One area where ADHD can be particularly challenging as an adult is relationships. Finding a romantic partner and building a life with them is tough for many adults, but having a disorder that makes you distractible, disorganized, or impulsive makes it even more difficult.
That doesn't mean people with ADHD can't have wonderfully fulfilling relationships. But it does require a little extra effort in order to make sure you and your partner are on the same page. Learn more about how ADHD affects relationships and tips for making sure your disorder doesn't get in the way of your happiness as a couple.
How ADHD Can Strain Relationships
It's no secret that ADHD can create stress in a relationship. A number of studies have focused on the experiences of people in relationships where one or both partners have ADHD. Findings from these studies are rarely heartening, with many indicating that adults with ADHD often have short-lived romantic relationships or relationships marred by conflict. One study found that young adults with ADHD have higher levels of interpersonal problems compared to their peers without ADHD.
When it comes to marriage and parenthood, one study found that 96% of spouses of adults with ADHD say their partner’s symptoms make it harder for them to manage their household and raise kids. And some studies suggest that marriages affected by ADHD have a divorce rate that's twice as high as that of the general population.
But what exactly is creating these issues? When it comes to ADHD, certain symptoms can be particularly problematic for the health of a relationship. Some of those symptoms include:
Distraction: If your partner feels like you're always distracted, it can lead to feelings of neglect and loneliness. Distraction can also cause you to zone out during conversations and make your partner feel like you don't care about what they have to say.
Forgetfulness: Following through on promises and obligations is an important part of relationships, so being forgetful can make you seem unreliable. For example, forgetting the things your non-ADHD partner has said might make them feel unheard or unimportant. Unreliability can often translate to the non-ADHD partner, as a feeling of lacking security that the ADHD partner has important things under control. This can increase anxiety and even lead to resentment over time in the non-ADHD partner.
Emotional sensitivity: If your ADHD causes problems with emotional regulation, like moodiness or losing your temper, it can make your partner feel like they have to walk on eggshells around you.
Impulsivity: Taking unnecessary risks can upset your partner. And certain impulsive habits, like shopping or gambling, can lead to financial struggles.
Disorganization: If you live with a partner or have children together, problems with staying organized, managing a schedule, and completing necessary tasks can lead to a significant amount of stress in the relationship.
Argumentativeness: Oppositionality is another area that affects relationships. Oftentimes, this trait is seen in people with ADHD - and it can wreak havoc in relationships. It's almost like the ADHD partner doesn't even realize they're being argumentative, it just happens. It may look like they are always playing the devil's advocate and undermining suggestions the non-ADHD partner has made. It can lead to frequent arguing and the non-ADHD partner feeling devalued and wanting to avoid communication. This stresses the importance of the ADHD partner recognizing how they need to work on their communication and when they are being too oppositional.
If one person in a relationship does not have ADHD, they may feel as though they are always picking up the slack or get the feeling that they are disconnected from their partner. Meanwhile, the person with ADHD may feel like they're being micromanaged or criticized. This can easily become a vicious cycle — unless you both decide to work together to address the issue.
Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship
When the ADHD issues in a relationship aren't addressed, the problems will only continue to worsen. But if you actively work to find solutions together, you can develop a happy and healthy partnership. The following strategies are recommended for strengthening a relationship that is affected by ADHD.
Learn more about ADHD
Education can be one of the most powerful tools for managing a relationship with ADHD. This is especially true for the partner who doesn't have the disorder. Learning about the symptoms and the differences in the way an ADHD brain functions can lead to greater understanding and empathy. As the person with ADHD, try to learn more about how your disorder affects your relationship and the ways in which you can be a better partner.
Divide up tasks
A great way to work as a team in your relationship is to dole out tasks to the person who is best suited to them. Maybe your partner is frustrated that you are constantly late on paying bills or overspending on impulse purchases. In that case, it would be beneficial for your partner to handle the finances. On the flip side, you might prefer physical tasks like vacuuming or mowing the lawn because the movement is better suited to your ADHD hyperactivity. Dividing up tasks helps to make sure both partners are contributing so that resentment doesn't build up over time.
Work on your communication
Emotional volatility can be an issue for some people with ADHD. And the person without ADHD might not be fully open about what's bothering them. Improving your communication as a couple is essential for making your relationship work. Work on speaking calmly when tensions are high, and be honest about what you feel. Ask questions about what the other person is thinking or feeling too, and work on actively listening to make sure they feel heard.
Try couples' therapy
If any of the strategies above continue to be challenging for you as a couple, look for a couples’ counselor or therapist who can provide additional guidance. A professional can help you work as a team to overcome those challenges and find solutions that work for your relationship. Regular sessions can provide a great way to address issues that pop up occasionally as well as any ongoing struggles creating strain between you two.
Manage your ADHD
If your ADHD symptoms are continuously causing problems in your relationship, it's time to reevaluate how you're managing your condition. Is there a medication that might work better for you? Would you benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy? Discuss your concerns with your primary care provider, or use a telehealth service like Done to speak directly with an ADHD clinician about your options. You may be able to find superior solutions for dealing with your ADHD, which can be beneficial for your relationship.
Looking Beyond Romantic Relationships
While much of the advice for ADHD in relationships focuses on romantic partners, these tips are helpful far beyond the experiences of dating and marriage. Often, there are similar ways in which your ADHD affects other relationships, like those with your family, your friends, or even your coworkers.
Perhaps your siblings feel hurt that you don’t attend family gatherings, but the truth is that you forget about them and miss them unintentionally. Maybe your friends think you don’t care about them very much, but your distractibility just makes it hard to maintain focus during long talks.
It's important to address these issues, because if you ignore them, it's likely that your relationships with these people will weaken over time. For example, you might need to figure out a better solution for scheduling important events, or you might use a fidget tool to help you stay focused during conversations with friends.
Many of the ADHD relationship tips above can also help strengthen the bonds you have with people beyond the one you have with a romantic partner. This disorder may always make it a little harder to maintain your relationships, but once you know what kinds of strategies help you become a better partner and friend, you can enjoy much more happiness in those relationships.