Your question: What can I do if my partner with ADHD causes me anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. The incidence of ADHD is lower in adults than in children. Between the ages of 18 to 44 years, 4.4% of adults have ADHD, and between the ages of 45 to 65 years, only 3%. For this reason, ADHD is an under-explored medical entity among adults.

Dealing with ADHD as an adult is more complex than in childhood, because the symptomatology is different and the person is in a stage of independence. Being a partner of someone with ADHD can be overwhelming, as the frustration of not knowing how to adequately help your partner or feeling worn down or hurt by their symptoms is inevitable.

It has been shown that people with ADHD often have problems in their interpersonal relationships due to the difficulties that the symptoms cause them to maintain communication and romantic bonds. However, this is not an impediment to developing functional relationships, but an obstacle that can be addressed through couple communication strategies (1).

Your feelings are natural and understandable, and contrary to what you may think, it is not selfish to feel this way. Dealing with any situation involving a loved one is stressful. When you have a neurodivergent loved one, you must become the ultimate expert on the subject, adapting your relationship to what the condition itself implies, but at the same time, prioritizing your emotions and not neglecting your mental health. It is a complex but not impossible task. Like anything, it must be done in steps so that you don’t feel too overwhelmed by the changes.

How can you understand your partner’s ADHD ?

Sometimes partners of people with ADHD need to be reminded that they are not their partner’s parents. This is because many people do not understand that adults with ADHD are fully mature, intelligent and capable of carrying out normal adult responsibilities, as the condition is associated with childhood restlessness and inattention.

In adults, the symptoms of ADHD are more difficult to define. This is largely due to a lack of research into adults with ADHD. Generally, adults with ADHD had symptoms since childhood, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, that worsened over time.

In adulthood, ADHD is more related to inattention than to hyperactivity, and acts of impulsivity vary from those typical of childhood. Adult symptoms are more subtle, many do not realize they have them until certain times in their lives, such as a job that requires close attention or excessive patience.

Some characteristics of adults with ADHD are:

  • Continually losing or misplacing things
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty waiting in lines
  • Difficulty prioritizing and organizing
  • Difficulty managing income
  • Neglect of interpersonal relationships
  • Impulsive acts that may be risky in the long run, such as making a financial investment without consulting a partner or quitting a job without a second plan

How can you help your partner with ADHD?

Information is beneficial in understanding how ADHD works in adults. This will allow you to understand that many of your partner’s attitudes and behaviors that you find annoying and hurtful are actually caused by an involuntary medical condition, which is difficult to control.

A person with ADHD will need support to manage some areas of life. As their partner, you can implement organizational strategies in daily activities, such as making a chalkboard that lists household chores to be done or things that need to be purchased for the home, and posting it in a place that is visible to your partner every day.

Role determination

You should work as a couple to determine your roles and responsibilities. Be careful of falling into the parenting trap. You are their partner, not their parent or savior, so you will not be able to take care of them from dealing with complicated day-to-day situations. Through a mature conversation you can determine who will be in charge of managing the money, how the household chores will be divided and how you will be organized to take care of the children in case you have any. By giving clear and specific tasks to your partner, you will help him/her to be more clear about his/her responsibilities and he/she will be less likely to forget them.

Be patient 

If a partner who has ADHD forgets to complete household chores, seems to ignore his or her responsibilities, or doesn’t follow through on things he or she promised to do, it can create anxiety for you. It can also happen that he forgets things that are important to you and that hurts you emotionally.

Every relationship is unique and has its challenges. Communication is vital, so if at any time you were hurt or upset by something he did or didn’t do, your partner should let you know explicitly and not just by dropping hints. Patience is crucial because ADHD is a complex condition, in which the person who has it experiences ups and downs in their treatment process.

Don’t neglect yourself

The anxiety of the non-ADHD partner is justified and should not be invalidated by anyone. Although you feel love and commitment for your relationship, you should not neglect your feelings. You can be very empathetic and understanding of other people, but if you neglect your physical and mental health, you will not be able to help them. You should practice relaxation and meditation strategies, as well as exercise that gives you an escape from the daily anxiety associated with your partner with ADHD, and have moments to yourself.

One useful strategy is to take a personal inventory. The following questions are designed to help you learn how to express your needs and feelings with more clarity and less emotion, addressing all areas of your relationship that are failing or can be improved.

  • How do I want to be treated?
  • What will I not allow in my relationship?
  • At what points in the relationship have I felt most satisfied?
  • At what points in my relationship have I felt most dissatisfied?
  • What are the things I want to change in my relationship?
  • How can communication between you improve?
  • Do I feel that my partner is trying hard enough?

These are complicated questions but they should be answered honestly. By answering them, you will be clearer about where to focus your relationship and what specific aspects to work on to improve it. You should express them to your partner by saying that you feel it is important to implement these changes so that you can improve as individuals and as a couple.

In my experience…

Once you have the answers to what you want to improve in your relationship to reduce your anxiety, it is time to implement the changes gradually but as soon as possible. You can start by giving more responsibilities to your partner a little at a time, to lighten the burden of feeling like you have to take care of everything.

Creating boundaries is important because as in any relationship, there must be respect and commitment from both parties. So if even with these strategies your anxiety continues, you may want to seek couples counseling to help you more accurately make changes in your relationship.

I hope that with these suggestions you can improve. I recognize and applaud you for seeking professional counseling, because it shows that you want to feel better and you are on the right path to change the things that make you feel bad. I believe that you all have the capacity to improve, although sometimes your mind makes you believe that you have no solution. It was a pleasure to write to you.

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