9 ways ADHD can strain relationships (2023)

ADHD and relationships

Relationships in which one or both partners have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) range from successful to disastrous. Relationships affected — or should I say distorted — by ADHD symptoms can experience “the worst of times.” Pain and anger abound. They can hardly talk to each other about problems affecting the relationship. When you do, you rarely agree. You're frustrated that you got to this point and you're disappointed that you haven't made things better.

Can ADHD Cause Divorce or Other Relationship Problems?

ADHD can be a factor in a wide range ofEheprobleme. If your partner hasADD, you may feel ignored and lonely. Your partner can focus on things that interest him but not you. They never seem to follow what they agreed upon. They seem to be acting like a child instead of an adult. You nag them and start disliking the person you've become. You either fight or gossip. Worst of all, you're stressed out from having to handle the household chores while your partner has all the fun.

If you have ADHD, you may feel like your partner has turned into a nagging monster. The person you loved has become a control freak trying to manage the details of your life. No matter how hard you try, you cannot meet your partner's expectations. The easiest way to deal with them is to leave them alone.

Any of these scenarios can ultimately lead to the end of a relationship. If the above descriptions sound familiar to you, your relationship is suffering from what I call the ADHD effect.ADHD Symptoms— and the reactions you both have to it — have damaged your partnership. The good news is that understanding the role ADHD plays in your relationship can reverse it. When you learn to recognize the challenges ADHD poses to relationships and the steps you can take to address them, you can rebuild your life. That's exactly what my partner and I did.

Signs that undiagnosed ADHD is causing relationship problems

We didn't knowPartner had ADHD. I had fallen in love with his brilliance, sharp wit and adventurous spirit. His intense focus on me was surprising and flattering. He was cordial and attentive. When I got sick on our first date, he tucked me under a blanket on the sofa and made me hot tea. I was touched.

[Self-Test: Could You Have ADD?]

Not long after we got married, our relationship began to fall apart. I couldn't understand how someone so attentive could ignore my needs or help out around the house in such a "consistently inconsistent" manner. He was confused and angry in equal measure. How could the woman he married, who had seemed so lovable and optimistic, turn into a fire-breathing dragon that would haunt him and won't leave him alone?

By our tenth anniversary, we had thought about itdivÖrce. We were angry, frustrated, separated and unhappy. I was beyond sad. The only thing that held us together was a desire to raise our children well and a deep inner feeling that we should do better. Around that time, our nine-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a learning disability and ADHD. Over time, my husband was also diagnosed with ADHD.

Learning to treat and manage ADHD to avoid relationship problems

Discovering that one or both partners have ADHD is just the beginning. Medications are an efficient way to kick-start treatment, but behavior changes need to be made. What you do after you start treatment is critical to your relationship.

If the inability to complete tasks makes you unreliable in your partner's eyes, use a smartphone reminder system or other organizational chart to get the task done. Coaching and cognitive behavioral therapy can also help.

[The ADHD symptom test for women]

Understand that such changes must be voluntary. No matter how much a non-ADHD partner wants to, they cannot force their partner to be more organized or more attentive. Both partners have to switch. Often one ADHD partner sets up a system that works well for the other but seems inefficient or strange to the non-ADHD partner. Their criticism or suggestions on how to do it better demoralize them. My husband and I learned this the hard way, mostly at his expense as I kept trying to force him to do things differently. The harder I pushed, the more he resisted and the worse our relationship got. Sound familiar?

Rediscovering romance and joy in your relationship after years of pain is a journey. Each partner works to redefine the challenges ADHD brings to their lives. They work on systems and treatments to manage ADHD symptoms. And one day everyone realizes that the good things about their partner are what stand out to them the most.

The rewards are worth it. My husband and I went from dysfunctional to happy. We thrive in our careers and our relationship is now stronger than ever. My husband's ADHD symptoms are under control and I understand and appreciate the effort that goes into making this happen. We recognize and accept - and laugh at - each other's faults and rejoice in each other's strengths.

You can do this too. You can overcome adversity and create something better when you recognize how ADHD is affecting your relationship and make adjustments to your attitude and behavior.

9 ways ADHD affects relationships

Many ADHD relationships are affected by similar patterns, especially when the disorder is undertreated. Once you recognize these patterns, you can change them.

1. Hyperfokus-Dating.The biggest shock to ADHD relationships comes with the transition from courtship to marriage. Typically a person withADHD hyperfocusto her partner in the early stages of dating. They make them feel like the center of their world. When the hyperfocus stops, the relationship changes dramatically. The non-ADHD partner takes it personally.

The day we got home from our honeymoon, my husband stopped focusing on me. Suddenly he was gone - back to work, back to his normal life. I was left behind After six months of marriage I wondered if I had married the right man. The non-ADHD partner should remember that inattention is not intentional and find a way to forgive their partner. The feeling of being ignored is painful. Address the issue head-on by finding ways to improve your connections and intimacy, and allowing yourself to mourn the pain hyperfocus shock has caused you both.

2. Walking on eggshells.Tantrums, anger, and rude behavior often accompany untreated ADHD symptoms. One man with ADHD described it to me as “having to anticipate my partner's reaction to everything I do. I live my life questioning her because I want to please her, but most of the time she's just pissed.” Changing the behavior of both partners is crucial to changing a relationship. Don't assume that anger or frustration is part of ADHD for either partner. Chances are you can get a handle on these things.

3. Believing that ADHD doesn't matter.Some partners with ADHD don't believe that ADHD is a factor in their relationship. They say, “I don't need treatment! I like myself the way I am. You're the one who doesn't like me and has problems with this relationship.” My husband was in denial. The good news for us was that about a month after the diagnosis, he decided he didn't have much to lose by considering treatment. He discovered it made a world of difference.

So here's my appeal to all skeptical ADHD partners: if you don't think the disorder is affecting your relationship, assume it is and seek evaluation and effective treatment. It could save your relationship.

4. Misinterpretation of symptoms.You and your partner are likely to misinterpret each other's motives and actions because you think you understand each other. For example, a partner with undiagnosed ADHD may be distracted and pay little attention to those they love. This can be interpreted as "they don't care" rather than "they are distracted". The reaction to the former is to feel hurt. The answer to the latter is “making time for each other.” Getting to know your differences related to ADHD can clear up misinterpretations.

5. Task Wars.Having a partner with untreated ADHD often results in a non-ADHD partner doing more housework. If workload imbalances are not addressed, the non-ADHD partner will feel resentment. Trying harder is not the answer. ADHD partners must try “differently” if they want to be successful—and the non-ADHD partners must accept their partner's unorthodox approaches. Leaving clean clothes in the dryer so they can be easily found the next morning may seem strange, but it can work for the ADHD partner. Both partners benefit when the non-ADHD partner admits that their way of doing things doesn't work for their partner.

6. Impulsive reactions.ADHD symptoms alone are not destructive to a relationship; a partner's response to the symptoms and the response it evokes. You may respond to a partner's habit of blurting out impulsively by feeling disrespected and fighting back. This will cause your ADHD partner to take up the fight. Or you can respond by changing your conversation patterns to make it easier for the ADHD partner to participate. Some ways to do this include speaking in shorter sentences and having your partner take notes to "save" an idea for later. Couples who are aware of this pattern can choose productive responses.

7. Complain now, pay later.If you have an ADHD partner, chances are you're nagging at your partner. The best reason not to do it is that it doesn't work. Because the problem is the ADHD partner's distractibility and untreated symptoms, not their motivation, nagging will not help them get things done. It causes the ADHD partner to withdraw, increasing feelings of loneliness and disconnection and increasing the shame they feel after years of failing to live up to people's expectations. Having a partner who treats the ADHD symptoms and stopping when you're nagging breaks that pattern.

It takes you both

8. The blame game.The Blame Game sounds like the name of a TV show. "For 40 points: Who didn't take out the trash this week?" It's not a game at all. The blame game is corrosive to a relationship. It happens when the non-ADHD partner blames the ADHD partner's unreliability for the relationship problems, and the ADHD partner blames the non-ADHD partner's anger - "If they would just calm down, everything would be fine !” Accepting the validity of the other partner's complaints quickly takes some of the pressure off. By distinguishing your partner from their behavior, you can attack the problem directly, not the individual.

9. The parent-child dynamic.The most destructive pattern in an ADHD relationship is when one partner becomes the responsible "parent figure" and the other becomes the irresponsible "child." This is caused by the inconsistency inherent in untreated ADHD. Because the ADHD partner is unreliable, the non-ADHD partner takes over, causing anger and frustration in both partners. Raising a partner is never good. You can change this pattern by using ADHD support strategies such as reminder systems and treatment. These help the ADHD partner become more reliable and regain their “partner” status.

[Free Download: Manage the Effects of ADHD on Your Relationship]

excerpt fromThe ADHD Effect on Marriage, by Melissa Orlov. Copyright 2010. Reprinted with permission from Specialty Press, Plantation, Florida. All rights reserved.

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