The most damaging pattern in an ADHD relationship occurs when one partner assumes the role of a responsible “parent” and the other that of a reckless “child.”
ADHD in Relationships
Relationships in which one or both partners have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD or ADD) can face unique challenges. ADHD symptoms can distort or even destroy connections, often leading to feelings of anger or pain. You barely communicate about the problems in the relationship, and when discussions do happen, you rarely agree. You are frustrated and disappointed that you have reached this point.
Divorce & Other Relationship Issues: Can ADHD Be the Cause?
ADHD is a factor in many marital issues. You may feel lonely and ignored if your partner has ADD and is focused on other things. It can be frustrating when they don’t do what they say and act more like a child than an adult. You’re constantly nagging them and dislike who you have become. Either you fight or you clam up. You are worried about caring for the house while your partner has all the fun.
From the perspective of someone with ADHD, you may think your partner is a monster. They have turned into a control freak, trying to manage every aspect of your life. No matter your efforts, you can’t seem to live up to your partner’s high expectations. It seems the best solution is to leave them be.
These two scenarios can lead to the breakup of a relationship. If you recognize the situations above, your relationship may suffer from the ADHD effect. It’s not just the ADHD symptoms, but also your responses to them that have affected your relationship. Understanding the role ADHD plays in a relationship can help turn it around. There is potential to rebuild your life when you identify the challenges ADHD can bring to relationships and how to overcome them. My partner and I have firsthand experience in doing just that.
Undiagnosed ADHD Can Cause Relationship Issues
At the beginning of our relationship, we did not know that my partner had ADHD. I was in love with the brilliance of his wit and his appetite for adventure. His intense focus on me was flattering and surprising. He was warm, attentive, and caring. He made me tea and tucked me under a blanket when I was sick on our date. I was touched.
Cracks in our relationship appeared not too long after we were married. I struggled to understand how someone so attentive to my needs could now ignore them or be “consistently inconsistent” in helping around the house. He was both confused and frustrated, wondering how the optimistic and endearing woman he married was now a relentless dragon that wouldn’t let him rest and wouldn’t leave.
By our 10th anniversary, we were considering divorce. We were frustrated, angry, disconnected, and unhappy. I was more than sad. Yet, our shared commitment to raising out kids kept us together, as we held onto the belief that we could improve. Our daughter, then nine years old, was diagnosed with a learning disorder and ADHD. As we navigated her diagnosis, it became apparent that my husband, too, exhibited signs of ADHD.
Learning to Treat and Cope With ADHD to Avoid Relationship Problems
Discovering that one or both partners have ADHD is just the first step. While medication can accelerate treatment, making behavioral changes is essential. The future of your relationship is dependent on the actions you take after you start treatment.
If you find it challenging to complete tasks and it affects your partner’s trust, consider using a smartphone or other organizational system to stay on track. Cognitive behavioral therapy and coaching can also help.
Realizing that change must be voluntary is crucial. A partner without ADHD might desire organization and attentiveness from their partner who has ADHD, but they cannot impose these changes. Both partners have to want to adapt. Sometimes, an ADHD partner will set up a system for their partner that is efficient and works well for them, but seems strange or inefficient to the non-ADHD partner. Criticisms or “better” suggestions can lead to feelings of demoralization. We learned this hard lesson, mostly at my husband’s expense, when I tried to make him do things differently. I found that the harder I pushed him, the more he would resist, and our relationship worsened. Does this sound familiar to you?
It is not easy to rediscover romance and joy after years of pain. But, with the right treatment and behavioral actions, each partner can begin to reframe the challenges ADHD has brought into their lives. Each partner is able to work on systems and treatments to manage ADHD symptoms. Over time, they come to value the positive qualities in one another above all else.
The journey is worth it. We went from being dysfunctional to being happy. Our relationship is stronger than ever, and we both thrive in our careers. My husband’s ADHD no longer stands as a barrier, but a facet of him I’ve come to understand and appreciate. We find humor in our mistakes and celebrate one another’s strengths.
You can get here too. By recognizing the influence of ADHD on your relationship and making the necessary adjustments in behavior and perspective, a brighter future awaits.
Navigating ADHD in Relationships: Nine Impacts on You and Your Partner
Similar patterns exist in many ADHD relationships, particularly when the disorder has been poorly managed. However, you can change these patterns as you learn to identify them.
1. Hyperfocus in Dating
The transition from courtship to marriage often is hardest in relationships where one partner has ADHD. At the beginning of the relationship, an individual with ADHD will hyperfocus their partner, making them feel like they are their center of attention. Yet, when hyperfocus wanes, the relationship changes dramatically. The partner who does not have ADHD can be left feeling abandoned, taking the change personally.
For instance, the day after we returned from our honeymoon, my husband’s focus shifted away from me. He was gone, back to work and his everyday life, and I felt left behind. Six months in, I questioned whether I had married the right person. But it’s important to understand that inattentiveness in the non-ADHD spouse is not deliberate. It’s crucial to find forgiveness and address the issue directly. Enhance intimacy, strengthen the bond, and allow yourself to grieve the pain caused by hyperfocus shock.
2. Walking on Eggshells
Untreated ADHD can lead to tantrums, rudeness, and anger. A man with ADHD told me he had to “anticipate my partner’s reaction to everything I did. I spend my entire life trying to guess her reactions because I want her to be happy, but she is usually just mad.” However, you should not assume anger or frustration from either partner to be a sign of ADHD. These emotions can often be managed and understood.
3. Believing That ADHD Doesn’t Matter
Many people with ADHD do not believe that ADHD has an impact on their relationship. “I don’t require treatment!” they say, “I’m happy with myself the way I am. You are the one who does not like me and has issues with this relationship.”
My husband was once in this state of denial. We were happy to learn that about a week or two after his diagnosis, he realized he had nothing to lose and decided to consider treatment. He found it made a huge difference.
To those with ADHD who may be skeptical: Even if you do not believe that the disorder will affect your relationship, consider seeking an evaluation and effective treatment. This step could save your relationship.
4. Misinterpreting the Symptoms
You and your partner may misinterpret the other’s actions and motives because you believe you understand each other. A partner undiagnosed with ADHD may be distracted and pay little attention to the people they care about. It can be taken as “they are not caring” or “they are distracted”. The former can cause emotional pain, while the latter suggests a need to prioritize spending time together.
5. Chore Wars
When a partner is untreated for ADHD, the non-ADHD partner often takes on more household chores. The non-ADHD spouse will become resentful if the imbalance in workload is not addressed. The answer is not merely to try harder. If they want to be successful, ADHD partners must approach tasks differently, in a way that suites them, and non-ADHD partners must accept the unorthodox approach of their ADHD partner. For instance, though it may seem strange, an ADHD partner might find it effective to leave clean clothes in the washer for easy access the next day. The non-ADHD partner can benefit from admitting that their own method of doing things does not work for the ADHD partner.
6. Impulsive Responses
While ADHD symptoms alone don’t destroy relationships, the partner’s reaction to them and the feelings that they evoke play a significant role. If your partner blurts things out impulsively, one way to react is by feeling disrespected or fighting back, causing your ADHD partner to join in the fight. Another way to respond is by changing how you speak to make it easier to engage with your ADHD partner. You can do this by speaking in shorter sentences or having your partner write down ideas to “hold” for later. Couples that are aware of the pattern can respond productively.
7. Nag Now, Pay Later
Continuously nagging your parter with ADHD can backfire. It won’t work and is not going to help the ADHD partner get things done. The issue is not their motivation, but their distractibility and untreated ADHD symptoms. Such persistent prodding causes the ADHD partner to withdraw, creating isolation and loneliness, and reinforcing the shame of not meeting expectations over the years. Breaking this pattern requires addressing the symptoms of ADHD directly and without consistent nagging.
8. The Blame Game
The “Blame Game” sounds like a name for a television game show, but it’s far from entertaining. This pattern emerges when partners point fingers at each other for relationship issues and can be quite destructive. It is common for the ADHD partner to blame their partner for being unreliable. It is essential to separate your partner’s behavior from the person themselves. Doing so shifts the focus to resolving the problem rather than targeting the individual.
9. The Parent-Child Dynamic
Untreated ADHD can lead to a parent-child dynamic in relationships, where one partner is the “parent” and the other is the “child”. This pattern is harmful due to its inconsistency; the ADHD partner cannot be trusted, so the non-ADHD person takes over, leading to anger and frustration on both sides. It’s never a good idea to parent a partner. By employing ADHD strategies, such as treatment and reminder systems, the ADHD partner can become more reliable, restoring an equal partnership in the relationship.
ADHD introduces distinct challenges into relationships, from shifts in attention to household dynamics. However, understanding these challenges is key to navigating them. By recognizing and addressing these patterns with tailored strategies, couples can transform these obstacles, strengthening their bond. With the right approach, challenges become opportunities for growth and deeper understanding in relationships impacted by ADHD.