Expressing Love to People with ADHD

Defining and Practicing the 5 Love Languages

Published on
February 6, 2024

You’ve likely heard of the five love languages: physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, and acts of service. People give and receive love in different ways, and recognizing and understanding how people tend to give and appreciate receiving love can help to improve communication and strengthen relationships.

But for people with ADHD, how they enjoy receiving love may look a bit different. We’ll share more about what each love language might look like for someone with ADHD, and how you might practice it with them.

A gentle reminder: These tips are meant to provide ideas for ways to express love; however, you should always first communicate with your loved one about their boundaries around  receiving—and evaluate what you’re comfortable giving—before trying any of these suggestions!

Physical Touch: The Literal Security Blanket

People who name physical touch as a primary love language appreciate physical closeness and intimacy being a priority.  That may look like holding hands, hugging, pecks on the cheek, and cuddling.

For those with ADHD, deep pressure physical contact may be particularly well-received as a way of their loved ones expressing love and providing reassurance. It is often associated with emitting feelings of security, safety, and even happiness.

Additionally, deep pressure helps calm the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your ‘fight-or-flight’ response. As the parasympathetic nervous system calms down, ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters are released, such as dopamine and serotonin.

Action to Practice: Practice physical touch with your loved one with ADHD by giving them a bear hug!

Wrap your arms around your loved one and gradually apply even force. Evaluate how calming that might feel for you, and for them.

One step further: If bear hugs feels comfortable for both of you, you may consider exploring synchronized deep box breathing for increased parasympathetic nervous system cool-down. Breathe in for four, hold for four, and breathe out for four.

Quality Time: Do Not Disturb

Quality time can represent the importance of shared experiences and undivided attention in building and maintaining strong relationships. This can look like engaging in meaningful conversations, participating in joint activities, or simply enjoying the silent presence of one another. It's all about being present and creating space for shared moments.

For people with ADHD, quality time is especially significant. The balance of focusing attentively can be challenging, but also very rewarding. Engaging in activities that both parties enjoy can help mitigate the restlessness often associated with ADHD. These focused interactions allow individuals with ADHD to experience a sense of calm and connectedness and reinforce their emotional bond with a loved one.

Action to Practice: Explore shared interests with your partner.

This might include doing a puzzle together to encourages gentle focus, taking a walk in a new nearby park amidst a calming environment, or trying an arts and crafts project, such as scrapbooking, to honor and create a new memory.

One Step Further: It may be particularly helpful to pick an activity with minimal distractions, enabling both of you to be fully present with one another. It’s less about the activity itself, and more about doing it together, so be flexible with how you spend your shared time and focus more about how you both feel after putting the rest of life on Do Not Disturb.

Words of Affirmation: The Power of Encouraging Words

Words of affirmation are all about verbalizing affection, praise, and support. People who love this love language tend to prioritize positive communication and reinforcement. These words meaningfully boost the recipient’s self-esteem and well-being.

For individuals with ADHD, words of affirmation can be particularly impactful. Positive reinforcement can help quell feelings of self-doubt or frustration that are often experienced due to challenges associated with ADHD.

Action to Practice: Acknowledge your loved one’s efforts and progress—big and small.

To effectively communicate love through words of affirmation to someone with ADHD, it's important to be genuine and specific in your compliments and encouragements. Here are some prompts for words of affirmation that your loved one with ADHD might respond particularly well to:

  • ‘I appreciated when you [did this action]…’
  • ‘Thank you for making an effort on [challenge for both]...’
  • ‘You did a great job handling [challenge]. I’m so proud of you!’

One step further: Hold space for regular check-in’s. Once a week, designate a time for active listening and reflection on both sides. Communicate with kindness and understanding can create a nurturing environment of mutual growth.

Acts of Service: Demonstrating Love Through Action

Acts of service are all about showing love through helpful and considerate actions. This often looks like easing a loved one's burden by taking on tasks or responsibilities that are meaningful to them.

For those with ADHD, acts of service can help create a structured and supportive environment. Offer assistance on their struggle areas, such as organizing, planning, or completing tasks to help reduce stress.

Actions to Practice: Take a chore off a loved one’s plate—or offer to do it together!

Perhaps a loved one constantly mentions a dreaded task, like doing the laundry. Help them with task initiation by starting the load, making it easier for them to finish the rest of the steps. Turn the laundry-folding into a shared activity and fold the laundry together, alleviating the burden and overwhelm associated with the chore!

One step further: Gamify the experience of doing the chore. Add a little friendly competition, such as seeing who can fold more articles of clothing faster. Maybe even assign points to different articles of clothing: folding a t-shirt is worth 1 point, matching socks is worth 2 points.

Receiving Gifts: Thoughtfulness Encapsulated

Gift-receiving as a love language is not necessarily about monetary value, but more about the thoughtfulness, effort, and meaning behind the gift. It's a physical representation of love, and a tangible reminder of being cherished and remembered.

Individuals with ADHD might appreciate gifts that reflect a deep understanding of their personality, needs, and preferences. A well-chosen gift can make them feel truly seen and valued, providing a sense of comfort and appreciation.

Actions to Practice: When selecting a gift for someone with ADHD, consider items that align with their interests and hobbies.

What’s something your loved one gets particularly excited about? Finding something unique that’s related to their passions and interests will resonate deeply, making them feel loved and understood. For example, if their latest hobby is crocheting, consider buying them a spool of yarn in their favorite color.

One step further: Consider getting them a gift that might relate to other love languages of theirs. For example, if their love language is physical touch, try getting a weighted blanket to share! If their love language is words of affirmation, get them a card, just because, with a design they’ll appreciate.

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