Having adult attention deficit disorder (ADD)/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can significantly impact your romantic relationship with a significant other. According to marriage consultant Melissa Orlov, author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage, the divorce rate among ADHD couples is nearly double that of other twosomes. And while adult ADD/ADHD affects every relationship differently, it can be a frequent cause of friction and anger.
In some cases, the partner with ADD/ADHD may continually forget to pick up the kids from soccer practice or have trouble deciding what to make for dinner. That lack of focus can strain your relationship, says Susan Biali, MD, a physician, wellness expert, and life coach who was diagnosed with adult ADHD, “but it doesn’t mean that ADHD has to rule your relationship.” In fact, it may even be a positive factor in some ways. Taking time to appreciate your partner’s energy and creativity and learning to deal effectively with the negative factors of ADD/ADHD can be key.
Why ADD/ADHD Isn’t All Bad
“Adults with ADHD tend to be very dynamic, creative, and full of energy,” says Biali. Partners of people with ADD/ADHD find there’s rarely a dull moment, which helps keep a relationship fresh, fun, and interesting. “The partner of an adult with ADHD is unlikely to get bored, and there’s probably always something new to talk about,” she says. What’s more, “Adults with ADHD are typically quite charismatic,” she adds.
The downside of that energy and charisma? People with ADD/ADHD can also be very distractible, and partners may find it hard to cope with that trait. “I’ve forgotten to call my husband when I promised I would, and I tend to lack organization,” Biali admits. If they’re ongoing, these common scenarios can exasperate the partners of ADD/ADHD adults, who may label their spouses as lazy, careless, or disrespectful. The partner with ADD/ADHD is often just as frustrated with his or her own behavior; many fervently wish they could start and finish simple tasks like “normal” people.
How to Have Both ADD/ADHD and a Healthy Relationship
Biali recommends that men and women with ADD/ADHD and their partners educate themselves about the disorder. “People with ADHD often throw themselves into learning about their condition, but too often, their partners don’t,” she says. That can lead to misunderstandings and frustration in the relationship.
Finding out as much as you both can about adult ADHD helps prevent a great deal of that frustration. For the partner with ADD/ADHD, education can eliminate the guilt they feel about having a different view of the world. It may fall on the partner who has ADHD to make sure his or her spouse understands the syndrome. “Help educate your partner about adult ADD/ADHD and the specifics of your treatment so he or she knows what to expect,” says Biali. “Your partner needs to be involved in your treatment plan, to avoid feeling isolated from you and resentful of your ADHD.”
Biali also suggests identifying your ADD/ADHD symptoms to your spouse and openly discussing how they help and harm the relationship. “Pointing out that you have trouble remembering to go grocery shopping or to make the bed helps him or her understand that these things aren’t skipped because you don’t care enough to do them,” she explains.
Finally, the most important key to a harmonious relationship that includes ADHD may be having the courage to ask for help — and appreciating that help when it comes. Unfortunately, many adults with ADD/ADHD find it difficult to ask for assistance, as they often think they need to be invincible. “There are several ways a spouse can help you stay on track,” says Biali. Maintaining a calendar with you, writing down chores or requests, reminding — not nagging — you about tasks or appointments, leaving a note so you’ll remember to put away the laundry or pick up a child — all can be very supportive. And the most supportive act of all may be helping a partner with ADD/ADHD stick with a treatment plan.