ADHD & Relationships

ADHD can cause major problems in relationships. Mood swings, chaos and unreliability can cause incomprehension and harm to your partner. That's why relationship problems are not uncommon with ADHD.

  • Often, behaviour caused by ADHD is downright unpredictable – and even small things can lead to fierce outbursts. These are often over in a few minutes, but your partner is still unsettled or offended.
  • Endless discussions are also typical with ADHD.
  • Duties, rules and appointments can be challenging. People with ADHD are always finding new excuses and ways to get out of boring, monotonous or exhausting aspects of life.

Here are some resolution strategies for common problems in a partnership when ADHD has been diagnosed.

Important: If you don't make progress with these strategies or if you feel that you need unbiased outside help, couples therapy may be the right way to go.

ADHD: Relationship Problems and Possible Solutions

  • Problems with "COMMUNICATION"
    ADHS: Partnerschaft - Kommunikation
    Kommunikation: SIE

    She thinks...

    "Unbelievable! He just doesn't understand how I feel. I don't get it. That other woman interests him more than me. He has to realize that he is hurting me. I was so looking forward to the evening!"

    She is always disappointed by his lack of empathy and his great interest in other people.

    Kommunikation: ER

    He thinks...

    "What's she on about again, she's completely crazy! She gets on my nerves – I don't do anything at all and she totally overreacts. This old moaner. She even managed to spoil such a nice evening. I doubt our relationship has any meaning left at all." "I was so looking forward to the evening!"

    He is annoyed by the constant instructions and the eternal nagging about him personally. In his black and white view of things, he immediately has doubts about the whole relationship.

    Specific Problems that are Connected with ADHD:

    • Unwillingness to talk within the relationship
    • Distractibility ("Are you even listening to me at all?")
    • Frequent focus on things and people other than the partner

    Reaction of the Partner:

    • Constant Criticism
    • Doubts about the relationship
    • Doubts about your interest in the actual person

    Consequences for the Partner with ADHD:

    • Frequently criticised
    • Feels misunderstood
    • Doubts about the relationship

    Primary Measures:

    • Talk with one another, change communication behaviour
    • Agree on regular times for couple discussions

    Concrete Measures:

    • Play through recurring dialogues and develop alternative continuations
    • Stop grumbling to your partner – rather focus on the ADHD ("I could kill this stupid ADHD" instead of "I could kill you")

    Tips for Better Communication:

    Feedback Rules

    • Start with the positive (encouragement, recognition)
    • Describe things, do not rate them!
    • No generalisations (not "You never consider me" – but: "In the restaurant today, I felt ignored")
    • Give problems as accurate a name as possible
    • Propose concrete solutions ("I would appreciate it if you would call in the future if you are going to be late")

    The Right Place:

    • As a place to talk, select a quiet environment and switch off distractions (such as the TV, mobile phones)

    The Right Time:

    • Pay attention to your partner's mood if you want to address important issues and wait if necessary
    • Respect your partner if he or she wants to be left in peace
  • Problems with "IMPULSE BUYING"
    ADHS: Impulskäufe
    Impulskäufe: SIE

    She thinks...

    "Spoilsport! I like looking good. And none of the sunglasses I bought were full price – I do pay attention to the money. Such a killjoy and miser – is there even any point in us being together? He doesn't understand me anyway."

    She is annoyed by the constant quarrels and the eternal nagging about her personally. In her black and white view of things, she immediately has doubts about the whole relationship.

    Impulskäufe: ER

    He thinks...

    "This woman is completely mad! She can never just buy one thing, when she likes something – she must always have more than one, sometimes even the same items. She knows that we have to be careful with our money, and every month she borrows from me or her parents.

    He cannot believe that she always buys things – not just sunglasses or dresses – in multiple amounts He doesn't understand how she never thinks about their joint finances.

    Specific Problems Connected with ADHD:

    • Impulse buying without thinking about joint finances
    • Unnecessary purchases

    Reaction of the Partner:

    • Lack of understanding
    • Grumbling
    • Anger

    Consequences for the Partner with ADHD:

    • Feels criticised, pulled up short in their enthusiasm
    • Is annoyed
    • Doubts the relationship

    Primary Measures:

    • More tolerance with respect for the needs of the other (individual "spleens" need to be vented sometimes)
    • Create conditions to avoid impulse purchases (only when your anger has dissipated!)

    Concrete Measures:

    • Work out calculations together: How much disposable income is available every week? (include fixed costs!)
    • Divide this "allowance" by four - this is how much each partner can spend worry-free each week
    • Think about what you want to spend the money on (such as objects, doing things)
    • Determine at which price both partners agree not to spend immediately but will sleep on it (impulse control)
  • Problems with "MOOD SWINGS"
    ADHS: Stimmungsschwankungen
    Stimmungsschwankungen: SIE

    She thinks...

    "I'll never understand him!! He'll never understand me!! How can that be? From the most romantic mood, he can always think of something to ruin everything. Every time!! Just when it was starting to be nice, we didn't speak for two days and I haven't done anything wrong. The main thing is that our relationship is not at the forefront; it's boring and he finds me boring as well."

    She wants to spend some time together – as soon as they do, his extreme mood swings (anger or depression) destroy any romance, as though he cannot stand too much harmony. If there is no friction, he creates it artificially.

    Stimmungsschwankungen: ER

    He thinks...

    "I can't stand this anymore. She just completely restricts me. Whatever I want to do, she just puts obstacles in my path! Klaus' wife and Jan's wife are much more relaxed. They don't say a word. I'd be much better off on my own. I don't know whether I can stand this much longer. Perhaps such a close relationship is just not for me. I need my freedom".

    He doesn't realise that it's not the sailing she's concerned about, it's the situation. He cannot understand that his partner cannot follow his train of thought, nor does she want to in a romantic couple's situation. His mood plummets. As so often, he immediately doubts the point of the relationship.

    Specific Problems Connected with ADHD:

    • Sudden outbursts of anger or depression – even with minimal cause (emotional roller-coaster ride)

    Reaction of the Partner:

    • Feels hurt
    • Feels neglected
    • Is irritated

    Consequences for the Partner with ADHD:

    • Falls into a low mood (from exalted to "sad to death") – but usually only for a short time however
    • Doubts the relationship

    Primary Measures:

    • Keep calm
    • Mutual respect
    • Humour

    Concrete measures:

    • Humour: There's usually something comedic about a tantrum – how about you, as a partner, picking up on this and treating the situation with humour? Sometimes it also helps to hold up a "mirror" to the other ("Watch out, I'll reflect you now" ... and then repeat the other's reaction)
    • Time-out: With a particularly impulsive, incomprehensible reaction, it is sometimes better to leave the room
    • Re-establish contact: After the break in talking, communication becomes important again. With your partner, agree on signs that mean: "Yes, I want to talk to you again" or "Yes, I want to talk to you again and we can also discuss the conflict" or "No, I need my peace." So you essentially need three signals (you can use hand signals, objects, etc.)
    • Address the conflict once any anger has subsided

    Read more about the symptom impulsiveness.

  • Problems with "ORGANISATION"
    ADHS: Organisation
    Organisation: SIE

    She thinks...

    "I can't rely on him to do anything – I have to check everything and whether anything works is all the same to him… we've needed a plumber for the bathroom for weeks – and he doesn't care whether the plumber comes or not. Doesn't call ...and the bill – also typical. Money in the account, the bills pile up until they're overdue ... I'm not tidying anything up now – I'm going straight to bed."

    She doesn't give up hope that at some point he will do what he has promised and will also take the initiative. She just cannot understand why he does not pay bills and forgets everyday things. Slowly she starts to think that he is doing this to show her that she and the relationship are no longer important to him.

    Organisation: ER

    He thinks...

    "Four days away and the first thing you do is remonstrate. It's always the same. What else am I supposed to take care of, she's crazy and the doctor too – a lawsuit after a few reminders…. I'm going to see my buddy now. Let her do her stuff on her own."

    He doesn't think it's all that bad and gets annoyed with her controlling attempts. As soon as he gets home, she looks at what's wrong first, and is furious at him, instead of being pleased they're back together. She obviously cannot and does not want to accept him as he is, but he's always been the same. His friend's girlfriends are all much more tolerant.

    Specific Problems Connected with ADHD:

    • Agreements are not adhered to
    • Jointly agreed tasks are not completed
    • Bills are not paid

    Reaction of the Partner:

    • Furious
    • Doesn't feel taken seriously
    • Feels like they have to do everything on their own

    Consequences for the Partner with ADHD:

    • Cannot understand all the excitement (it's not that bad )
    • Feels controlled
    • Doesn't feel accepted

    Primary Measures:

    • Clear distribution of tasks
    • Allow one another freedom

    Concrete Measures:

    • Household Plan: Think together about which tasks need to be done and allocate fairly in a shared household plan:

    Example:

    1
    Tasks Occurring Daily
    What has to be done?
    By whom?
    At what time?
    Clear out the dishwasher
    Markus
    After breakfast/dinner
    Make the beds
    Markus/Eva alternately
    After breakfast
    2
    Tasks Occurring Weekly
    Hoovering
    Markus
    Saturday
    Put out the rubbish
    Eva
    Wednesday evening
    Watering the flowers
    Markus
    Sunday
    3
    Tasks Occurring Rarely/Periodically
    Tax return
    Eva
    By the end of February
    Cleaning the windows
    Markus/Eva alternately
    Once a month, in the first week of the month
    • Regular couple's discussion: Check that the household plan is suitable for daily use
    • As a partner, also take a critical look at yourself: Maybe I am also an order fanatic? So maybe the judgement of the other person could be a bit milder

    Read more here on the topic Help with chaos/disorganisation.

  • Problems with "SEXUALITY"
    ADHS: Sexualität
    Sexualität: SIE

    She thinks...

    "Man, I must not forget to call Eva. My boyfriend is going crazy. Of course I cannot always be with him, that wouldn't be feasible. I need my time until I'm in the mood. I'm also not a machine that works at the push of a button. Besides, I've got so much on my mind that I can't help but think of one or the other when we cuddle."

    Even when it comes to erotic contact, she finds it difficult to concentrate on one thing – in this case, to concentrate on sexuality. Often she has to really pull herself together to stay there. But it will work out, she just needs more time. In addition, always the same routine with her boyfriend just doesn't make the sex appealing.

    Sexualität: ER

    He thinks...

    "It can't go on like this! We were all over one another at the beginning. Now she seems to be totally bored with sex and starts to talk about girlfriends. She has no desire at all any more, and her thoughts are elsewhere. When I want to talk to her, she does not even get what I mean. It's no fun any more."

    He feels rejected by her behaviour and loses even more desire for sex with her. He is frustrated that she does not understand what he's all about. She sees no problems with herself, but makes him the problem.

    Specific Problems /Peculiarities Associated with ADHD:

    • Difficulties, psychologically and physically as well as staying focused.
    • Likes change – monotony is "off-putting"

    Reaction of the Partner:

    • Feels rejected
    • Loses desire for sex

    Consequences for the Partner with ADHD:

    • Bored with sex
    • The problems are shifted onto the other person ("you're boring in bed")

    Primary Measures:

    • Talk about sex
    • Become aware of your own desires

    Concrete Measures:

    • Talk with one another: Face to face, or by letter, email or chat. Argue without reproaches, rather describe the subjective feeling. Don't forget to stress any positive aspects!
    • Don't take it personally: For the most part, ADHD is the reason why sufferers are often not focussed in their thoughts – not YOU as a partner! It's about finding out what needs to happen so that you can really engage with each other?
    • Attentiveness exercises: It's about getting fully involved in a feeling or a situation and perceiving the situation with all the senses – completely unbiased. Example: Hold some strands of your partner's hair in your hand and describe what you feel, smell and see.
    • Keep talking: A solution to every problem cannot always be found straight away. The important thing is that you keep talking nevertheless.