The Wagon Wheel Coffee Table

One of my favorite movies is the 1989 classic “When Harry Met Sally.” If you’ve seen it, you probably remember the infamous wagon wheel coffee table scene. Harry and Sally’s friends, Jess and Marie, were moving in together, and they were fighting over whether or not the wagon wheel coffee table should go in their living room. Jess liked it, Marie didn’t.Anyone in a relationship most likely has their own wagon wheel coffee table stories. When raising a child with special needs, there are wagon wheel coffee table situations everywhere you turn, only they’re not quite as funny as in the movie. Decisions about meds, discipline, schooling, homework, chores, even whether or not there is an actual diagnosis can wreak havoc on the strongest of relationships. It’s vital that parents are on the same page when it comes to caring for their children, and for parents with special needs children, it’s even more imperative. The stakes are high for your relationship, as the divorce rate for couples with special needs children is higher than the national average. When both partners (married or divorced) disagree on what they believe is the best course for their child, it can have painful repercussions on their relationship and more importantly, on their children.

I realize that it’s not an easy task for both partners in a relationship to completely agree on everything. I’m going to focus on two of the vulnerable places you can look at to see how well your relationship is bearing the stress of your life with ADHD: sentiment and influence.

Who is the dog? I am! I am the dog!

When negative sentiment is high in your relationship, one or both of you is always “the dog.” Sentiment refers to the overall “climate” of your relationship. If there is a high degree of positive sentiment in your relationship, it’s likely that you solve problems well together, enjoy your partner’s presence, laugh together and have an overall good feeling when the other person is in the room. In relationships with a high degree of negative sentiment, there is a lot of eye-rolling, yelling or silent treatments, difficulty solving problems, and high reactivity with one another (I can’t say anything to you anymore without you taking it wrong!).

If negative sentiment is taking over your relationship, it’s difficult even take the first step toward solving problems because you’re both on alert and ready to fight off the next negative shot fired your way. Even if what is said isn’t negative, the strong filter created by negative sentiment can make it difficult for you to hear positive comments. John Gottman’s “Sound Marital House” model refers to a “5 to 1” ratio, meaning five positive interactions are needed to counteract every ONE negative interaction. You can read more about John Gottman’s work here. If you’re noticing a high degree of negative sentiment in your relationship, it is crucial that you work together to restore a more positive climate so you can begin to solve problems together.

You say potato, I say potahto.

One more important area to consider when solving problems is influence (another great Gottman idea). Influence refers to how much we can take into consideration each other’s ideas and thoughts. If you’re living in an “It’s my way or the highway” relationship, you probably don’t accept influence very easily from your partner, or they don’t accept influence well from you. This makes sense, because when it comes to your child, you want to make sure you get it RIGHT. Whether you’re married or not, the person you are co-parenting with needs to have a voice in the decisions that are related to your child. When you have more influence with one another, your relationship can be more flexible and can work through the daily chaos that may come your way.

These are just two reasons why you may find yourself in wagon wheel coffee table situations, and they just scratch the surface. As you look at the places where you and your co-parent may be on different pages, remember that we all have our own reasons and contexts for feeling and behaving the way we do. The hard part is putting all of it together and creating something that works for everyone. Sometimes picturing yourselves as part of your child’s team can be helpful – it can help put your individual issues with one another on the back burner and help you focus on what is best for your child.

If working through your wagon wheel coffee table issues on your own isn’t going well, please don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional. Do your best not to wait until things get toxic – the quicker you can get on top of the issues, the quicker you can focus on helping your child manage his or her life. You can find a qualified Marriage and Family Therapist near you at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists website here.

Kara Thompson is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Lenexa, Kansas. This post is meant to be consultation only, and not therapeutic direction. You can visit Kara’s website at or follow her on Twitter @karagthompson.

Kara Thompson is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Lenexa, Kansas and a homeschooling mom of a teenage son with ADHD. You can find Kara on her website at

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About the author

Kara Thompson is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Lenexa, Kansas and a homeschooling mom of a teenage son with ADHD. You can find Kara on her website at

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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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