Managing ADHD in Adult Relationships

Managing ADHD in Adult Relationships

Make your relationship thrive, despite your ADHD symptoms.

Adults living with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) probably know quite a bit about the symptoms that come with the condition. But if you have ADHD, you might not recognize or fully realize how deeply forgetfulness, disorganization, impulsivity, inattentiveness, and other ADHD symptoms impact your relationships. Or how to minimize those impacts. But you don't have to let ADHD symptoms get the best of your bond with your partner. Here are some common ways ADHD affects relationships, as well as some strategies for working through the issues that ADHD symptoms may cause:

Poor communication. Feeling distracted and fidgety doesn't affect just you. There's a very good chance your partner sees these feelings manifest in your communication with each another. Maybe you've been told you're sometimes a poor listener or a poor communicator. Over time, that poor communication can lead to big misunderstandings and resentment. So use these simple tricks to promote better interaction:

  • Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV, the radio, and the cell phone when you're talking over big issues or having one-on-one time. Give your partner your undivided attention. (Related: Can't give up your mobile? Read up on cell phone addiction.)
  • Make eye contact. Look directly into your partner's eyes during a conversation. This serves two purposes: It helps your partner feel valued, and it helps you absorb what your partner has to say.
  • Ask for clarification. If your mind wanders during the conversation, don't try to cover it up and pretend you've grasped everything. Let your partner know that you had a little trouble focusing but that you would like him or her to repeat what was said, because you really are interested in absorbing all of the information.
  • Take a time out. If you ever feel overwhelmed or angry during a conversation, ask your partner for a little time to get collected. It's smart to take a break when you need it. You can always talk later, when you feel more relaxed and focused. (Related: Read up on how hugs help reduce stress for both you and your partner.)

If your communication problems continue, you might consider professional advice or counseling. For example, a type of therapy called Imago Relationship Therapy has been shown in studies to enhance communication and understanding between partners and help strengthen relationships in people who have ADHD. And there are lots of other counseling and therapy approaches as well, so talk with your doctor.

ADHD affects your relationship in a few other ways . . .

Problems managing responsibilities. Adults with ADHD typically have difficulties with executive functions -- the part of the brain that helps with planning, organization, management, and recall of details. Difficulty with executive functions can show up in many ways. For example, bills, household chores, and shared responsibilities may fall through the cracks because the ADHD sufferer has trouble managing the execution of those details, all of which can cause stress within the relationship and arguments with your significant other. Here are some steps for staying on top of your to-do list and maintaining domestic harmony:

  • Be organized and systematic. Use file folders, calendars, and lists to keep track of bills, due dates, and appointments. You'll be less likely to forget important details -- like paying the electric bill -- when you keep reminders on hand and when critical paperwork has a designated, uncluttered place. (Related: Declutter and get organized with these four easy steps.)
  • Plan ahead. People with ADHD can feel overwhelmed from doing too many things at once. So break up your duties into chunks, and plan out which parts will get done when. Make meals ahead of time. Do home improvement projects in incremental steps. Use the night before to lay out your clothes and pack any items you'll need for the following day. A spaced-out approach to getting things done will help you feel less pressured and stressed.
  • Ask for help. Enlist the help of your significant other if you have too much to do. Divide tasks in a way that's agreeable to both of you. Accept responsibility for your part, but don't be afraid to speak up and ask for help when you feel swamped. Your partner will appreciate your honesty, especially when it helps to foster a happier household for both of you.

Impulsive behavior. Adults with ADHD may act impulsively. This can lead to addictive behavior, overspending, dangerous behaviors like driving too fast, and other actions that may affect your relationship. Here are three ways to help rein in impulsive behavior:

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Sit down with your partner and agree on spending limits for shared expenses. Shop with cash, and leave your credit cards at home if you're worried about overspending.
  • Breathe. Anytime you're about to do or say something that you might later regret, walk out of the room and take some deep breaths while you count to 10. Return to the situation when you're calm and less likely to act out. Simply getting into the habit of stopping and thinking before you act and considering your words carefully can help head off volatile situations.
  • Deal with addictions. ADHD often goes hand in hand with overeating, gambling, smoking, substance abuse, and other addictive behaviors that can have a negative effect on relationships. A doctor or counselor can guide you toward overcoming bad habits you have trouble letting go of. (Related: Learn more about living a cig-free life.)

Breathe deeply, slow down, and collect your thoughts with this calm-down technique.

Trouble with intimacy. ADHD can contribute to problems in the bedroom in a couple of ways. First, if you're taking ADHD medication, some may cause a decreased sex drive. Alternatively, some people who have ADHD have a higher than normal sex drive, and having different levels of desire may lead to conflict between you and your partner. Here's what to do about it:

  • Talk it out. Have an open, honest conversation with your partner about what you both want. Avoid blaming each other. Just express your needs and desires in a calm way, and try to compromise and find a solution together.
  • See your doctor. If your ADHD medication causes a lack of desire, talk to your doctor about adjusting your treatment to minimize side effects.
  • Consider therapy. If you're still having trouble between the sheets, seek help from a qualified sex therapist who can help you and your partner work through your issues. Don't let ADHD take the fire out of your sex life. Resources are available to help you and your partner reconnect.

Looking Ahead
Conflict within relationships is perfectly healthy and normal. The key is in how you resolve those conflicts. Because ADHD affects some of the tools partners use to resolve tensions and conflicts, it's important to be aware of how your symptoms may come into play so you can be prepared to deal with them appropriately. You can still cultivate a relationship that is just as healthy and satisfying as any other couple's relationship. It just takes a little self-awareness, some work and dedication, and the right information for moving forward.

Discover more ways to manage adult ADHD symptoms.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

Recognizing ADHD Symptoms in Children
Recognizing ADHD Symptoms in Children
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is currently the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children. According to the Centers for...
Read More
What mental health problems do adults with ADHD commonly experience?
Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MDDr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
More than half of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have other mood disord...
More Answers
Why do some people with adult ADD need to move in order to think?
Lara Honos-Webb, PhDLara Honos-Webb, PhD
If you have adult attention deficit disorder (ADD), you may feel like you need to be moving to thi...
More Answers
Coping With ADHD Frustrations
Coping With ADHD Frustrations