Adult ADHD Relationships and Their Impact

Adult ADHD Relationships and Their Impact
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Adults with ADHD who enter into relationships bring years of disappointment, dashed expectations, and a belief that they are “bad.” Because

their condition makes it so difficult for them to relate to others in a healthy way, other adults might develop the erroneous belief that the person they have just met, while exiting and charming, is also selfish and inconsiderate.

When the adult with ADHD wanders past the pile of dishes in the sink, the intimate partner thinks the dishes are being ignored out of selfishness, when, in fact, the adult with ADHD totally missed seeing the mess in the kitchen.

These couples can face the “elephant in the room” and figure out ways to deal with ADHD as well as its impact on themselves and on their relationship.

Impact of Adult ADHD on Relationships

The adult diagnosed with ADHD has built up years of faulty beliefs and expectations, based on what people have said –– “Why don’t you ever listen?” “You’re just lazy!” By the time the person meets someone else, these assessments from others have become entrenched beliefs about the person’s self worth. It’s no wonder that adult ADHD relationships can be so fraught with disappointment, anger, and misunderstandings.

The person with ADHD begins to form assumptions as well, such as, “No matter what I do, it’s never right. If s/he would just relax a little, we’d be okay." Still, the person tries, working on organizational skills, noticing what’s going on in the house or what is going on with the partner –– but ADHD symptoms will overwhelm those efforts, according to ADD Consults. [1]

The adult with ADHD has many attractive qualities, such as an energetic outlook and a great sense of humor. They aren’t afraid to consider different points of view. They have either wide-ranging interests or uncommonly detailed knowledge about a topic because of their interest in and ability to focus so strongly on that. [1] Despite these attractive qualities, the adult with ADHD often has trouble trusting in their ability to complete a project. They also miss social cues, including meanings behind spoken words, facial expressions, and body language. [1]

Improve Communication

Couples experiencing problems in their relationship because of one partner’s ADHD are able to use concrete communication tools and skills. If, for instance, one partner frequently forgets to pick up dry cleaning or pay a bill, the couple can begin to incorporate “honey-do” lists and an erasable white board with markers to communicate what needs to be done. [3]

Other coping skills include asking for clarification. The partner with ADHD may say something like, “I’m going shopping.” Several hours later, the spouse finally tracks the ADHD partner down, livid at the lack of communication and failure to return home. In this instance, the partner with ADHD should specify plans to visit more than one store and the spouse or intimate partner should clarify what “shopping” means.

The non-ADHD partner should ask the ADHD partner to repeat what has just been said to verify understanding. In addition, the non-ADHD partner should use short sentences so as not to lose the ADHD partner’s attention partway through the communication. [3]

Discuss Common Goals and Approaches

Talk about shared goals and find ways to reach those goals. For instance, if the couple is discussing buying a birthday gift for their child, the non-ADHD partner should volunteer to research gift ideas while the ADHD partner buys the gift.

If the ADHD partner wants to learn a new organizational method, the non-ADHD partner can help by showing different organizational methods. Once that is done, the ADHD partner is responsible for deciding which method works best. Both partners should visit the store and buy the required organizational tools together, so the ADHD partner feels an investment in the new method. [3]

Interpersonal Relationship Tips

Learn to follow through with promises. Because of some of the hallmark symptoms of ADHD, such as distractibility, underestimating the time a task might take, and racing thoughts, the good intentions the ADHD partner has when a promise is given are truthful. The ADHD partner should discuss plans and write them down, then stick them to the steering wheel and write them in the daily planner. [2]

Recognize “Pack Rat” Syndrome

The adult with ADHD is literally unable to recognize the piles of papers, books, clothes, dishes, or hobbies lying around the house. This symptom of adult ADHD renders the person unable to notice these small details until they become overwhelming for the non-ADHD partner. Adult ADHD relationships are difficult enough without physical clutter getting in the way.

One coping strategy is to have separate spaces for each partner. If this means turning a spare room into a hobby shop or dressing area, so be it. [2]

The ADHD partner needs to ask three questions to avoid letting clutter build up:

1] Does this have sentimental value to me?

2] Does this item have monetary value?

3] Is this unique, therefore irreplaceable?

A “yes” answer to any one of these questions makes it a keeper. Otherwise, throw it out. [3]


[1] White, M. How adult ADHD affects relationships: Strategies for coping. ADDitude internet magazine, 10/20/2004, retrieved at

[/2] WebMD: Adult ADHD and your relationships, retrieved at

[3] McCarthy, LF. Married to ADHD: Relationship advice for you and your spouse. ADDitude internet magazine, Dec 06/Jan06, retrieved at

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