Collateral Damage: The Impact of ADD on Relationships

Relationships are challenging as it is, but when a partner has ADD, it can throw another sabotaging spanner in the works. Your husband may not know it yet, but his intimacy issues, volatile temper and inattentiveness towards your feelings could all be deeply connected to his ADD. Not that it makes things any easier on you, but at least it explains his behavior in some way, and allows you a treatment avenue to explore. ADD not only affects intimate relationships but can also impact on friendships, relationships at work. As well as a person’s relationship with himself or herself, including their self-esteem and self worth. The ways in which collateral damage manifests in ADD differ from person to person and the lines between ADD and other co-morbidities that can affect relationships can become blurry. Also, the longer the ADD has gone untreated, the more entrenched and stubborn the behavior patterns can become.

Bryan Hutchinson, author of One Boy’s Struggle: A Memoir is a testament to the collateral damage that can incur when ADD is left undiagnosed and the miracles that can happen when treatment starts. Brian, who suffered with ADHD as a child, was only diagnosed at the age of 37, a diagnosis that turned his life around. According to Bryan, ADDers (as he calls them) are not doomed to failure and in fact, people with ADD are uniquely special and often possess hidden gifts.

Bryan’s diagnosis of ADD gave him better insight into his behavior and the opportunity to be more successful. According to Brian, all that was needed to be done was to keep things simple. By setting his calendar reminders early so that he was never late for meetings; keeping promises to a minimum so that he didn’t have as many to fulfill; by consciously listening and asking a lot of questions in conversations, and turning challenges into opportunities, Bryan was able to better manage his life.

ADD may provide some explanations, but it should not be used as an excuse for bad behavior or difficulties in relationships. Identifying strengths and minimizing weaknesses means one can manage ADD symptoms in the right ways to initiate change.

Co-Morbidity in ADD

Its not always just the attention deficit that affects relationships but the concurrent disorders that are often associated with ADD. In his book, Driven to Distraction, Dr Hallowell explains that ADD may be associated with other disorders that affect daily life and relationships. These include depression, anxiety, agitation or mania, substance abuse, Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Disorder, Borderline Personality features, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and/or learning disorders. ADD has even been liked to criminal behavior. For example a study in prisoners in Norrtälje Prison in Sweden found that the estimated prevalence of ADD in inmates was 40% with only 6.6% receiving an early childhood diagnosis of ADD. All subjects reported substance abuse and mood and anxiety disorders were present in half of the subjects.

In 2009 researchers at the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland at Johns Hopkins in Lutherville, looked at studies done between 1998 and 2008 on the prevalence, persistence, and consequences of ADD in adults. They also looked at the relationship between adult ADD and mood disorders. Results showed that most children with ADD had symptoms that persisted into adulthood and that when left untreated, could adversely affect school and work achievements, diminish self-esteem, damage interpersonal relationships, and significantly reduce quality of life for adults.

ADD and Intimate Relationships

There is not much that is known about the extent to which adult ADD affects marriages and other intimate relationships, as there have not been too many clinical studies in this regard. In 2003 researchers from Mc Gill University in Montreal looked at the impact of ADD on the psychosocial functioning of children and spouses of adults with ADD by examining 33 families with an ADD parent/spouse against 26 families with no ADD. The results showed that family and marital functions were significantly impaired in the ADD families compared to controls. In addition, children with an ADD parent exhibited more psychosocial problems and more co-morbidity than controls.

Kate Kelly, founder of ADDed Dimensions Coaching and the author of You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! and The ADDed Dimension, explains the four major areas of difficulty in adult ADD that can affect intimate relationships. These are:

Difficulties Being and Staying Present. People with ADD can be there in one moment and gone in the next, which can become difficult for a partner to deal with, who may feel disconnected by the experience.

Problems with Sensory Integration. People with ADD can have faulty methods of filtering sensory information, which makes then hyper sensitive to touch, sounds, lights and other stimuli. This can create tension in intimate relationships when a partner becomes annoyed with being touched.

Forgetfulness. No wife likes to have an anniversary or valentines day forgotten. With ADD, if the piece of information is not attended to in the first place, it doesn’t even reach the memory banks. The constant forgetfulness regarding meetings, dates and commitments can start to feel insulting to others and causes friction.

A Short Fuse. It is not uncommon for people with ADD to have a quick temper, that often springs forth from nowhere, leaving people on the other side bewildered and confused.

ADD in the Workplace

If your husband is ne of those men who cannot seem to focus and follow through on a business idea, or who is constantly being reprimanded at the workplace, or even given the boot, his ADD may be the reason. Functioning at work demands cross-temporal organization as well as well maintained behavior, time management, self-organization, problem-solving abilities and self-motivation. It has been found that children with ADD followed into adulthood tend to rank lower in occupational status and have poorer job performance ratings from employers. A study published in The Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology in 2010, looked at whether ADD is associated with deficits in executive functioning (EF) by looking at the degree of impairment in 11 measures involving self-reported occupational problems, employer reported workplace adjustment, and clinician rated occupational adjustment. The University of South Carolina researchers divided subjects up into 3 groups: those with diagnosed ADD, those with some symptoms but no diagnosis, and a control group. Adults with ADD had more trouble with other employees, behavior problems at work, having been fired, quitting out of boredom or being disciplined by a supervisor compared to the other two groups. Employers rated the ADD group as having greater problems with inattentiveness compared to the other two groups, despite not having any knowledge of the diagnoses. According to the research, people with ADD have a poorer overall performance at work, which could lead to a range of social, personal and financial problems in the long run.

Is There Hope?

Having a husband with ADD does not necessarily spell psychosocial problems, a doomed relationship and a man who never gets ahead at work. However, it may help explain some of the issues your husband may be experiencing. On the good side, it creates an avenue in which to explore treatment options that can help him reach his full potential, both personally and professionally.