ADHD and relationships (an overview)

In the following guide, we will explore the topic of ADHD and relationships, as well as some of its implications for well-being and mental health.  

ADHD and relationships

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can affect your most significant and important relationships. Some symptoms such as easy distractibility, the tendency to procrastination, as well as some others, can generate discomfort and some difficulties that should be addressed in order not to let ADHD diminish the quality of the relationship and the well-being of both people. 

Understanding ADHD and its implications in daily life

Before making judgments against the other person, who has ADHD, the best thing you can do, as a couple, is to take the time and calm to get counseling or inform yourself about what ADHD is and especially what its symptoms are and how they manifest themselves. As in relationships where there is no one with a mental disorder, understanding is a secure foundation on which to build the future. 

Understanding people with ADHD is important because they are more likely to suffer from Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.

It is important to talk about the symptoms, what the person with ADHD feels, his or her difficulties and problems in exercising control. We cannot say that ADHD and relationships are incompatible, to begin with. The main focus of any relationship should be the emotional bond that can be built with the other person, and not the characteristics that make it difficult to treat or that can generate constant challenges. 

Difficulties with attention, for example, can generate different difficulties for both parties when there are ADHD and relationships. The person with the disorder may seem disinterested or unmotivated by what his or her partner does or says, since his or her attention may constantly shift back and forth. This needs to be talked about since it is not what it seems external. 

ADHD and relationships can be confusing, but both parties need to know that this is a challenge they will face, but one that they will be able to deal with and learn to manage appropriately. In this specific matter, it wouldn’t be that different from any other relationship. Human interactions aren’t easy and they include a lot of variables to think about. 

On the other hand, a person with ADHD may be forgetful. When we talk about ADHD and relationships, we can think about how difficult it would be for the partner of a person with ADHD to deal with the situation in a calm way. It is possible that, again, from the outside, you can see a lack of interest in the other person when it is simply an intense symptom: the tendency to forget things easily. 

In ADHD and relationships, there may also be more challenges. For example, the person with the disorder may have very poor skills in organizing his or her life and daily activities. For that reason, his or her partner may have to constantly assist him or her and try to keep things in order. Can you imagine that?

Perhaps the partner of the person with ADHD feels that he or she is carrying too much responsibility and that his or her own needs are not being met as he or she would like. This is another challenge we find in the subject of ADHD and relationships. 

It is also possible that in the context of ADHD and relationships problems may arise because of another symptom that has been called impulsivity. Sometimes people with ADHD simply cannot control themselves and act thoughtlessly, without thinking long before taking any action. 

This can create difficulties since in everyday life there are simply times when we seek tranquility and peace when we want to enjoy silence and quiet. This is very common in relationships since caresses and affection usually fit perfectly with a space of quietness and tranquility. 

When we talk about ADHD and relationships, we can also find another challenge, strong emotional discharges. This is another symptom that can be present in people with ADHD. These discharges consist of a difficulty to moderate or regulate more emotions, it is as if at some point they lost control of themselves and the only way to solve it is with an emotional discharge, which is also often called ‘catharsis’. 

It is easy to imagine what this would imply in a couple’s relationship. There could easily be problems since many times what is needed to manage a relationship properly is to be calm, collected, and contained both emotionally and behaviorally. Finally, as other people come to read about who we are. 

Empathy, a key factor in ADHD and relationships

Given all that was mentioned previously, we are facing a scenario that is not simple, and for which we need a high dose of empathy. Whoever is with a person with ADHD must make a great effort to ‘put themselves in his or her shoes’ and try to isolate everything that this person might feel, and try to imagine that this also affects him or her. 

That is, for the person with ADHD it can be even more difficult, since his or her identity and way of being are constantly being evaluated, always seen under an unfavorable lens since the loss of control over oneself is something that can happen very often. 

Empathy, that capacity we have to try to see the world from another person’s eyes, is a very powerful element that can help solve a number of problems in the context of ADHD and relationships. If both people make an effort to be empathetic and understanding, the other person’s world will be less dark and there will be a greater possibility of making agreements and doing something about it. 

To be empathic is not an easy task, and sometimes it can be possible that we think that we are not going to be able to do it definitively. However, the love and affection we feel for the other person should be the excuse to try even harder, because it is worth it. 

How to promote empathy and good communication in ADHD and relationships? 

Here are some practical recommendations on communication and empathy, which can be useful in ADHD and relationships: 

  • Exchanging questions is a good recommendation. We may be embarrassed or have some other emotion or idea that prevents us from opening up, being honest, and asking questions that generate a lot of doubt and uncertainty. 
  • If your mind has been wandering for some reason, tell your partner that this has happened. This way, the conversation will not be affected and you will avoid the other person feeling offended or ignored. 
  • Try to communicate face to face, whenever possible. In ADHD and relationships, as in other circumstances, communication can be very poor and even the space to talk frankly and look at the other person can be lost. Try to recover them whenever possible, this way honesty and openness will be promoted. 
  • Listen actively and avoid interrupting. This is very common in ADHD and relationships since one of the people has constant problems to focus their attention resources, in addition to impulsiveness. For this reason, practice and promote active listening will be a great help to generate confidence and a sense of understanding in the other person. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to be interrupted when they are saying something, we all want to be heard at some point of the day. 
  • Manage your own emotions. In ADHD and relationships, it is very important for both people to have effective emotional regulation strategies, which is not easy to achieve. When emotions are not properly modulated, a series of problems arise in communication and also on an individual level. 

In ADHD and relationships, there are always two dimensions to take into account in the interaction, and this refers to the different perspectives that the two people may have. We will now explore this issue: 

What the person with ADHD may feel

The person with ADHD may feel different since everyone else seems to be managing his or her behavior and attention appropriately. Everyone seems so controlled and calm that a sense of embarrassment may arise in front of others. 

There may also be a feeling that it would be difficult to be accepted and/or loved by another person, given the symptoms and difficulties they create. The person with ADHD may experience that it will be much more difficult for him or her to enjoy the unconditional acceptance of other people. 

Another feeling that may appear is that of being afraid of failing again. When one has that set of symptoms, it is common to be afraid of losing control again and to generate difficulties with it. 

What the person without ADHD may feel 

On the other hand, in ADHD and relationships, there is a person who does not suffer from the disorder and somehow also suffers the consequences of it. 

This person may feel unloved or unwanted. Inattention can be read as a lack of interest, and this generates negative consequences in how the person sees himself or herself. She may feel ignored and offended, as her requests are sometimes not fulfilled as she would like. 

On the other hand, a feeling of frustration, tiredness, and low energy may also appear. This can happen because the person sometimes has to spend a lot of resources on the other person, helping him/her to deal with his/her difficulties and making an effort to understand what is happening to him/her. 

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Conclusions

Given the symptoms, in ADHD and relationships there is a great challenge for both people, who through commitment, empathy and love should be able to establish good teamwork. It will not be easy, of course not, but what matters most is the emotional bond and the humanization of the other person. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about ADHD and relationships 

Can ADHD affect relationships?

ADHD can affect relationships since its different symptoms have some impact on the behavior of the person with the disorder. ADHD can cause difficulties that need to be addressed by both people. 

Can someone with ADHD fall in love?

A person with ADHD can fall in love, since his or her symptoms do not affect that ability. It is important that people with ADHD are not understood as just symptoms, but as human beings with many other characteristics.

Do ADHD people cheat?

People with ADHD are not just their symptoms, and they have the capacity to love, be happy and have fulfilling marriages. Although it is challenging and complicated, compared to other types of relationships, they are people just like everyone else.

Can a person with ADHD live a normal life?

A person with ADHD can live a very functional life, as long as his or her symptoms and non-adaptive behavior are treated appropriately.

Is ADHD considered a mental illness?

ADHD is considered a behavioral disorder, so it is considered a mental illness.

Recommended resources

  1. COUPLES GUIDE TO THRIVING WITH ADHD
  2. The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill
  3. ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand & Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps (Assertiveness Motivation Selfe)

References

  1. The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD
  2. The Distracted Couple: The impact of ADHD on adult relationships
  3. Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy: Clinical Interventions
  4. Adult ADHD and Relationships (web article)

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