While ADHD can ruin relationships, the good news is that both partners are not powerless. There are steps you can take to significantly improve your relationship.
Below, Melissa Orlov, marriage consultant and author of the award-winning book The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps, discusses the top challenges in these relationships and the solutions that truly make a difference.
The Relationship Challenges of ADHDOne of the biggest challenges in relationships is when a partner misinterprets ADHD symptoms. For one, couples may not even know that one partner (or both) suffers from ADHD in the first place. (Take a quick screening quiz here.)
In fact, “more than half of adults who have ADHD don’t know they have it,” according to Orlov. When you don’t know that a particular behavior is a symptom, you may misinterpret it as your partner’s true feelings for you.
Orlov recalled feeling miserable and unloved in her own marriage. (At the time she and her husband didn’t realize that he had ADHD.) She misinterpreted her husband’s distractibility as a sign that he didn’t love her anymore. But if you would’ve asked him, his feelings for her hadn’t changed. Still, to Orlov his actions — in reality the symptoms — spoke louder than words.
Another common challenge is what Orlov terms “symptom-response-response.” ADHD symptoms alone don’t cause trouble. It’s the symptom plus how the non-ADHD partner responds to the symptoms. For instance, distractibility itself isn’t a problem.
How the non-ADHD partner reacts to the distractibility can spark a negative cycle: The ADHD partner doesn’t pay attention to their spouse; the non-ADHD partner feels ignored and responds with anger and frustration; in turn, the ADHD partner responds in kind.
A third challenge is the “parent-child dynamic.” If the “ADHD partner doesn’t have their symptoms under control enough to be reliable,” it’s likely that the non-ADHD partner will pick up the slack.
With good intentions, the non-ADHD partner starts taking care of more things to make the relationship easier. And not surprisingly, the more responsibilities the partner has, the more stressed and overwhelmed — and resentful — they become. Over time, they take on the role of parent, and the ADHD partner becomes the child.
While the ADHD partner may be willing to help out, symptoms, such as forgetfulness and distractibility, get in the way.
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