All you need is love, right? Wrong. If you or your partner has ADHD, follow these rules to foster communication, build trust, and reciprocate support.
Regardless of adult attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), falling in love is easy. A rush of biochemical euphoria comes with “new love.” Those of us with ADHD often hyperfocus on romance, not just for the sake of romance, but also to increase those pleasure-producing neurotransmitters (dopamine) that are in short supply in our brains. Highly charged emotions are not part of lasting love. They are just feelings — strong and wonderful feelings — but you need much more to make an ADHD relationship last.
Relationships are hard, and when we accept that fact, we are dealing with reality, not the fantasy that “all you need is love.” All we need is love? I don’t think so. You need coping skills to compensate for your weaknesses and to save your relationship. What tools should you have in your relationship toolbox? Glad you asked.
ADHD Relationship Tool 1: Manage Symptoms
You and your partner must take ownership of your condition. Treat ADHD responsibly by using behaviour therapy and/or appropriate medications to manage symptoms, increase dopamine, and help the brain work as it is supposed to. When you do all that, you should see a decrease in ADHD symptoms —like the inability to focus when your partner is talking to you or to follow through on tasks, such as paying bills on time.
Not being heard is a major complaint of those in intimate relationships with partners with ADHD. For many who have ADHD, listening to others is hard. To increase your listening skills, practice this exercise:
Sit down with your partner and let him talk for five minutes — or longer, if you can manage it. Make eye contact and lean toward him, even if you’re not absorbing every word.
After five minutes of listening, summarise what you’ve heard. You might say, “Wow, it sounds like you had a really hectic day. The lousy commute, the awful meeting. At least you got to stop at the gym on the way home.”
After the exchange, do something you want to do. Say, “Now that you’re home, would you mind watching Robbie while I go for a run?”
Your partner will probably be shocked, and pleased, that you have listened to him for a full five minutes.
Commit to Commitment
The main symptoms of ADHD — impulsiveness and the need for constant stimulation — can enhance, as well as threaten, relationships. Because adults with ADHD are impatient and easily bored, adventurous sexual activities are highly stimulating. Attraction to the new and different may make it difficult to stay monogamous. That’s why it is vital to be committed to the idea of “relationship” — even more so than your partner.
I met a 93-year-old woman who had been married to the same man for more than 70 years. She told me that they had good times and bad times in their years together, and that she had never once considered divorce, though she joked that she had considered murder once or twice. She knew that she had to be more committed to the institution of marriage than to her husband to make the relationship work. There were times when the couple didn’t feel committed to each other, but their dedication to their marriage got them through.
Use Laughter Therapy
Learn to laugh at yourself (not at your partner) and to take your problems a little more lightheartedly. ADHD causes us to do and say some pretty unusual things sometimes.
Rather than be wounded or angered by unintended words and actions, see them for what they are: the symptoms of a condition you’re trying to manage. A good laugh allows you to move forward in the relationship. I know how difficult this can be. It is easy to be defensive because we have had to explain our behaviour for years — when we acted impulsively or glossed over details due to lack of focus. Drop the defensiveness, then let go and move forward.
Forgive and Forget
It is tempting to point the finger at the other person and blame her for the problems in the relationship. But it takes two to tango. When we admit to the problems we may be causing, instead of dwelling on what our partner does wrong, we grow spiritually. When I acknowledge my own shortcomings — identify them, work on changing them, and forgive myself for not being perfect — it is easier to accept my partner and to forgive her shortcomings.
A phrase that sums up this forgive-and-forget concept is: “I did the best I could do in that moment. If I could have done better, I would have.” This takes the sting out of a bad experience, and enables you and your spouse to talk with each other civilly. It is no longer about one of you “doing it again,” it is about being human and making mistakes — something that is possible to forgive.
Seek Professional Help
Most married couples with one or more partners diagnosed with ADHD plan to be married “till death do us part.” But as the realities of living together set in, little problems go unresolved and become bigger problems that seem insurmountable.
One of the common mistakes that troubled couples make is to wait too long before seeking professional help for their relationship. By the time they get to the therapist’s office, they’ve already thrown in the towel, and are only looking for a way to validate their misery and justify their decision to divorce. Don’t wait too long to get help. A licensed marriage and family therapist can teach communication and conflict resolution skills.