It's no secret that the symptoms of ADHD can cause trouble in personal, professional, and even romantic attachments. Instead of feeling comfortable and emotionally connected to others like we all deserve, those with ADHD often struggle to navigate their way through interpersonal interactions.
The good news? While it may take effort, understanding how ADHD affects the relationship can empower us to grow together rather than apart.
In this blog post, we'll look at why dealing with adult ADHD in relationships is challenging – plus offer helpful tips for creating healthier relationships with your significant other despite these unique circumstances.
The reasons why ADHD relationships fail or struggle to flourish are as numerous as the symptoms. In fact, let’s look at some of the ways these common ADHD symptoms may impact relationships:
While ADHD symptoms can cause numerous relationship challenges, there are tools and strategies that may help.
Each ADHDer is different, as is every relationship—so keep in mind that what works best is going to be a matter of close communication with your partner(s) and a willingness to experiment and find the right fit.
The first step? Learn more. Whether you have ADHD or not, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what ADHD is. ADHD symptoms are not curable with willpower, self-discipline, or sheer desire; the brain is literally structured differently, and thus, it functions differently. That doesn’t mean that behaviors can’t change–but it does mean that doing so will take time, support, and flexibility.
Here are our top tips, as a place to start.
Refrain from labels. It is important to remember that your partner's symptoms and behaviors are separate from who they are as a person. Instead of labeling them as "irresponsible," recognize their struggles with forgetfulness or lack of follow-through for what they truly represent: symptomatic evidence of the underlying disorder. Similarly, take note that nagging can often stem from feelings such as frustration and stress - not because they’re being intentionally insensitive.
Don’t hide what you’re feeling. If you have ADHD, it can be extra difficult to tell a partner that something they say or do is hurtful, or to ask for help. We are often very aware of our own shortcomings, and may decide to “let things slide” a little too often, thinking this an even exchange for “putting up” with us. That’s not fair to you, and it’s also not fair to your partner–who, assumedly, cares about you and would never want to hurt you.
On the flip side, it may be tempting for a neurotypical partner to “let it go” a little too often in an effort to be understanding. But over time, this can lead to a build up of resentment and frustration that erodes the foundation of your respect and empathy. Let your neurospicy partner(s) know when something is bugging you, and use that compassion and empathy to work together toward a solution.
Keep conversation positive and constructive. Ask open-ended questions instead of ones that could be seen as accusatory or put your partner on the spot – this will help foster a more productive dialogue between both parties.
If possible, communicate face to face. Direct eye contact and body language can say just as much – if not more! – than written words alone, providing insight into the emotion behind your partner's message that would otherwise be missed with a telephone or electronic conversation. So when it comes to matters of importance in relationships, remember: proximity is key!
Practice active listening. Communication isn't just about talking; it's also how you listen. Show your partner that what they have to say matters by actively engaging with them through eye contact and focusing on their words.
If you find yourself getting distracted in conversation, it may help to start conversations with a quick “conversation plan.” Agree on what the goal of the conversation is (resolving an argument, sharing a thought or experience, seeking advice, etc). Write that goal on a scrap of paper, and hold onto it throughout the conversation.
Or, give yourself a small “active listening goal,” such as “every time they use a feeling/emotion word, I will nod my head to show I’m listening.”
You can also show you care, and are engaged, by asking open-ended questions about the topic. Ask for more detail, or to clarify information you don’t understand, instead of just nodding along.
Don’t make assumptions–especially about your partner’s intentions. When you find yourself wondering “why did they do/say that?” don’t answer the question yourself. Even when you’ve been with someone a long time, you really don’t know what’s going on in their head. You’re not a mind reader. Just ask. Oh, and if your partner has ADHD, be prepared to hear “I don’t know” as a response. Between memory issues, distractibility, and impulsivity, we may legitimately not know why.
Keep in mind that empathy takes many forms. People with ADHD tend to show empathy by sharing their own personal anecdotes about a conversation topic. It’s not an attempt to commandeer the conversation, or make it about them–but if it bothers you, that’s valid too. In that case, refer back to the tip on constructive feedback.
Practice mindfulness for improved emotional regulation. It can be hard to restrain your emotions in the heat of an argument. If you struggle with impatience, temper, or anxiety, try incorporating mindfulness practice into your regular routine. Mindfulness practice has numerous benefits both for those with ADHD and without, including improved emotional regulation, reduced stress, and improved focus.
Evaluate the division of labor. Take inventory of each partner’s roles, as well as any problem areas, in order to ensure that neither one is carrying an overly-heavy burden. Consider restructuring duties based on individual strengths.
Scheduling weekly sit-downs together can help keep track of things, as well as provide accountability. If necessary, split up a large task into smaller ones. Don't forget to account for extra effort from either side though; this will keep resentments from building over time.
Delegating, outsourcing, and automating can help lighten the load of everyday life. Need a hand? Get the family involved by giving kids chores, or outsource to professionals like cleaning services, grocery delivery programs, and online bill payments.
ADHD can pose a unique set of challenges in relationships, but these challenges can be overcome. If you or your partner has ADHD and you’re struggling to make things work, know that you’re not alone and there is hope. There are several strategies that people with ADHD can use to navigate relationship challenges and ensure that their relationships remain strong and healthy.
If you’re looking for help, try Shimmer ADHD coaching. Our team of experts are here to help you manage your ADHD symptoms and build a strong foundation for lasting love.