ADHD and marriage can work together. It may be important for you and your spouse to be aware of what it means to co-exist with ADHD-related behaviors.
People have quirks and nuisances — characteristics that make them unique. When you’re in a long-term relationship, these idiosyncrasies can naturally lead to different levels of conflict for couples.
Although not always, living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could make these already complex couple dynamics even more challenging in some instances. This may be particularly so if the disorder isn’t yet diagnosed or treated.
Living with ADHD or with someone who has the disorder doesn’t necessarily mean you and your spouse will face conflict. But, on some occasions, unique challenges may arise. In every case, these can be managed.
“It’s incredible how often ADHD (especially when unidentified or undiagnosed) is the culprit in marital conflict without anyone realizing it,” says Alena Scigliano, a licensed psychotherapist, author, and speaker in Virginia Beach. “Yet, it’s so easy to address and successfully cope with [ADHD].”
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders. Symptoms are often identified during childhood and mainly involve:
- a combination of all of these
1. Potential effects of inattention on a marriage
Living with ADHD inattentive type may mean you have:
- difficulty with organizational tasks
- a hard time paying attention to details
- difficulty following conversations
- trouble following directions and instructions
- seemingly careless attitudes or behaviors
- a tendency to not listen when spoken to
- propensity to avoid challenging tasks
- a proclivity to being easily distracted
- difficulty concentrating and remembering some things
These challenges may impact your relationship if they’re not understood or handled accordingly.
“It’s easy for a partner with ADHD to stare you straight in the face as you’re talking to them and even mutter an acknowledgment of understanding without actually having heard, or rather absorbed, a word that you said,” explains Scigliano. “So, when they neglect to take the trash out that evening or pick the kids up from soccer the next day, you not only feel frustrated but also as though your partner doesn’t care enough about you to help.”
But ADHD isn’t a personal choice. These are symptoms of a mental health condition that, if not managed, may be out of your spouse’s control and willpower. This is why it’s important to address ADHD together as a team and in a prompt manner.
2. Potential effects of hyperactivity and impulsivity on a marriage
Hyperactivity and impulsivity often go hand-in-hand in ADHD. These symptoms may look like persistent:
- excessive talking
- irritability outbursts
- jumping from task to task without completing any
- making snap decisions
- blurting things out without any filter
“One of the greatest impacts ADHD has on marriages is leaving one or both partners feeling unheard and therefore uncared about,” Scigliano notes.
ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity can cause you to do things like suddenly interrupting your partner mid-sentence, talking over them, or displaying hints of impatience when they’re explaining something.
Though these behaviors are a symptom of ADHD, if it’s not clear what causes them, they may come off to your partner as a form of dismissal. This could lead them to interpret these situations as if you don’t value what is being said or don’t care enough to listen.
3. Additional possible effects of ADHD on relationships
Sensitivity to criticism
Kimberly Perlin, a licensed clinical social worker from Towson, Maryland, explains challenges could be experienced by both the partner living with ADHD and the spouse who doesn’t have it.
For many people, living with ADHD means a long history of criticism and being underestimated, says Perlin. This could make them more reactive or sensitive to feedback, which could lead to conflict in the couple.
In some cases, because of these experiences, the spouse with ADHD could be living with reactive sensitivity dysphoria, a condition that involves feeling intense emotional pain when criticized and fear of rejection.
In the marriage, high sensitivity to feedback might make it more challenging for the partner not living with ADHD to initiate communication about what they consider could be unhelpful or hurtful behaviors.
If your partner is leaving tasks undone or forgets to start them altogether, you might be the only one left to pick up the pieces — all of the time. Over time, this could lead to a sense of resentment for carrying most of the household chores and responsibilities on your back.
Resentment may also brew when the partner not living with ADHD feels like it’s their job to be the “coach.”
“Couples need to respect each other’s agency and not try to ‘take over,’” cautions Perlin. “An imbalance in power can develop when one does not feel they are as capable as their spouse.”
Untreated vs. treated ADHD: Does it make a difference in marriage?
Symptoms of ADHD can be managed. Treatment is an important tool to decrease the likelihood of emotional, behavioral, and relationship challenges that may impact marriage.
Seeking professional support, and involving your spouse in it, can open up the relationship doors of understanding and compassion.
“As a therapist, I love having the opportunity to teach non-ADHD partners exactly what is going on in the mind of the ADHD partner,” Scigliano states.
She adds, “It’s priceless watching a smile spread across their face the moment they realize that their partner simply didn’t hear what they said, and that walking by the trash bag without grabbing it doesn’t mean that they don’t care.
“All of a sudden, they feel loved again. It truly is beautiful!”
Marriage — with or without ADHD symptoms — is an everyday project that takes two people.
In addition to receiving ADHD treatment, consider these tips to better manage possible ADHD effects on your marriage.
When you live with ADHD
Cultivating ADHD coping strategies
You can help avoid misunderstandings and friction by developing ADHD coping strategies such as:
- using organizational tools and resources that help you manage procrastination
- leaving reminders and notes for yourself and asking your spouse to do the same
- finding ways to make tasks engaging
- seeking ADHD coaching
- working with a therapist who specializes in ADHD in adults
Explaining what ADHD feels like for you
Perlin indicates knowing what ADHD feels like can be important for a spouse that isn’t going through the same experience.
As your spouse learns more about what it is like to live with ADHD, they may better understand some of your behaviors. This means describing what you’re feeling as you experience an ADHD symptom, for example.
You can also think of ways your spouse may support you when you’re having a difficult time.
For example, “When I’m feeling hyperactive, I may interrupt you constantly without even realizing it. If I do that, please do this (whatever it is you find helpful) to make me aware of my behavior and help me adjust it.”
When your partner lives with ADHD
Scigliano suggests being direct when something is important, not out of frustration, but as a way of making an impact on your partner’s thoughts.
You can follow the conversation up by saying, “This is something important to remember; do you mind telling me what you heard me say, so I know we’re on the same page?”
“Overall resist the temptation to parent your spouse as that will kill romance and increase negative behaviors on both sides,” says Perlin.
She recommends supporting your spouse by working with them to secure a therapist, for example, but allowing them to keep track of their own appointments.
“ADHD plus marriage” doesn’t have to be a challenging mix. Symptoms of ADHD are manageable and working together in your marriage as a team to address them can strengthen your bond.
With an understanding that ADHD isn’t a personal choice, the use of open communication strategies, and the support of a mental health professional, both partners can feel supported and appreciated in the marriage.