My Partner Doesn’t Understand ADHD

What To Do When They Just Don’t Get It

Published on
March 8, 2024

Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can often feel like a solitary journey, even when you're in a relationship. Especially in ADHD relationships with a neurotypical partner, differing perspectives can cause challenges. Neurotypical partners may find it difficult to truly grasp what ADHD is, leading to misunderstandings, frustrations, fights, and disconnection. It can make you feel isolated, unheard, and unseen. In this article, we explore the emotional aspects of navigating adult ADHD in relationships when your partner doesn't fully understand it and may even be unsupportive. We’ll discuss strategies for self-advocacy, building alternative supports, and how you can foster a sense of empowerment.

How Do I Explain Adult ADHD to My Partner?

  1. Discuss wanting a safe place for conversation. Let them know that your intention of talking is to share your thoughts and feelings with them in a meaningful way and that you’d like to just be heard in these few moments.
  2. Set a defined time limit. “I’d like to talk for five minutes, then once we both have time to process, I’d like to have more a full conversation about it. Does that work for you?”
  3. Share how ADHD makes you feel, what your experience in the world is like.
  4. Share the objective facts about adult ADHD as a neurodevelopmental condition, bringing life to the idea that, while it’s an individual experience, it’s rooted in science and is common.
  5. Share the impact that the lack of conversation about ADHD and lack of support is having on your relationship or your feelings towards yourself. Don’t blame or criticize the other person; instead, focus on your own feelings by using “I” first language.
  6. If your partner has known responses to these types of conversations, plan in advance for how you want to respond to each point. The more prepared you feel, the less flustered you’ll get.
  7. Remember, everyone has different exposures and understanding to conditions of the brain. Some people are told it’s all make believe. Your journey and their journey may look different.
  8. If your partner is open to it, find an article about how ADHD affects relationships, and read it together. Then, each of you can take turns reflecting on takeaways or asking questions.

I Tried Explaining ADHD Every Way I Can Think Of. What Am I Doing Wrong?

Sometimes, with a partner who struggles to understand ADHD, the root of the challenge may not lie in communication breakdowns, but in their conceptualization of  ADHD. Perhaps you’re used to being told you didn’t communicate effectively, or used to putting the blame on yourself; but this is a perspective that might be worth exploring. It's not uncommon for ADHD relationship problems to stem from misconceptions and misunderstandings about ADHD. It's essential to not only think about how YOU communicate about ADHD, but also to reflect on any assumptions YOUR PARTNER might have about ADHD, its complexities, and its impact on your daily life that are strongly ingrained.

Through our partnership with Agapé, a relationship wellness app for couples, we came up with a list of discussion questions to help facilitate understanding and connection. If your partner is open to it, you can use these questions to deepen understanding of ADHD, and each other.

What if My Partner Doesn’t Think ADHD Is Real?

Dealing with a partner who doesn't believe that ADHD is a real condition can be emotionally exhausting and invalidating. If you’ve already shared information about ADHD, its scientific basis, and the extensive, exhaustive research supporting its as a legitimate neurodevelopmental disorder, it can feel hopeless. Remember, you can only continue to advocate for yourself, you can’t set a goal to change someone else’s mind.

▶ Continue your self-education about ADHD to build confidence in your understanding.

▶ Determine your boundaries about how ADHD is talked about. They may not agree with the diagnosis, but what things are harmful for you to hear? What are you okay with them having questions about? What makes home feel like an emotionally safe place?

▶ Try discussing the executive function problems as “separate” issues to start conversations. Time management frustrations might open the door to a healthier conversation as everyone can relate to some form of time management issues (even if not quite the conversation you were hoping to have).

▶ Find alternative supports to turn to. While some people lean on their partner, having community supports is a great way to find that validation and acknowledgement. There’s nothing wrong with needing others to hear and listen to you and may make your relationship stronger in the meantime.

▶ Consider couple’s therapy to navigate this issue if it is severely impacting your happiness and comfort in the relationship.

Live better, with ADHD
Shimmer is the #1 coaching platform for adults with ADHD. Build a life you love through personalized 1:1 video coaching, handcrafted productivity tools, and science-backed learning modules.