Carolyn Hax: Boyfriend’s psychiatric disorder raises doubt about future together


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 12

Hi, Carolyn: My boyfriend and I have been together for five years. We are in our mid-late 20s, and have been living together for a year. We generally have a great relationship, and we have talked about getting engaged soon.

However, I’m not sure if staying with him is the best decision for me. He had ADHD and ODD diagnosed as a child, and I feel as though this is really detrimental to our relationship. He gets annoyed and frustrated extremely easily, which often leads to a fight in which he gets very angry, and tends to hit or throw things (though I am 100 percent sure he would never touch me, he only throws and hits things like pillows). I grew up in a very peaceful household where there was never any violence, so dealing with his anger is totally foreign and scary to me.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I know these are symptoms of his ADHD and whatever adult ODD is or becomes, but I am at a loss of what to do. He has taken medication off and on in the past but doesn’t like how it makes him feel. I don’t want to leave him but I can’t imagine a future with both him and these symptoms. What do you suggest?

Disorder Overload

Leave. You either aren’t up to this challenge or you don’t want to be, and that’s all you need to know, because choosing a life partner isn’t about being open-minded or fair or noble. It isn’t just about loving or being in love, either. It’s about an unflinching estimation of what works. “Foreign and scary” five years in = Does Not Work.

We can stop here, but I won’t, because:

●Your “100 percent sure” requires me to say, no, you aren’t. Dumb luck excepted, good decisions aren’t possible unless you admit what you can and can’t know. Facts = certainty. Future = conjecture.

●It’s important to clarify that a serious diagnosis is not the end of hope for a committed partnership. It just means added diligence for it to work: The person with the illness needs to manage the condition effectively, and the partner needs to be temperamentally suited for and at peace with the challenge. You and your boyfriend are apparently, right now, 0 for 3.

●People who don’t feel ready to leave often tune out people who suggest it. If that’s you, then please at least heed this: You owe it to both of you to express your misgivings to him as you have to me. Tell him his short temper and rages scare you. Tell him it would mean a lot to you if he made more of an effort to manage his condition — if not through medication then with therapy and other adaptations. The National Resource Center on ADHD, (800) 233-4050 — and its parent, CHADD, www.chadd.org — are rich with suggestions.

Then, as you assess the result, don’t flinch.

Dear Carolyn: My older brother, 19, took my sandals on a camping trip without asking me and ruined them. They are stained, misshapen, worn and cut up. He decided as his punishment he will pay me $25 for the shoes, and then in return he gets to keep them. My parents said this is to be solved between us.

I do not think his paying me for them and then getting to keep them is right, because it teaches him that it’s okay to steal, harm and keep something as long as you pay for it. Am I being unfair?

Younger Brother

Depends on how fair your definition of “fair” is.

First, the basics: Your brother owes you the replacement cost of the shoes. Not what you paid for them, but what the same pair (or closest equivalent to them) costs right now. If $25 covers that, great, but if not, then you have standing to ask for replacement before you’ll agree this is “solved.”

Once the money is settled, then we’re into the murkier definitions of fairness that come with family. You apparently think fairness demands that your brother learn a lesson — so, you’re not content to be compensated, but instead want your brother punished as well.

You might have a point in a vacuum, but families are all context. Is your brother’s comeuppance worth holding out for every bit you feel you’re owed, making this the Great Sandal Incident of 2014? While it might not feel satisfying, you wouldn’t be the first just to take the money (and the admission of guilt that it represents), ask that he please not do this again, and secure your valuables from now on. Life under one roof is likely all you’re used to, but it’s fleeting for most, and Sandal Man is 19. Forgiveness of everything beyond the money might be the fairest solution, for you. That and not putting those nasty things back on your feet.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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