SWISS MEDICAL EXPERTISE: ZURICH, MALLORCA, LONDON, NEW YORK

10 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
Fact checked

It wouldn’t be right to call ADHD the kiss of death, as the condition alone can never make or break a romantic relationship. However, if a couple fails to acknowledge the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the issue is likely to create or exacerbate tensions in relationships. These symptoms, such as disorganisation, distractibility, and impulsivity, in particular, can negatively impact different areas of a relationship.

Regardless of whether one or both partners have ADHD, the condition can severely plague the relationships by stirring frustration, resentment, and misunderstandings. The good news is that educating yourself more about the role of ADHD in relationships can help both partners develop strategies to improve communication and produce happier and healthier relationships.

As someone with ADHD striving to maintain an intimate relationship, a person may feel:

Different

The brains of people with ADHD are often racing; hence, these people experience the world in a way that others may not relate to or understand so easily.

Overwhelmed

The constantly nagging symptoms of ADHD may overwhelm a partner, either overtly or secretly. It becomes difficult for them to keep their daily life under control, and doing so requires a lot more effort and work than other people without this condition. Even if these overwhelming feelings are not always visible, a person with ADHD may feel like they have to struggle to keep their head above water constantly.

Secondary to their partner

Since their non-ADHD partner spends significant time correcting or doing things for them, people with ADHD often feel incompetent and emasculated.

Shamed

People with ADHD face a great deal of shame, forcing them to compensate for their behaviour by blustering or retreating.

Unwanted and unloved

Because of the constant reminders from spouses and partners about how they should change, people with ADHD in relationships can feel unloved and unwanted.

Scared of failing again

As the relationship of a person with ADHD worsens due to the inconsistencies in their behaviour, they start anticipating failure. This anticipation of failure often makes them reluctant to try and save the relationship.

A desire to be accepted

This is probably one of the strongest emotional desires a person with ADHD may have in a relationship. The constant reminders from their partners on how they need to change or do better may make them feel like they are not entirely accepted. As a result, the ADHD partners may try too hard just to feel accepted and loved by their partners.

A non-ADHD partner also goes through a relationship’s series of emotions and feelings. They may feel:

Unloved or unwanted

They may perceive a lack of attention from their ADHD partner as a lack of interest. Hence, one of their most common desires includes being cherished in the hands of their partners and receiving undivided attention from them.

Emotionally blocked and angry

Resentment and anger can permeate multiple interactions of someone with their ADHD spouse. Sometimes, they may express their anger in the form of disconnection. Similarly, others may try to block their feelings and start bottling them up inside to control their anger.

Ignored and offended

A non-ADHD spouse may feel offended and ignored when their ADHD partner does not act on their advice and experience.

Stressed out

Because the non-ADHD spouse often carries a significant share of family responsibilities and cannot let their guard down, it eventually burns them out.

Frustrated

Due to the inconsistencies in their ADHD partner’s behaviour, a non-ADHD spouse may feel that the same issues keep coming back to hit them repeatedly.

Depleted and exhausted

Despite carrying too many responsibilities and constantly trying to fix the relationship, a non-ADHD person eventually becomes exhausted.

Living with someone with ADHD can be highly challenging. The vast range of symptoms exhibited by the ADHD partner can quickly strain relationships and lead to multiple issues that may make them seem irreparable. Some of these common symptoms of ADHD that particularly affect relationships include:

Inability to pay attention

People with ADHD can easily zone out during conversations, giving their partner an impression that they are being devalued or ignored. This symptom may also make people miss important details to agree to something mindlessly, which can be frustrating for the other partner.

Forgetfulness

Even if someone with ADHD is paying attention to an issue or an ongoing discussion, they may later forget what they talked about or promised. Whether it is their partner’s birthday or something they promised to pick up from the store on their way back, forgetting these little things may make the ADHD partners seem unreliable.  

Poor organisational skills

A lack of proper organisational skills can make it difficult for ADHD partners to finish tasks, leading to household chaos. Their partners may feel they always have to clean up after them and take responsibility for a disproportionate level of family duties.

Emotional outburst

Many individuals with ADHD may struggle to regulate or moderate their emotions. They may lose their temper quickly and find it difficult to discuss their issues calmly and coolly. As a result, their partner may always feel like walking on eggshells to prevent these blowups.

Impulsivity

People with ADHD commonly blurt out things without thinking much about them, sometimes hurting their partners. This impulsivity may also exhibit reckless and irresponsible behaviours, such as making an expensive purchase that is well above their budget, triggering a fight over finances.

Despite all the hardships that people in a relationship with an ADHD partner may face, there is a possibility to overcome these challenges with simple self-help tips. These tips include the following:

Educate yourself about ADHD

The more you learn about ADHD and its symptoms, the easier it will be to see how it affects your relationship. You will see that many of these issues are finally making sense with better awareness. When a non-ADHD partner understands how this condition is hardwired in their spouse’s brain, they can start taking the symptoms less personally.

Understand how your behaviour impacts your partner

If you have ADHD, understand how your unmanaged symptoms can affect your partner. If you are a non-ADHD partner, consider how your constant criticism and nagging can make your spouse feel. Avoid dismissing your partner’s complaints, and do not disregard them simply because you do not like how they react.

Separate your partner’s identity from their behaviours or symptoms

Instead of blatantly labelling your partner as inconsistent or irresponsible, acknowledge that these behaviours are due to their underlying psychiatric disease. Do not take these symptoms as their character traits. The same tip also applies to the ADHD partner who must recognise that their spouse’s critical remarks and nagging occur due to their feelings of stress and frustration and do not mean they are unsympathetic.

Create and maintain boundaries

Either partner can benefit from creating healthy boundaries and learning how to defend them. Do not let each other violate these boundaries, and respect them as much as possible.

Improve the communication skills

ADHD symptoms can easily interfere with communication, so make sure to emphasise improving them. Communicate face to face whenever possible and use nonverbal cues as much as possible. When the other person is talking, maintain eye contact and try focusing your mind entirely on what they are saying without interrupting them. Try to ask questions in between as it helps the other person know you are paying attention. If your concentration is repeatedly wandering, let the other person know as soon as possible and request them to repeat whatever they say. Delaying this process and allowing your mind to wander off for a long time can make reconnecting difficult.

Create a practical plan

As the ADHD partner, you may have trouble organising things or setting up systems. However, this does not mean you cannot follow a plan once you have set it. Ask your non-ADHD partner to assist you in setting up a system and establishing a routine you can rely on to stay on top of your responsibilities.

Start by identifying the things you frequently fight out, such as daily chores. Then think of all the practical things you can do to solve these issues and avoid fights. For example, if you keep forgetting daily tasks, get a big wall calendar with checkboxes to keep track of all your duties for the day.

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