ADHD and Relationship Anxiety: What’s the Connection?

5 Tips From an ADHD Coach

We’ve talked before about some of the relationship challenges that may arise for people with ADHD. But, there’s one we left out: relationship anxiety.

Ever find yourself glued to your phone, feeling more and more on edge as you wait for your partner to reply to a message? Feel your stomach tied in knots any time they go out without you? Find yourself constantly asking for reassurance?

…no? Just me? (Are you sure?)

Well, in case I’m not the only anxious bean out here, let’s talk about relationship anxiety - and its connection to ADHD.

What Is Relationship Anxiety?

Relationship anxiety is - as the name suggests - anxiety related to one’s relationship. It may manifest as feelings of inadequacy, fear of rejection or abandonment, concern about the reciprocation of love, among other ways. Typically, it involves an overwhelming feeling of insecurity, worry, and doubt about the stability of the relationship and/or compatibility with a partner.

It’s completely normal to experience some moments of worry in a relationship from time to time. For example, people in a new relationship may have some doubts, and people in longer-term relationships may worry about losing their initial “spark.” However, relationship anxiety is more persistent, even when things are going well, and can interfere with the individual’s life as well as the health and stability of their relationship.

Relationship Anxiety… with an ADHD Twist

Navigating relationships can be challenging for anyone, but for those with ADHD, the journey often comes with added hurdles. ADHD can make it difficult to tune out distractions and fully engage in the moment with a partner, potentially leading to misunderstandings or feelings of distance. Moreover, ADHD can exacerbate the tendency to jump to conclusions or overanalyze a partner's words and actions, fueling insecurity and doubt. Add to this the increased likelihood of having experienced negative relationships in the past, lower self-esteem, and insecure attachment styles—issues that are more common among those with ADHD—and it's clear why relationship anxiety can be a significant concern.

Signs of Relationship Anxiety

So, how do you know if your experience is ‘normal’ anxiety, or if it has become problematic? Again, everyone experiences some of these thoughts and behaviors every once in awhile. But when they become very frequent, begin causing problems in the relationship, and/or cause other noticeable mental or physical health issues for one or more of the partners, it may mean relationship anxiety is to blame. Here are some of the signs to look out for:

Worry that your partner doesn’t really love you.

This may mean struggling to believe it when they say they love you, or give praise or compliments. You may find yourself thinking they’re only with you because they couldn’t find anyone else, and as soon as someone better comes along, they’ll leave. Or, that they’re only with you because of what you do for them - so you have to try extra hard to mask your ADHD, because if you begin struggling to perform for them, they’ll leave. You may constantly feel as if they are moments from breaking up with you.

Craving constant reassurance.

If the above is true, you may find yourself constantly seeking reassurance - whether that’s asking if they really love you, checking to see if they’re mad or upset at you, or even just monitoring their body language, facial expression, and behavior for any sign of irritability (which you may automatically assume stems from something you said or did). Maybe you frequently pose hypotheticals - “would you still love me if ______?”

Doubting your romantic compatibility (even though everything is going well).

Especially once the initial “honeymoon phase” is over, you begin questioning and fixating on even the smallest signs of incompatibility - maybe you don’t like one of the genres of music they like, and fear that that’s going to be a deal-breaker.

Lack of boundaries.

You may find yourself constantly putting up with toxic behavior from a partner, even though you know you shouldn’t. You don’t want to risk causing tension or arguments, so you let things go, even to your own detriment. Or, you end up spending much more time and energy on doing things for them, leaving nothing for yourself - leading to burnout, exhaustion, and even more stress.

Controlling behavior.

Maybe you struggle to give them space, feeling as if you must be either physically present with them at all times, or texting/talking to them constantly. You may struggle to resist the urge to question where they are, who they’re talking to, or what they’re doing.

Over-analyzing your partner’s words and actions.

You may find yourself rehashing conversations over and over, trying to discern “what they REALLY meant.” You may constantly question their intentions and motivations. Even the most innocuous feedback may be interpreted negatively - for example, they may say, “you look really nice today,” and you wonder if that means they dislike how you usually look.

Everything feels like a big deal.

Even the smallest mistake you make, or the most minor disagreement the two of you have, gives you crippling shame, guilt, or anxiety. You have a hard time letting it go and moving on, feeling like you have to make it up to them, struggling to believe it when they say it’s really not a big deal.

Difficulty being in the moment.

You struggle to actually enjoy the relationship - either constantly focusing on the future, and how to avoid potential problems, or focused on things one of you said or did in the past, and how to fix it or avoid it in the future.


Maybe you intentionally remain guarded in relationships, struggling to be vulnerable to protect yourself from even the possibility of being hurt - which keeps the relationship from blossoming. Or, you find yourself constantly “testing” their loyalty

ADHD and Relationship Anxiety: What Causes It?

About 25% of people with ADHD also have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. There’s not yet enough research to say why people with ADHD may suffer from relationship anxiety specifically. When it comes to anxiety general, though, one potential cause is decreased cognitive inhibition (the ability to tune out irrelevant stimuli and prevent yourself from engaging in undesirable behavior). In a relationship, this might look like struggling to be present with a partner due to distraction from your cell phone or other distractions. It might also mean we are more likely to “jump to conclusions,” making hasty decisions based on insufficient information.

Similarly, some potential causes for relationship anxiety (regardless of ADHD) include previous negative relationship experiences, low self-esteem, and insecure attachment styles. Although, all three of these are more common for people with ADHD - so maybe there’s something to it.

How To Manage ADHD Relationship Anxiety

If you have adult ADHD, and you’re struggling with relationship anxiety, here are a few tips and strategies that can help.

Seeking Support: Find an ADHD Coach or ADHD Therapist

Asking for help can be really tough for people with ADHD. But know that seeking support for your relationship doesn’t mean it’s failing; rather, it means you value your relationship enough to invest in it. Finding an ADHD therapist or an ADHD coach who specializes in relationships can be particularly helpful once you notice problems emerge.

An ADHD coach can you develop strategies to manage symptoms that affect your relationships, such as impulsivity and inattention, in order to reduce relationship anxiety. They can also provide personalized support and tools to improve communication and understanding between partners, fostering a healthier and more supportive relationship dynamic. Additionally, ADHD coaches can assist in building organizational and time-management skills, alleviating stressors that often contribute to relationship tensions.

Maintain Some Independence

It’s natural, as a relationship becomes more and more serious, for both partners to shift some of their time and priorities away from their own personal interests, channeling that time and energy into the relationship instead. While there’s nothing wrong with this, for people with relationship anxiety it can be very tempting to shift most or all of their attention away from other interests, or friends and family.

It’s important to remember that maintaining some independence within a relationship will help you retain your sense of self. Additionally, it ensures that your personal growth and happiness are not solely dependent on the relationship, reducing the pressure and anxiety that can come from over-reliance on a partner.

Conduct a Self-Study

In order to figure out the best tools or strategies to tackle your anxiety, you first need to have a solid idea of where it’s coming from. A self-study will help you keep track of situations and contexts in which the anxiety occurs in order to identify patterns and triggers. You can create a nifty Excel sheet, or just record the following in a journal:

  • Date/time the anxiety occurred
  • Context - what was going on? Where were you, who was there, what were the surroundings like, who said what?
  • How strong was the anxiety on a scale of 1-10?
  • Where did you feel it in your body, and what did it look like? Tightness in the shoulders, hands, throat? Rapid breathing? Quick heartbeat?
  • How did you respond in the moment? What did you say/do?
  • How helpful was your response?

Practice Effective Communication

In any relationship, everyone responds to things differently. This is especially likely to be true if one partner has ADHD, and the other doesn’t. Each person may have a very different perspective on the same situation. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Relationship anxiety may not have anything to do with your partner; but if there is something they’re doing that is fueling or exacerbating your anxiety, it’s important to talk about it early, before anger, resentment, or hurt have time to build.
  • Try using “I” statements, and provide feedback in a respectful, non-accusatory way. The DEAR MAN exercise is particularly helpful for ensuring effective communication.
  • Set aside time for a regular check-in with your partner, maybe once a week. If big feelings show up throughout the week, you may decide to put that on the agenda for your weekly check-in, so that you have time to cool off and reflect ahead of time. You may even have a shareable agenda, on the fridge or in a shared document, so everyone knows ahead of time what topics to be prepared to discuss. Or, you could use check-in time for some of these discussion questions.

Practice Mindfulness

Consistent mindfulness practice is a proven method to manage and reduce anxiety. And if you’re worried about your ability to successfully practice mindfulness with an ADHD brain, don’t be. Mindfulness practices aren’t all about sitting still - there are numerous ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life. Here are a few strategies:

  • Take Each Thought Captive. Each time you notice an anxious thought, capture it by recognizing that the thought is just a thought; it’s not automatically ‘real’ or ‘true’ just because it exists. When you capture a thought, you keep it from taking control. Look at the thought, rather than looking at life from your thought. This practice is great for the beginner - the goal here is to just get to the point where you’re noticing the thoughts as they arise, rather than after they’ve already influenced your behavior in negative ways.
  • The Mind Train Exercise. This one comes from Dr. Stephen Hayes, author of Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Close your eyes and imagine you’re standing on a bridge, looking down. Beneath you are three train tracks carrying three different trains. The first train carries an emotion, the second carries your thoughts, and third train carries your urges, the things you feel pulled to do. As you look down at the trains, your job is to stay on the bridge - don’t jump into any of the trains by following the thoughts, emotions, or urges; don’t let yourself examine them too closely, wondering where they came from or where they’re going. Just watch them. How do you feel as you watch them?
  • Surf the Urge. Urge Surfing is a technique for reducing unhelpful behaviors. The idea is that, rather than giving in to an urge you will ride it out - like a surfer riding a wave. After a short time, the urge will pass on its own. You can try urge surfing on your own with this worksheet.
  • 5-4-3-2-1: The ADHD-Friendly Version. This is my own adaptation, which I came up with when I realized how very easy it was to continue thinking about all the million thoughts in my head at the same time as I was trying to engage in the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. It helps take up more brain space, so you can really get into the exercise. (It’s also goofy and fun). Imagine you’re an alien from a distant planet. You’ve been sent to earth to investigate and report back on your findings. Look around the room and find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. For each item, remember - you’ve never seen it before, and have no idea what its purpose is. Describe each item, in detail, to the mothership.

Managing ADHD and Relationship Anxiety (Closing Thoughts)

Relationship anxiety is just one of the many challenges that people with adult ADHD may encounter more frequently than the average human. But you don’t have to navigate it alone! Finding an ADHD coach or therapist is a great option if you need an outside perspective - and it’s something you can do either on your own, or as a couple. There are also plenty of other strategies to try if you’re not sure yet about trying ADHD coaching. From mindfulness techniques to strengthening communication skills, there are a lot of options to try. Let us know which ones worked best for you!

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