Common traits of adult ADHD like distractibility, disorganization, and hyperfocus can affect one’s ability to succeed in the workplace, tackle their to-do list, and maintain high self-esteem. But beyond these personal challenges, the effects of adult ADHD on relationships can be just as difficult. Explore how adult ADHD affects relationships, from the ability to form new ones to the ability to maintain a happy marriage. We’ll also share some strategies to nurture healthy relationships as an adult with ADHD.
Can ADHD Affect Relationships?
Adult ADHD can be a contributing factor in a wide range of relationship issues. According to CHADD, people with ADHD have a decreased ability to self-regulate their actions and reactions toward others, which can cause relationships to be overly tense and fragile.1 Any relationship is at risk for the ADHD person if they do not learn healthy social skills, including their relationships with parents, siblings, colleagues, friends, and partners/spouses.
Simply forming relationships can be a challenge for the ADHD person as the impulsive nature of their condition can lead them to unknowingly shut others out by interrupting conversations, making inappropriate comments, or failing to show up on time for scheduled meetings or events. Some people with ADHD also have difficulty regulating their emotions, which may include anger, irritability, and shifts in mood, leading to breakdowns in communication or stress for the non-ADHD person. In partnerships and marriages, missed dates, inattentiveness, and forgetfulness may lead to the non-ADHD person feeling uncared for.
Hyper Behaviors Caused by ADHD That Can Interfere with Relationships
Some of the most common symptoms of ADHD that tend to interfere with relationships include:2
- Impulsiveness, leading to strained conversations and poor social etiquette
- Difficulty focusing and prioritizing, leading to forgotten plans
- Inability to regulate emotions, leading to outbursts of anger or unpredictable mood swings
- Problems following through or completing tasks, leading to unfair division of household duties or missed dates
- Hyperfocus, or getting so absorbed in an activity that the ADHD person forgets about the presence of others or the plans made with them
Understanding a Partner with ADHD
People with ADHD are often perceived as rude, lazy, self-centered, or irresponsible because their condition is invisible and often misunderstood. Learning about how ADHD affects the brain is a crucial component to understanding a partner with ADHD.
A crucial component of a successful relationship is one’s ability to consistently focus their attention on their partner. This helps the partner feel seen, valued, and loved. But the ability to focus relies on the part of the brain that controls executive functioning, and it’s this specific part of the brain that is affected by ADHD.3 Having impaired executive function also leads to difficulty with organizing and planning, inability to understand multiple points of view, and trouble regulating one’s emotions.
Healing a relationship affected by ADHD begins when both the ADHD spouse and the non-ADHD spouse become aware that the condition of ADHD is seperate from the person. By identifying the specific ways ADHD affects the relationship and coming up with strategies to counteract these effects, the couple is on the right path to nurturing a more mutually beneficial relationship.
How ADHD Can Affect Marriage
Since many adults with ADHD have difficulty focusing, they may lose track of how frequently they pay attention to their spouse as well as what their spouse deems important. This can cause the spouse to feel ignored or shut out. Other ways that ADHD can negatively affect marriages is when the ADHD partner does the following:
- Forgets plans or statements made by non-ADHD partner
- Zones out during conversation or blurts out comments without thinking about how they sound first
- Has low frustration tolerance, leading to angry outbursts or mood swings
- Leaves a mess around the house
- Has trouble determining how long a task may take and often gets so absorbed in a task they lose track of time
- Starts tasks but doesn’t finish them, or doesn’t start tasks at all
- Has hyper-sexuality (unusually high sex drive) or hypo-sexuality (unusually low sex drive)4
Working Through a Relationship or Marriage with ADHD
Once a couple knows how ADHD affects their relationship specifically, it’s time to take action to counteract these effects. Some strategies to help work through a relationship or marriage with ADHD include:
- Use a shared calendar and set reminders for dates to keep track of upcoming occasions and even household chores
- Assign and label areas around the house (drawers, cabinets, etc.) to reduce the likelihood of lost items and minimize household chaos
- Schedule “unplugged” time periods to reconnect while minimizing distractions from social media, email, and TV
- Accept imperfections on both parts and remind yourselves that change takes time
- Communicate directly and voice what each partner’s specific needs are so expectations can be properly managed
- Seek out the positive; ADHD does not have to be demonized when strengths are properly harnessed, so find out how ADHD traits like hyper-focus and impulsivity can be leveraged to benefit the relationship
Healthy lifestyle changes can also make a difference in the symptoms of ADHD. Regulating external stimuli like screen time, eating healthy foods, getting adequate sleep, and practicing mindfulness can help lessen symptoms of ADHD. These lifestyle choices can also work holistically with a product like Brillia for Adults, which is a homeopathic, non-prescription solution that helps to improve focus, and relieve common symptoms like restlessness, irritability, and impulsivity. Brillia has no harmful side effects and no contraindications so if the ADHD person is already taking prescription medication, Brillia can be safely added to their regimen without worry. Find out more about how Brilla works.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.