ADHD can make romantic relationships more exciting… and more challenging. Learn how to make your relationship thrive, together.
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If your partner lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or you suspect they may have ADHD, you might’ve noticed that they love living in the moment. They may be spontaneous, adventurous, or full of energy. In other words, they can be a lot of fun!
But, you may have also identified some concerning characteristics. Maybe they can’t seem to sit still (even during movie night), always interrupt you, or spend impulsively.
Understanding ADHD in its entirety is an important component of relationship building. So, let’s start with the basics.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that involves more than its name implies. Aside from inattention and heightened activity, a few of the other symptoms of ADHD include:
- working memory challenges
- emotional dysregulation
A person with ADHD can experience any combination of the symptoms above. ADHD isn’t a respecter of gender, and both early- and late-life diagnoses are possible.
ADHD is treatable through a variety of strategies that could include a combination of a sound daily routine and medication.
ADHD can lead to a lack of emotional inhibition, which can be challenging on its own. When you throw on the blinders of love, lust, and the prospect of romantic partnership, it can compound the challenges.
And if the person isn’t aware of their ADHD or doesn’t treat it properly, it can cause undue hardship.
How ADHD might negatively show up in your relationship
- trouble remembering anniversaries
- difficulty focusing when your partner shares how their day went or
communicating during a conflict
- fatigue, making it difficult to sustain quality time
- quick to boredom with date night outings
- defaulting on cleanliness in vehicle or living space
- disorganization in thoughts, projects, or long-term planning
- frequently misplacing items
- time management issues
- difficulty self-regulating anger, frustration, and impatience
According to award-winning author and marriage consultant Melissa Orlov — a leading expert in ADHD and romantic relationships — adult ADHD can also impact relationships in nuanced ways you might not expect.
“ADHD has nothing to do with whether you’re smart or successful at work,” Orlov explains. “The solid structure of an office environment or the adrenaline rush you get as an emergency room physician can keep you highly focused.”
The same can be said for a romantic relationship. At best, tending not to dwell on undesirable things, being hyperfocused on your mate’s best interest, and being spontaneous might positively affect a romantic pursuit — as in my case.
I’m Gia. I’m an adult with ADHD, and, among other symptoms, I find it impossible to manage my time.
I’ve worked with an ADHD coach, I’m treated with medication, and I set alarms set for everything — but I often ignore them when I’m hyperfocused.
Luckily, this is one of my fiancé’s many areas of expertise. So, he serves as my human alarm. Whenever we need to be somewhere, or even when it’s time to start preparing dinner together, he’ll gently give me a heads up.
If I need more than one reminder to stop what I’m doing, he’ll provide it. He’ll also give me 20-, 10-, and 5-minute warnings. And I’m so appreciative.
Our system works well because we both understand my ADHD, discuss it openly, and have created numerous strategies to cope with the symptoms together.
He doesn’t mind being my alarm, and I make a habit of not getting angry about his reminders. In fact, I often thank him!
If you’re in a relationship with someone who has ADHD, and you’re discovering how it can impact your life together, here are Orlov’s top tips to make your relationship thrive.
1. Get educated
To get more insight on your compatibility, start by educating yourself on ADHD. Once you learn more about the condition, you’ll parse which occurrences are due to ADHD symptoms and which ones are simply your love interest’s personality.
“Have open conversations about ADHD,” Orlov urges. “It shouldn’t be judged — it’s a way of being that is just one of many ways of being, but it’s often misunderstood.”
For example, if your partner doesn’t seem to give you undivided attention, even if you point it out, you might think they don’t love you and become upset. But it could be a symptom that doesn’t have anything to do with how they feel about you.
2. Wait before you make a long-term commitment
As impulsivity is a known component of ADHD, it’s only wise and responsible to avoid joining your partner in making rash moves that can have long-term effects during the height of passion.
“They can go from being a person who wants to go on dates four or five nights a week to someone who just attends to whatever is in front of them,” Orlov explains. She adds that infatuated hyperfocus on the other partner can wane, just like a typical honeymoon phase.
3. Be aware of relationship dynamics that are harmful in the long run
If you don’t understand ADHD, you’re also at risk for slipping into some classic psychological patterns.
“The most important negative pattern is the parent-child dynamic, where the more organized partner becomes the manager of the relationship and the manager of the ADHD partner,” Orlov explains.
“They’ll over-compensate for the ADHD partner’s symptomatic behaviors, and over time they’ll become resentful and angry because they’re over-functioning in the relationship,” Orlov adds.
Additionally, if one person does all of the work, the other may feel as though they’re being controlled and rebel.
Any way you slice it, it becomes an unhealthy relationship.
Unsure of the line between advocacy and codependence?
You might want to bookmark these resources to learn what’s healthy in a relationship:
4. Learn your deal breakers
You can’t change a person unless they’re willing to change, and being in a relationship with anyone can help you learn what you’re willing to live with and what your personal “red flags” are. Though how ADHD presents can be unique from person to person, some common symptoms mentioned above can lead to deeper issues if the condition is not properly managed. These symptoms can include:
- lack of motivation
- trouble managing finances
- impulsive spending
- chronic unemployment (one study estimates that U.S. productivity and income loss due to ADHD is between $87 billion and $138 billion annually)
- substance use disorder
- anger issues
“This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t marry the person, but it does mean that you need to understand that what you see while you’re dating isn’t necessarily a one-off,” Orlov cautions.
“For example, you [might] need to be OK with your partner not being employed full time. There are millions of relationships where one partner isn’t employed but they contribute to the relationship in other ways,” Orlov maintains.
“Just don’t stay in the relationship expecting that there will be a shift in your partner’s historical patterns,” she emphasizes.
5. Decide on your must-haves and find ways to make it work
“Nobody’s wedding vows include the promise to be the most efficient partner they can be,” notes Orlov. “That’s not why you get into a relationship or get married.”
But because executive dysfunction is one of the main symptoms of ADHD, your partner will likely have a hard time managing the administrative parts of their life. Often, this becomes a big problem in the relationship.
So, ask yourself, for your must-haves, can you delegate, outsource, or find another way?
If it’s cleanliness, can you afford a housekeeper or afford to pay the kids a heftier allowance to pitch in more? If you both love to travel but your partner isn’t great at planning ahead and budgeting, can you retain a dedicated travel agent or use a trip planning app?
“Choose the two or three things that you absolutely, positively must get out of your relationship… For example, if one of them is signs of love and affection, then make sure that you figure out ways to get around their chronic distractibility,” Orlov encourages.
6. Enjoy yourself
“Dating somebody with ADHD can be spectacular,” says Orlov. “You [can receive] tons of attention and do exciting things together. Your relationship [could] have a lot of spontaneity and energy. It [can be] wonderful,” Orlov shares.
Hypersexuality and hypersensitivity during sex, just two symptoms of ADHD, can deepen and add excitement to your intimate times as well.
Some who have the condition report other fringe benefits of ADHD, such as:
- bottomless energy
7. The couple who learns and grows together, stays together
“No single individual can make a relationship completely healthy,” says Orlov. “Couples should really educate themselves simultaneously.”
Orlov adds that couples should:
- use the same terms to describe ADHD and its symptoms
- develop coping strategies
- agree on how to approach future conversations
She illustrates that this kind of alignment is like a harmony: “Both people must be engaged in the process to make the relationship sing.”
To do this correctly, find a therapist who understands adult ADHD — preferably someone who also deals with ADHD and relationships.
Romantic relationships can work (and well!) with a partner who has ADHD.
It helps to have mutual acceptance, understanding, and a willingness to work together by revisiting and tweaking your approach as necessary.
And proper treatment for ADHD symptoms is the cornerstone to their wellness and yours as a couple.
Taking these steps together, and solving issues as they arise, can result in a loving, caring, and lasting relationship.
Gia Miller is an award-winning, New York-based journalist who covers health, mental health, and parenting. Growing up with ADHD and now raising two children with ADHD, Gia is passionate about breaking down the stigmas that surround mental health conditions. Through her writing, Gia hopes to provide readers with informative, evidence-based content that creates understanding, starts conversations, and leads to a world where we can accept, and even celebrate, neurodiversity. Gia is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), and her work has been featured in numerous national publications, including Healthline, Well+Good, SELF, Parents, The Washington Post and more. You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.