Relationships where either you or your partner have an attention-deficit disorder can range from perfect to explosive. It’s all a matter of perspective, understanding, and most importantly… communication (just like every other relationship in the world, ever, since the beginning of time).
However, there are a few hurdles that are unique to relationships in which ADHD plays a role. In a study of 1200 couples where one or both partners has ADHD, an overwhelming majority of them reported their “biggest problem” as anything from lack of empathy, neglect, and shame, but all of these feelings stemmed from the same core issue: lack of understanding. And if a shared understanding isn’t there, problems are destined to follow.
If a shared understanding isn’t there, problems are destined to follow.
Typical symptoms include:
- Failure to pay attention to details
- Difficulty holding onto information
- Trouble following directions
- Struggles with organization and concentration
- Social intrusiveness (frequent interruptions or distractions)
- Hyper-focus (lack of ability to multi-task)
There are more, of course, but it doesn’t take much imagination to understand how the above can complicate a relationship. The effect is polarizing: the partner with ADHD feels criticized, overwhelmed, and misunderstood, while the partner without ADHD feels neglected, lonely, and under-appreciated.
Here’s the trick: Place the focus on the ADHD, not on each other. No lashing out, no blame game (never works anyway!).
The following 3 suggestions from ADHD expert Katie Hurley, LCSW, have proven helpful for couples she's worked with:
1. Play to your strengths: If ADHD makes paying bills on time a challenge - swap that for another task! As long as you both have equal shares of the workload, you’ll get through the to-do list just fine. 2. Map it out: Ever-present in most kitchens is a wall calendar, but they rarely get used to their full potential. For adults with ADHD, visual routines can be helpful and a way to stay on target. Put your calendar to use! 3. Teamwork makes the dreamwork: Us first, ‘you’ second. Create a sense of camaraderie between you and your partner by fostering open, honest conversations. And remember, if you have an issue with ADHD, address it head-on (and don’t blame each other)!