Strategies for Building a Stronger Relationship When You Have ADHD

ADHD Relationships Can Be Fragile

The divorce rate is nearly twice as high for people with ADHD, (which affects roughly 4 percent of adults), as it is for other couples, according to marriage consultant Melissa Orlov.

ADHD is often missed or overlooked during the dating phase of a relationship. The partner with ADHD is often hyper-focused on the other person, sending flowers, checking in with frequent phone calls, and showering the significant other with loving attention. To someone receiving this attention, the excitement is stimulating. The transition to marriage can be jarring, however. Once the relationship becomes familiar, the intensity of attention is likely to wane, leaving the partner without ADHD, feeling unloved or unattractive—interpreting a distracted spouse as an uninterested spouse.

Over time, tensions can mount and the relationship can begin to deteriorate. This will often play out in a repeating cycle. The ADHD symptoms – e.g., forgetfulness, disorganization, distractibility, etc. – annoy or anger the non-ADHD partner. This partner will begin to devalue the partner that has ADHD. The partner with ADHD withdraws. Then the non-ADHD partner angrily reiterates their expectations of attentive behavior.

ADHD and Relationships: Let’s Be Honest

Why ADHD Relationships Can Be Difficult

What makes many such relationships difficult is that the ADHD partner may not have been diagnosed. Or, even if a diagnosis is present, they may not be aware of how their symptoms affect the non-ADHD partner. The non-ADHD partner may have expectations that the ADHD partner is simply not able to meet – at least not without a lot of work by both partners.

On his website, Dr. Edward Halowell shares lays out the perspective on both partners in a troubled ADHD relationship or marriage.

Non-ADHD Partner

  • Angry and frustrated – almost all of the “scutwork” (chores, organizing, etc) falls to this person
  • Feels unloved due to lack of attention by ADD partner
  • Feels confused and resentful of the change from the courtship patterns
  • May feel like they are in the parent role in a parent-child relationship
  • Over time, he / she feels worn out

ADHD Partner

  • Often is unable to see his / her impact on the partner
  • Feels nagged or constantly criticized
  • Often is not a good communicator

Ways to Help Strengthen Your Relationship

Jonathan Halverstadt at ADDitude magazine offers this advice for couples in a relationship where one or both has ADHD.

  • Take responsibility for managing your symptoms – Educate yourself about your condition and seek help to treat the symptoms to minimize any negative impacts on your relationship.
  • Make a commitment to your relationship – When you have ADHD, it is easy to get bored or impatient in a relationship. This can lead to infidelity. It’s important to make an extra effort to do things that will reinforce your commitment.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously – Be able to laugh at yourself (not your partner) and avoid the temptation to get angry or wounded by unintended actions or words.
  • Forgive and forget – It is tempting to point the finger at the other person and blame him or her for the problems in the relationship. But it takes two to tango. When you admit to the problems you may be causing, instead of dwelling on what our partner does wrong, you can grow spiritually. When you acknowledge your own shortcomings—identify them, work on changing them, and forgive yourself for not being perfect—it is easier to accept your partner and to forgive his or her shortcomings.
  • Seek professional help – Often troubled couples wait too long before seeking professional help for their relationship. By the time they get to the therapist’s office, they’ve already thrown in the towel, and are only looking for a way to validate their misery and justify their decision to divorce. A licensed marriage and family therapist can teach communication and conflict resolution skills and save the relationship before it is too late..

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