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.

[Free Resource: 6 Ways ADHD Sabotages Relationships]

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.

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.

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

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.

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.”

[“An Open Letter to My Husband”]

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. “I also have major depressive disorder, and 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.”

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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.

  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.

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