Overview of How ADHD Affects Relationships: In couples where one or both partners have ADHD, one of the biggest challenges is developing mutual empathy and understanding. Without that, couples slip into the blame game. They struggle and fight. The non-ADHD spouse comes to feel as if she is the parent, not the spouse, of her ADHD mate. The ADHD spouse feels as if he is the naughty child, always being reprimanded or scolded, always slipping up, always causing problems. This is what my wife and I call “The Big Struggle,” which often becomes the standard pattern of interaction.
If “The Big Struggle” isn’t addressed, it can disrupt the relationship and leave each partner frustrated, angry and exhausted.
How to Improve Relationships when ADHD is part of the picture:
The following guidelines or “tips” might be helpful in dealing with other issues of concern to couples in which one partner has ADHD. These tips offer a starting point for discussion between the partners. The best way to use them is to read them out loud together. Pause over each suggestion and discuss whether it might hep you. As you do this, you can begin to set up your own way of dealing with ADHD in your relationship. The keys to it all, as is the case with most problems in couples, are improving communication and resolving the power struggle.
First, make sure both partners understand what ADHD is.
Likewise, make sure that it is properly treated in the ADHD partner by a doctor who really knows what he or she is doing, i.e., someone who has extensive experience with adults who have ADHD.
Set aside time every day to discuss and plan.
Build a boundary around this time. No interruptions! Make a rule that during this time there is to be no blaming, fighting, or leaving the room. The purpose of this time is to discuss–not argue–and to plan what has to be done that day, that week, that month. As you do this, you will gradually learn how to communicate rather than struggle, and solve problems rather than create more of them.
Try to understand conflicts from the other person’s point of view.
This is often difficult! But doing it gradually leads to mutual understanding, better communication, and deepening of love and respect.
Remember what it is that you like about the other person.
Keep it in the back of your mind for those moments when you’re angry.
Respect, respect, and more respect.
Try always to treat your partner with respect. Repeated put-downs can become a habit and mark the beginning of the end of a relationship.
How to Avoid the Big Struggle
Attack and defend, defend and attack. This can become a habit, a very demoralizing and destructive one.
When you see an argument or fight getting started, try to catch yourself and say to yourself, “Let me try to do this a little differently this time.” If you usually yell, fall silent. Or if you usually get quiet, speak up. If you usually cry, don’t. Likewise, if you usually rage, try negotiating or listening instead. Just try to vary your usual way of responding.
Have fun together.
Do it however you want to do it, but make time to have fun. Sounds obvious, but many couples don’t do this.
Try to keep up an active sex life.
Distractibility subverts romance and eroticism, but ADHD and sexuality can absolutely co-exist in a healthy relationship. Learn how to revive intimacy, intrigue, and excitement with your partner in this ADDitude article “When ADHD Disrupts (and Ruins) the Romance” by Dr. Hallowell.
Finally, remember, no relationship is constantly happy, perfect, and blissful.
When times are tough, hang in there with each other. Get some alone time, but don’t go into hiding. You need each other. It is easy to be there for each other in good times, but in hard times, this is when you really need one another. This is when you just plain do it—whatever it is—for the sake of your partner and for your own sake as well. Don’t give up. There is always, always hope.
CLICK HERE to learn more about ADHD and Relationships.
In this Distraction Podcast, Dr. Hallowell sat down with his wife Sue for a heartwarming conversation about his own ADHD and their marriage. Sue doesn’t hold back and gives listeners a clear picture of what it’s like to be the only one in their house without ADHD.
ADHD Effect Marriage Seminar Starts September 16th. Turn around your struggling relationship with this wonderful seminar, given by ADHD relationship expert, Melissa Orlov. The seminar lasts 8 weeks, is given by phone, and Hallowell readers get a special discount. Use the code HALL16 at registration checkout for $30 off. Get more information at this LINK!
Adapted from:Married to Distraction, Restoring Intimacy and Strengthening Your Marriage in an Age of Interruption by Edward M. Hallowell, MD and Sue George Hallowell, LICSW with Melissa Orlov Ballentine, March 2010