How Adult ADHD Impacts Relationships

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Developing and maintaining healthy relationships can be challenging, regardless of mental health status. However, adults living with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may experience specific challenges when navigating romantic and platonic friendships. These individuals can develop healthy bonds. However, it could be helpful to understand how this diagnosis may impact interactions with others. 

Some people who experience these challenges may call them the “ADHD effect,” as they can make it challenging to maintain healthy relationships. Explore the impact ADHD can have on adult relationships, as well as how to address issues and healthily relate to others with a neurodivergent brain. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Is ADHD impacting your relationships?

What is adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder?

ADHD stands for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is a neurodevelopmental condition and form of neurodivergence. According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are three subtypes of ADHD: hyperactive-impulsive (ADHD-HI), primarily inattentive (ADHD-PI), and combined type.

No matter the type of ADHD an individual is diagnosed with, they must have experienced symptoms for at least six months in at least two different settings to be diagnosed. Additionally, these symptoms must have negatively impacted the functioning involved with school, work, or romantic partnerships.

Hyperactive-impulsive symptoms

To be diagnosed with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, individuals must experience at least five of the following symptoms:

  • Squirms and/or fidgets when sitting
  • Uncontrollable restlessness
  • Appears to be “driven by a motor”
  • Inability to engage in activities in a quiet manner
  • Inability to remain seated when this is expected
  • Difficulty waiting their turn
  • Interrupts or intrudes into conversations/activities more than normal
  • Interrupts questions to provide an answer

Primarily inattentive ADHD symptoms

Individuals must exhibit at least five of the following to be diagnosed with inattentive ADHD:

  • Difficulty listening
  • Losing or misplacing items needed to complete activities or tasks (phones, notes, keys, etc.)
  • Becoming easily distracted by unimportant stimuli
  • Becoming forgetful during routine activities
  • Experiencing diminished attention span when attempting to complete tasks
  • Struggling to complete schoolwork and other assignments
  • Avoiding starting activities that require prolonged concentration
  • Failing to follow instructions or making thoughtless mistakes in assignments
  • Trouble organizing tasks

Combined ADHD and other diagnostic criteria

To be diagnosed with combined type ADHD, at least five symptoms must be present from both categories listed above.

In addition, these symptoms must have started before age 12. However, diagnosis may occur after this age and is often beneficial because it allows an individual to address untreated symptoms. While some people think of ADHD as a childhood disorder, it is a lifelong condition and form of neurodivergence, meaning it is a difference in cognitive, sensory, and emotional processing from what might be considered the “norm” and cannot be “cured.” For this reason, symptoms persist into adulthood and throughout the entirety of one’s life.

According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), misconceptions about when ADHD can be diagnosed are part of why “few adults with ADHD get properly diagnosed and treated.” Untreated ADHD symptoms can lead to reckless behavior and emotional outbursts. It may also make it more difficult for individuals to receive support in symptom management. It can be valuable for adults to receive stigma-free, compassionate care and diagnosis. However, self-diagnosis can also be a valuable and valid tool when diagnosis is not possible due to barriers.

Having a partner with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

A spouse or partner in a romantic relationship with someone with ADHD may have unique experiences with their partner’s symptoms. Below are a few ways ADHD can impact a relationship.

Executive dysfunction

Because some of those who experience ADHD can struggle with impulse control and executive functioning, they may make challenging comments or experience difficulties in contributing to household responsibilities. They may also struggle to pay attention to particular subjects or details. 

Difficulty understanding ADHD

In some cases, a partner may take offense to certain behaviors. It may be difficult for a partner with ADHD to hear from someone they love that they “could change these behaviors if they tried harder.” ADHD is not curable, and people with ADHD are not choosing to experience their symptoms. Often, their brains naturally function in unique ways, and accommodation can be a helpful way to improve executive functioning. 

Responsibility differences

In some cases, a partner may believe they must take on the responsibility of supporting their partner with ADHD, which could lead to dependency challenges. For example, the ADHD partner may experience distractions and difficulty remembering chores, which could mean their partner takes on some of the chores for them, even if this dynamic is not intentional. Open conversations and communication can ensure both partners experience comfort in the relationship and that household responsibilities are balanced and fair.

Working with ADHD in relationships

Challenges in a relationship can often be addressed and worked on with healthy communication, support, and accommodations for the partner with ADHD. Neurodivergence is a brain difference, and navigating differences in mental health between two partners can mean learning to communicate in a way both partners understand and are comfortable with.

Platforms like Chore Wars gamify household tasks and can make them more engaging for the brain. Likewise, workbooks by publishers like Specialty Press can help couples better understand each other and navigate the challenges ADHD might bring to a relationship.

Because ADHD is a form of neurodivergence, some people may identify with the theory that there can be positive aspects of having a different brain. For example, people with ADHD may make positive partners by being extra creative in supporting the people they love. In addition, people with ADHD may notice details neurotypical partners don’t notice, such as the little ways their partner acts in certain situations.

Like anyone else, partners with ADHD can be attentive, loving, and passionate. Having ADHD does not mean someone will necessarily cause challenges in a relationship, and neurotypical partners can also struggle with distraction, communication challenges, and unbalanced household duties.

Getty/MoMo Productions

Is ADHD impacting your relationships?

How adult ADHD can affect relationships

The symptoms of ADHD can make it difficult for individuals to complete tasks and responsibilities related to work, school, and home upkeep. These symptoms might also impact relationships, including romantic partnerships, family relationships, friendships, and professional relationships.

Knowing how ADHD manifests can give partners in a marriage or relationship the power to make healthy changes. ADHD therapy may help couples understand the role ADHD may play in a marriage or relationship and learn to identify any challenges present in the marriage, as well as ways to accommodate and support the partner with ADHD.

Understanding neurodivergence can allow both partners to identify unhealthy patterns of communication and avoid or change them. Understanding and mental health support can be the first step toward building a healthy relationship and understanding each other more profoundly.

How adult ADHD can affect friendships

Some people living with ADHD may struggle to maintain healthy, close, and loving friendships. ADHD can sometimes cause complex emotions in friendships. For example, some individuals might become overwhelmed by expectations from others. They might desire connection but become bored and choose other interests before connecting with friends. They may also struggle to control impulsivity or hyperactivity, which may be difficult if they have incompatible needs with friends.

ADHD can negatively impact short-term memory, sometimes causing individuals to cancel or forget plans with friends or show up late. If the friend becomes upset at the canceled or forgotten plans, it could leave the individual with ADHD with feelings of guilt or shame. These feelings could result in someone with ADHD wanting to put off making plans for the future, which could result in distance in the friendship.

Racing thoughts and difficulty organizing daily life can complicate friendships for neurodivergent individuals. Those diagnosed with ADHD may benefit from significant alone time. Taking time to recharge, process thoughts, and practice self-care can be a helpful way to navigate friendships and ensure you show up authentically with those you love.

People with ADHD can have healthy connections with friends, and not everyone with ADHD struggles with commitments. While ADHD can impact how an individual navigates relationships, being neurodivergent does not mean someone cannot maintain healthy relationships. However, these individuals might benefit from support when learning to balance personal and social life

Navigating adult ADHD symptoms and romantic partnerships

Research suggests that ADHD can impact how individuals navigate dating and marriage. One study looked at how symptoms of ADHD related to self-reported relationship quality. Results showed that higher instances of ADHD symptoms correlated with more conflict in relationships.  

Symptoms like forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating can lead to stress in relationships. For example, an individual living with ADHD may have a difficult time completing tasks like taking out the trash and putting away dishes. Executive functioning training with a professional therapist may benefit this dynamic.

Another study looked at 33 married adults living with ADHD and their spouses and compared these couples to married partners without ADHD. Researchers found that those living with ADHD rated their family dysfunction higher than their peers without ADHD. However, the spouses of the individuals living with ADHD did not report increased family dysfunction as compared to the control group. This result suggests that individuals with ADHD often view their own challenges in a more negative light than their partners. For this reason, therapy may be a helpful tool for neurodivergent adults to work through guilt, shame, and related challenges.

While ADHD can impact romantic partnerships, learning to recognize the symptoms of ADHD can be a helpful step toward mutual understanding. Working with a mental health professional can help those living with ADHD understand their symptoms. Therapy may also help individuals learn how to better manage their symptoms, which may improve their relationships. Couples therapy can be an option for couples who are struggling due to challenges related to ADHD.


Support options

While ADHD can impact romantic partnerships and friendships, understanding ADHD symptoms and learning how to manage them can help individuals develop strong and healthy partnerships and friendships. Support options may involve a combination of medication and therapy. Speaking with a licensed counselor can help individuals recognize how their symptoms impact their lives.

After understanding their symptoms, individuals can work on management. For example, a therapist may help an individual with ADHD recognize ways to buffer time so they’re not late to events or methods to explain their diagnosis to their partner. Couples therapy can also be helpful, allowing couples to explore symptoms together and develop personalized plans for moving forward healthily.

While therapy can be beneficial in managing the symptoms of ADHD, neurodivergent adults may find it challenging to make it to in-person appointments on time. Online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples can allow clients to meet with licensed counselors from anywhere with an internet connection and provide opportunities to connect with counselors via in-app messaging. In addition, platforms can offer unique tools like worksheets, support groups, and journaling prompts.

Research suggests that online therapy may be an effective way to improve the social functioning of individuals living with ADHD. This type of counseling might improve relationship health and help individuals organize cognitive and executive tasks. Couples may also benefit from online therapy, with one study finding that couples rated it more effective than face-to-face interventions due to increased comfort in the online setting.


The symptoms of ADHD can present unique challenges when developing and maintaining healthy relationships. Learning about and communicating symptoms may improve relationships, and working with a therapist may help individuals manage daily life. Consider contacting a licensed individual or couples therapist in your area or online to get started.

Gain a better understanding of ADHD
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started