Are you in a relationship with someone who suffers from ADHD? Does their ADHD sometimes end up affecting your relationship negatively?
I have a saying that a good relationship pushes you to become a better person. There is no one like a romantic partner in a committed relationship to push us to deal with our issues and to call us out on our bad behavior. They’re not always 100 percent right, and it isn’t always a pretty process, but if the relationship is to last, both people need to put in the effort to become better partners. The friction gradually wears down the rough spots so that hopefully, the couple fits together better.
This is a universal process that applies to every couple, but adding challenges to the relationship, such as those that come along with ADHD, can make it that much more important that both partners bring their best. When there are these additional burdens, the universal struggles can feel even more difficult to overcome. Ultimately, every couple needs to figure out how to negotiate differences so that both partners feel like they are getting their needs met.
Any two people will sometimes have different desires, preferences, opinions, or needs—if one partner has ADHD and one doesn’t, that can add to those differences. When partners haven’t yet figured out how to live well together, it can seem like the ADHD has become an insurmountable obstacle—“We’re too different; we’ll never want the same things.” (And, by the way, the main problem here is you, not me.)
The bad news of this is that no, you definitely won’t want all the same things. Some of this may be related to one of you having ADHD and one not, but you would still have differences even if neither (or both of you) had ADHD, if you were in a same-sex relationship, if you both grew up in Minnesota, whatever. . .
The good news, though, is that happy couples still have insurmountable differences; they just figured out which are the differences to stop trying to surmount, instead of focusing on the parts of the relationship that are working well.
Want to know more about how you can have a healthy relationship with your partner? Read How To Maintain Healthy Relationships Through Years?
ADHD Can Make Relationships Harder. . .
I sometimes describe ADHD as a disorder of actualizing good intentions. Folks with ADHD know what they should do (and where, when, why, and how), but somewhere between the knowing and the doing, something else happens. They are inconsistent and feel bad when they fall short.
In fact, because they fall short more often than folks without ADHD, they sometimes feel really bad, because, damnit, it happened again. And yet that disappointment doesn’t translate reliably enough into different actions next time. It’s maddening and confusing.
This isn’t just about getting the job done at school or work—it also affects their interactions with friends and romantic partners. It makes it harder to be the partner that they would like to be—to be consistent, reliable, and predictable.
Meanwhile, the romantic partner who initially was forgiving and willing to pick up the slack eventually tires of it and becomes more impatient, angry, critical, and controlling. In other words, they become someone in the relationship that they don’t want to be. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to develop a relationship dynamic where each partner brings out more of the worst from the other, rather than the best, as they battle to get their different needs met.
In some research that I did into couples with one ADHD partner (Tuckman, 2019), I found that those who felt that ADHD was the least well managed also reported the least relationship and sexual satisfaction. They were unhappy but didn’t know how to make it better. They were trapped in a tug-of-war that they couldn’t get out of.