Is ADHD the Third Wheel in Your Marriage?

Two people sit on floor and look over schedule on tablet. A red mug sits in front of each person.Conflicts that arise from differing viewpoints on decision making, parenting, finances, or work obligations that impede family time may all contribute to difficulties or disagreements in a marriage. When one or both partners have attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), this can exacerbate the severity of typical conflicts as well as contribute to additional ones.

ADHD symptoms can impact marital decision making in many ways, including:

  • Trouble looking at all of the facts
  • Failure to plan ahead as needed
  • Lack of awareness of other people’s feelings (not because they do not care)
  • Difficulty conveying viewpoints clearly

ADHD symptoms can exacerbate or lead to conflicts in many ways, including:

  • Trouble following through on previously agreed-upon actions
  • Inconsistencies in enforcing rules with parenting
  • Frequent lateness
  • Difficulty completing household chores and general tasks

Here are several practical ways to better manage ADHD symptoms in a marriage:

  1. Make sure both individuals fully recognize how ADHD symptoms (or any other ones, such as anxiety) impact them as individuals.
  2. Have discussions about how ADHD symptoms affect the functioning of the couple.
  3. Create set times to discuss issues. Keep meetings short when possible. Take notes, if needed. And set rules. Set limits on how long one person can talk at a time. This will limit the chances one person forgets what was said or loses focus and does not fully process everything. If one or both partners tends to try to interrupt the other, rather than yelling to signal they are being interrupted, have an item that makes noise present and hit the button/activate it. Allow quick breaks to cool off, process, etc., when needed. Write out items agreed to and sign them.
  4. Keep stress balls and other stress-reduction tools readily available when having discussions.
  5. Delegate household tasks based on each person’s strengths.
  6. Use a joint task list to keep track of what needs to be completed, by whom, and whether it was completed or not.
  7. Use a joint calendar to keep track of family obligations. Send an invitation or email when scheduling an important event so each person knows it has been put on the calendar.
  8. Be aware that issues with emotion regulation may be due to ADHD, and work on tools to help each other remain calm during discussions.
  9. Find mutually agreeable ways to communicate when one partner is bothered by something the other is or is not doing.
  10. Don’t let issues build up before addressing them.

Navigating life with ADHD is not always easy. Being part of a marriage when you and/or your partner has ADHD can be difficult, but it does not have to be. While the tools listed above can help most any relationship, communicating in a calm and respectful manner is one of the best ways to reduce conflict and resolve issues in a marriage impacted by ADHD. Issues are always going to arise, but it’s how you handle them and work to prevent future ones from occurring that matters most.

Finally, remember that you married your partner for a reason. Think about what drew you to them when you feel you are in a rough spot in your relationship because of ADHD-related issues.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey A. Heller, PsyD, therapist in Bethesda, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Leila

    Leila

    August 12th, 2016 at 2:02 PM

    Huh I have never given it any thought quite like this but yeah, if there is ever a sticking point in our relationship this would be it. He is never able to follow through with the things that he promises that he will do because… well, you know the story of living with a person with ADHD. I try so hard to not let this frustrate me and make me angry but there are times when I am really not successful with this at all. I have thought about screaming crying you name it, but what good would that do? I know that I try to be a good influence over his behavior and help him prioritize but there is only so much that I can do and it overwhelms me at times the same way that it does him.

  • Gracie

    Gracie

    August 13th, 2016 at 7:34 AM

    Thankfully my boyfriend is well aware of the triggers that usually get me off track so he is good at helping me either avoid or manage those things.

  • dave

    dave

    August 15th, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    It is only going to be that third wheel if you allow it to become that.
    If you are on the right path to managing your actions then it does not have to be that way at all, but it can take a lot of hard work to keep it from meddling in the important things in your daily life.

  • Ms Sue

    Ms Sue

    August 16th, 2016 at 7:08 AM

    So glad I found this although it probably would have helped me out even more if I had known years before that my husband’s inattention or what seemed like that to me was not actually that but just an inability to focus clearly on what I was saying or doing.
    I think that we would have probably had far fewer disagreements and misunderstandings had I had this information sooner and had he been given better techniques along the way for managing some of the distraction that he always felt.

  • Pierce

    Pierce

    August 16th, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    I have a difficult time with the consistency thing, just because so much of how I live and even how I feel from day to day usually determines which rules I might make the kids follow today and which one I am gonna let slide.
    Yeah, my wife pretty much stays on me all the time about that.

  • Bo

    Bo

    August 17th, 2016 at 10:44 AM

    You might go into a relationship thinking that this will not be a big deal for either of you, that you will sort of just go with it until you begin to understand how much impact this really can have on your daily lives.

  • Marshall

    Marshall

    August 17th, 2016 at 2:02 PM

    As long as I have it on a list I can get it done
    Without that visual cue I am hopeless

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    August 22nd, 2016 at 7:22 AM

    Thank you for reading this article and sharing your thoughts.

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