Q&A with Geoff: Why does my husband excel at work but not in our marriage?

q&a with geoff Jul 20, 2022


 What do you do when your husband has low self-esteem, is insecure and has only ever found his value at work?

My husband has adult attention-deficit disorder and all that comes with that, which can be both good and bad at times. Because he wasn’t diagnosed until he became an adult, the unknown ADD created insecurities and low self-esteem. His solution was to excel at work so that would create his confidence. The way he shows up at work he does not show up for our relationship.

At work, he’s attentive and task-orientated, he sets priorities, he follows through, and it’s very important to him what his manager thinks of him. He fails at all those things in our relationship as he believes it’s a skill set he doesn’t have. When I point out how he does it at work, he says that’s different.

He’s not purposely mistreating me but insists he doesn’t know how to apply his work mindset to our relationship. 


It’s so painful to see your husband giving his best attention, effort, and loyalty to his work colleagues when you’re craving his best in your marriage and family. I also recognize that you not only want to receive his attention, but also know that he is motivated by your responsiveness to him. You’re working hard to make relational accommodations for him.

However, I also see how difficult it is to go without this type of connection. Even though you don’t have the power to change the way he shows up in your marriage, let’s talk about how you can respond and potentially influence his responsiveness to you.

Your husband may feel exhausted after using up his reservoir of focus and attention at work, so he’s likely up against a very real obstacle in giving you his best. I also believe him when he says he’s confused about how to apply his work mindset to his relationship with you. As you know, one big challenge with adult ADD is resource management.

It’s possible he’s simply depleted at the end of the day and feels powerless having to choose between being there for his family’s financial needs or their relational needs. 

It sounds like he’s received a diagnosis of ADD from a professional, but is he getting treatment for it? Common treatments include medication, executive function coaching, education, therapy and seeking out tools to help improve follow through. If he’s not actively working to manage his unique neuroatypical brain with these resources, he’ll continue to feel powerless and broken.

Thankfully, there are resources that can lessen the impact of his inattentiveness and impulsivity. 

While you can have compassion for his dilemma, it’s critical that you don’t make excuses for him and abandon your need for marital connection. He might struggle to nurture your relationship, but even imperfect efforts can make a huge difference. Marriage counseling can help you both learn to work with these attention and focus challenges and help each of you respond in healthy ways.

His willingness to work on these things will make all the difference. Indifference is the biggest threat to love, so hopefully he can connect to his desire to improve his marriage. Anaïs Nin observed the following:

“Love never dies of a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source, it dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds, it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings, but never of natural death.”

Even if we entered our own marriages as relational experts, we would still have to learn how to be a relational expert with our specific partner. Each marriage creates a unique combination of temperaments, personalities, histories, preferences, instincts and other factors that would never be found in another relationship.

Basic relationship skills are important, but they should help us become experts on understanding what our partner needs. 

I recommend you approach this gap in your relationship as an opportunity for both of you to work together toward understanding what each of you need to thrive in this marriage. You might be clear on what you need, but this is an opportunity for you both to take turns identifying what really helps you feel close to the other person. 

If you can see him making efforts to understand what works for you and he has a chance to share what helps him in the marriage, you’ll feel more connected to him. Sincere attempts to get things right in marriage can have a softening effect on us, especially when we’re dealing with difficult patterns that don’t easily change.

As Dr. Ed Tronick once said, “We thrive in the messiness of human connection…without it, we wither.” 

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