Adult ADHD and Relationships

Is Adult ADHD Impacting Your Relationship?

Do you or your partner often become distracted, disorganized, have poor time management, forget things a lot, or make frequent careless mistakes? 

How about feeling restless, blurting things out, or getting bored easily and seeking novel experiences?  Do these traits lead to school or work problems, bad credit, relationship stress, or chaos in daily living? 

While many things can cause the above symptoms, it is possible that one or both of you suffers from ADHD, a brain-based neurological syndrome that affects the regulation of attention, emotion, and memory.  ADHD can affect adults as well as children.  Research shows that  the disorder is not just outgrown as kids get older, but often persists, albeit with less obvious symptoms.

Hyperactivity, if it was there in the first place, may dissipate during adulthood and be experienced more as a restless feeling or becoming bored easily.  Deficits in skills known as executive functioning, which are believed to lie at the root of ADHD, can wreak havoc in an adult’s life, often without the person knowing why things are going wrong so often.   The executive functions include working memory, regulation of attention, sense of time, breaking a task into parts, organization, motivation and persistence, flexibility, and social awareness.  The person with ADHD faces daily life with impaired functioning in these areas, due to neurological differences in the brain.  This person encounters many more failures, frustrations, and criticisms than people who do not have this disability.  The outcome of living with untreated ADHD can be depression, anxiety, frustration, underachievement, and relationship problems.
How can Adult ADHD impact relationships?  The following are some common examples:

1) The inconsistent attention span and social awareness of the person with ADHD can interfere with the development of an intimate relationship, or once in such a relationship, can frustrate a partner who may desire more “presence” and attention than the person with ADHD can easily provide.

2)  A new relationship for a person with ADHD can be very intense and exciting, but as the novelty wears off or daily life competes for attention, those with ADHD may lose interest, become bored, or “check out” mentally, leaving a disappointed, lonely partner.

3)  The hyperfocus of some people with ADHD can make them physically, mentally, or emotionally unavailable to their partner if they are immersed in their interests such as videogames, blogging, collecting, talking excessively, or working all the time.

4) The stress caused by ADHD-related problems such as failure to pay bills on time, losing jobs, impulsive comments that lack tact, or forgetting important dates or information can cause a non-ADHD partner to feel anger, resentment, and pressure to try to fix the messes.  The partner may eventually feel that they must overfunction to compensate for their partner’s deficits, and this impacts their feeling about the relationship.

5)  The impact of living with ADHD for the person who suffers from it, especially when undiagnosed, can lead to anxiety, depression, and other emotional symptoms that affect both the person with ADHD and their families.

6) The couple’s sexual relationship may suffer due to ADHD, both due to the general emotional climate in the relationship, as well as more specific issues such as distractibility, the pacing of sexual activity, the impact of medication, or compulsive behavior.

7)  People with ADHD have a greater than average vulnerability to develop addictive behaviors such as substance use/abuse, overuse of video games and computer, internet pornography, or other habits that can interfere with their relationship.

8) Since ADHD tends to run in families, it is common for an ADHD adult to have parents or children with the disorder, which may further complicate these relationships, or create a family culture of ADHD that a non-ADHD partner may not understand or have patience for.

The good news about Adult ADHD is that once it has been properly diagnosed by a qualified professional, it can be managed using various modalities such as education, medication, behavioral interventions, coaching, and/or therapy.  Knowledge of the diagnosis can empower individuals to see their strengths and weaknesses in a more objective, useful way, and to reduce the accumulation of guilt, inferiority, and frustration that have built up over time due to blaming oneself for all the problems.  It can also help partners to take the hurt and negative emotion out of the relationship and to become more supportive and understanding.

How can couple’s therapy help?

A relationship therapist who has knowledge of ADHD  can provide invaluable service to a couple, helping them to re-interpret the issues in their relationship with an awareness of the impact of ADHD, to process the emotions surrounding these issues, to get the right kinds of treatment and intervention for the ADHD, and to build on their couple’s strengths. If you or your relationship is affected by Adult ADHD, call 215-760-3519 or send an email for a free telephone consultation or to set up an appointment with Patricia Rich, LCSW.