ADHD and Relationships

Several weeks ago, I made an Instagram post on ADHD and relationships and gave you a brief overview of how ADHD can impact relationships. Findings in studies suggest that most people are satisfied in their relationship during the first year, and if it weren’t, then there wouldn’t be subsequent years to celebrate. As the years, past “life,” and responsibilities get in the way; those “things” hamper your relationship because you tend to fight more about those “things,” such as kids, finances, family, etc. Our expectations of one another also change and might intensify. When you add in any physical or mental health, for example, ADHD, it can certainly worsen the relationship.

What Happens in ADHD relationships?

One partner feels slighted because they are picking up the slack, and the partner with ADHD feels nagged because they forget to do something or, leave a mess or wants specific instructions on what to get at the grocery store. As a result, the non-ADHD partner feels less satisfied or even resentful in the relationship than the ADHD partner because they are working harder at getting something done than the ADHD partner. This is especially true for non-ADHD women. If you’re the ADHD partner, you may feel criticized, nagged, and “micromanaged.” You seem to try and try, but nothing you can do or say is “right.” These types of problems only lead to miscommunication, isolation, or avoidance. Ultimately, both partners want to feel loved, respected, and relaxed.

What should you do?

I suggest reading as much as possible on ADHD. Talk to a psychiatrist or mental health professional, ask for help managing your feelings and your relationship, and get psychoeducation on ADHD. Here are some symptoms of ADHD that can impact a relationship:

1.     Trouble paying attention. The ADHD partner may zone out during conversations, making the non-ADHD partner feel ignored and devalued. As a result, the ADHD partner may lose out on details or mindlessly agree to something they later forget.

2.     Forgetfulness-Even if the ADHD partner is paying attention, they may later forget what was discussed.

3.     Poor organizational skills-for the ADHD partner can have difficulty finishing a task, i.e.. Finish building a shelf or painting the wall. The non-ADHD partner may feel the need to pick up their “slack”.

4.     Impulsivity-the ADHD partner may blurt out things without thinking which can cause hurt feelings or say too much, for example, at a dinner party. This can also look like, spending too much money that isn’t in your budget (this can lead to major arguments over finances)

5.     Emotional Outbursts-Many individuals with ADHD have a difficult time controlling their emotions (0 to 60). The ADHD partner may lose their temper easily and have difficulty calming down or discussing things calmly, which can lead to the non-ADHD partner feeling like they are walking on eggshells to avoid a blow-up.

How to turn this around?

1.     Put yourself in your partner’s shoes- The best way to do this is by talking-ask and simply listen. Try parroting one another (one partner says something, and the other partner repeats it); if the response is incorrect, then talk about it, problem-solve/brainstorm what was interpreted incorrectly.

2.     Acknowledge the impact your own behavior has on your partner-for example if your partner continues to say, “You don’t listen to me,” then ask them, “what did I miss?”, “help me understand what you said” Don’t dismiss one another; listen!

3.     Try separating who your partner is from their symptoms or behaviors- So instead of labeling your partner as “irresponsible,” understand that they can be forgetful and may need reminders. Remember, symptoms are not characteristics, but I know they can feel like they are. For the non-ADHD partner, nagging usually shows up out of frustration and stress, not because your partner is unsympathetic.

Tips for the non-ADHD partner:

a.      You can’t control your spouse, but you can control your own actions. Stop immediate verbal attacks.

b.      Encourage your partner when they make progress and acknowledge their efforts

c.    Try focusing on your partner’s intentions, not what they do (this can be hard because we immediately see behaviors, not emotions)

d.     Stop trying to “parent” your partner. It is detrimental to your relationship.

Tips for the ADHD partner:

a.    Accept that your ADHD symptoms do interfere with your relationship.

b.      Explore treatment options. Learning to manage symptoms will lead to a happier life.

c.      If you’re emotional and that leads to derailment in your conversations, agree in advance that you need to take time out to calm down and refocus. You may even want to create a STOP sign or Button visual to help you remember.

d.      Finds ways to spoil your spouse. If your partner feels cared for, they will feel less like your parent.

Work as a team to help your relationship:

a.      Schedule weekly sit-downs or check-ins

b.     Divide tasks and stick to them

c.     Make a list of chores and responsibilities and make sure it’s balanced.

d.    Get help-outsource things that can be done by someone else (outside of the family, like a pool technician or lawn gardener.

e.      Split up individual tasks-if the ADHD has trouble completing tasks, the non-ADHD partner may need to step in and account for this (step c) to avoid resentment.