Having a Healthy Relationship When Your Partner Has ADHD
It’s worth it, but you need to know this.
Are you in a relationship with someone who has ADHD or ADD?
This is a question that I have been pondering recently.
A few months back I had to break up with someone who I loved very much because he was making me unhappy. I have spent a lot of time since then very angry and hurt because I felt like he didn’t even try.
And then, this week, I was doing some research on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) for a client and it hit me — my man could very well have ADD!
The resulting behaviors made staying with him very difficult for me. And I am sure those same behaviors make living life very difficult for him. Maybe it wasn’t that he didn’t try but that he couldn’t try.
I have learned that many people are unaware of the devastating impact ADD can have on relationships. I want to share with you what I have learned and what loving someone with ADHD is like:
1. Accept That People with ADHD Are Different.
People who struggle with ADHD are very different from those who don’t. In order to love and someone who has ADHD, it is important to understand what ADHD looks like:
- They can’t just “do it”.
For those of us who don’t have ADHD, we can usually get something done when we buckle down, determined to do it. People with ADHD just can’t do that. They can, and do, try but often a bright shiny object distracts them and the task at hand evaporates.
- They tend to live on the edge.
People with ADHD can be constantly living on the edge, looking for that next thing that will make them feel something. This could mean doing drugs or having lots of sex or jumping out of airplanes. Whatever it takes for them to feel like they are alive and in control.
- They can have low self-esteem.
Because of a lifetime spent struggling to do the most basic tasks and the derision that often comes from other people when they feel let down, people with ADHD struggle from a chronic lack of self-esteem. This lack of self-esteem can cause intense depression and actually lead to increased cognitive deficiencies.
- They struggle to listen or remember or keep promises and might always interrupt you.
The minds of people with ADHD go a mile a minute. Much faster than the rest of us. Because of this, they are easily distracted by the next thing, as opposed to what is in front of them. As a result, they might not remember what is said to them. They want to but they can’t.
- They often struggle at work.
Because they have a hard time completing tasks and staying focused, people with ADHD sometimes always struggle at work. To be successful at work, people with ADHD need two things: a boss who understands them and an excellent support staff. Without these things, success will be very hard to attain. Not impossible but very difficult. This can lead to additional self-esteem issues.
- They will struggle to make anything a priority.
For people with ADHD, there are two kinds of time — “now” and “not now”. Because of this, they live completely in the moment. The concept of “moments down the road” means nothing to them.
- They are often financially challenged.
Having the focus to keep track of their expenditures takes a tremendous amount of discipline that they just might not have.
Also, some people with ADHD love to spend money. People with ADHD are often in search of the next high, the next thing that will scratch their itch. And spending money is an excellent way to achieve that goal.
So you see: people with ADHD are different from people who aren’t. Your ADHD husband may be very different from someone else’s ADHD boyfriend! Understanding that is a key piece of loving and being in a relationship with someone who has ADHD.
2. Be Willing to Compromise and Accommodate.
If you love someone who has ADHD, it’s important to be willing to compromise and accommodate their challenges. If your partner simply cannot complete a task the way that you want it done, you might need to finish it yourself.
If your partner struggles with keeping the finances in line, you might need to take on that task as well. If your partner has a hard time listening and remembering what you say, you might need to develop a system of writing things down to help him do so.
If your partner suffers from self-esteem issues or struggles at work, you might have to spend a disproportionate amount of time shoring him up. If your partner takes risks or spends too much money, you might have to help him manage those drives so they aren’t self-destructive.
Supporting and accommodating your loved one is a key part of living successfully together. If you can’t accommodate your loved one’s limitations, you might find yourself getting resentful and he might feel even more ashamed, which could make matters worse.
3. Be Clear with Yourself What Is Acceptable.
While it’s important to be willing to understand someone with ADHD and be willing to accommodate them when necessary, it is also important that you not compromise on things that you don’t think are acceptable.
If you find that your partner’s financial expenditures are putting your family at risk, then you can put your foot down and address the situation head-on.
If he never returns your texts or emails and isn’t available when he is needed, a system needs to be put in place to make him available.
Of course, when you love someone who has ADHD, it is important to compromise and accommodate but it is also important that you not lose sight of what is important to you.
4. Don’t Take Their Behaviors Personally.
It is essential that when loving a person with ADHD, you do not take their behaviors personally.
I have a client whose wife has ADHD. He hated to come home from the office because the house was a disaster, dinner was never ready, the kids were running around like crazy people and she was off working in the garden. He tried to explain to her how important it was to him that he not be met with chaos every time he came home.
He said to me, “If she loved me, then she would try harder to meet my needs. I even offered to help her but she refused.”
The thing was that she did love him. She just couldn’t do the things that he needed her to do.
Ironically, the hallmark of someone with ADHD is that they don’t want to ask for help. They honestly believe that if they try hard enough, they can do it all themselves.
As a result, many couples deal with the issue of one person not doing what they said they could do and the other person taking their lack of action personally.
So make an effort to not take your partner’s ADHD actions personally. It kills them that you do and they really do love you — they just forgot to take the trash out.
5. Talk About It.
Communication is the key to loving someone with ADHD.
When your partner struggles with all of the things that he struggles with, and you have to work hard every day to accommodate those struggles, tensions are going to rise.
Some of the systems that you devised to make things work might stop working. Or your frustration levels with his spending money might elevate dangerously. Or he might be resentful of your repeated offers to help him finish a job.
When these things happen, it is important for the couple to take the time to talk about it. To see what they can do, together, to make whatever the issue is work.
Unfortunately, what can often develop in an uneven relationship is a parent/child dynamic, one where the non-ADHD person becomes like a parent to the ADHD-er. This is not a good dynamic for two people in a romantic relationship, for obvious reasons.
The best way to cut that dynamic short is to talk about it. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t walk away in a huff. Don’t scream and yell. Talk about it. Express your feelings and frustrations. Make a plan. Together.
Finding ways to love someone who has ADHD might seem difficult some on days but, I promise you, it’s not impossible.
People who struggle with ADHD are incredibly creative, they have a joy for living, they are full of big ideas and have a lot to give to a partner. People who struggle with ADHD are people who people want to love.
But living with people with ADHD can be a challenge, so take my advice above. Learn about how your partner struggles with ADHD. Accommodate him where you can but hold a line about what’s important to you. Talk about all of it when it becomes an issue.
And never, ever take their behaviors personally. Their behaviors are a result of their brain chemistry, not their love for you.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: The 5 Best Tips for a Happy Relationship with Someone Who Has ADHD.
Guest Author, P. (2018). Having a Healthy Relationship When Your Partner Has ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/having-a-healthy-relationship-when-your-partner-has-adhd/