Blog Post | When an Important Topic and the Wrong Timing Derails Your Conversations


When Touchy Topics and Bad Timing
Derail Your Conversations

I have learned that communication and emotions are two important aspects of life to manage carefully when ADHD is part of the picture. Difficulties with communication can trigger sensitivities and emotions. Once emotions take over in an important conversation, the intended outcomes can easily derail. Left unmanaged, unhealthy communication patterns can erode a loving relationship as you rinse and repeat with different topics, different days, similar stalemates, or outbursts. Today’s blog explains why this easily happens and a few strategies to help work your way around them.

One of the most common difficulties is trying to talk about important matters in absence of the bandwidth to do so. Paying attention to the topic and timing can be quite helpful.  

What are the touchy topics? There are many topics that are easy to discuss, while others can be emotionally charged. For example, talking about what song you liked most at the concert last night is going to be a whole lot easier, and more pleasant, than talking about your budget. Discussing what the two of you are in the mood to eat for your dinner is lighter at heart than debating your disagreements on decorating the home or parenting the kids. Pointing out the rudeness of a stranger will be a whole lot easier to digest than being confronted by something your partner found irritating about you.

What makes for better timing? Paying attention to timing for specific topics in conversations can be very helpful, especially when there is a good chance someone’s emotions will be triggered. With ADHD, we only have so much dopamine and energy to spend in a day. Once it is gone, the ability to self-regulate our emotions and manage our thoughts in tough conversations is diminished until we can reset. Bringing up an emotionally charged topic at the wrong time can easily trigger those emotions. We might react too quickly or impulsively. We might have a hard time thinking about the topic in a complex, rational way or pausing long enough to consider other perspectives. 

Ideas to Try. Notice when your conversations typically derail to be more intentional around the weight of the topic and the best timing to bring it up. We all know what topics tend to set us off. Sometimes we will even skirt around them to avoid the unpleasantries.

Discussing trigger topics can feel like a heavy lift. They may be associated with feelings of shame, overwhelm, resentment or automatic negative thoughts we have popping up about ourselves for a long time. It can be very helpful to identify each of your top three trigger topics as a couple and have a conversation about why they become triggers in non-judgmental ways. Then, brainstorm options to be more intentional with times, approaches, and words to better discuss them.

What patterns do you notice with timing? Typically, late afternoons, evenings, and when you first wake up in the morning are more trying. A common trap is to think we will address this after work, or in the evening after dinner, or when the kids are in bed. Another pitfall is when the other is preoccupied with accomplishing an important task. Or, we wake up with thoughts on our minds and decide to share them as we are both trying to start our day or get out the door.  Good luck with that. The discussion doesn’t always turn out so well.

Instead, identify a few times when it is easier to focus, and you are more likely to self-regulate with a tough conversation. These are the times our dopamine is in good supply, and our energy, mood, and ability to attend is at its best. Remember, good communication works both ways. Compare your times to find the overlap with your partner when both of you have more capacity to take on these conversations. You might even want to establish a routine time to explore these difficult trigger topics. Get creative with what you can do to make the timing work for you and your partner. Don’t try to tackle all the touchy topics at once. Balance conversations with positives and fun so you don’t go into overload. Giving your partner a heads-up about an important conversation allows time and space to reflect on thoughts and responses rather than respond impulsively.

Sometimes you might find yourselves already engaged in a conversation and feel it’s too late to stop. Or is it? Consider coming up with a signal, or visual cue,  that helps both of you take a deep breath and respectfully pause the conversation so you can calm down and regroup for a more effective outcome. Be willing as a couple to set up a time that would work better. After you calm down, you might find it helpful to reflect on and maybe even journal what was said and brainstorm other alternatives. Regroup when the timing is better and change up the environment as you do so. You don’t want to re-create the scene in your mind, but rather continue a conversation with a different perspective – which might be easier in a different environment.

At the end of the day, investing in strategies to develop good communication patterns as a couple can help with managing emotions and the quality of your relationship.  You can learn more about these types of strategies, as well as others relating to couples who are married and struggling with the ADHD aspects of their relationship in our Relationship Reboot Program.


Robin Nordmeyer, PCAC, CLC
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC

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