ADHD in Relationships

ADHD in Relationships

Is Untreated ADHD Causing Trouble in Your Relationship?

“I just cannot understand why I have to ask him to take out the recycling fifty times. I’m so sick of being the one who has to think of everything. It’s like I have another child, not a partner.” 

Gabby sits in my couples counseling office, recounting the details of the latest horrible fight. Her voice is full of exasperation, and I can hear the pain underneath it. I know this isn’t about who took out the trash; it’s one more instance in a long string of broken promises, forgotten birthdays, and spur-of-the-moment decisions made without her input. 

Meanwhile, Scott is on the other end of the couch, looking down at the floor. I know that what she’s saying is hard for him to hear, but he’s too worn out to mount a defense. Gabby finishes and they both look up, waiting for me to speak. What I say surprises them both. 

“Scott, have you ever been screened for ADHD?”

You would be surprised how often scenes like this play out in marriage counseling sessions. Unmanaged ADHD can create big problems for couples, especially when both partners don’t understand what’s going on. I know this from experience — not only because I’ve worked with so many couples like Gabby and Scott, but because I have ADHD myself. Like many women with ADHD, I wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood, and it created a lot of unnecessary stress in my relationship, until I learned I had the condition and began actively managing it. 

I hope this article helps you understand the ADHD brain, how it can impact relationships, and what you can do if you or someone you love has ADHD. 

I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is Dori B., a marriage counselor, sex therapist, and ADHD coach on our team at Growing Self. Like me, Dori also has ADHD — and she’s a walking example of how you can thrive in spite of it. You can find the episode on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

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ADHD and Relationships

We all know that ADHD can make it hard to focus, finish tasks, and stay organized. But it can also have a big impact on your relationships, especially when you don’t realize you have ADHD

Over time, little conflicts over things like household chores or running late can begin to pile up and take on a big emotional charge, with the non-ADHD partner believing they just don’t care enough to try, and the ADHD partner feeling hurt and defensive — because nothing could be further from the truth. 

Learning about how ADHD impacts you and your partner will help you both change your story about why certain things are happening, so you can 1) stop taking ADHD symptoms personally, and 2) find solutions that work

ADHD and Self-Esteem

One of the most insidious impacts of ADHD is the way it can warp your self-esteem. Anyone who has ADHD but wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood has received a lifetime of messages about how they’re lazy, disorganized, incompetent, or careless. They carry around guilt and shame about their shortcomings, without understanding that they’re battling something most people don’t have to deal with. 

Low self-esteem sucks to live with, and it can also be bad news for relationships. When the partner of someone with ADHD raises an issue — about how they forgot to pick up milk, or they mowed half the yard then wandered off and started building a birdhouse — the ADHD partner may react with defensiveness, because calmly admitting fault is pretty hard when the problem is so bound up with old feelings of inadequacy. Defensiveness leaves the non-ADHD partner feeling invalidated and unheard, and they may become increasingly angry as they work harder to get their point across, adding fuel to the conflict. 

Getting a diagnosis is not only the first step in learning to manage ADHD, but in repairing your self-esteem if it’s been mangled by a lifetime of negative messages. People who learn they have ADHD as adults often feel like everything suddenly makes sense — they knew they weren’t lazy or stupid, they just had a hidden obstacle they needed to address. 

Adult ADHD Symptoms in Women

Women with ADHD often aren’t diagnosed until adulthood, if at all. They more often have the “inattentive type” of ADHD, which is characterized by spaciness, rather than the hyperactive type, which is characterized by bouncing-off-the-walls energy and impulsivity. The hyperactive type (more common in boys) is harder for parents and teachers to miss, while kids with a short attention span often fall through the cracks. 

It’s common for women to receive the diagnosis after becoming mothers. Having a baby has a way of disrupting all the systems they’ve built up over the years to compensate for their ADHD. After the baby comes home and the mother has to keep body and soul together for two people, not just herself, those systems no longer cut it, and it becomes clear that there’s a real issue. 

How ADHD Impacts Relationships

ADHD affects everyone differently, and the ways it can show up in relationships varies. Here are ten examples of what ADHD in a relationship might look like:

  1. The ADHD Partner Is Always Wrong

For people with ADHD, the feeling that they’re forgetting something is an old friend. When something goes wrong in a relationship, the person with ADHD may assume it’s their fault because they’re so used to their brain letting them down. They may routinely take on blame that isn’t theirs, which can create an unequal relationship dynamic that’s bad for both partners. 

  1. The ADHD Partner Needs Stimulation

If you’re a low-key person who would be very happy to pass every evening in front of Netflix, dating someone with ADHD can be tough, especially if they have the hyperactive or impulsive variety. They may be restless and constantly seeking new experiences, which can make them incompatible with certain personality types

  1. The ADHD Partner Struggles with Housework

If you create a chore chart to divide household labor with someone who has ADHD, they may do their best to adhere to it, but, 

a) Get sucked into a weird side mission, like rearranging the living room when they’re supposed to be cleaning out the garage, 

b) Start various tasks, but get experience ADHD paralysis and leave them unfinished, or

c) Forget about it all together. 

This leaves the non-ADHD partner feeling like they have to take on more than their fair share of the housework, or nothing will get done.  

  1. The ADHD Partner Forgets … A Lot

ADHD causes significant problems with working memory, which means the ADHD partner is going to forget things…often. They may forget plans, things their partner told them, and things they agreed to do. They may tell their partner the same story half a dozen times. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that forming and holding on to memories isn’t as easy for someone with ADHD.

  1. Listening Is Tough with ADHD

Staying focused is difficult when you have ADHD, even when you’re trying to focus on something important like what your partner is saying. They may have a hard time listening attentively during conversations, which can leave the non-ADHD partner feeling like they’re not important to their partner. 

  1. Trouble with Correspondence

When you have ADHD, you’re often startled by the realization that you forgot to do something, like return your boss’s phone call or text your partner back. For the non-ADHD partner, these weird periods of silence can provoke a lot of anxiety in the early stages of dating, particularly for people with an anxious attachment style

  1. The ADHD Partner Struggles with Impulse Control

Some people with ADHD have a hard time not acting on their impulses. This can look like buying a new refrigerator without consulting their partner (or their checking account), making a last-minute decision to radically revise their vacation plans, or blurting things out that they really shouldn’t say. Impulsivity can be frustrating to the non-ADHD partner and may even create trust issues in the relationship. 

8. The ADHD Partner May Be More Reactive

ADHD not only causes trouble with executive functioning, it can make it difficult to regulate your own emotions, and to remain tuned in to the emotions of others. Because of the way an ADHD brain is wired, a feeling like hurt or anger can sometimes gobble up all its capacity for a period of time. This is called emotional flooding, and it makes it difficult to remain calm and collected in conflict. 

9. ADHD Symptoms Become a Weapon (or a Crutch)

Many couples aren’t aware that one member has ADHD, but even when they do know, the diagnosis can sometimes be misused by both parties. 

The non-ADHD partner may weaponize the label to dismiss their partner’s point of view (“No, that’s not what happened, you’re just saying that because of your ADHD!”). On the other hand, the partner who has ADHD might use it as a crutch to avoid accountability (“You can’t expect me to do better next time — I have ADHD!”). 

To keep your relationship healthy, it’s important that you have empathy and understanding for the condition, while also actively working to find solutions that work for you both. 

10. Hurt Feelings Abound

The partner without ADHD might take ADHD symptoms personally, and interpret them as signs that their partner doesn’t really love them or care about meeting their needs. The partner with ADHD will probably feel guilty and bad about repeatedly letting their partner down. 

Managing Your ADHD

Some people with ADHD find that medication is incredibly helpful. ADHD coaching is also an effective tool for managing ADHD symptoms (while traditional talk therapy is not as beneficial). 

ADHD coaching involves getting clear about your ADHD symptoms and how they’re impacting your life and your relationships, and then finding systems that help you mitigate those impacts. For example, your ADHD coach may help you design systems that will help you compensate for memory problems, or that enhance your listening skills. What’s important is that these systems are specific to you — ADHD impacts everyone differently, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. 

Trying out new approaches will not only help you find better ways to manage your ADHD, it will be meaningful to your partner. When they see you making an effort, they’ll know their concerns are important to you and that you want them to be happy in your relationship.

Supporting Your ADHD Partner

If you’re in a relationship with someone who has ADHD, there are a few things you can do to make things easier for you both. 

First, try not to take things personally. If they forget what you told them, or go about household chores in a baffling way, it’s not because they don’t care about you or what you want, it’s because their brain is wired differently than yours. Learning about ADHD and its symptoms will help you understand your partner, and increase your patience for them. 

Next, set reasonable expectations. You should expect your partner to work toward improvement, but forget about perfection. They can find better ways to manage their ADHD, but it will always be a part of them. 

On that note, it’s also important to avoid slipping into a codependent relationship dynamic with your ADHD partner. You can support them in getting help for their ADHD, but ultimately it’s your partner’s problem to solve, not yours. (Check out this article to find out if you are stuck in a codependent relationship dynamic). 

While they may do weird things that get under your skin occasionally, make sure you’re also staying connected to your appreciation for your partner. They likely have many wonderful qualities — like flexibility, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking — that keep your life together interesting.

Finally, work together with your ADHD partner to find systems that work for you both. Maybe you need to leave notes around the house, or organize your space differently (many people with ADHD lose their belongings if they can’t see them out in the open). When you lean on each other’s strengths, you become an unstoppable team. 

P.S. — I created the “Growing Together” collection of articles and podcasts to give you a one-stop-shop for expert advice on overcoming common relationship issues like this one. After you listen, I hope you’ll check it out!

ADHD in Relationships: Episode Highlights

[00:44] 

  • Many people misinterpret common ADHD symptoms as statements of disrespect or lack of love. ADHD can create a lot of stress in a relationship, so it’s vital to understand and learn about it if it affects you or your partner. 

[09:49] Living with Someone with ADHD

  • Inattentive ADHD, which more often affects women, often goes undiagnosed. 
  • People with ADHD can seem lazy, but often have to work twice as hard for half the results.
  • People with ADHD in relationships tend to assume problems are their fault, creating an unbalanced dynamic where they pressure themselves to do more.

[17:02] Differences in ADHD Thinking

  • It’s possible to think that someone with ADHD is incompetent, but the truth is they think differently.
  • The differences in ADHD thought processes make some things easier for people with ADHD, while other things are much more difficult.

[30:43] Navigating ADHD in Relationships

  • A coaching model may be better than therapy for addressing and managing ADHD.
  • Both partners should avoid weaponizing the condition, or using it as an excuse. 
  • Making an effort to manage ADHD symptoms will reassure your partner that you do care about them and their experience in your relationship. 

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ADHD in Relationships

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by Beta Wolf with their cover of the Pixies song, “Where is My Mind?” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: betawolfmusic.bandcamp.com. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: We all know that ADHD can make it difficult to stay focused and organized in life and at work. But how does it impact relationships? And what can you do about it? That’s what we’re talking about in today’s episode.

I’m so excited for today’s episode because today we’re talking about something that so often gets overlooked in conversations about ADHD, which is how it impacts your relationships. If you or your loved one has ADHD, you know what I mean.

Being disorganized, distractible, impulsive, or forgetful can make it really hard for people with ADHD to be the kind of partner they want to be, especially if they’re not aware of how it shows up in their lives, or if they haven’t developed good systems for managing it. And similarly, it is not easy for a non-ADHD partner either. If you’re in a relationship with someone who has ADHD, you might feel confused by their behavior or feel like they don’t care, maybe frustrated even that things aren’t changing. 

That can be really hard. It’s also possible that people interpret common ADHD symptoms as statements of not being cared for, respected, or loved. And that can be hard as a partner. So today, we’re talking about how both of you can deal with ADHD if it’s becoming an issue in your relationship. While there is no cure for ADHD, building understanding for yourself, and your partner can create a lot more empathy, a lot more tolerance, and help you avoid unnecessary conflict and stress. 

Understanding ADHD can help you find actionable solutions that can improve the day to day habits that make your life run easier. Communication too. So my guests for this topic is my dear colleague, Dori, who has been on this podcast numerous times in the past, primarily speaking about her expertise in sex therapy and intimacy and relationships, which is certainly a huge part of her professional background. 

Dori is also an ADHD coach and has a lot of expertise in this special aspect of relationships. And she’s here today to share her wisdom with you. So Dori, I’m so pleased to be able to talk with you again about ADHD today. Thank you for joining me.

Dori: Thank you so much for having me on again. Yes, this is a very important topic. And I think it’s a lot more common than we might originally think.

Lisa: Definitely, I know as a couple’s counselor, so you and I are both couples counselors. And I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but over the years, I have learned the hard way about the importance of doing a screening for this kind of thing, especially if couples are coming in with certain kinds of complaints. 

Everything from communication to housework, to habits, love languages, that can really create a lot of conflict in relationships. And so it’s important to have on our radars couples counselors, because it’s what matters.

Dori: It definitely creates or can create a lot of difficulties and sometimes we don’t really feel or we don’t really understand why we are stuck or why we are stuck like it feels like they just miss each other’s way of thinking. And if we were able to screen for that a little bit more frequently, it definitely helps a lot. Because the more we understand each other and how each other’s brain and thoughts and feelings work. Life just becomes a lot easier.

Lisa: It really does and, and just personal sharing. I’m going to go ahead and out myself right at the very beginning of these conversations, no surprises. I personally have ADHD as you know, Dori. And I come from a long line of people with ADHD. My mother had ADHD, never was diagnosed though. And she was an hour late to my wedding because she couldn’t find her shoes. It’s like the struggle is real and whatever, it’s fine but like that’s, that’s where it comes from. 

I didn’t know personally, like what was wrong with me until I was halfway through a doctoral program in psychology, like, why is this happening? For years, I really chalked it up to just like not trying hard enough, or all these different things. And for the longest time, Dori, it actually created a lot of problems in my relationship, because my husband was like, what are you doing? Or like, I wasn’t listening to him or wasn’t following through with certain things that were important to him.

It really created a lot of stress in our relationship. And then finally, when I was diagnosed, and it was more of like a known thing, I think I was able to do things more mindfully, but also, like, just his understanding, like, why I think took like a lot of the energy out of it for him, not that he wasn’t still annoyed with me for doing all kinds of weird things, which I’m working on it. But like, changing the story, I think, prior to that he felt like, if I cared more, I would be doing things differently. 

That’s my own share. 

Dori: I will also share, I think it actually makes a difference. I also have ADHD. I was diagnosed in adulthood. And it actually made so much sense. And I think this is something that people who are diagnosed in adulthood experience, it’s like, everything just makes sense, like this is, this is why I am like this, it’s not because I’m not trying hard enough, because I think that’s the general consensus that we all grew up.

It is like, you just need to try harder, or you need to make sure you pay more attention, you need to make sure you do things better. But sometimes you just can’t, because that’s not how your brain works. 

Lisa: I know.

Dori: Absolutely can create a lot of issues in all areas of life. And I myself come from a long line of ADHD years as well. 

Lisa: This is why we like each other so much. With your mom too?

Dori: Absolutely, also undiagnosed, but I think she feels like she’s diagnosed through me now. She benefits from some of the coaching strategies that I can share with her. So it’s actually making a really positive change in her life as well. And I think understanding each other, I think it makes a difference in that relationship as well. 

How she lives, her parenting and, and the dynamic that we’ve had. But also her relationships as well, as you know, my relationship with my husband has definitely shifted, once everybody had a thorough understanding of how we actually impact and what, what parts of life, we can act. I think a common feeling that partners of ADHD folk might feel is that there’s a lack of care or consideration. And they might take things personally, like, we don’t care about this particular thing, or that particular thing. 

I think once they understand how everything works, they also are able to take things a little, a little bit less personally and not feel hurt by some of the things that we just experienced because of our tricky brains.

Lisa: Yes, thinking differences, for sure. So there’s a lot to unpack here. But I’m also wondering if we could back up just a little bit. So. And it’s so funny, because I mean, you and I have known each other for a long time. But I don’t know that we’ve really had the opportunity to share your knowledge about this aspect of our lives together. And I think it’s neat that we’ve had so many similar experiences. 

I’m curious to know if through your work in helping people with ADHD as a coach and kind of learning more about it professionally, if you have any thoughts or hypotheses about why so many people like us, I mean, especially women never did get diagnosed in childhood just kind of flew under the radar. And it’s only adulthood. And I think I don’t know exactly what your timeline was. 

For me, it was after I became a parent and had to like, manage things and really be more organized than I was kind of able to that it was like, okay, I have to do, I have to do something. I don’t know what your timeline was. But why do you think that it gets missed so often for our guests for some people?

Dori: I think because I think ADHD is commonly thought of as something that involves a lot of hyperactivity, obviously, it’s the name and that is more common for boys in school. So it’s also a lot more visible. Visually you can see it as a teacher or as someone who looks after the children. However, girls tend to, like just statistically speaking, have more of the inattentive type of ADHD.

Which means we might not be as hyperactive or the hyperactive parts are internal, so lots of thinking or over thinking or thinking about different things. So there’s definitely that aspect. So it’s not as obvious from the outside looking in. And a lot of women actually get diagnosed once they become mothers. Because it’s almost like we had our systems in place. 

If I can get something done now, because of my ADHD, then I will do it at night, or then I will do it at this time or that time. So that we have the systems in place. And once the baby comes, those systems are just right out the window. And that’s when a lot of women really get almost slapped with their ADHD symptoms. I was like, why can’t I do this? Why can’t I focus on this, get this done, or remember this? Obviously, motherhood in itself is quite tricky at the beginning and comes with its own difficulties. 

If you add ADHD to this, it just becomes a lot more difficult to manage. And I think now luckily, there’s a little bit more awareness of that from health practitioners. So more screening is done. But I think that’s the reason why a lot of women are especially diagnosed in adulthood.

Lisa: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I really, I get that and can relate to, like, yeah, you do you develop systems, and they’re good enough for that stage of life. And I mean, being able to get through like graduate school and doing all the things that that we did, then I don’t know about you, but I remember feeling like it was harder for me to get organized with assignments, and it would take me longer to do things and, but it was fine, I would just like, I think work harder to get things done. 

When my son was born, I have this very clear memory of just this one day, like just forgetting a playdate that I had scheduled, like with another mom just totally went out the window. And I just felt so bad about it and was like, okay, something isn’t right. And I started to explore it. And it was actually so validating because I don’t know if you had this experience, or maybe some of our listeners had. And I think this happens for men too. Particularly if you don’t know, like, what’s going on. 

I think that my narrative about why I was so forgetful or why I struggled with certain things. I think I kind of internally attribute it to like character flaws. Well, I must be, I’m a mess. I’m disorganized. I don’t know that there’s almost like virtue around being organized and being competent. 

It impacted my self esteem for a while. But I think that when I was able to kind of put all the pieces together and like understanding it, it helped me, I think, feel better about myself in some ways, and almost like, it’s kind of amazing that I’ve made it as far as I have. But like, then able to do different things.

Dori: Yes. My specific word was lazy, like I was, I was described as lazy, or you just need to do better and try harder. So I attributed it to laziness. But then I’m thinking, well, I did so much studying and too much like, surely if I was that lazy, would I be able to do all this? And then and then once you learn that, okay, it’s not that at all, it’s just things are a lot more difficult for us in particular situations like studying or paying attention to lectures or at work. 

Once you know that, that’s something that you can’t really help as far as your neurobiology, then it makes so much more sense and takes away that feeling of guilt, shame, I should do better, or be better because we are great. It’s just that it’s almost like I think I heard one expert in the area describe it as working twice as hard for half the results. So we would have been working twice as hard as everybody else in grad school.

You know what? I thank God for the internet, because I was able to stream my lectures. I was able to do things online in my own time. And I think like if I was doing my grad school before the time of the internet, I don’t know if I would have been able to do it. Like there are so many more supporters out there now. And that’s really lucky.

Lisa: Yeah, no, it definitely is. Well, thank you for sharing more about your journey. And I think it’s important for us to be talking about these experiences, because it’s kind of foundational to people, then going into relationships, who may or may not know about these things inside of themselves. And it can damage self esteem. 

Also, I think, kind of impact relationships in the sense that like, always apologizing, like, that’s still actually something that I’m working on is like compulsively apologizing for everything, because it’s probably my fault. I think that that kind of dynamic can impact relationships.

Dori: It’s a very common dynamic. Some studies have found that people with ADHD, and their partners tend to have this dynamic that the ADHD partner tends to be the one that’s like, in the wrong most of the time. So we take that on, even when we are not, because we’re just so used to thinking it’s probably my fault, I probably didn’t do hard enough from our whole life. That’s a really common dynamic in relationships. 

That can create a lot of issues in romantic relationships, because we can take the fall when we’re not supposed to sometimes and that can create this unbalanced dynamic. And that’s just one of the many things in which ADHD can affect relationships.

Lisa: I’m just sitting here thinking too, and I hope it’s okay to say this, because you and I have known each other for years, and just that, that you’ve also had these experiences, that you are consistently in all of our interactions that I’ve ever had with you, Dori, incredibly conscientious, and thoughtful and like proactive, and you do such good work. And I think, like having this conversation- no, really, it makes me have more respect for your work, and like how conscientious and thoughtful you are. 

It’s because you’ve had to be and I think with me, too. Like I used to think that I couldn’t do things wrong. And actually what I’ve learned over the years, especially after this diagnosis, is I’m actually extremely competent. And I have the ability to be very organized. And like, I’ve come to appreciate all the strengths that I didn’t know that I did have. And so I just want to also put those ideas out for our listeners too, because I no longer think of it as being any kind of a disability.

I think of it as a superpower. It allows us to do things that other people actually can’t do. And so I hope we could talk about that as well. But I just wanted to share that with you like, I mean, seriously, if I had to think of three words that describe Dori, one of them would be conscientious.

Dori: Oh, well, thank you. Imagine, imagine if my younger self heard that, like, “Really? Me?”

Lisa: Somebody’s younger self is listening to this conversation right now. So like, it’s nice to know it’s in there. 

Dori: It’s in there. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Dori: I think it’s really important to also know that these qualities are in people and they become a lot more apparent if we know how to manage our ADHD and how to manage your potential difficulties like because we don’t all have all of the symptoms all of the time. Some things are easier, some things are more difficult. But if we know how to address it, and we know how to manage it, we become like superheroes. This definitely is a superpower.

Lisa: But what have you noticed as being some of the the gifts of ADHD in your own life would you say?

Dori: I definitely think creativity is a huge one and thinking outside the box. Even prior to my diagnosis. My husband always described me as someone that thinks very differently than other people. So anytime he would have a decision to make or thinking something’s like I need to ask you because you always think of things in a really different way. 

That’s really interesting and really helpful. But I think creativity, being compassionate for others, because we have experienced a lot of difficult social situations or even work life situations. I think I think this is just some of the few, many things. We also have really fun. I think I don’t-

Lisa: I think we’re fun. I think you’re fun. I don’t know about me, but, you know.

Dori: We tone it down here a little bit, but we are.

Lisa: That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that.

Dori: What do you think?

Lisa: I think for me, I’m a very flexible thinker. Like, I can go in so many different directions, I don’t get attached to specific outcomes. Like, I can think about a lot of different possibilities, like mental flexibility, creative problem solving. I think, like, it’s easy for me to try things and just see what happens. I think, I don’t know if that’s like a gift of impulsivity where people are like, yeah and I do think about things. I don’t just impulsively do everything. 

I think it’s helped me feel more like, what’s the word that I’m looking for? Yeah, probably creative, flexible, and open. So there are so many different gifts that come with this. And the journey of like, figuring out what’s going on with you can be quite a process. Can you say a little bit more, though, about what you’ve noticed about how it impacts relationships either the person who has ADHD, whether or not they know it, or their partner? Like, what are some examples of things that you’ve seen with your couples over the years or even in your own life? 

Dori: Okay, so I think I can think of a number of things that I can identify as being quite common. Obviously, every couple has their own individual dynamic. But there are a few things that I have seen that are quite typical for couples that, generally speaking, where one person has ADHD and the other one doesn’t. It tends to be most of the time, the typical makeup of an ADHD couple, because two ADHD people tend to be too chaotic sometimes, or-

Lisa: I don’t know, we’re doing okay, right? I mean-

Dori: We are. Yes. 

Lisa: Okay. 

Dori: Every minute together might be more true.

Lisa: Who knows what could happen.

Dori: So one person generally tends to seek out and look for new experiences almost sort of like a novelty seeking type. And the other might feel a little bit pushed by that or like, but I just want to stay home and not do anything and the other person’s like, but let’s go out and go to this concert. 

Or let’s go out for dinner, or let’s go into the sunset. Or, and the other one might want to just, can we just sit here and watch our favorite show. And that can create a conflict where, where there has to be compromise. But that can be something for non-ADHD couples, but it’s just a little bit more pronounced. Another thing that I see often is the difficulties with chores, or one person not being so attentive about tidying up.

Or they have shared chores or divided chores, that one person keeps forgetting their part, or they get stuck on one aspect of that particular task. Or they start it and it’s quite a typical ADHD dynamic where you start your chore. And then let’s clear out this drawer. And then oh, look at this thing that I haven’t seen in two years. 

I wonder where this other part of it is, and then you go and start five different things before you even finish the first chore. And that can be quite frustrating for the person’s like, I just wanted that draw to be cleared out. And what are you doing in the bathroom?

Lisa: And now you’re painting a wall, what is happening, right? We have to buy a new car.

Dori: They think it’s quite inconsiderate, even though I just wanted you to do this one thing. Why are you? Why are you? It’s almost like why you’re disregarding what we talked about? When it’s not about disregarding it or it’s not about minimizing it. It’s just our brain taking us on a journey. 

Sometimes it’s really hard to come back from that. Time management can often cause a lot of tricky dynamics, being late or forgetting things, or not knowing how long a particular event or task will take. You probably know that quite well. And obviously, there’s some difficulties with intimacy as well. Just again, based on some statistics, ADHD folks tend to have a higher sex drive. So that can cause some issues. 

Because if you know, they always want novelty seeking or, or make this whole experience and their partner is quite happy with how they usually do things, the same sort of routine, then that can be quite a hurtful disagreement as well. So there’s quite a range of things and how it can affect a relationship.

Lisa: Well know that it’s so helpful to talk through and just as you’re thinking about it, you’re also thinking like how, how differently it can look in different individuals and also different relationships and particularly if there’s a inattentive type, a more impulsive type, a combined type, and all of the different elements of that, but lots of opportunity to create problems or hurt feelings in a relationship as a result. 

I know, for me, it’s something that we had to work out really hard on, things like communication too. Because of having the more inattentive type. I don’t know if this is your experience. But it will often be very real and intense, like internal experiences, like I’m, I’m thinking about things that make it really difficult sometimes for me to pay attention to, like conversations or, or things. And so it’s really easy for me to miss things that people say, like my husband in particular. 

We’ve had to develop systems over the years where like, I am looking in his eyes, and I’m paying attention and like, he’s like, are you listening? And like, yes, he’s like, are you sure? Like, yes. I mean, around things like that, or that that is something that I’ve noticed has come up, but I think in couples that I’ve worked with, as well. So many different things. And also reactivity.

I think I have not experienced this so much with just the more spacey type of ADHD. But I think for people who have more hyperactive tendencies can be very reactive, even emotional.

Dori: Definitely, yes. Reactivity and, in a way, internalizing everything that our partners say or if they describe or communicate a need, or, or something that they would like to change. By default, a lot of the times we internalize that is like, that’s absolutely my fault. And therefore, they become a little bit more reactive, like, yes. But this is like, and start making almost not excuses, but like reasons. 

Perhaps if we don’t even really understand what’s going on for us, our reasons don’t make that much sense for the other partner. And this becomes this really murky conversation where nobody really knows what’s going on. So, learning about ADHD, I think is the biggest change that a couple can make to both partners. That they know how their brain works. They know they know what’s happening for them, and then they can create strategies and come up with better systems. 

Learning how things work and how the brain works and how that works in their relationship is definitely the biggest thing that they can do. But absolutely, to bring it back to reactivity, it can definitely elevate the conflict because of that.

Lisa: Yeah. So learning about it, too. But I also like I thought you said something that was really important also, just a minute ago that was kind of baked into the piece about reactivity, is that it can also just having awareness of that diagnosis unless you do a lot of work around it can also I think, turn into almost weaponizing the label in in both directions. I think it can be easy for somebody to use it as an excuse and like a reason to not do things or try hard.

Well, I have ADHD, so everything must therefore be excused and we’re not advocating that. But also I think, for the non-ADHD person to sort of attribute everything and kind of dismiss things. Oh, you’re just saying not because of your ADHD- It’s almost like the old thing, oh, well, whatever you’re thinking or feeling right now, we’re not going to validate because you’re hormonal or something, right?

It can almost be this barrier to creating understanding and intimacy when it’s like, weaponized in one way or the other, either going out or as a defense mechanism. And so we really need to move past that in terms of our understanding. 

Dori: Yeah, and I think oftentimes, my experience is that there isn’t a really thorough understanding of what ADHD is, and how it manifests. I think even from the media or just like our minimal knowledge from the world, most people feel like it’s just about being hyperactive, so you can’t sit still or, or that you forget things all the time. And there’s a lot more to it. And it impacts everybody a little bit differently. To some people are more impulsive, some people are not as impulsive. 

They are really forgetful, or they don’t really have any sense of time, or they find it difficult to socialize or express themselves or pay attention to tasks. There’s a wide array of things that impact and really understanding yourself and your partner is what’s going to make a positive difference.

Lisa: Do you have any resources or reputable sources of information that you would be willing to share with listeners? So like books you’ve read? Or do you think it’s really a matter of sitting down with a counselor or an ADHD coach, such as yourself to kind of think figure that out on an individual level?

Dori: I think that there are now quite great resources out there. I don’t think- I mean, I haven’t come across one that focuses on couple interactions that might lead but it’s either it’s not there, it isn’t out there. But there are a lot of great books. One I think is quite valuable. And it was for me on my journey is Scattered Minds by Dr. Gabor Maté.

Lisa: Scattered Minds by Dr. Gabor Maté.

Dori: He’s a physician, but also does a lot of- He’s really known for his work in trauma, but he’s also really into the brain in general. So he wrote this book about ADHD and how it can affect life in general. But there are a lot of resources out there. However, the difficulty with that is that as I said, before, it impacts us all a little bit differently. And coming up with individualized strategies is so beneficial, because  we can read a strategy, like try doing this and do it, it’s not working for you.

Then it’s so good to have, for instance, a coach, that’s like, okay, what about this particular task, difficult for you, which part of it and an ADHD coach should be able to break it down for you so specifically, that it becomes very easy to follow, to action, to complete if it’s about a task. So I think that’s the beauty of the individual coach, that it’s about your specific difficulties, your specific needs, and achieving your best in the areas that you want to achieve.

Lisa: That’s a really good, good point. And thank you, too, for the book recommendation, I actually wasn’t familiar with that one. So I’m getting to check that one out. But also, just a point of clarification for our listeners that I think is worth talking about. So we typically think of mental health treatment for diagnoses as being something that is therapy related psychotherapy related. 

What I think is important to understand is that ADHD is actually one of the things that coaching is often much more helpful and appropriate for in managing and not resolving; it is not a treatment because we’re not going to make it go away but in learning how to manage it well. And in my experience, it’s much better than therapy. Because with therapy, the tendency is to be talking about our old influences enough.

Certainly I think for somebody who has had their self esteem really mangled from a lifetime of feeling ineffective and like they’re not doing a good job, that certainly happens. ADHD can sometimes be associated with substance use disorders. And that can require therapy to treat. But if it’s just like learning how to manage it, a coaching model is much more helpful. 

Because what makes me crazy is when I think therapists who are kind of a one trick pony in the sense that they want to excavate old life experiences in order to understand the present and talking about. So let’s talk about your subconscious anger towards your wife and the childhood trauma that leads you to passively aggressively lose the keys when she has to be somewhere. That is not even remotely useful. 

What is useful is to put your keys in the basket where you can see them coming and going like those kinds of strategies. So that’s, I just wanted to help our listeners understand why in this conversation, they’re hearing us talk about coaching, specifically, rather than psychotherapy.

Dori: I mean, obviously, it’s great if the person that you might work with is both, because then they can address the anxieties related to some of your experiences. But coaching is definitely much more valuable. If you want to achieve specific things in your lives, whatever is your biggest concern, or what strategies have worked for you in the past, may not even be remotely helpful for an ADHD person. 

Like you mentioned, the keys, object permanence, if you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. So like our couples, and the way we organize our things will be different for it to be a helpful environment for us. And that’s not how other neurotypical people see the world. So it’s really helpful to get specific strategies that help neurodivergent because we just work a little differently.

Lisa: We’re special!

I know we don’t have a ton of time left. And one of my takeaways is that the path for managing this as a couple and family looks very diverse, depending on the specific needs. And are there some, if not strategies, even conversations that you would encourage somebody who might be listening to this to have with their partner that might just begin to open the door for understanding and solutions.

If you are diagnosed, or you just feel like you might be but you’re, you’re haven’t gone through diagnosis, I think the first step would be reading up on some typical ADHD symptoms and how they manifest. And really understand what happens in your life, in your brain, and help each other understand how the other person works. That’s the biggest difference, is that we can’t know the other person’s experience, because our brain doesn’t work like that. 

You can read books, that’s really helpful and come up with strategies. But if you’re a couple that experiences, ADHD-specific difficulties, I think it’s a really good place a really good time now, because there are other lots of people out there that can help you with it is to is to reach and don’t be afraid, because it can make a big impact in your individual life, if you’re not in a couple. But if you are in a couple, then it can make a significant positive difference. 

That’s the first step and look at time management strategies. And I could sit here all day and talk about strategy. But-

Lisa: Yeah, so many different things. But one other thing to share, too, I think that is one of the things that I’ve seen with couples and in my own life, and I don’t know if you’ve experienced this too Dori, but I think having the conversations and looking for strategies, and then practicing different strategies like it almost doesn’t even matter what they are. Many different things can be helpful. 

For the partner of somebody who has ADHD to be watching their person, really try to use different strategies. Like, take responsibility for the differences and the problems that they’ve caused and be like, okay, we need to put a calendar on this wall where I can see it or like walking around with a list or setting timers. 

I think the simple act of trying really goes a long way in terms of increasing the empathy, but also like increasing the appreciation. If you have ADHD for your partner to see you really actively working on it, is oftentimes worth so much more than whether or not you’re perfectly perfect in doing all of the things, right? It’s the effort.

Dori: It is the effort, because even a lot of effort, it is because we have tried to masking is one of the words we use, like try to fit into a world where we think we should be like.

Once we sort of let that go and accept, like, that’s not how I work. So let me find the best strategies for the partner to notice that like, this person is trying really hard, let me try really hard to, to meet them halfway. And or to help them in whatever way I can. 

You can send them reminders like, hey, don’t forget to do this, or before they walk out the door, instead of like, oh, my god, you forgot your keys again, like, why can’t you pay attention to help say, like, look, I put your keys there, that’s where they are, if you’re looking for them, and help each other out, this creates, it’s a much more kind and loving environment.

Lisa: Right. And I love that idea and finding ways to appreciate the gifts and the strength of an ADHD partner and the value that they bring to a relationship that strengthens the relationship because of it. I think that that is a really nice approach to generosity and appreciation going both ways. Well, that’s a nice thought to end on, isn’t it? And I know we’re out of time, or are there any other last thoughts you’d like to share with our listeners? Otherwise? I’ll-

Dori: I don’t. It’s hard to stop talking about these days. So maybe we can talk about some other strategies or other concepts around this another time?

Lisa: Yeah, I’d love that. I always like talking with you. And so we, in addition, though, to this conversation that we’ve had on the podcast, you’ve also so thoughtfully put together an article that we’ll be posting on our blog, growingself.com that details, some of your other kind of tips and strategies and obviously we can put links to the books and resources that you mentioned. And also for our listeners, if you are interested in speaking with Dori about your situation, you can learn more about her and her ADHD coaching services at growingself.com too. 

Dori: Thank you and yeah, that is for individuals and couples. Anyone who thinks that they would benefit from some strategies and help around managing life a little easier.

Lisa: I’m gonna come talk to you, Dori. It’s gonna be great. Thank you again so much for this time today.

Dori: Thank you so much.

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