How Adult ADHD Impacts Relationships

Updated November 29, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Developing and maintaining healthy relationships can be hard, no matter your mental health status. However, adults living with ADHD may experience specific challenges when navigating romantic and platonic relationships. That’s not to say that these individuals cannot develop healthy bonds, but it does mean they should be aware of how their diagnosis may impact how they interact with others. We’re going to cover the impact ADHD can have on relationships, as well as how individuals can learn how to healthily relate to others.

Is ADHD Impacting Your Relationships?

What Is ADHD?

Before we dive into how ADHD impacts relationships, let’s clarify what it is. 

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. According to the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are two types of ADHD: hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive. No matter which type an individual is diagnosed with, they must have experienced symptoms for at least six months in at least two different settings. Additionally, these symptoms must have negatively impacted functioning involved with school, work, or relationships.

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

Alternatively, individuals must exhibit at least five of the following to be diagnosed with inattentive ADHD.

  • Difficulty listening

  • Loses and/or misplaces items needed to complete activities or tasks (phones, notes, keys, etc.)

  • Easily distracted by unimportant stimuli

  • Forgetful during routine activities

  • Diminished attention span when attempting to complete tasks

  • Lacks the ability to complete schoolwork and other assignments

  • Avoids starting activities that require prolonged concentration

  • Fails to follow instructions and/or makes thoughtless mistakes in assignments

  • Trouble organizing tasks

It’s also important to note that these symptoms must have started before age 12. However, diagnosis may occur after this age. While some people think of ADHD as a childhood disorder, it can and does continue into adulthood.

Relationships And ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD can make it difficult for those living with the disorder to complete tasks and responsibilities related to work, school, and the upkeep of the home. These symptoms can also impact relationships. This includes romantic relationships, friendships, and professional relationships.

Is ADHD Impacting Your Relationships?

It doesn't have to continue to be this way. Knowing how ADHD manifests gives both partners in the marriage power to turn things around. ADHD therapy can help both spouses to understand the role that ADHD plays in a marriage relationship and learn how to identify the issues that the disorder brings into the marriage.

Having an understanding of the disorder allows both partners to identify unhealthy patterns of communication and avoid them or change them. This is the first step towards rebuilding the marriage relationship.

ADHD And Friendships

Not only are marriage relationships difficult, but people living with ADHD also have a lifelong struggle with maintaining healthy, close, and loving friendships.

ADHD brings a host of feelings and emotions into their friendships. Many people with ADHD feel overwhelmed by living up to the expectations of friendships. They want friends, but they get bored with them easily and often choose other interests before the people in their lives. Their behavior is often erratic which drives people away from them.

They have poor memories, so they often cancel plans even when plans were scheduled long ahead of time, or they forget that they ever made plans in the first place. At the moment, it doesn't seem that important. When the friend becomes upset at the canceled or forgotten plans, it leaves the person living with ADHD feeling guilty and frustrated. It feels worse than if they never made plans to get together. The result is that it leaves them feeling hesitant to make plans again in the future.

It's not easy to live with a brain that runs on overdrive all day long. Busy brains need a rest. People who've been diagnosed with ADHD need more alone time than other people do which can come across as being antisocial.

While ADHD can impact how an individual navigates relationships, living with this disorder does not mean someone cannot maintain healthy relationships. However, these individuals may need support and help when it comes to learning how to act in relationships with others.

ADHD And Romantic Relationships

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 increased ADHD symptoms correlated with lower relationship quality. 

ADHD symptoms like forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating can also 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, which can cause their partner to feel burdened.

When individuals living with ADHD do marry a partner, they may still experience relationship difficulties related to their ADHD symptoms. One 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, it’s important to note that the spouses of the individuals living with ADHD did not report increased family dysfunction as compared to the control group. This suggests that ADHD symptoms can cause individuals living with ADHD to view their relationships in a negative light even if their partners do not.

While ADHD can impact romantic relationships, learning how to recognize the symptoms of ADHD may help. Working with a mental health professional can help those living with ADHD understand their symptoms, so they are less likely to become defensive when a partner points out they’re acting a certain way. Therapy may also help individuals learn how to better manage their symptoms, which in turn may improve their relationships.

ADHD And Friendships

People living with ADHD may also face unique challenges when it comes to maintaining healthy, close, and loving friendships. ADHD symptoms can cause individuals to become easily distracted and/or forgetful, which can lead them to miss out on plans or appear tuned out of friendships.

Individuals living with ADHD may avoid uncomfortable emotions rather than addressing them directly. This can lead to problems in friendships, such as a lack of necessary apologies or speaking with a friend about needs.

Getting Treatment For ADHD To Improve Relationships

While ADHD can impact both romantic relationships and friendships, understanding the symptoms and learning how to manage them can help individuals develop strong and healthy relationships. The first step is to speak with a mental health professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis. If it turns out an individual is experiencing ADHD, they can work with professionals to develop a treatment plan.

Treatment for ADHD often involves a combination of medication and therapy. Speaking with a licensed counselor can help individuals recognize how their ADHD symptoms are impacting their lives and relationships. After understanding their symptoms, individuals can work on management. For example, a therapist may be able to help an individual with ADHD recognize they need to build in buffer times so they’re not late to events, or they may help them learn how to explain their diagnosis to their partner.

While therapy can be beneficial in managing the symptoms of ADHD, those living with the disorder may find it difficult to make it to in-person appointments on time. Online therapy allows people to meet with licensed counselors from anywhere that has an internet connection, and also provides opportunities to connect with counselors via in-app messaging. These options can make attending therapy seem less boring, which may encourage those living with ADHD to attend. 

Research suggests that online therapy may be an effective way to improve social functioning of individuals living with ADHD. This may help improve relationship health, as well as other aspects of life.


The symptoms of ADHD can present unique challenges when it comes to developing and maintaining healthy relationships. Learning about and communicating symptoms may improve relationships, and working with a therapist may help individuals manage their symptoms in a healthy way.

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