ADHD In Adults And Relationships: How To Navigate

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 12/10/2020

Relationships on their own can be challenging without the presence of any mental disorder. However, when one or both individuals experience Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), the symptoms associated with the condition can severely strain communication, feelings of worth, and understanding of any relationship, whether romantic or not. Before learning how ADHD can affect one’s relationship, it is essential to understand the signs and symptoms of adults who experience the disorder. 

 What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)?

 According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), ADHD is characterized by specific symptoms that appear in a variety of settings. The DSM-5 indicates that symptoms of ADHD can be “divided into two categories of inattention, and hyperactivity/impulsivity that include behaviors like failure to pay close attention to details, difficulty organizing tasks and activities, excessive talking, fidgeting, or an inability to remain seated in appropriate situations.”

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The American Psychiatric Association indicates that ADHD affects approximately 8.5% of all children and around 2.5% of adults in the United States.

The Presence Of ADHD In Adulthood

While most individuals are diagnosed with the disorder in early childhood and receive treatment for the disorder from a young age, the signs and symptoms of ADHD are still prevalent in adults. They can affect their everyday life and activities. Symptoms of adult ADHD are difficult to pinpoint as they may vary between people. However, here are some common signs that have been observed to be present during adulthood:

  •         Reckless behavior.
  •         Poor planning skills.
  •         Forgetfulness.
  •         Talking excessively.
  •         Being late all the time.
  •         Becoming bored easily.
  •         Difficulty following directions.
  •         Difficulty managing stress.
  •         Explosive temper.
  •         Social intrusiveness and difficulty regulating behaviors (e.g., being highly inappropriate in social settings, interrupting others, etc.).
  •         Low impulse control.
  •         Inability to complete day to day tasks.

 ADHD And Relationships: How ADHD Symptoms Can Cause Problems

Now that we have understood what ADHD is and what symptoms present themselves in adults, we can now analyze how these symptoms affect day to day relationships and marriage.

 Forgetfulness

Although an adult with ADHD may be paying attention to another individual speaking, they may still find difficulties remembering what was discussed and promised during the conversation. This can manifest in things like saying they would pick up dinner tonight or remembering a spouse’s birthday. This, in turn, can cause your spouse to feel frustrated and feel as though the individual is unreliable.

Impulsivity

An individual with ADHD can find it extremely difficult to control impulsive behaviors; this often leads to consistent interruptions or even blurting out thoughts without considering how the other individual feels during an argument. This can also occur as irresponsible behaviors such as making an expensive purchase without consulting your partner first. This could often lead to the other person feeling upset.

 Difficulty Staying Organized

Adults with ADHD may also have difficulties remaining organized within their environment and completing an everyday household task such as doing the dishes or folding the laundry. Although an adult with ADHD will agree to split household chores with their spouse, they may instead create a mess within their household while their spouse is forced to clean up after them. This again might cause feelings of resentment and frustration in the spouse without the ADHD diagnosis.

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Difficulty Paying Attention

This symptom goes hand in hand with forgetfulness. Adults with ADHD may often zone out during a conversation causing them to forget important details of the conversation or agree to something mindlessly that they will not remember later down the road. This, again, can cause extreme frustration in the other partner. 

Difficulty Regulating Emotions

Many individuals with ADHD have difficulties regulating their emotions. This can cause them to lose their temper quickly and lash out when attempting to discuss their feelings in a calm and meaningful way. This can lead to feelings of fear and cautiousness as they try to avoid outbursts from their partner.

How To Navigate ADHD In Marriage And Or Relationships?

To overcome the difficulties that may arise in a relationship where one or both partners has ADHD, it is important to look at the relationship from both sides to understand how each person is individually feeling in their environment.

Understanding How Your Partner With ADHD Often Feels In The Relationship

Adults with ADHD often have feelings of being different from others as they perceive the world differently than those who do not have ADHD, resulting in the individual feeling as though they do not belong or are un-relatable to others. They may also experience feelings of being overwhelmed, whether overtly or in secret, as they try to take control of the stress caused by their symptoms every day. Even though they may seem as if they are dealing with their disorder effectively, these individuals often experience symptoms in silence.

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Additionally, ADHD individuals may experience feelings of being subordinate to their spouses. The partner without ADHD may be forced to control the relationship and essentially run the show to keep the household running daily. This can cause the ADHD individual to feel as though they are less than or incompetent. It is also common for individuals with ADHD to experience feelings of shame and feelings of being unwanted and unlovable as they long for acceptance in their relationship.

Understanding How Your Partner Without ADHD Often Feels In The Relationship

Adults who are in a relationship with someone who has ADHD can also experience being unwanted or unlovable. These feelings arise from the lack of attention or lack of interest, which can be understood by the individual as feeling uncherished by their partner. The non-ADHD spouse may also experience a great deal of anger and resentment towards their spouse as they try to avoid situations and conversations that may trigger an outburst and pick up the slack around the house that their spouse is meant to do.

Further, the non-ADHD spouse might experience exhaustion and frustration as issues that were previously dealt with keep coming up again and again in arguments. They may feel like they are unable to move forward or past these issues, which can cause stress and feelings of being ignored and unworthy.

How To Increase Understanding Within Your Relationship

Maintaining a healthy relationship between you and your partner is extremely important. However, it can also feel impossible to do. It is important to identify negative behaviors and feelings and create a structure that will address any issues during the relationship. Here are some helpful tips on how and where to start:

Work On Communicating Effectively With Your Partner

 One of the most effective ways to overcome the symptoms of ADHD in a relationship is to establish good communication between each individual, whether it be amongst members of your family, your employer, friends, or your partner. It is quite common for communication to deplete in ADHD relationships. It is essential to refrain from bottling up your emotions as this can lead to outbursts. Instead, try to speak with your partner in a calm and respectful manner when issues arise. This will help you overcome your problems quickly and in a more productive manner.

If you are no longer able to communicate with each other in a meaningful and effective way, seeking professional help such as couples counseling may help rebuild the communication between you and your partner. The more resentfulness each partner builds up towards each other, the harder it will be to appreciate each partner’s qualities and contributions in the relationship. However, it is essential to note that official counseling can only come from a professional. For all guidance regarding treatment, please consult a licensed professional.

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Remove The Power Dynamic

It is common for the power dynamic to shift in the relationship as adults with ADHD feel they cannot complete tasks. In contrast, an adult without ADHD might have to take care of their partner.

Be Patient With One Another

It is essential to find ways to present your partner with positive feedback every day and remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. Instead of looking at your partner’s negative aspects, remember that they, too, are struggling and focus on highlighting their strengths. This will help your partner feel appreciated and confident. 

Think You Or Your Spouse May Have Undiagnosed ADHD?

When you or someone you love has ADHD, it can be challenging to overcome the difficulties it creates within your everyday relationships. Suppose you believe you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms or behaviors of ADHD. In that case, you may find comfort in taking an adult ADHD screening quiz to help determine whether or not you should seek further professional help. 

The adult ADHD test is a great starting point for you or someone you love to seek validation for the signs and symptoms they may be experiencing in life. However, please note that this quiz should not be treated as a formal diagnosis and is only there to help you see whether or not you should seek further help. 

Regardless of the results indicated in the quiz, we do recommend you reach out for additional support and treatment guidance from a licensed medical professional. If you get the right help and support, you can begin to restart your life and begin to feel happy, normal, and valued.