ADHD and Relationships
Maintaining fulfilling relationships can be a challenge for people with ADHD. Those who are easily distracted may not appear to be listening closely to loved ones, while those with time-management challenges may be frequently late—or may even forget social plans and errands altogether. Impulsive symptoms can lead to risky financial decisions or other reckless behavior that can cause tension with others, particularly in romantic relationships.
Because close relationships are so crucial to happiness and well-being, it's critical for those with ADHD to be aware of the effects of their condition on others and to develop skills for building stronger social ties. On the other hand, it’s equally important for loved ones to be cognizant of ADHD-related challenges, and to understand that in many cases, the person with ADHD is aware of—and struggling to manage—their frustrating behaviors.
On This Page
- What is it like to date someone with ADHD?
- What are the benefits of having an ADHD partner?
- Can ADHD hurt your sex life?
- Why is my partner so forgetful?
- Can ADHD cause divorce?
- Does it matter which partner has ADHD?
- Why does my non-ADHD partner nag me so much?
- How can I stop nagging my ADHD partner?
- Does ADHD affect social skills?
- Do children with ADHD have a harder time making friends?
ADHD can certainly create challenges for couples; symptoms like distractibility or hyperactivity can lead to missed dates, broken promises, impulsive or risky decisions, or resentment about unequal distribution of chores. But the disorder does not doom couples to failure. Indeed, many who date a person with ADHD report that their partner is spontaneous, fun, and creative; evidence suggests there may be benefits to the couple’s sex life as well. Couples in which one or both partners are affected by ADHD can be successful—particularly if both partners educate themselves about ADHD, openly discuss challenges, and work together to address symptoms and strengthen the partnership.
Most ADHD relationship advice is centered around potential challenges and problems caused by the disorder, but it’s important to remember that plenty of relationships affected by ADHD succeed and even flourish. One survey of 400 people who were married or seriously involved with someone with ADHD found that participants reported that their mates were energetic, spontaneous, creative, and kind. Many noted that their partners were engaged, hands-on parents, or that they had a great sense of humor. Other research has found that people with ADHD tend to have higher sex drives and are more “sexually eager”; as a result, couples may find that their sex lives are more varied and exciting than those of other couples.
ADHD’s effect on sex varies widely. Some with ADHD report that focusing during sex is challenging, while others report engaging in risky or compulsive sexual behaviors; some evidence suggests that people with ADHD may be more likely to cheat on their partners, often as a result of an impulsive decision. On the other hand, people with ADHD tend to report having a higher sex drive than their non-ADHD peers and may incorporate more novelty into their sex life, which may have the potential to increase sexual frequency, excitement, and satisfaction.
Adults with ADHD—particularly those with primarily-inattentive type—may forget to complete chores, heed requests from their partner, or attend appointments (even dates). This can be immensely frustrating for both partners, and may lead to conflicts or concerns that the partner with ADHD is not cognizant of their partner’s needs. In most cases, however, the ADHD partner cares deeply for their partner’s feelings, but may be struggling to cope with symptoms of distractibility and inattention. Treatment, coping strategies, and compassion from both parties can help couples manage one partner’s forgetfulness.
Some studies suggest that couples in which one partner has ADHD divorce at higher rates than non-ADHD couples do. But while ADHD symptoms—particularly if the condition is undiagnosed or untreated—can certainly contribute to marital difficulties, to say that ADHD causes divorce may not be entirely accurate, experts warn. ADHD, particularly if it is well-managed or effectively treated, will not necessarily harm a relationship; some couples even feel that the more positive aspects of ADHD can bring concrete relationship benefits.
In heterosexual couples, some research suggests that which partner has ADHD can affect both relationship and sexual satisfaction. In a large-scale survey of couples in which one partner had ADHD, couples reported greater happiness and sexual frequency when the woman had ADHD, rather than the man. The difference in satisfaction may be related to gender roles and expectations about sex, the researchers hypothesize; women whose partners have ADHD may have to take on additional household responsibilities—worsening an already-existing gender imbalance—while men whose partners have ADHD may respond positively to a partner’s heightened sex drive and spontaneity.
One common side effect of ADHD in romantic relationships is nagging. This often occurs when the partner with ADHD repeatedly forgets chores, appointments, or other responsibilities; in an attempt to help them remember (or out of pure frustration), the non-ADHD partner may nag them about the undone tasks. While nagging may seem like an effective solution, particularly early in a relationship, it often backfires and leads to resentment from both parties.
Rather than nagging, partners should have a clear discussion about responsibilities and develop strategies to help the ADHD partner manage their fair share; treatment can be immensely helpful in this regard. The non-ADHD partner should also make an effort to not simply complete tasks themselves; while this may seem easier for both partners, it can lead to an unhealthy parent-child dynamic in the relationship and may ultimately trigger more conflict.
ADHD can cause social challenges in both children and adults. Impulsive symptoms, for instance, may cause someone with ADHD to interrupt others frequently or blurt out inappropriate comments; inattentive symptoms, on the other hand, may make it difficult for someone with ADHD to follow a conversation or show up on time to an outing with a friend, which may make them appear rude or disinterested in the friendship. Many people with ADHD, however, are able to form close relationships with others. Explaining symptoms to loved ones, developing coping mechanisms, and seeking therapy to improve social skills can all help those with ADHD make up for social deficits and cultivate meaningful connections.
Children with ADHD are much more likely to struggle with social skills than their classmates. Some studies have found that children with ADHD are more likely than their peers to report having no reciprocated friendships and are more likely to report losing friends over a particular time period. Children with hyperactive ADHD may behave impulsively or aggressively, alienating peers as a result, while children with inattentive ADHD may appear withdrawn or unable to focus on games or conversations. Children may also struggle with emotional over-reactivity, which can be off-putting for peers. Support and hands-on guidance from parents is essential to helping children build social skills and gain confidence; behavior therapy or social skills groups can also help give children the tools they need to thrive.