How Does ADHD Show Up in Relationships?
There’s no doubt about it: ADHD affects every area of your life, including your relationships. ADHD in relationships makes things difficult both for the people who live with ADHD and for the people who love them.
But that doesn’t mean that your relationships are doomed to fail if you live with ADHD. There are ways to manage your symptoms, and communicate with your partner, to build a healthy and strong relationship that is long-lasting.
ADHD Symptoms that Affect Relationships
ADHD is a condition that causes symptoms like distractedness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. We often think about how these symptoms affect academic or work life. But the truth is that ADHD symptoms affect relationships just as much — and not always in a positive way. ADHD symptoms can cause frustration for both the person with ADHD and their partner.
Here’s how some specific ADHD symptoms can show up in relationships.
Distractedness and inattention
People with ADHD characteristically have a hard time paying attention and focusing. They are easily distracted, and their mind often wanders — especially during uninteresting tasks. This might cause their partner to feel like the person with ADHD is a bad listener or is never truly paying attention to them.
The partner might feel like the person with ADHD drifts off during conversations, even during conversations that are important to the relationship. It might seem like the person with ADHD prefers to look at their phone or watch whatever is on the TV than pay attention to their partner. This can leave the partner feeling unloved and neglected. In reality, it’s not that the person with ADHD doesn’t care — but their ADHD makes it very difficult for them to pay attention.
One symptom of ADHD, especially hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, is impulsivity. This symptom makes it difficult for people with ADHD to have self-control, especially if there are strong emotions involved.
Impulsivity could cause some people with ADHD to have angry or emotional outbursts. These outbursts could happen because the person with ADHD is frustrated or even just bored. People with ADHD can also sometimes talk without a filter, and blurt things out without thinking about how their words will affect their partner. These outbursts may be very hurtful to the partner, but the person with ADHD may not even remember what they were upset about 5 minutes later.
People with ADHD are usually forgetful. At work, this causes them to miss deadlines and forget about meetings. In relationships, this may lead them to forget special dates, like birthdays and anniversaries. It may also cause them to forget instructions — like what to pick up from the store — immediately after receiving them.
It’s no surprise that this is often very frustrating for the partners of people with ADHD. They may even feel like the person with ADHD simply chooses not to remember things because the relationship isn’t important to them. This isn’t the case, but it can be hard for the partner to understand how ADHD affects memory.
This isn’t always the case, but people with ADHD are often messy. They may use their car as a junk drawer, or leave spaces in their home completely disorganized. This can become a source of contention in a relationship, especially if the couple lives together.
Partners of people with ADHD may feel like they’re always picking up after them. They may also feel the brunt of the responsibility for most household chores. This can cause resentment.
Lack of organization
ADHD makes it extremely difficult for people to organize, prioritize, and complete tasks. This may include household tasks like going grocery shopping and paying the bills on time.
This may leave the partner having to take responsibility for most of these tasks and make sure the household runs smoothly. Some partners may not mind this, but others might feel frustrated. Partners might feel like too much responsibility is on their shoulders, and that everything would fall apart if it wasn’t for their efforts.
This can also lead to a parent-child dynamic in the relationship that can make the partner with ADHD feel incompetent or infantilized. This may lead to the person with ADHD experiencing feelings of shame and guilt, and becoming resentful of their partner for being the one “in charge.”
On the other hand, from the ADHD partner’s side, it may feel like their partner (without ADHD) doesn’t have empathy for their disorder. For example, if their partner becomes upset with them after an ADHD outburst, they may feel like the partner isn’t trying hard enough to understand how ADHD affects them. This can lead to frustration and hurt feelings on both sides.
How to Build a Healthy Relationship with ADHD
Again, having ADHD doesn’t mean your relationships are doomed to fail. There are ways to build and sustain a healthy and happy relationship while living with ADHD. But usually, this takes effort on both sides.
Here are things that both partners can do to ensure a smooth and understanding relationship.
For the partner without ADHD
If you are the partner without ADHD, you can work on trying to understand, as much as possible, how ADHD affects your partner. Empathy is the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes. When you don’t live with ADHD, it’s hard to conceptualize what the world looks like through an ADHD lens.
Studying and learning about ADHD and its symptoms may feel relieving to you, as it might explain many of the struggles that you have with your partner. Being familiar with the symptoms of ADHD can also help you to become more empathetic toward what your partner is going through and why they behave the way they do.
In addition, try to:
- Stop being your partner’s “parent.” Encourage them to participate in household chores, and don’t take care of all of their tasks for them. This just builds resentment on both sides.
- Don’t use personal attacks when it comes to ADHD symptoms (or anything else). For example, don’t label your partner with ADHD as “irresponsible” when what you mean to say is that their ADHD makes them forget their responsibilities.
- Motivate your partner, and affirm their efforts. Understand that ADHD will make things difficult for them that may feel easy for you. Get rid of the mindset of, “That’s something that any ‘normal’ adult should be able to do.”
For the partner with ADHD
If you are the partner with ADHD, the best thing you can do for your relationship is to get treatment. Having ADHD isn’t your fault, but you do have the responsibility to do something about it. ADHD is a chronic, but treatable, condition. Treatment won’t make it so that you no longer have ADHD, but it can make symptoms a lot easier to manage.
On top of getting treatment, also remember to:
- Take responsibility for your actions, and apologize when ADHD has caused you to hurt your partner. Don’t divert attention away from the harm.
- Learn about your own symptoms. When you notice how ADHD is affecting your relationship, you may feel more motivated to get help.
- Don’t rely on your partner to take care of everything for you. While they can definitely help and support you, don’t turn them into your parent.
Online Adult ADHD Treatment with Focus Partners
Relationships for people with ADHD are harder than they need to be when the ADHD is untreated. Getting ADHD treatment is one of the best things you can do for both yourself and your relationship. There was nothing you could have done to prevent getting ADHD, but there are steps you can take, now, to make life easier.
Focus Partners provides online ADHD treatment services for adults, and we’re here to listen to you and help unlock the full power of your potential. Get started by taking our initial online ADHD assessment and find your focus now. Our team currently provides ADHD treatment services online in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and New York.