9 Ways ADHD May Strain Relationships

In an ADHD relationship, the most damaging pattern is when one partner takes on the role of a responsible ‘parent’ and the other becomes the irresponsible “child”.

ADHD and Relationships

Relationships where one or both partners suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADHD) or ADD can be successful or disastrous. The symptoms can cause relationships to be distorted, and this can lead to “the worst times”. Anger and pain are common. You barely speak to each other when it comes to problems in the relationship. You rarely agree when you do. You are frustrated and disappointed at the fact that you have reached this point.


 ADHD and divorce or other relationship issues: Can ADHD cause them?

ADHD can contribute to a variety of marital issues. You may feel lonely and ignored if your partner suffers from ADD. You may feel ignored and lonely if your partner is unable to focus on you. They don’t seem to follow through with what they have agreed to. They may act more like a child than an adult. You’ve grown to dislike yourself because you’re constantly nagging them. You either fight, or you clam up. You are also stressed out by having to take care of the household while your partner has all the fun.


You may think that your partner is a monster if you suffer from ADHD. Your partner has turned into a control freak and is trying to manage every aspect of your life. You can’t live up to your partner’s high expectations, no matter how hard it is. It’s best to just leave them be.


These two scenarios can lead to the breakup of a relationship. If you recognize the descriptions above, then your relationship may be suffering from the ADHD effect. ADHD symptoms and your responses to them have harmed your relationship. Understanding the role ADHD plays in your partnership can help you turn things around. You can rebuild your life when you identify the challenges ADHD can bring to relationships and how to overcome them. My partner and I both did this.



Undiagnosed ADHD Can Cause Relationship Issues

We did not know that my partner had ADHD. I was infatuated with his brilliance and sharp wit as well as his thirst for adventure. It was flattering and surprising to see his intense focus on me. He was warm, attentive, and caring. He made me tea and tucked me in under a blanket when I was sick on our date. I was touched.


Our relationship started to break down not long after we were married. I could not understand how someone so attentive to my needs would ignore them or be “consistently inconsistent”, in helping around the house. He was both confused and frustrated. How could a woman who seemed endearing, optimistic, and devoted to him, suddenly turn into a dragon that wouldn’t let him rest and wouldn’t leave?


We had already considered divorce by our tenth wedding anniversary. We were frustrated, angry, unhappy, and disconnected. I was more than sad. We were only bonded by the desire to raise our kids well, and by the deep-seated feeling that we should be able to do better. Our daughter, then nine years old, was diagnosed with a learning disorder and ADHD. Over time, my husband also developed ADHD.


Learn to treat and cope with ADHD to avoid relationship problems

Finding out that either one partner or both have ADHD is only the first step. Treatment can be accelerated with medication, but you must also make behavioral changes. Your relationship is dependent on what you do after you start treatment.


Use a smartphone or other organizational system to complete the task if you are unreliable to your partner because of not being able to finish a task. Cognitive behavioral therapy and coaching can help.



Understanding that any changes made must be voluntary. Even if a partner who is not ADHD wants to, he or she cannot force his partner to become organized or more attentive. Both partners have to change. Sometimes, an ADHD partner will set up a system for their partner that is efficient and works well but seems strange or inefficient to the non-ADHD partner. They become demoralized by their criticisms or suggestions on how to improve the situation. We learned this hard lesson, mainly at my husband’s expense, when I tried to make him do things differently. The more I pushed him, the more he refused, and our relationship deteriorated. Does this sound familiar to you?


It is not easy to rediscover romance and joy after years of pain. Each partner tries to reframe the challenges ADHD brings into their lives. Each partner works on treatments and systems to manage ADHD symptoms. One day, they both realize that their partners’ positive qualities are the things they value most.


It’s worth it. We went from being dysfunctional to happy. Our relationship is stronger than ever before, and we are both thriving in our careers. I can control my husband’s ADHD and appreciate all the work that goes into it. We laugh at each other’s mistakes and celebrate each other for their strengths.


You can too. If you can recognize the way ADHD impacts your relationship, and adjust your behavior and attitude accordingly, then you can create something better.


 ADHD and Relationships: 9 ways ADHD affects relationships

Similar patterns are present in many ADHD relationships, particularly when the disorder has been poorly managed. You can change these patterns when you identify them.

  1. Hyperfocus dating. The transition from courtship into marriage is the biggest shock for ADHD relationships. At the beginning of a relationship, people with ADHD tend to focus excessively on their partner. The person makes the other feel like they are their center of attention. Relationships change dramatically when hyperfocus stops. The partner who is not ADHD takes it personally.


The day after we returned from our honeymoon, my husband stopped hyperfocusing me. He was gone, back to work and his normal life. I was left behind. I was left behind. Inattentiveness in the non-ADHD spouse is not deliberate. Find a way of forgiving their partner. It’s painful to feel ignored. Face the problem head-on and find ways to improve intimacy and your connection. Allow yourself to grieve the pain caused by hyperfocus shock.


  1. Walking on Eggshells. Untreated ADHD symptoms are often accompanied by tantrums, aggression, and rude behaviors. A man with ADHD told me that he had to “anticipate my partner’s reaction to everything I did”. I spend my entire life trying to guess her because I want her to be happy, but she is usually just mad. You shouldn’t assume anger or frustration from either partner to be a sign of ADHD. You can probably control these emotions.


  1. Believing ADHD doesn’t matter. Some partners with ADHD do not believe that it affects their relationship. They claim, “I do not need treatment!” 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 spouse was in denial. We were happy to learn that a few months after his diagnosis, he realized he had nothing to lose and decided to consider treatment. He found it made a huge difference.


I would like to appeal to any ADHD partner who is skeptical: If you do not believe that the disorder will affect your relationship, then assume it will and seek an evaluation and effective treatment. You could save your relationship.



  1. Misinterpretation of Symptoms. Your partner and you may misinterpret the other’s actions and motives because you both think you understand one another. A partner who is undiagnosed with ADHD might be distracted and pay little attention to the people they love. It can be taken as a sign that they don’t care, rather than being distracted. The first interpretation is hurt. To the second, the response is to “make time for each other”.


  1. Chore Wars. Untreated ADHD can lead to a non-ADHD partner doing more housework. The non-ADHD spouse will become resentful if the imbalance in workload is not addressed. The answer is not to try harder. If they want to be successful, ADHD partners need to try “differently” and non-ADHD partners must accept the unorthodox approach of their ADHD partner. It may seem strange, but for an ADHD partner, leaving clean clothes in the washer to be found easily the next day may work. The non-ADHD partner can benefit from admitting that their method of doing things does not work for the ADHD partner.


  1. Impulsive responses. ADHD symptoms aren’t enough to destroy a relationship. It’s the partner’s reaction to them and their reactions that do. If your partner has a habit of blurting things out impulsively, you can react by feeling disrespected. Your ADHD partner will then join in the fight. You can also respond by changing the way you talk to make it easier to engage 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.


  1. Nag Now, Pay Later. You probably nag at your partner if you have ADHD. It doesn’t work. That is the best reason to avoid it. Nagging is not going to help the ADHD partner get things done. The problem is their distractibility and untreated ADHD symptoms, not their motivation. This causes the ADHD partner to withdraw, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. It also reinforces their shame after not meeting expectations for years. This pattern can be broken by having a partner who treats the ADHD symptoms and stops you from nagging.


Two of you is all it takes


  1. The Blame Game. The Blame Game is a name that sounds like a television show. This is not a game. The blame game can be destructive to a relationship. The blame game is played when one partner blames another partner for relationship issues, while the ADHD partner blames their partner’s inability to be reliable. It is important to separate your partner’s behavior from the person. This allows couples to focus on the problem and not the individual.


  1. The Parent-Child Dynamic. In an ADHD relationship, the most damaging pattern is when one partner takes on the role of “parent” and the other becomes the “child”. This is due to the inconsistent nature of untreated ADHD. The ADHD partner cannot be trusted, so the non-ADHD takes over. This leads to anger and frustration from both partners. It’s never a good idea to parent a partner. You can change the pattern of behavior by using ADHD strategies such as treatment and reminder systems. These strategies help the your partner to become more reliable, and regain status as a “partner.”