One of the biggest myths about relationships is that they should be easy. Arguments “shouldn’t happen” and when they do, people often wonder if their relationship is doomed. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. All of us have moments where we struggle within our relationships, and it is normal to hit a rough patch from time to time.
However, those that have Adult ADHD pose a different set of challenges in “couple-hood.” These hurdles can cause considerable strain on a relationship if it goes untreated. By understanding the impact of Adult ADHD, both the partners can benefit and have a happier relationship.
First, it’s important to understand the basics
- ADHD stands for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Partners can display symptoms of attention difficulties as well as hyper behaviors.
- This is a neurological (brain) disorder that is chronic, which this means that people have it for life.
While all of us have varying moods and shifts in our concentration, someone with ADHD experiences these core symptoms almost on a daily basis.
- Trouble concentrating
- Misdirected motivation
- Organizational difficulties
- Issues with self-discipline
- Difficulty with time management
- Angry or inappropriate outbursts
- Negative self-image or lack of self-confidence
- Carries shame from past “failures”
How it Impacts Your Relationship
If ADHD goes untreated, it can take a toll on your relationship or marriage. For those that are in a relationship with someone with ADHD, here are the hallmark features.
For starters, many people that struggle with ADHD have trouble concentrating. This takes the form of having trouble completing tasks, staying motivated or concentrating on the “wrong” thing. This is central and considered a core symptom of Adult ADHD.
Relationally, it can show up as “forgetting about you” or “ignoring you.” While the person with ADHD typically doesn’t intend for this outcome, it has the propensity to create distance and lack of intimacy within the relationship.
Another key feature to Adult ADHD is lack of organization and issues with time management. Relationally, this can manifest by having the spouse or partner without ADHD carrying a significant portion of the domestic responsibilities. Overtime, these unsung responsibilities can cause burn out and frustration, as they can largely go unnoticed by the partner that has ADHD.
Here are common examples that couples report frustration with:
- Financial responsibility such as paying bills, insurance, rent/ mortgage, cell phone bill, car
- Managing the home such as groceries, laundry, replying to important mail
- Parenting responsibilities such as paying the nanny, ordering diapers, applying to schools, filling out forms, purchasing birthday or holiday gifts
- Remembering important obligations such as commitments or engagements
- Managing doctor appointments for the family
- Booking vacations & time away
- Remembering important life events such as birthdays or anniversaries
- “Grunt work” such as emptying the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, cleaning out the refrigerator, replacing and refilling household necessities
- Resolving family problems
The person without ADHD can feel alone in these responsibilities, and for some, this unequal division of responsibly can make the partner with ADHD feel more like a child, than a partner, causing more distance in the relationship.
Steps You Can Take Today
Step 1: Practice empathy: If your spouse has ADHD, it’s important to practice empathy. Remember, this is a neurological disorder and the symptoms you experience from your partner aren’t intentional.
Step 2: When making a request: Touch your partner or make eye contact when you making a request. People with ADHD receive information more readily and thoroughly when several senses are engaged. Also, give a time limit. Say, “I will feel better if you take out the trash by 3 o'clock.”
Step 3: Have clearly established responsibilities. People with ADHD work well with strong boundaries and consistency. For example, “every Sunday, the garbage gets taken out.”
Step 4: Make an area for reminders. Set up a designated area such as a cork-board that is in eye site everyday – such as a doorway or bathroom mirror. Use bright colored post its with large print.
Step 5: Consider Couples Therapy: If a couple coping with ADHD wants to revive their marriage, they must recognize that ADHD is the problem, not the person with the condition. Blaming one another for the side effects of ADHD will only widen the gap between them.
Step 6: If you believe you have ADHD: At a minimum, you must get treatment through medication and counseling.
-- Erika Boissiere, MFT is a the founder of TRISF, and a relationship and individual therapist in San Francisco, CA.