4 Ways ADHD Affects Marriage (Plus How To Insulate Your Relationship From The Stress)

You might know someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but do you know how ADHD affects marriage? Any couple relationship can be challenging to navigate, but when one or both of the partners has ADHD,  the usual difficulties are compounded, which can cause the couple to feel like they are lost in a maze. 

Many people label the fidgeting co-worker with ADHD, the friend who is always late as someone with ADHD and the boss who can not deliver what he promises as someone with ADHD, but the real disorder is an entirely different animal, as people with ADHD and their loved ones can personally tell you.  Not only does it cause each individual with it significant hardship, but the disorder can also create challenges for those nearest and dearest to the person diagnosed, such as his partner.  It is not hard to imagine how it would feel if your partner had all of these traits. How would you feel if your partner had difficulty focusing on you, was always late, lost their keys regularly, never finished a conversation and couldn’t keep a promise?

ADHD Symptoms

Although every case of ADHD manifests slightly differently, it is worth our while to understand the symptoms of ADHD:

  •  Difficulty attending or focusing, Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
  • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
  • Is often easily distracted
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
  • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
  • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
  • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
  • Often talks excessively.
  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  • Often has trouble waiting their turn.
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others

There are 3 types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and a combination of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD in Adults

You might be tempted to self-diagnose with ADHD, but it is highly recommended that you seek professional assessment and treatment.  Psychiatrists and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are able to accurately diagnose ADHD and can recommend medication management to decrease ADHD’s effects and more effectively manage it. In addition to the methods offered by these professionals, therapists or ADHD coaches can teach cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tools to help you cope with the symptoms of ADHD, such as difficulties with time and stress management. 

How Does ADHD Affect A Marriage?

If you, your partner or both of you have ADHD, you will need to understand how it impacts you and how it affects marriage or relationships, 

4 Ways that ADHD Affects Marriage:

    1. Dating versus Marriage- Your ADHD partner probably was able to hyperfocus on you during the dating period. In non-ADHD dating, there is an increase in dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. When an ADHD partner starts to date, there is an increase in the same chemicals which allows for hyperfocus on the relationship. Frequently, non-ADHD partners will comment that they were so happy at the beginning of the relationship because they felt their partners cared and paid so much attention to them. But after the honeymoon phase, the hormones that created the hyperfocus decrease, and the ADHD partner returns to their normal state of inattentiveness. 
    2. Disappointments and Frustrations- Next, as the ADHD partner starts to forget things, make promises and not keep them and act generally distracted, the non-ADHD partner may begin to feel frustrated and disappointed and start complaining . This may lead to a parent-child or a pursue-avoid dynamic in the relationship. 
      1. Parent-Child- The non-ADHD partner takes on the “parent” role by starting to act and speak in a manner which is bossy and nagging, taking on habits like reminding the ADHD partner of things so “he doesn’t forget again.”. The ADHD partner will feel like he’s being treated like a child and resent the controlling or micromanagement of his life.  
      2. Pursue-Avoid- Sometimes the non-ADHD partner believes if they start pursuing the ADHD partner for attention and love, then the ADHD partner will show up and be more loving and responsive; however, usually, this causes the ADHD partner to feel pressured to “perform” and will more than likely avoid the other partner.
        Below is an illustration of the parent-child dynamic that might begin to develop between the partners.

        Conversations may sound like:

        Non-ADHD partner says: Did you go shopping yet?  You said you would go shopping today.

        ADHD partner responds: Yes, I will go soon. 

        Two hours later:

        Non-ADHD partner says: You said you are going to the store, and it’s going to close soon. 

        ADHD partner responds: I said I’m going. Stop nagging me. 

        Later the night:

        Non-ADHD partner asks the ADHD partner where the milk is to put in their child’s lunch for the morning. 

        ADHD partner says: I ran out of time and never got to the store. Why didn’t you just go yourself?

        Non-ADHD: You told me you were going to go. You always say you’re going to do something, and then you  never do it.

    3. Escalation- As the frustration builds between you and your partner, the blaming, anger and negativity increases. Whether you are irritated about the chores, shopping, organization, time or lack of focus, you may misunderstand your ADHD partner’s actions. You may feel like your partner doesn’t care or love you anymore and is lazy and/or untrustworthy. On the surface, it may appear that you understand his intentions, but as you learn more about ADHD, you will be able to better grasp the dynamics at play and hopefully, learn new ways to manage the situation together with your partner. 

      Conversation May Sound Like:

      Non-ADHD says: You never help me with anything. Yesterday, you didn’t pick the kids on time from school and today, you were 30 minutes late, so we missed the appointment with the doctor. I can’t take this anymore. I’m sick and tired of this. You don’t care about me or the kids. You are so selfish and only think about yourself. 

      ADHD says: I can never do anything right. I can never please you. I’m not good enough for you, and I will never be. You criticize me for every mistake I make. 

      Non-ADHD says: A mistake?!

      The conversation continues to spiral downward. 

    4. Will This Relationship Survive?: After years of criticism and feeling unloved, the ADHD partner may exhibit tantrums, spurts of anger, and rude behavior due to poor impulse control and self image, and the non-ADHD partner may feel tired of being the “parent” or carrying the load of the household chores, bills and marriage.The exhaustion he feels because of the non-stop tension and escalation of anger may lead the non-ADHD partner to wonder what it would be like if he or she hadn’t married someone with ADHD.  He or she may also start to ponder the possibility that ”Maybe this relationship is not meant to work out.” On the other side of the equation, the ADHD partner may wonder if another partner would understand them better and would be less critical.

    Before you reach this point of starting down this path of “what if,” I recommend you receive couples counseling with a couples counselor who specializes in ADHD.  

How Do You Deal With A Spouse With ADHD?

The best method to deal with a partner with ADHD is to work towards learning new skills together to insulate your relationship from stress. 

How To Insulate Your Relationship From The Stress

You may want to learn how to communicate your needs to each other without demands, nagging and criticism. Dr. John Gottman found that the 4 Horsemen are detrimental in relationships. The 4 Horsemen include: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Dr. Gottman found that couples who use the 4 Horsemen are more likely to end their relationship in divorce.

Partners need to discuss issues, such as chores, paying bills, planning and organizing, in new and different methods that take ADHD into account. You may need to make standing agreements about these issues and how to stay on the same page about them. For example, the ADHD partner might need to make charts or set reminders of what needs to be done and when. 

If you and your partner are not familiar with the signs, symptoms, patterns and individual relationship challenges of ADHD, you will need to find resources to learn this information to better understand each other and ADHD’s impact on your relationship.  

If anger, impulsiveness or rudeness is an issue in the relationship, then anger management, coping strategies, relaxation or mindfulness training or other tools may need to be discussed with a counselor. 

Set time together (without discussing bills, chores, kids, and other similar issues) to have fun and connect. Your lives are busy and hectic (especially now with COVID-19), so make sure you are taking time to care for each other and express your love. 

Dr. Gottman suggests creating rituals of connection which provide you with regular routines and build a stronger foundation for your relationship . Some areas around which couples create a ritual of connection are how you leave the house or come back home, bedtime or mealtime. For example, do you give each other a hug and kiss when you leave or return home? Do you eat any meals together? On a weekly basis, take 1, 2 or more hours to relax and do something fun together. You need to recharge your relationship battery and continue to show each other that you care. 

When you learn about ADHD and how ADHD affects marriage your knowledge and decision about how to insulate your marriage can determine your happiness and success. Take the time to learn the 4 ways ADHD affects marriage and your relationship and decide what you need to do create healing and recover. 

Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC is a licensed counselor in the state of Maryland. She is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist and PACT Level 3 Candidate. If you are looking to learn more about how ADHD affects your marriage, then reach out for a 30 minute free private consultation today.

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