Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, but the symptoms don’t just disappear in adulthood. Many people have partners who struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and are still learning to manage their ADHD symptoms.
Being involved with someone who zones out and ignores you one minute, and is impulsive, chatty and talking over you the next, can put demands on a relationship to say the least. But for many, this is the reality.
If you have a partner with ADHD, it can help to understand some characteristics of their condition to build your resilience and patience with them. Learning to understand and manage ADHD symptoms can be a positive step towards building a healthy relationship.
What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder in the DSM-5, the manual that psychiatrists use to diagnose mental health conditions. It is defined as “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development”. For a diagnosis in people aged 17 and over, five symptoms in the categories of ‘inattention’ and in ‘hyperactivity and impulsivity’ need to be present for at least six months, and those symptoms will be directly impacting social and occupational activities.
Key Symptoms of Adult ADHD
When it comes to adult ADHD, symptoms can sometimes be less noticeable than they might be in childhood – but this doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact on intimate relationships.
The person with ADHD often:
- Lacks close attention to detail and makes careless mistakes at work.
- Has difficulty sustaining attention and remaining focused during work activities, conversations, or lengthy reading.
- Does not seem to be listening when you speak to them directly. Their mind seems to be elsewhere, even if there isn’t any obvious distraction.
- Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish work, chores, or duties. They may start tasks but can quickly lose focus and become easily side-tracked.
- Has difficulty organising tasks and activities. They may have difficulty keeping things in order, and they can be incredibly messy. They may also have poor time management and fail to meet deadlines.
- Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as completing forms or writing reports.
- Loses things necessary for tasks or activities, such as bags, keys, phones, glasses.
- Is easily distracted.
- Is forgetful in daily activities, such as keeping appointments, paying bills, returning calls.
2. Hyperactivity and impulsivity
The person with ADHD often:
- Fidgets, taps their hands or feet, or squirms in their seat.
- Leaves their seat in situations where they’re expected to remain seated.
- Feels restless with possibly an urge to run about (that isn’t appropriate for an adult).
- Is unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly.
- Is unable to stay still for an extended period of time, and others may find it hard to keep up with them.
- Talks excessively.
- Blurts out an answer before a question has been completed, and struggles to wait their turn in conversation.
- Has difficulty waiting their turn, and is impatient when queueing.
- Interrupts or intrudes on others’ conversations or activities, and may start using other people’s things without permission.
Tips for supporting a partner with ADHD
There are a number of coping strategies and ways to support someone with ADHD. You can use these methods to help your partner with ADHD manage their symptoms, and taking these ideas on board could work wonders for your relationship overall.
- Don’t take things personally
Remember that people with ADHD tend to struggle with their attention span because their brains are wired slightly differently. They’re not ignoring you or forgetting things on purpose. Understanding this, and the other symptoms of ADHD can go a long way when it comes to having more empathy for your partner.
- Ask them one thing at a time
Generally speaking, a person with ADHD will struggle to understand or follow more than one instruction at a time. They may do the first thing but forget about the second. As the non–ADHD partner, you should make sure you don’t come across irritated when they forget or can’t understand something.
- Listen with patience
Communication skills are vital in any relationship, but with romantic relationships, poor communication can be a deal breaker. Sometimes, it can be frustrating for your ADHD partner when they are trying to communicate with you – they may feel annoyance or shame for not being able to function fully, and you may experience them having emotional outbursts when things become too overwhelming. Sometimes they may feel different, and long to have the same abilities as everyone else.If this is the case, try to empathise with how they experience life, and be patient when they try to explain how life is for them. Having regular chats when they’re able to focus and be present can help you to talk through any difficulties in your relationship.
- Don’t act like a parent
A partner with ADHD who seemingly doesn’t listen, can’t remember to post letters or buy birthday cards when asked, and who leaves a trail of mess behind them can unintentionally cause hurt feelings in a relationship. As the non–ADHD partner, you may start to feel like the only responsible adult, which can be difficult to deal with. While it can be tempting to become critical, and almost act like the ‘parent’ in the relationship, this may in turn alienate your partner as they withdraw from your nagging.
Instead of adopting a parent-child dynamic, aim to talk things through and agree how you will share chores and duties. Work together on ways to help your partner with ADHD feel more organised and on top of things. In doing this, you can discuss how you can both play to your strengths, which can help you both in daily life.
- Find your own stress relief
Being patient, empathic, holding your temper and having primary responsibility for the household may leave you feeling depleted. To help manage any stress you may be feeling, build some ‘me time’ into your week where you can replenish your levels of resilience. You should also try to stay on top of your own mental health. Giving so much support to others can sometimes mean we leave ourselves uncared for. If you have a partner with ADHD, speak to a mental health professional about how you can support yourself while also supporting your loved one.
Intimate relationships that involve attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be difficult to manage, but never impossible. Try the tips mentioned in this blog, or get professional help from experts in ADHD.
If you or your partner would like to seek professional support for yourselves as individuals or as a couple, then do get in touch with our ADHD and mental health specialists at The Awareness Centre. We offer therapy sessions seven days a week from our centres in Clapham and Tooting. Book an initial appointment today.