Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can sometimes contribute to conflict in marriages and relationships. With symptoms such as inattentiveness and impulsiveness, it is important for those in a relationship to be aware of how the condition can affect a person.

2.5% of adults in the United States have ADHD. It is a common mental disorder that often affects children, but many can also receive a diagnosis in adulthood.

Some people may find certain symptoms of ADHD hard to manage, particularly when it comes to being in a relationship. Examples include their spouse being easily distracted, forgetting things that are important such as dates and appointments, or making impulsive decisions. This may be an even bigger issue if there is no diagnosis or treatment.

There are things, however, that those in relationships can do to manage symptoms, overcome challenges, and thrive. These include working together as a team, setting boundaries, and practicing open and honest communication with each other.

This article will explain how ADHD can affect marriage and relationships and how to overcome such challenges that may arise.

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ADHD symptoms can affect marriages and relationships in various ways. Although everyone comes across challenges in life, it can be especially difficult to manage certain characteristics and behaviors that the non-ADHD partner may fail to understand.

Andy’s story: ADHD and relationships

“Having ADHD affects so many aspects of my relationship with my partner, sometimes positive, mostly negative. Examples include forgetting to do important tasks such as paying bills. I hardly ever take the rubbish out despite reminders, and most recently, I locked the cleaning lady out of the house due to using the wrong key. Ironically that day, as I left the house, I was thinking about how messy the kitchen was, which is what led me to not concentrate on using the right key. They’re always mistakes that can happen to anybody, but when they happen every day, it can be pretty difficult to deal with.

My tips for somebody with a partner who has ADHD is to be patient and try to accept that things may happen not because we don’t care, regardless of how it might seem.

As for the person with ADHD, be patient with your partner’s frustration; when they have difficulty accepting it, try to understand how difficult it must be for them.”

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Symptoms of ADHD in adults include:

  • extreme restlessness
  • issues with focusing
  • being inattentive
  • being impulsive

Relationships involve work, commitment, and mutual respect and understanding. This may be harder for a person with ADHD symptoms, with it affecting a person’s ability to focus on tasks, control attention, and make impulsive decisions without proper thought.

Some examples of how ADHD may affect a relationship include:

  • forgetting appointments or tasks, such as picking up children from school
  • not paying attention to the other partner, resulting in them feeling neglected
  • losing items such as wallets or keys
  • missing important details that the partner feels they need to pay extra attention to
  • experiencing high anxiety as a result of everything, which ends up in arguments and conflict with the partner

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder in which a person has difficulty focusing, maintaining attention, managing their energy levels, and having control over impulses. Features include:

  • inattention, such as daydreaming or becoming easily distracted
  • impulsivity, such as taking risks without any thought or decision-making skills
  • hyperactivity, such as being unable to sit still

Learn more about ADHD here.

Inattention in ADHD can manifest as being or appearing distracted, having trouble focusing on a conversation, or just a general lack of attention. It is a common symptom of ADHD in adults and may manifest in relationships as:

  • overlooking details that may be important to the other partner, such as what they like and dislike
  • difficulty with keeping attention on something, such as during conversations
  • seeming as though a person is not listening when being spoken to
  • avoiding chores or tasks that require mental effort, such as remembering when to do laundry, take the trash out, or clean
  • being forgetful, such as forgetting an important appointment or date
  • being late to appointments or dates
  • regularly losing items that may be important to the other partner also, such as house or car keys
  • being inconsistent, acting loving and focused on the other partner at one moment, then changing quickly

It is important for the other partner in the relationship to remember that such symptoms are components of ADHD and are not indicative of a lack of care or love. Being mindful of them may look like:

  • helping the partner with ADHD to remember dates, appointments, or important events, such as setting up an online calendar with reminders
  • helping the partner with the organization, using lists, notifications, or planners
  • being understanding and patient if inattentive symptoms arise
  • making sure not to become a “parent” in the relationship by being overly cautious or in charge but to give guidance and support
  • remembering that inattentiveness is not intentional

The partner without ADHD does not have to be the “caretaker” in charge of remembering or organizing. It can be difficult to manage a household or children, and the condition can make it harder for a person to focus on things that are important.

Both partners should aim to be supportive and helpful in all the ways they can, being mindful of each other and the burdens that naturally happen throughout life.

Learn more about inattentive ADHD here.

Hyperactivity in adults with ADHD may manifest as being unable to focus, talking excessively, or interrupting others. In a relationship, examples may include:

  • seeming “unstable” or behaving restlessly, such as being unable to enjoy a quiet dinner with the other partner or relax in each other’s company
  • being constantly on the go
  • talking excessively in conversations, interrupting one’s partner when they are speaking, or seeming as though they have fewer social cues than others, such as not intruding on other people’s conversations
  • having a higher sex drive than the other partner, resulting in sexual incompatibility
  • jumping from tasks or chores without completing anything

Hyperactivity can also manifest as sexual dysfunction in relationships. Being easily distracted may mean the partner with ADHD can find it harder to remember the importance of intimacy, and the partner without ADHD may feel neglected and upset if the other is inattentive during the act.

Medications for the condition can also lower sex drive. Being mindful of this can mean the partner without ADHD does not feel the other partner is being dismissive toward them in conversations or does not care about sexual intimacy. Making sure that both partners feel seen, heard, and cared for is important.

Impulsivity and hyperactivity are common ADHD symptoms that often occur together. In a relationship, it may manifest as:

  • making impulsive decisions without consulting the other partner, such as taking the children somewhere, or impulse buying an expensive item, such as a car
  • engaging in impulsive, harmful behaviors such as cheating on the other partner without protection
  • blurting out hurtful comments without thinking
  • being impulsively compliant, saying yes to any engagement

Firstly, it is important to make sure the partner has an official diagnosis. Many cases of ADHD can go without a diagnosis, particularly if the person made it to adulthood with the same symptoms. Professional help can ensure that both partners have:

  • open and honest communication about how they are feeling and how the condition makes them feel
  • compassion for what the other may be feeling
  • love and understanding for each other without being clouded by assumptions from ADHD symptoms

Some coping tips for those in relationships with others who have ADHD can include:

ADHD can be challenging for those in marriages or relationships. Symptoms such as impulsivity or inattentiveness may mean the other partner feels neglected or ignored or that they take on more household burdens.

It is important to remember that the behaviors which stem from the condition are not indicative of the amount of love or care a person has for their partner. Acknowledging that ADHD can affect a relationship is important, alongside open communication, setting boundaries, having compassion for each other, and getting professional help.