How to Build Better Relationships: Advice for ADHD Adults

Relationship advice for the ADHD adult who wants to build strong bonds with a spouse, friend, or child.

ADHD Relationship Advice, Part 2

Exercise 2: Listen and Learn

Sometimes your conversations seem to go on forever. That’s because your sense of time is distorted by feelings of restlessness. So you interrupt your spouse or change the topic. This listening exercise will make your partner feel that he has been heard.

  • Figure out the time of day when you typically clash with your spouse over not listening. It may be just after he gets home from work and wants to talk about his stressful day.

  • Sit down with him and let him talk. Do not interrupt for five minutes. If you find yourself getting distracted or looking at the clock, put your attention back on the conversation.

  • At the end of five minutes, summarize what you heard. You might say, “Wow, it sounds like you had a really hectic day. The lousy commute, the awful meeting, and then your boss wanted the proposal done by the end of the day. At least you got to stop at the gym on the way home.” Of course, you can listen for more than five minutes. I have coached people to look like they’re listening—make eye contact and lean toward the person, even if you’re not absorbing every word. If you can’t listen much beyond five minutes, then give yourself permission to do something you want to do. You may say, “Now that you’re home, would you mind hanging out with Robbie for a bit while I go for a run?”

If you’re like most ADD adults, your partner will be shocked and pleased that you have listened to him for a full five minutes.

Show Commitment

The main symptoms of ADD—impulsiveness and the need for constant stimulation and excitement—can enhance or threaten relationships. Because ADD adults are impatient and easily bored, adventurous sexual activities are highly stimulating to them. Attraction to the new and different can cause you to find it difficult to stay monogamous. ADD adults are also usually emotionally uninhibited, which can be attractive to others. This can lead to infidelity (see “Tame Temptation,” below).

The upside is that, once an ADD adult makes a commitment, life won’t be boring for his or her spouse. The ADD adult’s creativity will keep things lively, both in the bedroom and in social and recreational activities. I talked with an ADD adult who had found the woman whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. While he loved her, he couldn’t make a commitment. She was afraid that he was interested in other women. This hurt their relationship and put him on edge. He realized that committing to his lover would lead to a happy marriage.

Exercise 3: Tame Temptation

Impatience and impulsivity cause many relationship problems for ADD adults. Indeed, temptation sometimes overrides longer-term needs and desires. The following activity will you help weigh your choices.

  • Imagine you are at a party celebrating your 25th wedding anniversary. Where would it be held? Who would be there? What gift would you give your spouse?

  • Is the person you are now with the one you want to be with at your anniversary? Or do you want to be there with someone else? How will you feel, on your 25th wedding anniversary, about the person who may now be causing you to consider cheating on your partner? How would indulging your temptations make you feel on that day in the future? Would it be worth it?

  • If you feel that cheating might be worth it, make a list of 10 people you have been attracted to in the last 10 years. Write down your feelings about each of them, and whether or not you acted on your feelings. Review the list. What does it tell you about your feelings of sexual attraction? Can you see a difference between the person you want in your life for the long haul and those you don’t? If cheating on your partner still seems like a good idea, you may want to consult a marriage counselor to help you figure out how to move forward.

Adapted from The Gift of Adult ADD: How to Transform Your Challenges & Build on Your Strengths, by Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission of New Harbinger Publications.

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