Couples impacted by ADHD face challenges that other couples do not because there is tension between the very nature of ADHD and the characteristics of healthy relationships. Symptomatic behaviors, such as distractibility, poor planning skills, time management issues, and impulsivity can create stressors on both partners and on the very foundation of the healthy relationship. For example, “distracted” is the opposite of “attentive,” which is a key quality of strong relationships. A partner’s ability to focus on his or her beloved plays a key role in communicating his love over time.
Other tensions exist, as well. Poor organizational skills and follow through butt up against the expectation that a partner will be reliable and share in the responsibilities that marriage and (possibly) raising a family might entail. Before they get their ADHD symptoms under control, ADHD partners may be inconsistent and unreliable, instead.
Likewise impulsivity. Acting without thinking ahead can result in catastrophe and erode trust—one of the basic elements of a solid partnership.
ADHD relationships can be very strong, even though this tension between symptomatic behavior and the qualities of healthy relationships exists. There are too many examples of strong ADHD-impacted relationships (my own included) that demonstrate this is so. But it’s important to point out the tension exists so that couples understand why they have struggled so, particularly if the ADHD was undiagnosed. This knowledge can improve patience as well as communication.
There are specific techniques that address this tension and can make an ailing relationship healthy again. A few include optimizing ADHD treatment so that ADHD symptomatic behaviors are lessened, eliminating ‘parent/child’ power dynamics in the relationship, and learning specific, ADHD-friendly communication techniques. I address these and many other techniques for improving relationships negatively impacted by ADHD in my books, and at my website (www.adhdmarriage.com).
This innate tension is also important to understand because it frequently lurks underneath some of the emotional ‘hot spots’ in your relationship. Common areas of conflict, such as “Tasks Don’t Get Done as Promised” and “Too Many Hurtful Fights” are just two of a slew of repetitive emotional issues that stem directly from the intersection of undermanaged ADHD symptomatic behaviors and spousal expectations about what relationships “should” look like.
Taming ADHD in a relationship takes time, significant work, and a slew of strategies designed specifically for couples impacted by ADHD. But it is well worth the effort. Research suggests that most adults can enerate significant improvement in their ADHD—so relationships really don't need to remain in trouble, even though there is tension. Fewer symptomatic behaviors results in a better alignment between the ADHD partner and the characteristics of the healthy relationship that both partners seek. I hope that by thinking overtly about the tensions inherent in your special type of partnership you’ll be able to better communicate with each other about the issues you are facing and why they are important. Understanding how elemental this basic tension is can provide both inspiration to work hard to minimize it, as well as patience with the difficulty both partners may face as they try to do so.
For more information about the hot spots that couples impacted by ADHD commonly encounter, as well as how to move past them, see my new book, The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD.