Each of us develop a great number of relationships throughout the course of our lives – it’s part of being human. This includes romantic relationships, as well as other connections such as those among family, with friends, acquaintances and even coworkers. A healthy relationship has a significantly positive impact on our mental health, and in order to nurture successful relationships, we need to invest time, patience, understanding, commitment and honest communication, to name a few things.
In this blog post, we’ll consider the various symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and discuss how ADHD affects relationships, whether it’s impacting your personal connections or causing relationship problems with your significant other. We’ll then move on to some coping strategies to assist you or your loved one in dealing with the condition, and suggest the best course of action if you feel the need to seek professional help.
ADHD and Relationships
For adults with ADHD, building and maintaining positive relationships can present a real challenge. As a result of unwelcome ADHD symptoms, a relationship may have to deal with hurt feelings, emotional outbursts, reckless behaviour or difficulties related to communication skills. The effects can be particularly pronounced if one or more people are dealing with undiagnosed ADHD.
Within intimate relationships, a non-ADHD partner can often end up feeling that their spouse is forgetful, distracted, unloving or simply a bad listener.
Difficulties such as those listed above can cause any relationship to struggle; however, this is not inevitable. With some knowledge, teamwork and understanding, there are a number of positive aspects to be found, and a partner with ADHD is more than capable of participating in a positive and healthy relationship with their non-ADHD spouse or friend.
The Attention Deficit Disorder Association states that: “An ADHD relationship requires patience and compassion, at times more than other relationships. Understanding what it feels like to have ADHD – without judgement – will help both partners stay on the same page and allow you to regain a peaceful, happy home.”
Understanding ADHD Symptoms
Some specific behaviours that might indicate inattentiveness include:
- Problems maintaining focus
- Seeming to not listen, even when spoken to
- Apparent carelessness, or making simple mistakes
- Avoidance of activities requiring prolonged attention
- Difficulty in carrying out tasks or instructions
- Becoming easily distracted
On the other hand, hyperactivity/impulsivity may manifest in behaviours such as:
- Apparent restlessness
- A seeming inability to sit still; eg. fidgeting, tapping, pacing, etc.
- Risk-taking behaviour
- Difficulty staying quiet
- Talking excessively
- ‘Blurting out’ (potentially inappropriate) comments
- Becoming frustrated at having to wait
- Frequently interrupting
It’s important to note that while many people with ADHD experience both types of behaviours, this is not always the case, and the presentation of symptoms may vary between individuals. It’s also noteworthy that ADHD in adults tends to be more difficult to diagnose than in children. The NHS guidelines highlight that while it’s typical for hyperactive symptoms to subside in adults, inattentiveness tends to remain.
If you feel that you or a loved one may be dealing with the effects of ADHD, seek a professional assessment and diagnosis. At The ADHD Centre, we provide a diagnostic analysis based on the DSM-V and our qualified practitioners can recommend the best path forward based on your individual treatment plan.
How ADHD Affects Relationships
As with many mental disorders, if you’re dealing with ADHD, you may have noticed it exerting a significant impact on your relationships. Often, non-ADHD partners, friends and loved ones may misinterpret ADHD symptoms as something quite different, and this, in turn, can lead to relationship problems. Below, we detail the most common ways ADHD affects relationships.
You are easily distracted
If your partner or loved one complains that you don’t seem to hear them, or that you’re ignoring them, it’s possible you’re experiencing the distractibility that is inherent with ADHD. This can often sow the seeds of resentment. In reality, you are committed to the relationship, but can quickly become so distracted – by the TV, household tasks, your phone or even your own thoughts – that you forget to show it.
You often forget things
With so many personal and household responsibilities in daily life, we can, at times, all start to feel overwhelmed. One common ADHD effect is that you simply forget things: maybe you didn’t show up to a dinner date, never returned a book you borrowed from a friend, failed to clean up around the house or didn’t handle some chores which you’d promised to. To a neurotypical person, it can seem that you don’t care enough to follow through on these things.
Your hyperfocus ‘locks you in’ to one activity
Hyperfocus is the ADHD opposite of distraction. This occurs when you become so completely, utterly engrossed in one activity that you cannot take your attention away from it, and don’t notice extended time periods slipping by. For many people with ADHD, hyperfocus can be a gift: it opens the potential for incredible bursts of productivity. But from the outside looking in, for the non-ADHD person, it can seem like you only care about that activity, and are neglecting everything else in your life, including them.
You tend to act without thinking
If your ADHD manifests in hyperactive-category behaviours, you may have a tendency to not look before you leap and ‘just do things.’ Again, this can be a positive and exciting component of your condition – spontaneity is often a good thing. But, with ADHD, you need to keep impulsivity in check. It’s common for ADHD people to impulsively spend, spend, spend, and it’s possible to quickly run up huge bills without noticing. In other scenarios, you might engage in unnecessarily risky behaviour, involve other people in those actions, or impulsively ‘blurt out’ inappropriate remarks. For many, this can be unsettling and difficult to comprehend.
You always seem to put off things you don’t want to do
It’s perfectly natural for people to sometimes delay when faced with an unengaging, difficult or boring task – after all, no one loves washing the dishes! With ADHD though, procrastination can become a significant lifestyle challenge. Perhaps you don’t know how to start a project, or feel like it’s just too monumental an undertaking. Or, maybe you can’t seem to work unless you have a last-minute deadline to motivate you. In any case, this can create a stressful and chaotic situation for your loved ones, who might perceive it as poor planning.
Your life seems to lack organisation
Adults with ADHD can sometimes leave a job half-done, quickly switch to new activities, struggle with chronic lateness, or skip a task in favour of something more immediately engaging. For a partner, family member or friend, this can create the perception that ‘everything is always up in the air’. Some may even seem to nag you, or accuse you of immaturity; when, in reality, this perceived disorganisation is an unintended expression of your ADHD.
You find it difficult to control your emotions
Mood swings are a common experience for people dealing with ADHD. Maybe there are certain subjects or situations (paying bills or performing housework, for instance) which can cause you to lash out in anger. Or, perhaps there’s an intensity to your experiences of happiness that you find difficult to regulate. This means that you may unintentionally leave people feeling ‘on edge’ when you spend time together.
7 Effective Strategies for Dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Discuss things openly and honestly
ADHD can have a significant impact on your personal connections; the first step is to have frank but understanding communication, where both parties are given the opportunity to share how they feel. Bottling up emotions only creates resentment, so find a time to have an engaged discussion, free from distraction, and try to explain the things that you find challenging. If you find your mind starting to wander, don’t try to hide it – describe honestly what you’re going through, and try to work towards a practical solution.
Agree on a system to help you remember things
Sticky notes taped to the fridge door are a good start, but to really make progress in learning to remember your engagements and responsibilities, you’ll need a more robust solution. Work with your non-ADHD partner or loved one to arrive at this. Avoid situations where one of you is giving the other a lecture – rather, you could agree on a day planner, or develop the habit of setting smartphone reminders.
Identify the best moments to enter hyperfocus
As mentioned earlier, hyperfocus can be a great way to get things done – it’s all about learning the right times to enter that mental state. For instance, if you tend to hyperfocus while reading, or during assignments, it’s probably a good idea to avoid starting these things before mealtimes, meetings, or family engagements. You might decide to track the time you spend on a given task with your smartphone – or set a one-hour alarm, after which you’ll get up and move away.
Develop self-control techniques, and practise them
Impulsiveness is part of ADHD, but it is possible to improve your ability to self-control. Calmly ask your loved one if they wouldn’t mind helping you think of ways to control your behaviour, and role-play the strategies to try them out. You could practise the ‘5 second, stop and think’ rule, or remove triggers from your environment – unsubscribing from certain retailers’ email lists, for instance. It can also be helpful to make a shopping list and, when you go out, remind yourself to stick to it. If you feel that your impulsive spending is out of hand, or you’re struggling to control it, book an ADHD assessment with one of our trained specialists today.
Break down big jobs into smaller, achievable chunks
An effective method many people use to combat procrastination is to divide a larger task into bitesize, more manageable steps, and take care of each item in order – don’t race ahead until the previous thing is completed. In doing so, you may even find that there are steps which other people may be able to help you with. Planning a friend’s birthday party feels like a massive job, but broken down, it actually consists of various smaller pieces that make up the bigger picture. For example, you might be the one in charge of finding a location; another friend could take care of the invite list, someone else could handle catering, and so on.
Allocate personal tasks and play to your strengths
Sometimes, disorganisation takes hold because you’re faced with too many things to do at once. In this situation, it can be difficult to see one activity through to its conclusion, because your mind is already focussed on the next thing. In an understanding and empathetic environment, talk this over with your partner and try to figure out where each of your natural strengths lay. For instance, you might break down ‘sort out the kitchen’, into ‘wash dishes’, ‘make dinner’, ‘pay bills’ and ‘go shopping.’ From there, you may find that you’re better suited to tactile tasks, so washing and cooking are a better fit for you, while your partner can take care of the bills and groceries.
Aim for healthy habits and a balanced lifestyle
Mood swings, though often particularly challenging for people with ADHD, are something everyone faces at one time or another. Wellness professionals recommend regular exercise, proper sleep, and a healthy diet to help you better regulate your moods; but it doesn’t need to stop there. Together with your loved one, you could start a new hobby such as hiking, gardening, or a weekly film club. Not only will this help your mood, you’ll also gain precious quality time together. You’ll increase your ability to read each other’s nonverbal cues, and understand how you individually react to certain things. This can be a great foundation to build your relationship further and can provide you with a whole new shared outlet.
Seeking an Adult ADHD Assessment
Although ADHD has the potential to turn relationships sour, it doesn’t always need to. With both parties working towards a common understanding, paying attention to each other’s thoughts and feelings, and approaching the situation with compassion, patience and love, you’ll find that positive and healthy relationships are given the conditions necessary to blossom. In fact, seen from this perspective, ADHD can represent not an obstacle to overcome, but a rewarding and exciting element of your personality, and something that your loved one values and respects as part of who you are.
Here at The ADHD Centre, we offer the latest evidence-based treatment packages and a course tailored to suit your individual needs. Since 2009 we’ve been an invaluable service for people with ADHD, delivering both online and face-to-face assessments and helping people to truly flourish.
If you suspect you, or someone you love, is dealing with ADHD and you’d like professional and experienced support, don’t hesitate to contact us at The ADHD Centre on 0800 061 4276 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.