How ADHD Can Impact Your Relationship
Effectively communicating in relationships can be a challenge in the best of circumstances. Add the diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to one or both partners and chances for relationship problems can feel insurmountable.
A happy, healthy relationship is definitely possible if you both take the time to understand the challenges you will face and learn how to manage them. But first, the ADHD partner must take ownership of their ADHD and the non-ADHD partner needs to learn some support skills and remove judgment of their partner.
One of the biggest challenges is for both spouses to accept the very real toll an attention disorder can take. Often the partner without ADHD worries that the diagnosis will give the other partner an excuse for not helping; meanwhile, the person with the attention disorder typically has a hard time understanding how his or her behavior affects others.
Adults with attention disorders often learn coping skills to help them stay organized and focused at work, but many of them struggle at home and in their marriage, where their tendency to become distracted is a constant source of conflict.
Adult ADHD can be tricky because symptoms vary from person-to-person, but in general the person will struggle with inattention, forgetfulness, impulsivity, disorganization, and an explosive temper. Adults with ADHD can lose focus during conversations as their mind wanders to other topics, leaving their partner feeling devalued. This can be frustrating and lead to resentment for both spouses as arguments around this issue never get resolved.
Even when adults with ADHD are paying attention, they might still forget what was discussed. This can cause others to see the person as unreliable or incapable. Forgetting things, even small things, can be frustrating, if not infuriating for both partners.
The symptom of impulsivity results in the person having trouble inhibiting behaviors, comments, and responses. They might blurt out thoughts without considering the feelings of others or consequences of their words. Interrupting others and rushing through tasks without reading instructions can also be the result of impulsivity.
Difficulty organizing and/or completing tasks can lead to household chaos when it comes to chores, paying bills, and parenting. This can cause resentment and frustration for the non-ADHD partner, who might feel like he or she does most of the work at home and is the “only responsible adult”. It’s not uncommon for roles to resemble a parent-child interaction instead of a marital partnership comprised of two adults.
While the adult with ADHD in the relationship is at risk of feeling micromanaged and overwhelmed with criticism, the non-ADHD partner might feel disconnected, lonely, or underappreciated. It’s important to place the focus on how the ADHD symptoms impact the relationship, instead of blaming one another for a breakdown in their bond.
Education is key. The more both of you learn about ADHD and its symptoms, the easier it will be to see how it is influencing your relationship. You will likely both find a great sense of relief when you realize there is an explanation for so many of your issues! This understanding can lessen the sense of frustration, feelings of being misunderstood, and resentment.
Remembering that an ADHD brain is hardwired differently than a brain without ADHD can help the non-ADHD partner take symptoms less personally. For the partner with ADHD, it can be a relief to understand what’s behind some of your behaviors—and know that there are steps you can take to manage your symptoms.
If you’re the one with ADHD, it’s important to recognize how your untreated symptoms affect your partner. Recognize that nagging usually arises from feelings of frustration and stress, not because your partner is completely unsympathetic and uncaring. You may feel unloved or unappreciated or that your partner wants to change you. Try altering your perspective to know you are loved and it’s the symptoms of the disorder, not you as a person, which your spouse isn’t fond of.
If you’re the non-ADHD partner, consider how your nagging and criticism makes your spouse feel. ADHD symptoms alone don’t cause trouble. It’s the symptom plus how the non-ADHD partner responds to the symptoms. Separate who your partner is from their symptoms or behaviors.
Instead of labeling your partner as “irresponsible,” recognize their forgetfulness and lack of follow-through as symptoms of ADHD. It’s important to practice empathy. When times get tough, take a deep breath and remember the reasons why you fell in love.
Compassion and teamwork top the list of qualities that make a relationship with an ADHD partner work. A relationship involving someone with ADHD is never easy, but by no means is it doomed to failure.