May I Have Your Attention

The ADHD-impacted marriage

50 Ways NOT to Leave Your ADHD Lover

Concrete ideas that help couples impacted by ADHD stay together

Many of us grew up with Paul Simon’s song, but what about ways NOT to leave your lover?  ADHD relationships can be tough.  It’s worth taking the time to make this list…and I encourage you all to add your ideas!

  1. Learn to laugh together.  Really, finding your car keys in the fridge IS funny!
  2. Schedule time to be together romantically.  Forget about spontaneity.  ADHD distraction combined with the crush of modern life means at least some romance needs to be scheduled to keep you connected.
  3. Get educated about ADHD. The more you know about it, the better you’ll do.
  4. Take medication if you can. Until something better comes up it is still the baseline support for optimizing treatment.
  5. Adopt the mantra “pills don’t teach skills.” The rubber hits the road for your relationship in your behaviors, not just changes in your symptoms.
  6. Learn about “the ADHD Effect.”  There are predictable patterns that ADHD symptoms encourage in your relationship.  To know them is to be able to fight them!
  7. Separate ADHD symptoms from the person with the ADHD.  The symptoms can be hard, but they are manageable.  Once symptoms are managed, the person with the ADHD—that wonderful being you fell in love with in the first place—can shine through again.
  8. Separate the responses to ADHD symptoms from the non-ADHD partner.  Particularly if the two of you didn't know about ADHD, the non-ADHD partner may be angry, disrespectful or hopeless.  These are common responses that can be turned around into loving actions again with the right approach to managing ADHD in your relationship. Really, you didn’t marry a nag!
  9. Treat your partner with respect.  Sounds basic, but next time you’re picking on your partner or throwing things in anger, revisit this point.
  10. Be constructive with your anger.  All couples argue, but there are “good fights” and bad.  Insulting your partner always puts you in the second category.  Read some of John Gottman’s work if you want to learn more about “good fights.”
  11. Go rollerblading together…or do something else that is challenging and new for the two of you.  Research suggests incorporating challenging and new activities is one of the fastest ways to reconnect.
  12. Travel together.  What could be more “challenging and new” than going to a foreign place together?  Plus, you get to get away from the pressure of the chores waiting for you at home!
  13. Have sex, even if you aren’t really in the mood.  Most often it will help connect you.
  14. Take walks to talk.  The physical activity helps calm the ADHD mind and provide focus.  The time together without distractions aids the conversational flow.  Plus, the fresh air is great!
  15. Don’t try to change your ADHD partner into a non-ADHD partner.  It doesn’t work that way.
  16. Don’t assume “non-ADHD” is superior.  It typically is more organized, but when was the last time you thought “I think I’ll fall in love with this person because they are so organized?!”  There is much more to life than getting from A to B in a straight line.
  17. Learn to work around and with ADHD, rather than against it.  ADHD doesn’t get cured, it only gets managed.  Your job is to make it unimportant, not to eradicate it.
  18. Give up preconceptions.  If you are a woman who thinks your ADHD man should schedule all the dates, you may wish to give up on this idea.
  19. Take addictive behaviors seriously.  Some with ADHD have alcohol or drug abuse issues.  Don’t ignore these.
  20. Set up a sleep routine.  The chronic sleep deprivation suffered by most of us does nothing to help your patience…or your relationship.  For those with ADHD it worsens symptoms.
  21. If you have different internal clocks, set up “sacred bedtime.”  This means both go to the bedroom at the time of the earlier sleeper.  Share time together, sexual or not.  Then the later-to-bed person can decide whether or not to get up again when the lights go out.  But at least you’ll have had some quiet time together.
  22. Consult a sleep center if the ADHD partner continues to have sleep issues.  There is a high incidence of sleep apnea in those with ADHD.  Addressing this can make a HUGE difference in energy levels and the reduction of ADHD symptoms.
  23. Cuddle frequently.  Sometimes I suggest couples set an alarm for first thing in the morning non-sexual cuddle time.  It’s a great way to start the day!
  24. Touch your partner reassuringly, whenever you can.  That might mean a quick kiss or hug, or perhaps holding hands.
  25. Don't be shy about notes.  If you’re trying to learn something new, leave reminder notes in obvious places.  This is particularly useful for those with ADHD who might easily forget.  Notes are also a great way to sneak in an "I love you!"
  26. Get used to the “now and not now” time zones that those with ADHD live in.  If it’s not in the “now” it’s in the “not now” and that means out of mind.  The way to get something done if you have ADHD is typically to bring it into the “now” at the right time.  Alarms and lists can help.
  27. Smile.  Just because you can.
  28. Set a structure to your bill paying and savings plan to make sure you don’t run into financial trouble.  Financial problems are more likely to happen to those with ADHD than those without.  Lack of structure is one issue.
  29. Offer to drive if you don’t like the way your ADHD partner drives (too fast, too distractedly, etc.)  Sweeten the deal by offering to let your partner text or read on their phone while you drive.
  30. Have weekly meetings to coordinate your efforts around household projects. This might feel like a drag, but it helps eradicate many misunderstandings around chores. Make sure you are coordinating your efforts and priorities, rather than delegating.
  31. Remember transition time when getting ready to leave on time.  Many with ADHD have difficulty with transitions – both in terms of disengaging from one activity to start another, and in anticipating how long a transition might take.
  32. Learn how to set up verbal cues.  They are a great way to stop a conversation that is about to escalate out of control.
  33. Don’t assume your future will look like your past.  Learning how to manage ADHD—and non-ADHD responses to ADHD symptoms—really can change your life for the better.
  34. Forgive yourself.  There is probably a lot of muck in your past together—often this comes before a couple knows about ADHD.  You did the best you could do without knowing about the “ADHD Effect.”  Learn what you need to know and move on.
  35. Forgive your partner.  He or she did they best they could do, too.
  36. Dream together and set a future vision.  Managing ADHD and responses to ADHD takes a lot of effort.  Dreaming together about where you want your relationship to go is one way to stay positive and keep the important stuff top of mind.
  37. Create a quiet place.  Non-ADHD partners who sometimes feel overwhelmed by the chaotic elements of living with someone with ADHD do better when they have a place to retreat to once in a while.  That can be a room at home, or somewhere outside such as a library.
  38. Start thinking about positive ADHD “mirror traits.”  Instead of thinking “disorganized” think “spontaneous.”  Instead of “distracted” think “creative.”  You get the idea!
  39. Learn to count to 3 (or 10!).  One of the key issues for those with ADHD is impulse control.  Rather than blurt something out or respond in anger without thought, teach yourself to take a few moments to consider your response.  Two small tricks for doing this are counting before responding, or sucking on a lozenge that you must move in your mouth before speaking.
  40. Ditto for non-ADHD partners—counting is good.  It’s better to proactively take the time to respond to ADHD symptomatic behaviors with patience and empathy than to fly off the cuff in frustration.
  41. Don’t manage your partner’s medications – unless asked to monitor responses to medication changes.  It is the ADHD partner’s responsibility to remember to take medications and to work with his or her doctor to optimize brand and dose.  Non-ADHD partners really can help, though, in tracking differences when new meds or doses are first tried.  That extra set of eyes can be useful!
  42. Acknowledge that those with ADHD frequently get distracted in conversations.  Set up a simple cue, such as “I just got distracted, can you say that again?” that allows the ADHD partner to fully participate in the conversation without having to “guess” at what he or she missed.
  43. Allow yourselves to grieve if you’ve had a rough past together or your relationship isn't what you expected.  It IS sad that your past was so hard.  But isn’t it great that you now have the tools to create a better, loving future?
  44. Learn to appreciate the present.  Look, every day, for the positive things that have happened to you and spend a little time being thankful for them.  There is a huge body of research that demonstrates that this really helps!  Focusing on the present will also bring non-ADHD partners more in line with their ADHD partners, who tend to live in the present in any case.
  45. Validate your partner whenever you can.  This doesn’t mean agree with him or her (though you can!)  This means verbally acknowledging that he or she has the right to their own opinions and you hear them.
  46. Listen actively and ask questions.  The partners in “mixed” relationships of one ADHD and one non-ADHD partner are quite different from each other.  Chances are, your underlying assumptions about life are more different than you realize.
  47. Understand you won’t always understand.  You are, in fact, SO different that there are things about how your partner approaches life that you will NEVER really understand.  That’s okay.
  48. Let yourself go with the flow.  Flexibility is a critical trait when you are in a relationship with a person with ADHD.  (I bet you know this already!)
  49. If you have ADHD, accept that organization is important.  People with ADHD often do things spontaneously, as much in response to their ADHD symptoms as anything else.  That means they may discredit a non-ADHD partner’s need for more planning.  Don’t.  Planning really can help you, even if it feels foreign or constricting. Figure out where planning will help your relationship most, then embrace it and participate.
  50. Never stop learning about ADHD.  There is new information about treatment and how to make your relationship healthy and happy coming out every week.  Stay informed at websites such as www.adhdmarriage.com and www.additudemag.com and through category research overviews such as Russell Barkley’s excellent ADHD Report (Guilford Press).

Melissa Orlov is the author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage which won the gold medal for best psychology book of 2010 from ForeWord Reviews.

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