Marriage

How ADHD Impacts Sex and Marriage

For many people, building a healthy marriage is one of life’s most difficult, worthwhile challenges. For couples touched by ADHD, that challenge may feel more like an impossibility at times. A recent survey of ADDitude readers found that respondents with and without the disorder felt its effects on sex, love, and everything in between — and some feared their union could not endure it all.

Heart-shaped hot air balloons made out of paper to illustrate statistics on marriage and ADHD
Origami made hot air balloon in a heart shape.

A strong marriage — like any long-term relationship — is built on trust, connection, and commitment. Most marriages begin with all the best intentions. Then real life begins to muck things up. For those unions touched by attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), the most common daily interferences are inattention, impulsivity, and deficient executive functions. Not to mention poor or unhealthy communication and unfair expectations.

To understand exactly how ADHD shapes real-life marriages and other long-term relationships, ADDitude conducted a survey of 1,256 partners, both with and without the disorder. Every respondent shared a unique experience, but some trends were immediately clear. Here’s what we learned.

ADHD Hampers Sex

Statistics from our survey revealed that intercourse can be a major point of contention for couples affected by ADHD. Forty-two percent of partners with ADHD reported that the disorder’s symptoms affected their sex lives “a lot.” The partners without ADHD were even more emphatic — 51 percent of them said that ADHD put a significant damper on intimacy with their significant other.

For one, non-ADHD partners frequently cited distorted relationship roles as a source of sexual dissatisfaction. “I feel like a parent to my husband,” said Kellie, a 43-year-old woman without ADHD. “That’s not very sexy!”

In addition, unbalanced household responsibilities lead to burnout, spouses reported — making them too physically and emotional exhausted for intimacy.

[Free Resource: 6 Ways ADHD Sabotages Relationships]

ADHD’s link to extreme emotions — particularly anger — was also frequently cited as a mood killer. “His short temper and irrational responses to situations is a complete turn off,” reported Kristen, age 35, said about her husband with ADHD. In those explosive moments, she said, “I want nothing to do with him” — meaning sex is off the table.

Sometimes, ADD-related anger problems echo beyond the bedroom. “He is angry all the time, constantly creating conflict, and saying hurtful [or] insulting things that cannot be forgotten,” said a 48-year-old woman who chose to remain anonymous. “That does not make me want to be intimate with him” — and ultimately contributed to their current separation, she said.

While partners with ADHD were less likely to recognize symptom-related disruptions in their sex lives, those who did cited distraction, stress, medication side effects, or mismatched sex drives as the main culprits. Routine arguments about common ADHD trouble spots also played a part in discord.

“Because I can’t keep things clean, the time we have alone is often spent cleaning,” said Baru, a 27-year-old man with ADHD. After a long day spent trying to get organized, he added, “in the evening I am tired and go to sleep early” — cutting into their alone time even further.

[“I Married Him to Be His Partner, Not His Boss”]

Time itself is a problem, too. “Time management is our #1 argument,” said Trish, 40, a woman with ADHD. “Because I can’t seem to get better with it, I feel like I constantly disappoint him — and I don’t feel confident or sexy.”

Inattentive symptoms are a common roadblock, respondents report. “It’s hard to stay focused long enough [for sex] to be enjoyable for me,” said one 53-year-old woman. Jennifer, 48, agreed: “My thoughts would drift and I would say things not connected to our intimate time.”

Medications can address wandering focus, but their efficacy relies heavily on dosage and timing, respondents said. “My stimulant medication can lead to feelings of irritability as it’s wearing off,” said Tiffany, age 31. “In those moments, I don’t want to be touched.”

While ADHD itself often comes with a heightened desire for sex, respondents said, medications — particularly antidepressants used to treat comorbid mood disorders — can reduce libido dramatically. “The antidepressants I take definitely affect my sex drive,” said Elizabeth, 54.

Still, some respondents said they enjoy the effect ADHD has on the intimate side of their relationships — citing its link to spontaneity, passion, and romance.

“ADHD enhances [our] sex life,” said Alice, 54. “We’ve learned to take our time better, though.”

Divorce and ADHD

Estimates vary, but some studies suggest that the divorce rate among couples touched by ADHD is as much as twice that of the general population. Of our sample, only 10 percent said they were actively considering or pursuing divorce — much lower than either the estimated ADHD divorce rate, or the U.S. Census Bureau’s overall divorce rate of 30.8 percent. But our sample was relatively small, and only included un-divorced couples — so that number is misleading.

More revealing is the fact that 38 percent of respondents with ADHD said their marriage had teetered close to divorce in the past. An additional 22 percent said divorce had “crossed my mind;” just 31 percent of respondents with ADHD said they had never given a thought to divorce.

“I’ve thought about leaving many times because I can’t take the criticism,” said Barbara, 66, who has ADHD. “He thinks he is helping me to be a better person” when he points out her ADD-related flaws, she said — but she mostly ends up feeling “unloved.”

Again, those without ADHD perceived even more turmoil in their relationships than did their partners. Only 24 percent of this group said divorce had never crossed their mind, and 12 percent said they were in the midst of separating or divorcing at the time of the survey.

Unaligned perspectives are acknowledged on both sides. Michael, a 62-year-old man with ADHD, doesn’t think he and his wife have ever been close to divorce — but he acknowledges that his perspective may not match hers.

“I do believe my wife’s answer [would] be different,” he said. “With the amount of frustration [my ADHD causes] her, I do not know how she would not at least fantasize about leaving this mess and living on her own.”

Some respondents without ADHD admit to keeping their dissatisfaction a secret from their spouse. “I’ve often thought about what it would be like to leave for a time period and see how that goes,” said Heather, a 46-year-old woman without ADHD. “I feel certain he has no idea the amount that I do.”

In many cases, counseling was vital for getting past these periods of turmoil, respondents on both sides said.

“It wasn’t until [meeting] my son’s ADHD counselor that we both understood how to fix our issues,” said Myriam, a 50-year-old woman with ADHD. “It was a bonus learning all about ADHD and what works for him, and I applied those same tactics to myself. I’m not where I want to be — but I am 70 percent better, and my husband sees it. He also uses the same tactics on me he learned for my son. Positive reinforcement, etc.”

Counseling doesn’t make ADHD-related issues go away, respondents said, but it does provide tools that allow couples to avoid or react better to conflicts. “Over and over we faced down that beast,” said Alice, 54. “With God and good counseling, we are still married.”

Getting Past Challenges

Though ADHD can certainly lead to increased tension in a marriage, it doesn’t cause divorce, respondents say. And both sides agree that one of the best ways to push back against ADHD-related marital disputes is to pursue and maintain adequate treatment.

“If you have ADHD, make sure you are getting treatment and be very aware of the potential negative impact your symptoms can have,” said Carol, 44, who has ADHD. “At two points in our marriage, my husband felt very unloved and unappreciated because I was so out of control. Once I got treatment and we worked together, we made it through — and we are now at a very good place.”

Partners without ADHD said it helped to bolster their knowledge of attention deficit, to encourage their spouse to pursue treatment, and to remain open and honest about the challenges ADHD brings — to both sides of the relationship.

“I would suggest a very open discussion about ADD before marriage,” said GH, 64, who added that things have gotten “progressively better” in her marriage since her husband was diagnosed. “Knowing makes a HUGE difference.”

[“An Open Letter to My Husband”]

Updated on November 5, 2019

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  1. I believe i may overly contribute to that sample . 3 x divorced the first time after 30 years of marriage. The first time was after our marriage counsellor and Psychologist M.D. suggested that it would be a good idea as I had managed to control the rage at home to once every One or two years. Inside me however was a krakatoa type volcano. After 28 years of splitting the home chores my ex wife had decided her 3 day a week 5 hours a day job prevented her from doing any and was the basis for my last eruption. I was too busy doing the laundry, making lunch, and replacing the enranceway chandelier to be ready for the football party we were going to. My job was relatively easy Not. I was the managing partner in a consulting operation that also required me to carry a full consulting load. And I am the ADHDer although we didnt know it at the time. So I left when my youngest graduated. Thats when our tendency to want to be liked by everyone took hold and She ended up keeping the house, and i voluntarily paid her more monthly than what i live on now in retirement. I renegotiated the mortgage to a much lower payment a few hundred dollars as it was almost paid off. Eventually i agreed that she recd the house a car, all of my retirement savings.and a lump sum I had to borrow from family as the bank said no.
    While I was rushing to Mayo clinic with my Daughter for a 12 hour major Cancer Surgery she secretly married the VP of my bank and didnt tell her kids or invite them to the wedding.

    Normies arent so hot either.

    1. I can identify with that. It was up to me to work 40+ hours a week, take care of our toddler son 90% of the time, take care of the house, the bills, the yard…pretty much everything.

      He was in school for several years and working, so it was my job. And, according to him (and myself really), I should be able to “keep it together.”
      And I failed, again and again, to meet his high expectations and be the perfect worker, maid, cook, mom, and lover.

      Ironically, I was the one to leave because I couldn’t realistically see things improving. He very quickly met a young woman who made a lot of money as a corporate robot. Seriously, she doesn’t seem to be human but that’s another story. They were engaged, married and had a child in less than 2 years. They live in a ridiculously huge home, which I would really consider a mansion. He stayed home to complete his graduate degree while not having to work. I get zero child support and now live at home where I have my son every other week.

      I guess the joke is on me

  2. Now if only I knew about that and my ADHD i could have avoided those two other divorces. In truth the last two courted me and the first one left when she thought my consulting practice (6 figure income) was in jeopardy, a few years wfter i survived the second round of Cancer, and the third one left when I did run out of savings..having annuitized my last 10 years pension savings. Both had recently divorced and in all honesty were looking for security. An AdHd disaster did not figure in their plans

  3. I’m quite saddened to read this article. It wasn’t so long ago that there was an article on how ADHD sexual relationships can be some of the best? Now I’m reading articles about non ADHD spouses get “turned off” by their ADHD partners when they experience rage or start an argument? As a non ADHD partner, it’s our job to understand why they have these angry outbursts? Not hold it against them when it comes to the intimate side of the relationship? For my ADHD partner, reading forums about women whinging about being turned off by their ADHD partners is neither productive nor constructive or helpful to their daily state of mind… I used to like reading these forums, but what’s so blatantly obvious reading them these days is the total lack of understanding from these non ADHD spouses of their partners condition. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll never totally understand my boyfriends behavior, but that’s what keeps our 5 year strong relationship alive! Come on ladies, don’t run them down… learn to love their quirky ways… you might find the bedroom antics improve if you just allow yourself to understand your partner better.

    1. Temper tantrums are so sexy i cant immagine why any women wouldnt be turned on by this sexy 4 yr old behavior. And behavior that seems to forget you exist until the lights go off has to be a real turn on. Just like the habit in public of not being able to shut up or at curtail the conversation about our most recent pacadillos….ooooo. Sexxxy.
      least a poll of my 3 ex wives confirms. They are NOT.

      1. It’s nothing to do with the “temper tantrums” though, what’s really important to remember is: what happens in that moment when my partner experiences rage, anger, anxiety, “temper tantrums” as you call them, that’s then… that’s that moment, and yes it may carry on for ten minutes it may carry on for a few hours, but that’s THEN and was never a conscious “I’m going to hurt someone” decision and I know for a fact that later on my partner will punish himself for what he’s said or done, so what is the point in me chastising him too? He’s not a child, he knows what he’s done, he beats himself up over it, I’m not going to be the one to hold it against him, not when he punishes himself so much already…!! No, having a tantrum is not “sexy” but nor is punishing the person you love for a condition that they find so hard to control.

        1. To Elizabeth-Heather68-

          I liked your positive approach. And, although it takes two people to make a healthy marriage, it sounds like your husband is blessed to have you for a compassionate partner.
          I find that when I stay positive and give my spouse room to be ‘imperfect’ it comes back around to me when I fall short. ie-He gives me a lot of grace, too.
          ADHD should never be an ‘excuse’ for bad or selfish behavior, and Abuse is Never okay, but periodic “slip-ups” when one is really trying and aware of the need for improvement- is just part of being in a marriage of any kind.
          Thanks for sharing your experience.

          Donsense- Premarital counseling really helped us a lot! We knew the pitfalls and possibilities before we tied the knot (Husb has ADHD, I have ADD). We went into marriage with our eyes-wide-open(for the most part). And although I am not a huge supporter of “pre-nups”, it may be helpful in your situation. You can always drop it after 10,15 years if things are working out and trust has been built.
          God Bless, I hope you have had a full recovery from your cancer.

          1. Your prenup advice is good, and would have worked if i had known in 1964 what we now know….. that i had ADHD and if i had not been so impulsive and married at 19. By the time I was 22 i owned a house had one child and another on the way. By 34 i was VP of a large world wide Actuarial and Benefit consulting Division of AON . Impulsive to the end by 38 I was the manging and founding partner in another Consulting firm and at age 50 my own consulting company ….retired at 60.
            Thank you for your good wishes The oral cancer has reappeared occasionally but the Mayo Clinic surgery in 1993 was by and large successful. Recurrences have been limited to surface skin cancer SQ.C no more lymph and salivary glands.

        2. Whether or not the person can “help it” or not isn’t the point.
          If my current boyfriend were to fly off the handle and rage at me and be blaming me for all of his problems, that would definitely be a turn off.
          My ex husband was prone to fits if rage, blamed me for everything that went wrong in his life. It was all so verbally and emotionally abusive. He did not have ADHD and he knew damn well what he was doing.
          I refuse to put up with angry outbursts. It is a boundary that I won’t give up.

        3. Whether or not the person can “help it” or not isn’t the point.
          If my current boyfriend were to fly off the handle and rage at me and be blame me for all of his problems, that would definitely be a turn off.
          My ex husband was prone to fits of rage, blamed me for everything that went wrong in his life. He was also verbally and emotionally abusive. He did not have ADHD and he knew damn well what he was doing.
          I refuse to put up with angry outbursts. It is a boundary that I won’t give up.

    2. You may find your boyfriend of five years exciting. Acceptable. That’s lovely. Good for you. It’s not fair to tell people “to suck it up” essentially. That’s not constructive or positive. YOU may not find his ADHD an obstacle at five years in. Maybe he manages it better. Who knows. It’s irresponsible to think anyone should or could be as cool as you and just handle it. Fast forward a few years and a few kids and my money is that your tune changes. Have a clue.

      1. Deeanna1 – have a clue? This post is 5 months old – so I’ve now been with my boyfriend now 5.5 years… he has just had a change in meds – have a clue? I can promise you, with the behaviour our relationship has experienced, I do – have a clue! All I was meaning was, although I’m understanding and maybe a little more forgiving than most of my partners condition – these forums are meant to be constructive and helpful to people living with adhd. I had seen posts, forum posts from women, moaning about their partners sexual habits, which my adhd partner read – he in turn asked me if I felt how all these other women felt – I don’t – just FYI. But I saw how soul destroying reading those were to him – and that’s not good. It’s hard enough to find support for people living with adhd as it is, without logging onto a forum to read women moaning about their partners. I think you misunderstood my post – I most definitely – have a clue!

        1. Oh and Deanna1 – we already have three kids between us, two divorces, we’re not inexperienced in the relationship field – and most definitely “have a clue”

  4. I’m the ADHD partner. Things were already unbalanced as far as sex drive goes (being criticized all the time isn’t actually arousing). However, the final straw on the camels back was menopause. It completely destroyed my sex drive.

    I just thought that this aspect should be included in the conversation. Thanks.

  5. This article really made me reflect on what really went wrong in my long-term engagement with my son’s father.
    I was diagnosed last year, at 33. We split in 2012, when I was 27 and at the bottom of my downward spiral. I relocated 5 hours away from my family and friends when our son was almost 1. We had a beautiful place, I got a great job and things were amazing. Those are some of the best (and simultaneously, painful) memories of my life.
    It was the best of times…until it was the worst of times. What I didn’t know then was that I have “moderate-severe” ADHD…and it’s been around since I can remember. The demands of a full time job, a home to take care of, a baby to care for and everything else that goes along with it were way too much. I was often sick and exhausted.
    I was often so wiped out and resentful of my fiance for not helping more that sex felt like the end of day dreaded obligation. It wasn’t always like this…over the course of a few years and purchasing a home together, it all fell apart along with any self worth I had left.
    I wish I knew then that I wasn’t just inadequate, lazy, incompetent, unworthy, and impulsive. I wish I had known it wasn’t completely a lack of willpower or just being “lesser than.” I really wish a doctor would have seen through the intense anxiety and depression to see what was underneath.
    Most of all, I wonder if things would have worked. My son, now 10, struggles with going back and forth and the guilt I feel is tremendous. There have been times when I felt he would be better off without me, as his father and stepmother are successful neurotypical people. The people I watch and envy. The people that aren’t cluttered and late, always fresh and looking great and smiling and living in a mansion that looks like a pottery barn puked inside.
    I’m working on my self worth but it’s tough and I truly wonder if I will ever find someone who will be accepting of who I am. Thanks for reading this far if you have 🙂 Season’s Greetings.

  6. This article made me feel a bit better in that I dont feel quite as alone when dealing with my partner’s adhd. Most of the typical adhd symptoms: messiness, distraction, poor time management, not giving me as much attention as when we first started dating, mismatched sex drive, etc. dont bother me too much. It’s the mood swings that are really affecting me. If he’s frustrated he’ll take it out on me, the smallest things can set him off into angry outbursts, if the smallest thing goes wrong it’ll set him off either making him angry or moody and depressed to the point where he cant function and spends the whole day complaining or laying in bed and then complaining that he laid in bed all day. We’ve had fights that have lasted days where he wouldnt allow me to sleep and has pushed me to the point of considering suicide just to escape it. I’ve put up with a lot of mental abuse from him and yet I still love him because when he’s not behaving like that he’s the complete opposite, an absolutely amazing person.
    When I read comments from others saying the non-ADHD partner needs to be more understanding,
    to take some responsibility for their relationship, to suck it up, or that we’re expecting too much from our adhd partner it’s like a slap in the face. I am extremely understanding of his adhd, I have never nagged him or complained about his symptoms, I go out of my way to try to keep him in a happy mood and not react when he loses control, and I’m extremely easy to live with. Some people need to realize that every relationship is different and every person is different and just because someone has add or adhd doesnt mean they’ll behave the same way or their situations will be the same. There might be similarities but they will not be the same.

  7. I guess maybe it’s more men who have these angry outbursts as I am a woman with ADHD and don’t think that is really a thing for me, but would say it is a thing for my partner (who does not have it). To be honest I think having one partner who struggles to control emotions in some way is fairly common regardless of diagnosis. I do struggle with insecurity and feeling ignored sometimes, or feeling second best to his children from previous marriage. I really struggle with that as it also makes me feel guilty for wanting to be loved strongly and feel like number one! I have worked a lot on myself (I got divorced from previous relationship quite young around 31), and I know that I have a wide range of emotional needs. My previous partner actually didn’t seem to experience many emotions in daily life, I sometimes thought he was a bit shut down or just very introverted. He just seemed so happy with routine and it drove me crazy! I get on better with my current partner who in many ways challenges me by being angry and actually a bit unreasonable about it at times, because he seems to experience emotions in a similar all-consuming way to me. I find it difficult to connect with people if they don’t seem to experience those strong emotions, and I find it gratifying to have a partner who feels strong emotions towards me. I have a high drive for sex and intimacy but his is probably even higher. We have even had arguments about it before because HE felt unwanted which is literally unheard of for me in previous life. I suppose in a lot of ways I have met my match, but it is not without explosive clashes occasionally!

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