Marriage

For Men With ADHD — and Those Who Love Them

Men with ADHD may bring unique challenges to a relationship — career shame, emotional dysregulation, and anger are a few common sticking points. Learn how both partners in a relationship can recognize these symptoms of ADD, and work through them together.

Couple arguing graphic

Reviewed on May 10, 2019

How ADHD Impacts Men

We’ve gotten much better at thinking about the issues unique to women with ADHD. So what about the other half: men diagnosed with the condition? Understanding the pressure points and patterns that a man labors under after receiving his diagnosis is critical to relationship happiness. After a decade of working with couples affected by attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), I’ve noticed some patterns that commonly impact men with ADHD — and their significant others.

I am not stereotyping men. What follows doesn’t apply to every man with ADHD. Sometimes these patterns apply to women, too. But see if any of these five traits strike a chord as you think about your relationship.

1. Shame Over ADHD-Related Job Problems

Adults with ADHD are more likely to have work problems — trouble getting along with others at the job; quitting (out of hostility toward the workplace or out of boredom); being disciplined; and getting fired.

Many men define themselves in large part by their work. For them, job difficulties lead to shame and depression. Even when men excel, low self-esteem and ADHD symptoms may make it tough to hold a job.

One client told me, “I wasn’t afraid of work as much as being judged for the results, because I never knew if I was doing a good or a bad job.” Many men report working longer hours than their co-workers to manage the work load and stay organized. Such stressors put pressure on relationships.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Adult ADHD or ADD?]

Shame is also a factor for men with ADHD-related job problems. One man I worked with lost three high-level positions in a row because he couldn’t manage the paperwork required for the jobs. After the third loss, he was so embarrassed that he left the house each morning and pretended to go to work, because he couldn’t face disappointing his wife again.

Partners of men with ADHD sometimes exacerbate work and job-loss issues. For example, job searches are overwhelming and paralyzing for adults with ADHD. Searches require planning and sustained effort, and enduring repeated rejections. These tend not to be ADHD strengths. Being anxious or critical of the ADHD partner’s search adds pressure, making the search even more overwhelming.

I’ve seen men refuse to look for a job rather than work through how they feel about finding one. One man told me recently, “I feel fear about searching for a job, so I become stubborn.” Fear and stress represent weakness to many men; stubborn feels strong, even if it isn’t in a person’s best interest.

Advice for Men with ADHD

  • Hire a good ADHD coach to help you learn to stay on top of the boring, but necessary, parts of your job.
  • Two of the biggest dangers of ADHD on the job are getting along with others and having behavior problems. If you have anger management issues, set that as a target symptom and get treatment for it.
  • Set small easy-to-meet goals. This will lessen your feelings of overwhelm and keep you moving forward.

[Free Resource: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship]

Advice for Partners of Men with ADHD

  • Don’t panic and add to the pressures of a job search. Instead, support getting outside assistance, such as a recruiter or a job placement agency.
  • Don’t compound the shame of job loss or workplace problems. Remain empathetic to the difficulties that having ADHD adds to holding or finding a job. This can lessen your partner’s resistance to getting needed help.
  • Support efforts of ADHD partners to manage emotional volatility.
  • Be prepared to be the primary earner for at least part of your time together.

2. Emotional Regulation Challenges for Men with ADHD

Emotional dysregulation, responding quickly and intensely to stimuli, is a core characteristic of ADHD. I see more men than women with anger-management issues. Our society accepts raging men, but has little tolerance for angry women.

The result is that fewer men with ADHD see their anger and rage as a problem. In fact, a good number of men use their rage as a legitimate way to get a partner to back off, and blame their partner for their outbursts. One man told his wife, “You started this argument, so I snapped at you. So what? Get over it!” Another refused to admit he was angry when he was yelling and calling his partner names. Yet another told me, “I’ve gone from 0 to 60 in a nanosecond my entire life, so it’s OK,” ignoring the pain and suffering his outbursts regularly caused.

Advice for Men with ADHD

  • Identify anger management issues for what they are: ADHD symptoms that hurt you at home and on the job. They need treatment. Consider medication, mindfulness training, and increased exercise for mood stabilization.
  • Seek counseling to understand the underlying triggers of emotional outbursts, and address them.

Advice for Partners of Men with ADHD

  • Separate the ADHD symptom from the person who has it. This isn’t a moral failing; it’s a symptom. Constructively communicate that his anger hurts you, rather than fighting back.
  • Create verbal cues with your partner to interrupt arguments before they get out of control. My husband and I agreed to use “aardvark” at times when I notice he is agitated, but seems unaware of it. This odd word means “stop talking, and take some time to calm down.” It has worked well for us.

3. Retreat as a Coping Strategy for Men with ADHD

Research suggests that men have greater difficulty recovering from conflict than women do. Their blood pressure remains elevated after conflict, and they have more trouble calming themselves. Conflict feels physically uncomfortable, so men tend to avoid it.

Men with ADHD may feel bombarded with constant critiques of their underperformance at home and at work. The struggle to become reliable in the face of distraction and planning problems causes many men to retreat from conflict. This may lead to cover-up behavior, like lying, and being emotionally distant.

Some see retreat as benign and necessary. One man told me he covers up mistakes because “it is easier to silently commit myself to take actions that will make up for them” than to be in constant conflict with his wife. Enduring relationships rely on connection and trust, so understanding male avoidance can counteract this problem.

Advice for men with ADHD

  • Reflect on what your retreat gets you (less pain in the moment) and what it doesn’t (a good relationship). Identify retreat coping strategies, such as cover-ups and emotional distance, and own the pain they cause those you love. Seeing that your retreat is the root cause of this pain is the first step in addressing it.
  • Work with your partner, and perhaps a counselor, to come up with alternative interactions about experiences that cause you pain. These might include verbal cues, scheduling emotional discussions rather than having them on the fly, and improving mindfulness when you are putting yourself down.
  • Push back against your desire to retreat. The only way to make your relationship better is to constructively engage. Seek communication techniques, such as “learning conversations” that help keep you engaged without high conflict.

Advice for Partners of Men with ADHD

  • Acknowledge your role as a critic and change your approach. Use soft starts in conversations, request rather than demand, and accept that ADHD partners have a right to their opinions, whether or not you like them.
  • Don’t set up a dynamic in which your partner feels he can never do well enough for you.

4. Difficulty Expressing Emotions for Men with ADHD

We don’t do a good job of teaching our boys and men how to express, and live peacefully with, their emotions. Instead, we teach them to be tough, stoic, and silent. This is exacerbated by the difficulty that men with ADHD have reading the emotional cues of others.

Learning how to communicate one’s emotions takes practice and, for many, courage. So part of good therapy for men is to practice recognizing, and then expressing, their feelings. In my seminars, I provide a list of “I-focused” emotion words that adults can use during emotional conversations. These prompt more nuanced communication about feelings. I encourage practicing this in less stressful moments, too.

Advice for men with ADHD

For a month, set reminders multiple times a day for emotion word practice. When your alarm goes off, take one minute to answer the question “How am I feeling right now?” Repeat for another month if you feel you need more practice. Over time you will develop greater ease in identifying and communicating your feelings.

Advice for Partners of Men with ADHD

It may come naturally to women to talk about their emotions. Encourage the man you love to practice this skill. In addition, don’t anticipate what his response should be. Disappointment if he doesn’t respond as emotionally as you had hoped, or doesn’t say what you would have said, says “you are a failure” to your partner.

5. Prickliness About the ADHD Diagnosis

Many women I see and talk with accept their ADHD diagnosis. They are comfortable with self-reflection and self-criticism as a way to improvement. At the same time, many men seem to reject the idea of ADHD. To them, accepting the “ADHD label” means that they will be blamed for relationship problems. One man put it this way: “For some time now, she has been solely focused on me as being the problem in our relationship.” It is logical that “admitting” to ADHD would confirm this blame.

It’s not one-sided, though. Men with ADHD often blame their non-ADHD partners for relationship dysfunction. They see non-ADHD partners as angry, frustrated, and resentful of ADHD behaviors. Blaming the non-ADHD partner is easier than risking the pain of an ADHD diagnosis.

Advice for men with ADHD

  • Regardless of labels, if you have ADHD, you — and your partner — are affected by the symptoms. So get evaluated. It can open up many treatment options that will improve your life.
  • Talk with your partner about your desire not to be blamed for relationship issues if you get a diagnosis, and have her think about what each of you can do to improve your relationship.

Advice for Partners of Men with ADHD

Stop blaming ADHD for your problems. If ADHD is present, your problems stem both from ADHD symptomatic behaviors and responses to those behaviors. You both have work to do. Men with partners who acknowledge that they, too, have issues are more likely to seek an evaluation.


8 Positive Ways to Engage Your Guy

  1. Use soft, rather than blunt, starts to all conversations.
  2. Wait until your man has transitioned his focus to you before continuing a conversation.
  3. Stay respectful, even when you’re angry.
  4. Use ‘I’ statements to explain your issues, rather than ‘you’ statements that imply blame.
  5. Avoid critiquing and parenting.
  6. Consciously commit to not adding to your partner’s shame.
  7. Use physical touch, such as holding hands, whenever you can.
  8. Recognize the positive in your lives, and make a habit of finding the humor in situations.

Melissa Orlov is a marriage consultant who specializes in working with couples affected by ADHD, and the author of two award-winning books on the topic. She can be reached at her website, ADHDmarriage.com.

[Your Free Guide to Ending Confrontations and Defiance]

4 Related Links

  1. After reading the article “For Men with ADHD and Those Who Love Them”, I found I use many of the suggestions, however when I use I to say something about how I feel his response has been: “this is not about you this is about me”, how should I respond?

  2. Normally I find the articles to be very helpful. This one was not.

    While a agree that men with ADHD (both my husband and I have ADHD although his symptoms appear stronger than mine) struggle with the things mentioned in the article (career issues, anger, retreating, expressing emotions, and difficulty accepting diagnosis) the suggestions were not helpful. What was being suggested was that the partner needed to be the one to deal with all of those challenges. There seemed no responsibility placed back on the man with ADHD or recognition for the needs of the partner.

    I already carry do what is suggested in this article and it does not lead to a “Happy Relationship” at all. I am very unhappy in my situation. I’ve done these suggestions for the past 28 years. I am the one who picks up the slack for my husband’s ADHD challenges. I feel invalidated, unsupported, and alone. I also have ADHD and yet I get no support for that from my husband. My only help is medication which has made it easier to cope with the difficult situation that I live in, but has not actually changed anything.

    Please do not repeat these sorts of articles that only make it harder for those already struggling to cope and that tell them to do such self-devaluing and ineffective things. No one needs to have a more difficult time than they already do!

  3. I’m still overwhelmed and terrified as i as near retirement that I have a heightened likelihood of developing alzheimer’s. I stumble along and frequently see suicide as my remedy. Dave

Leave a Reply