way that I kind of explode while I'm being creative. Right. So with that understanding that seeking to understand that's where you can have, that's where you can reach for more compassion because you realize like they're not doing it to piss you off. They didn't wake up this morning going wake,

how can I hurt her? Yeah. Most deeply today. Like no one's doing that. It's just that they're processing information differently and that we've gotta let go of the idea that my way is the right way, my way is the correct way and their way is wrong. And so therefore I need to change. Get them to change. Yeah. And they don't have to recognize or accept their A diagnosis.

Yeah. For you to have compassion and for them to have compassion for themselves. You don't have to have that diagnosis. Especially if they're at the beginning of their journey. Yeah. So let's talk about the diagnosis real quick. 'cause I know that there are gonna be people who are listening who are thinking, well my husband I've, I've told him he needs to go get diagnosed,

he needs to go see someone and he won't do it. So on one hand that's the, that's us trying to push someone else into changing so that we can feel better. Not helpful, but also on the other side of that, I would imagine, 'cause I think about some of the, like a lot of really successful people are a DHD. Like when I think of the executive team where I used to work,

I'm not gonna name the bank, but really big bank, like most of the executive team I promise has some of us. And that's part of what makes them brilliant in many ways that they're probably thinking. Yeah, okay. Maybe like you said, like you were probably talking with your husband, like we're probably, I'm probably a DD. But then there's,

well what am I gonna do with that? I've never had to do anything with it before. I'm functioning fine. Like, why even go talk to a doctor, get some diagnosis, then I have to do something with it that I don't, don't really wanna deal with. So talk to me about the whole like inside of a marriage and this, whether a diagnosis is there or not.

Yeah. So we actually have that same dichotomy here. I, I think that my husband is autistic and, and he is slowly starting to agree that he believes he might be as well. And so, you know, but he, he, The qualities about him that make me believe that he's autistic are the things that he has used. Like he has found very positive coping ways to like survive in the world.

Okay. He has self-taught himself computers. He self-taught himself music. He, by closing himself off and isolating and just being the fixer, it has really helped him be successful in life. And, and so to him he is like, do I really need to figure out if there's something else here? And as we've continued on this journey together, he's like,

wait a second, it does help me understand a little bit about my emotions. It helps me understand why I might react or respond a certain way to you. It's helping me understand why I need things a certain way and I'm able to articulate that to you in a new way when it comes to, you know, anxiety when it comes to a DHD,

when it comes to bipolar, things like that. There might be a medication or a support, even if it's a natural supplement, there might be something that could really help you be able to function in parts of your life that you didn't really feel very functionable. Yeah. Right. Like there might be systems and tools out there. And so I think that's where the conversation goes a little deeper.

So when someone says, well I don't need to know, like I've done just fine without it. It's like, yes. And why, why else? Like what, what would be the harm? Right? Right. What are the pros and the cons? What would be the harm of learning? And especially if you're gonna have children. I think the more we can learn about ourselves,

then the more compassionate it's gonna help us be when we learn, when we learn about ourselves, we can be more compassionate with our children. Yeah. And so just opening yourself up to that curiosity could be really powerful. Yeah. We'll be, we'll find the compassion, we'll come up with a treatment plan. We'll do that for our kids. We don't expect to be able to need to do that with our spouse.

And that's the difference. So talk to me about how, what are some of the behaviors that would show up inside of a marriage when someone has any of these? We'll just call 'em challenges. 'cause it can look so many different ways. I, if he could, he could, if you've met one neurodivergent person, you've met one neuro diversion person,

right. Like there's, it's all different. Yeah. Depending on who you are, what your background is, how much trauma you have from your past, of the experiences of being neurodivergent and not knowing. And so if it's, if the your partner is neurodivergent and you don't know or they don't know Yep. You could be seeing like a lack of empathy or you might be seeing over excitability,

like you could see one end of that spectrum where your, you know, your partner is just seems to not be able to meet you where you're at emotionally. Either they're way hot or they're way cold and you Like they don't feel anything or they feel all of it all at once. Is that what you mean by over? Yeah. So they're just like all in when they feel and then,

or you go to tell them about things and you feel like you get nothing back. You feel like they don't understand where you're coming from. They can't relate to what you're going through and they don't have the skills to kind of ask questions to understand where you're coming from. That could be one, you could have qualities like what I, you know, what my poor husband has to deal with,

which is I struggle with just everyday day-to-day functions. This is called executive functioning. So executive functioning is your brain's ability to do the things you do on a day-to-day basis. Yeah. So this is task management, this is task initiation, this is organization, this is processing information. This is your working memory. So being able to remember the last thing that you were told.

So my husband all the time thinks that I'm not listening to him or I wasn't listening to him because I can't remember a conversation we had just 30 minutes ago. Wow. He's like, I told you this. And I'm like, you might have, but I don't remember it so I need you to tell me again. And so for the longest he just thought I wasn't listening.

That's a, that's a beautiful example. People probably experience that all the time. They're like, you never listened to me. And then when they think they're not being listened to, they just stop talking and then they just grow more and more disconnected. Yeah. When if you understood what was happening, it was like, oh well yeah, I just don't remember it.

I need you to tell me again please. Yeah. And another one, like for my husband, I am highly aware of sensory sensitivity. So sensory sensitivities are sound, sight, touch, any of those, you know, senses can be really overwhelming or underwhelming. So like it's those two sides. Again, you could have that risk taker spouse who is like always doing these like absolutely crazy things.

You're just like, why would you do that? Like, why would you go and jump off that cliff? Like why would you drive so fast? Why would you, yes, that's, that's someone who's seeking that sensory input. Whereas you might have someone like my husband who tries to avoid all sensory input and so he'll get noised out, he'll get touched out.

We can only go to maybe two stores if we do errands by the third one, he is done like absolutely done, can't go any further. And then he gets really like snotty after that. And so understanding and knowing that he has a limit to where he can go and instead of thinking like, oh you don't dress nice because you don't respect me or you don't love me or care about me.

Oh, you wear comfortable clothes because they feel best on your body. Yeah. You know, like understanding that instead of, again, taking it personally or Oh, I get that you don't wanna go to the holiday parties with me or you don't wanna go to the school events, not because you don't care about me or because you don't respect me or because I'm not important,

but because it is absolutely like painful to you to be in that kind of a crowd with those kinds of noises and with people bumping up against you. Yeah. It's really uncomfortable. And when I know that we can have such better conversations and we can plan ahead. The second part of this podcast is where we dive into some very specific tools that you can apply if you are in a relationship, an intimate relationship with someone who is neurodivergent. And the rest of this podcast can be found inside of my membership program the decision. So if you are in this position, I promise you you need some support, you need some understanding, and you need some tools. So you can take that next step forward for yourself to see if the decision is the next right step for you by going to clarity for my marriage.com.

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