- Loren Bahor, MSW, LCSWA
Navigating ADHD in Romantic and Partner Relationships
Perhaps you are the partner who struggles to manage time, falls through on promises to vacuum the house or pick up the groceries, and becomes bored within minutes. Or, maybe your significant other is the partner who is disorganized and cluttered, overlooks details, and shifts quickly from one activity to the next without completing any of them.
When you add symptoms of ADHD to a relationship, it can create chaos.
Here are just a few of the common ways that ADHD symptoms can affect relationships:
--> Distractibility (difficulty paying attention) – If you have ADHD, you might find that you unintentionally space out during conversations which can make your partner feel ignored and like what they have to say doesn’t matter. You might miss important details and agree to doing something that you don’t remember agreeing to. This can be really frustrating for your partner who might be relying on you to do something that you said you would.
--> Forgetfulness – This can include routinely forgetting where you've put something or what important dates you need to keep. Maybe you were supposed to pay the electricity bill but instead the power gets shut off. Or, perhaps you don’t show up to your partner’s important work event, leaving your partner feeling annoyed and embarrassed. Your partner feels they can’t trust you to do basic things, and you feel like a failure. Anger builds on both sides.
--> Impulsivity – Sometimes people with ADHD might act before thinking, talk excessively or talk out of turn, or interrupt others. This can get really tricky when trying to communicate with your partner – you might end up saying something hurtful, without thinking about it first, or you might unintentionally railroad conversations leaving your partner feeling frustrated and unheard. Another common problem for ADHDers can be impulsive spending, leading to financial arguments.
--> Disorganization – With ADHD, disorganization can be challenging – it’s chronic and pervasive even after putting forth our best efforts. Even if we may look organized from the outside – it can take a lot of effort and energy to make that happen. A common pattern might be that the ADHD person agrees to do certain chores, but then does not follow through with them, or someone with ADHD might be messy – not putting things away, not closing cabinet doors. These things can lead to resentment – a feeling that the partner with ADHD is not putting in their fair share.
A common response to these patterns in an ADHD relationship is the partner without ADHD will resort to nagging.
Often this will happen when the partner with ADHD repeatedly does the things mentioned above (forgetting chores, being late, not paying bills on time etc.). To try and help the ADHD partner remember (or more likely out of frustration), the non-ADHD partner might resort to repeatedly reminding the ADHD partner to do this or that – this can lead to resentment on both sides.
Over time, this can create a parent/child dynamic in the relationship. The non-ADHD partner tends to take on the parent role, the one who seems to be the manager or who takes charge of things, whereas it’s the ADHD partner tends to come across as irresponsible and inconsistent, takes on the child role.
This is a destructive dynamic – each partner should feel that they play a balanced role in the relationship.
ADHD can negatively affect a relationship, but it doesn’t need to. The first step in having a successful relationship with a partner that has ADHD is for everyone involved to have a clear understanding of the role that the ADHD symptoms are having on the relationship. This, in turn, can help both partners begin to see things from the other’s point of view. At the same time, encouraging your partner get help managing their ADHD could help minimize some extreme symptoms.
Progress starts once both parties become aware of their own contributions to the problems shared as a couple.