What To Do When Your Spouse Or Partner Has ADHD
Living with someone who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be a challenge. If your girlfriend/boyfriend, spouse, partner, or roommate has ADHD, their behaviors may be causing relationship problems.
Arguments about workload distribution are among the most common issues I have noticed during my work as a specialist in adult ADHD. One partner may struggle to follow through on household tasks, leaving the other person to pick up the slack.
Unless this workload imbalance is resolved, it often leads to hurtful arguments. When the partner who feels like they carry most of the weight communicates their dissatisfaction, their partner may get offended, draw away from them, or lash out. Despite this reaction, the dissatisfied partner may feel they have no choice but to keep nagging to make the household run smoothly.
Another relationship problem I often see with ADHD is a sense of emotional disconnection. For example, a person with ADHD may struggle to pay attention to their partner, especially when engaged in their favorite hobby. They may also tend to forget about occasions or events important to their partner, such as birthdays and social gatherings, making them feel neglected and unloved.
People with ADHD also tend to struggle with impulsivity and emotional dysregulation, exacerbating existing problems. For example, a roommate with ADHD is more likely to lose their temper during arguments, causing them to says things they later regret. As a result, their roommate may come to feel like they has to walk on eggshells around the roommate with ADHD. The lines of communication break down and the household feels tense. Both people feel lonely and unsupported.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If your partner’s ADHD is causing problems, you may feel like you’re stuck in a hurtful cycle. Your efforts to improve the situation may have resulted only in arguments and increasing emotional distance. Fortunately, it is possible to improve your relationship by learning more about your partner and how they are wired.
My work with individuals with ADHD has uncovered several strategies their partners often find useful. By following these tips, you can reduce misunderstandings and gradually increase the level of trust and respect between you and your partner.
Don’t jump to conclusions
When you view your partner’s words and behaviors through a neurotypical lens, you risk drawing the wrong conclusions. For example, if your boyfriend has ADHD, you might assume they are not interested in you when they avoid eye contact or forget details of previous conversations. In reality, it may be their ADHD that is causing their inattention and forgetfulness, not a lack of interest.
Similarly, you might assume your roommate isn’t trying hard enough when they neglect certain tasks around the house. On the contrary, they may have exerted enormous effort to start the chore, only to get distracted five minutes later. It looks like they don’t care when the task remains undone, but the real issue is their inability to sustain their attention, not a lack of motivation.
Open lines of communication
If your relationship has been rocky lately, you may both be wary of starting another argument. You probably feel resentful, and your partner likely feels misunderstood. So you have begun to draw away from each other. It is surprisingly easy to misinterpret someone’s actions when they aren’t communicating. For ADHD relationships, it is vital to open the lines of communication back up.
It will take you and your partner some time to open back up if either of you is feeling wounded. So, where do you start? First of all, choose a time to talk when you’re not upset. When you communicate, focus on how you feel instead of what your partner may or may not have done. Then listen calmly and openly to your partner’s response without interrupting.
You might hear things you don’t like. Perhaps certain things they say seem unfair, in which case you’ll be tempted to jump in and defend yourself. Resist this urge and instead remain silent until they are finished. Paraphrase what they’ve said back to them to make sure you’ve understood. You may be surprised to learn that you are taking things more personally than your partner intended.
Learn more about ADHD
Outwardly, your partner may appear cold and uncaring when they isolate themselves or lash out in anger. That makes it hard to sympathize. You can get around this problem by educating yourself about ADHD and how difficult it is to function when this disorder goes untreated. Learning what it’s like to live with ADHD can allow you to see things from your partner’s perspective.
For example, you might learn that people with ADHD sometimes have thoughts like, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m stupid” when they have trouble completing essential tasks. When you criticize your partner, they may interpret that as confirmation of the negative thoughts they often have about themselves. Knowing that, you can approach conversations about difficult topics with more compassion. Even if your partner reacts emotionally, you can recognize their struggle to regulate their emotions because of their ADHD.
Adopt a team mindset
Instead of placing all responsibility on your partner for fixing issues just because they have ADHD, join forces to tackle relationship problems together. I know this is asking a lot, especially if you already feel like you are putting in more effort. However, if you’re willing to make some accommodations for your loved one, it can have a considerable impact.
Start by trying to find out where they are struggling and why. For example, when you give your partner a big task such as cleaning out the garage, they might not know where to start. If they tell you they feel overwhelmed, you might suggest ways to break up the task into more manageable pieces. Better yet, create a written list with the smaller tasks that your partner can reference.
When divvying up tasks, think strategically about who is good at what. If you are more organized than your partner, you might consider creating a daily tasks list for you both. You can place sticky notes or other reminders around the house and review the plan together each morning. Once this framework is in place, you may be surprised by how energetically your partner dives into their tasks.
Choose your battles
This advice is especially good advice when one partner has ADHD, but it applies to all relationships. There will always be certain tasks that are critical to manage. Picking up the kids from school, for example, is non-negotiable. Other duties, such as remembering to squeegee the shower, may not be worth the energy. When you let go of the small stuff, you’ll feel less need to nag your partner, reducing interactions that make your partner feel controlled and belittled.
When your spouse or partner has ADHD, it is also essential to be a creative problem solver. If looking at your husband’s messy desk every day is driving you crazy, consider whether the desk truly needs to be cleaned or whether there is another solution. Could the desk be moved to a less visible location? By thinking outside the box, you may be able to resolve long-standing disagreements while accommodating your partner’s preferences.
Adapting to your partner’s ADHD and healing your relationship will take time. Be patient, and focus more on what goes right than what goes wrong. Remember that your partner is likely struggling just as much as you are, even if they don’t show it. You might also consider connecting your partner with an ADHD specialist. As a trained psychologist, I offer tools proven to help marriages and other partnerships thrive. Contact me for a free, 20-minute consultation to learn about my approach to ADHD treatment.