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. But this can be the reality of having a partner with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, but the symptoms don’t just disappear when the person becomes an adult. If you’re in relationship with someone who has ADHD, then it can help to understand some characteristics of their condition to build your resilience and patience with them.
ADHD 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.
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
Don’t take things personally. Remember their brains are wired differently. They’re not ignoring you or forgetting things on purpose. Understanding the symptoms of ADHD may go some way to creating more empathy for your partner.
Ask them one thing at a time. They won’t be able to multi-task or understand/follow more than one instruction at once. They may do the first thing but forget the second. Don’t get annoyed (or try not to) when they forget.
Listen with patience. It can be frustrating for the person with ADHD. 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. They feel different and long to be the same as everyone else. Try to empathise with how they experience life. 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. With a partner 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, you may start to feel like you’re the only responsible adult around here. While it can be tempting to become a critical parent in the relationship, this may in turn alienate your partner as they withdraw from your nagging. Instead aim to talk things through and agree how you will share chores and duties. Work together on ways to help them feel more organised and on top of things. Discuss how you can both play to your strengths.
Find your own stress relief. Being patient and empathic and trying not to get angry, and holding responsibility for the household, may leave you feeling depleted. Build some ‘me time’ into your week where you can replenish your levels of resilience.
If you or your partner would like to speak to a professional to support yourselves as individuals or as a couple, then do get in touch. We offer therapy sessions seven days a week from our centres in Clapham and Tooting. Call us on 020 8673 4545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book an initial appointment.