Don’t Let ADHD Spoil the Romance

 ADHD Weekly, February 6, 2020

Thinking about how ADHD symptoms interfere in your relationship with your significant other is not very romantic. How you address that interference can help you keep the romance alive, though.

“Marriage is all about attending to each other adequately,” says Melissa Orlov, author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps. Communication and addressing how symptoms affect both members of the relationship—the one who has ADHD and the one who does not—can help you better meet one another’s needs. That can help keep the spark glowing.

How ADHD can get between you

The symptoms of adult ADHD—inattention to details, memory lapses, emotion dysregulation, appearing to hyperfocus on one thing—can create challenges for a couple. They can lead to hurt feelings and sometimes anger if not acknowledged or addressed.

“ADHD symptoms are erratic,” says Kate Kelly, author of You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! “The person with ADHD may be extremely distractible in the morning, for example, and relatively focused an hour or two later. This can be very difficult for a partner. Their loved one is loving and connected with them in one moment, and gone ‘somewhere else’ in the next.”

Ms. Orlov describes it as a “symptom-response-response.” The partner who has ADHD is inattentive, forgetful, or appears to be focused on something trivial. The partner who doesn’t have ADHD feels ignored or forgotten, as if their needs are not important. They express their disappointment or anger. The partner who has ADHD might not understand why and becomes angry or withdrawn in return.

In fact, in research studies the partners who don’t have ADHD report feeling “unloved” and that ADHD has a “negative impact” on their relationship at higher rates than do their partners with ADHD.

Building a stronger relationship

Recognizing the warning signs can help you take control back from ADHD symptoms before they cause lasting damage.

  • ”You never do what you say you’re going to do.”

Forgetfulness, impulsivity, and difficulties with sensing the flow of time can all make it hard to keep commitments or promises to complete tasks.

”People with ADHD very much intend to do something when they say it,” says Steven Safren, PhD, director of behavioral medicine in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. Symptoms, though, can become barriers to getting things done.

  • ”How could you forget a-g-a-i-n?”

ADHD affects short-term memory. It can also lead to forgotten special days, such as birthdays, anniversaries and even Valentine’s Day.

  • ”I can’t believe you bought that—you know we can’t afford it!”

Impulsivity and poor money management skills can put financial strains on a relationship. Finding a solution that fits each couples’ unique financial needs can help to mend some of the strain on a relationship.

—Adapted from Adult ADHD and Your Relationships

“Once you start looking at ADHD symptoms, you can get to the root of the problem and start to manage and treat the symptoms as well as manage the responses,” says Ms. Orlov.

The first step is to make sure the ADHD diagnosis is accurate and complete and that both members of the relationship are part of the treatment plan. The partner who has ADHD may include medication in treatment, and the couple might attend therapy sessions to learn new tools to strengthen their relationship. They might also create routines and set aside regular time together to discuss finances or scheduling.

“If you are the non-ADHD partner, think how difficult it has to be for someone to live daily with intrusive and disruptive ADHD symptoms,” says Julia Breur, a licensed clinical psychotherapist. “If you are the ADHD partner, focus on how much your partner is committing to help both of you by becoming knowledgeable about the disorder, as well as both of you becoming ADHD advocates.”

To strengthen a relationship affected by ADHD, it’s vital to keep in mind the positive parts of your relationship and the depth of feelings you have for one another, says Ms. Orlov.

“Remembering the positives in your relationship is an important step in moving forward,” she says.

Read more on strengthening your relationship:

Join the discussion: How do you and your partner make things work while coping with ADHD symptoms?