In any relationship, there may be struggles with communication, expectations, and unmet needs. For relationships in which at least one of the partners has attention-deficit hyperactivity, better known as ADHD, these struggles can be pronounced. Because ADHD impacts brain functioning and behavior, all aspects of life may be impacted by the symptoms—positively and negatively.
There are numerous potential benefits to being in a relationship with someone with ADHD. People with ADHD tend to be creative and passionate, among many other desirable attributes. There are also challenges that come with loving and living with someone with ADHD that often go unnoticed and therefore unaddressed. The more awareness you have of how symptoms can impact a relationship, the more prepared you may be to manage the challenges that come your way. These may include:
What this can look like in your relationship: Impulsivity can manifest as, for example, moving in too quickly with your partner or making other major decisions around the relationship with little thought or preparation (but, perhaps, with plenty of love and good intention). Because someone with ADHD may be lacking in stimulation in their prefrontal cortex, they may seek it in ways large and small. This can also play out in the person with ADHD making blunt comments that could unintentionally hurt their partner’s feelings.
The need for stimulation is high for those with ADHD. When they find something that makes them feel good, typically they want to chase that feeling. Examples of this may include binging on a Netflix series, playing a video game for extended periods, or, if their job is interesting enough to them, overly investing in work. In a relationship context, they may want to do exciting (and perhaps unsafe or unwise) or last-minute activities together.
What this can look like in your relationship: For some individuals with ADHD, arguing and continuing conflict may be a common theme in their relationship—not necessarily because they’re unhappy in the relationship, but because, for some, it feels good to engage, even through arguing. For the other partner, this can be infuriating and exhausting to be a part of.
On the other hand, some individuals with ADHD who aren’t stimulated by conflict have the opposite experience in arguments. For example, they may get stuck and struggle to communicate or advocate for themselves on the spot. As the other partner, you may find this frustrating and wind up concluding, inaccurately, they don’t care enough to engage and fight for the relationship.
You are not crazy, and you are not alone. You are, however, in a relationship that may need extra care, patience, consideration, and communication.
What this can look like in your relationship: This one’s pretty straightforward. Forgetfulness can manifest in all kinds of frustrating ways in a relationship: losing the car keys, forgetting about a scheduled date, forgetting to do something their partner asked them to do, paying bills late, leaving the stove on, and the list goes on.
ADHD makes it easy to get sidetracked. It can have nothing to do with how much the person loves or cares about their partner and their needs. It has everything to do with a condition that takes the person out of the moment, no matter how much they may want to stay in it.
4. Struggles with Organization
What this can look like in your relationship: Are there unfinished projects in the home? Is the home overly cluttered or dirty? It may be difficult for a person with ADHD to stick with and complete one task at a time, whether it’s organizing the basement, painting the kitchen, or something else. Other ways organizational struggles can play out: the person with ADHD can’t find their favorite sweatshirt, often misplaces their glasses, or inconsistently handles household tasks. Perhaps the person successfully installs the screen door, but then leaves all the tools they used for the project out on display for weeks until you ask them (possibly multiple times) to put them away.
A person with ADHD may find their struggles with organization every bit as frustrating as their partner, if not more so.
What this can look like in your relationship: Do you often feel like you have to repeat yourself to your partner with ADHD? Do you catch them seemingly not listening to you? Do you get angry after asking them to pick up an item at the store or do a certain task and after multiple requests they still haven’t done it? Do you experience conversations with your partner constantly taking detours (i.e., you start one topic and quickly end up on a different topic)?
Some of these examples, as applicable as they may be to your relationship, may feel a bit overwhelming. The intention here is to give you some insight and awareness into your everyday experiences with a partner whose condition may have no apparent cause while having very apparent effects on your relationship. You are not crazy, and you are not alone. You are, however, in a relationship that may need extra care, patience, consideration, and communication. Although medication can be helpful, a person with ADHD cannot will themselves into being “better,” and they can’t simply think their way into, say, focusing more or calming down.
Talk with your partner about your expectations and needs and how to go about getting them met in a reasonable, realistic way. It’s important to develop a plan. Meeting with a couples therapist who has experience working with ADHD is a great place to start.
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