ADHD and Relationships

couple at therapy

ADHD and Relationships

When one person has ADHD in a relationship, and the other person doesn’t, unique problems can occur. The power dynamic can become that of a parent to child, which isn’t healthy. The non-ADHD person becomes the one with the power, guiding, reminding and helping their partner. When the ADHD partner has a chore to be done, their counterpart may remind them, indeed several times, until the ADHD partner does it. Or the non-ADHD partner may give up and do it themselves rather than keep reminding their other half. Eventually, too many chores or responsibilities are allocated to the non-ADHD partner.

The symptoms of ADHD unmanaged are permanent. Distraction, memory problems and other symptoms start to weigh on the relationship. The non-ADHD partner becomes the parent, the ADHD partner the child. The power dynamic in this relationship becomes off kilter, leaning only to one side. This leads to a lack of respect on the part of the non-ADHD partner as they begin to view their partner like a child, and a condescending attitude can ensue. The ADHD partner begins to resent their significant other.

Adaptation is generally considered a good thing. One partner sees an issue arising and both partners change to meet and overcome it. Some research has shown however that stronger couples see problems coming down the pike and counteract them before they become an issue in the relationship. For ADHD, this power dynamic increases over time. As more and more control is lent to the non-ADHD partner and the more they become the parent, the other the child, the more resentment builds. Both people in this relationship have their problems with the other. One doesn’t want to do all of the work of the other. The ADHD partner doesn’t want to be treated like a child. They get tired of constant reminders, general bossiness and nagging. And the non-ADHD partner gets tired of doing so. And this dynamic puts a strain on the relationship. The couple feels less inclined toward positive feelings of love, affection, physical intimacy and romance.

Child/parent dynamics will almost inevitably lead to relationship or marital dysfunction. ADHD should be treated with the help of a mental health professional. Both partners should be involved. But if you are married or seriously involved with someone who has ADHD or if you have ADHD make sure to talk about it in depth with your partner. Treatment should also be sought. For more advice read, The ADHD Effect On Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa Orlov.

ADHD Can Harm a Marriage

Young couple not communicating after an argument

ADHD Can Harm a Marriage

If your spouse is frightfully disorganized and extremely forgetful, they may have adult ADHD. About 4% of the U.S. population has this condition. Constantly being distracted, forgetfulness, seemingly ignoring one’s spouse, having an inability to carry through on promises are some of the more serious symptoms. ADHD can harm a marriage if left unmitigated. Before approaching your spouse with the prospect of seeing a mental health professional, and risking a fight, it may be wise to evaluate their behavior and see whether or not they exhibit the most common signs. First, there is chronic distraction. Marriage consultant Melissa Orlov, an expert on how ADHD affects couples, told the L.A. Times, “If you are trying to get your partner’s attention and they seem unable to give it to you, that’s a big indicator.” Does your spouse lack a certain self-regulation when it comes to their emotions? Gina Pera, author of, Is It You, Me, Or Adult A.D.D.? said, “They might get really excited about something and their partner will say, ‘Wait, let’s look into the details. Is this really a good idea?’”

Household and other tasks can end in broken promises and hurt feelings. Orlov said, “You’ll say, ‘Honey, will you do X?’ and he’ll say, ‘Sure, no problem,’ and then X does not get done.” People with adult ADHD are a whirlwind. Nothing seems organized. Sufferers get easily overwhelmed, have trouble prioritizing tasks and often miss deadlines. This happens in the work sphere and throughout home life as well. It becomes an entirely different relationship than you first imagined. Pera explains, “The partner says, ‘You are lazy and selfish.’ The adult with ADHD says, ‘You’re controlling.’ Both become resentful.” Luckily, there are moves you can make to help preserve the relationship and mitigate the effects of ADHD. Realize that it is a condition, no one’s fault. Pera says you should, “Acknowledge both of you were working in the dark and both of you were being undermined by this force.” The next step is to look for resources and support in your area. A therapist who specifically understands and has experience with adult ADHD is critical in managing the disorder’s influence on your marriage. There are medications available that work wonders for some. Many become far less forgetful, can arrive places on time, keep promises and more.

One resource is Children and Adults with ADHD, or CHADD, a national advocacy group that should have a chapter in your area. Why not visit their website and see what psychiatrists they recommend in your area, what advice they have and so on? Read up on adult ADHD and get to know a lot about it. Write down specific instances where your spouse has exhibited these behaviors and cross reference them to what symptoms these sources say they are exhibiting. If you have facts on your side, and use loving kindness to break the news to them in a supportive way, they will be more open to seek treatment and the marriage will markedly improve. There are also easy things you can do that will work wonders. Simply keeping a schedule and writing things down in some sort of graphic organizer, say a calendar or on a corkboard, can work wonders. Orlov says focusing on yourself and not your partner is also important. “Contribute your own best self to your relationship,” she said. “You can start on that immediately.” Don’t dwell on the past. It will poison the marriage. Though you might have resentments, you still have to move forward. Orlov says, “It’s a lot more relevant than stomping around in the undiagnosed ADHD portion of your relationship.” But even though you want to get somewhere Orlov says, “You don’t have to meet a certain goal, but you have to try your hardest.” For more on this topic pick up a copy of, The ADHD Effect on Marriage by Melissa Orlov.

ADHD Creates Stress in Relationships


ADHD creates stress in relationships due to the fact that the very nature of ADHD runs counter to that of a healthy relationship. Time management problems, being easily distracted, an inability to plan effectively, and being impulsive can create stress in the relationship for both partners. Strong relationships require the attention of both partners. Yet, the easy distractibility of someone with ADHD neutralizes their ability to focus on the relationship. ADHD impulsive behavior can damage trust and cause problems that can increase the stress level in the relationship. Though they carry even more stress, that isn’t to say that relationships where one person has ADHD can’t be loving and strong. Of course they can. It means merely that they suffer more stress as to the symptomatic issues that those with ADHD struggle with. The other partner needs to be patient and both partners need to practice good communication skills. Knowing what symptoms go with ADHD can help. Of course, there are those situations where ADHD has remained undiagnosed and this puts a particular strain on the relationship as one or both partners may be unaware of exactly why someone is acting a certain way or exhibiting a particular behavior. They may even think that it is done on purpose or maliciously.

If one person has ADHD in a relationship there are things you can do. Learning specific ADHD communication techniques, eliminating a parent-child relationship dynamic, and visiting a counselor and taking part in ADHD treatments in order to lessen symptoms are all important steps that should be taken. Sometimes, too, ADHD may be responsible for the hot button issues that inhabit your relationship, but perhaps you or your partner don’t even recognize the connection. It takes a lot of strategies, time and energy to mitigate the effects of ADHD on your relationship. It’s important to first notice these behaviors in your partner. Then begin to take a look at what patterns are caused by this behavior and how these patterns negatively impact the relationship. Have a discussion about them. If your partner hasn’t been evaluated, let them know how much you love them and care for them and tell them that you think they have ADHD. Show them a reputable website or some other dependable source. Seek out information. Have your significant other see a mental health professional to receive treatment so that the two of you can be educated on how best to mitigate ADHD so it doesn’t affect your relationship.  For more on this, read The ADHD Effect on Marriage by Melissa Orlov.