What Couples Should Know About ADHD And Relationships

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you or your partner lives with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may be familiar with the ways in which it can affect relationships. Common ADHD symptoms, like impulsiveness and forgetfulness, may cause challenges for couples, which is why it can be important to be proactive. By learning about ADHD, practicing effective communication strategies, and setting healthy boundaries, couples may be able to navigate their relationships with empathy and understanding. A licensed therapist can help both individuals and couples manage the impacts of ADHD on their lives and relationships.

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What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It is a condition that can make it hard for people to focus, control their impulses, and manage daily routines. It is often diagnosed during childhood, but some people may be diagnosed with ADHD as adults. 

Although we may not know exactly what causes ADHD, it may be linked to differences in levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that typically plays a role in motivation. 

According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, around 5% of adults may have ADHD

ADHD symptoms

ADHD symptoms generally fall into two categories: inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsiveness. People with ADHD may have symptoms from one or both categories. 

Symptoms of inattentiveness may include the following:

  • Having trouble paying attention or staying organized
  • Struggling to focus on long or difficult tasks
  • Frequently forgetting or losing things
  • Appearing to “zone out” or not listen when spoken to
  • Struggling to follow directions
  • Making frequent “careless” mistakes on school or work projects

Symptoms of impulsiveness and hyperactivity may include the following:

  • Fidgeting, squirming, or having trouble sitting still
  • Frequently interrupting others
  • Talking excessively
  • Rushing from one activity to the next
  • Engaging in risky or reckless behavior
  • Having frequent angry outbursts or mood swings

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, to be diagnosed with ADHD, a person must usually:

  • Experience five to six symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity that have lasted for at least six months
  • Show symptoms before the age of 12
  • Experience problems in school, work, or relationships due to their symptoms
  • Have symptoms that can’t be explained by another disorder

Although ADHD tends to be more commonly diagnosed in boys, this may be due to differences in the ways the disorder can affect different genders. Boys with ADHD tend to show more obvious symptoms, like hyperactivity, while girls tend to show more subtle symptoms, like inattentiveness. 

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Exploring ADHD and relationships

ADHD can cause challenges in a person’s daily life, whether at work, at school, or in relationships. When one partner has ADHD, they might forget important dates or appear not to listen when their partner is talking. The tendency to interrupt or speak without thinking may also lead to hurt feelings, especially during arguments. 

Housework and chores can also be a challenge, especially if the person with ADHD often forgets their responsibilities or appointments, leaving them for their partner to manage. This can create a situation in which their relationship with their non-ADHD partner takes on an unbalanced “parent-child” dynamic. Over time, this can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment. 

Relationships in which both partners have ADHD may experience unique challenges, such as trouble making long-term plans, staying organized, and managing finances. Misunderstandings may happen due to communication challenges, and the tendency to get distracted can also make it difficult for couples to address important issues. 

Tips for navigating ADHD in relationships

Left unaddressed, the “ADHD effect” may create challenges in relationships. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship when one or both people have ADHD. With effort and communication, couples may be able to build a stronger, happier dynamic—and the tips in this section may be a good place to start. 

Strategies for individuals with ADHD

If you’re a partner with ADHD, the strategies below may be helpful.

Seek treatment

While ADHD generally cannot be “cured,” it can often be managed through therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. However, untreated ADHD may create bigger challenges for you and your partner. If you haven’t already done so, consider talking to your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you. 

Be aware of your emotions

ADHD may cause intense emotional reactions, which can sometimes worsen arguments. Practicing mindfulness may help you become aware of your feelings and recognize when they’re becoming unmanageable. If you find yourself in an argument with your partner, it can also be helpful to practice deep breathing and take time to gather your thoughts if necessary. 

Prioritize communication

It can be important to be open with your partner about the challenges you may face due to ADHD symptoms. Proactively finding solutions that work for both of you may help you avoid conflicts later. It can also be important to practice actively listening to your partner when they talk to you. This may mean asking questions and seeking to truly understand what they’re saying instead of just waiting for your turn to talk. 

Tactics for partners of people with ADHD

If you’re the partner of someone with ADHD, you might try the strategies below to improve your relationship health.

Do research

Educating yourself on ADHD may help you better understand your partner and the challenges they may face. It can also be a valuable reminder that your partner’s behaviors may not be conscious choices. Asking your partner about their experiences can be another way to build empathy and look for solutions to daily challenges. 

Be clear about your needs and boundaries

While empathy can be important, it can also be important not to neglect your own needs and limits. Communicate your feelings and desires directly and set healthy boundaries early in the relationship. If you find yourself taking on an unfair share of the daily responsibilities, proactively bring up the issue with your partner to avoid feelings of resentment. 

Suggest routines

People with ADHD sometimes struggle with planning and scheduling. It may help to sit down with your partner ahead of time to plan date nights, quality time, and other couples’ activities. Proactively dividing chores and housework may also be helpful. Try to make a point of being patient; if your partner forgets to do something, you might give them a gentle reminder rather than doing it for them. 

Seeking further help

It can be worth remembering that the above strategies are not the only ones available, and they may not work for everyone. Managing a relationship with ADHD can be challenging, and some couples may find they need more personalized advice. Therapy can offer an evidence-based way to manage symptoms, address challenges, and find strategies that work for both partners. 

Benefits of online therapy

Couples who are navigating ADHD in their daily lives may want more support than they can get from a single therapy session. Platforms like BetterHelp typically let you message your therapist at any time, and they will generally respond when they can. This may make online therapy a useful option if challenges arise outside of scheduled sessions. Attending couples therapy online can also allow for added flexibility, which can be helpful when attempting to schedule sessions that work for both partners.

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Get professional help with managing ADHD in your relationship

Effectiveness of online therapy

Research suggests that online therapy can be an effective form of treatment for ADHD. In a 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers reviewed data from six studies investigating the efficacy of internet-based therapy for ADHD. They found that online therapy was often useful for improving participants’ attention and social function

Takeaway

ADHD is a condition that can make it hard to concentrate, manage impulses, and make plans. It can involve symptoms like fidgeting, forgetfulness, difficulty paying attention, and risk-taking behaviors, which can create challenges for couples in which one or both partners have ADHD. If you have ADHD, it can be important to communicate honestly, build emotional awareness, and seek treatment if you haven’t already. If your partner has ADHD, it may be helpful to make your needs and boundaries clear, educate yourself, and encourage your partner to make sustainable plans and routines. Seeking therapy, either individually or as a couple, may help you discover other effective ways to navigate the relationship healthily.

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