ADHD News & Research

Study: Assortative Mating Negatively Affects Relationships of Adults with ADHD

Assortative mating, attraction to partners who exhibit similar behaviors, is more common among adults with ADHD, according to a new study that found adults with ADHD are more likely to have partners with clinically significant symptoms of ADHD, which increases the likelihood of relationship problems.

January 8, 2021

Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) are more likely to have partners with clinically significant symptoms of ADHD,1 according to a small study recently published in the Journal of Attention Disorders. This phenomenon of being attracted to partners who exhibit behaviors similar to your own is known as “assortative mating.” “Individuals with alcohol use disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobia are more likely than the general population to be in relationships with others having the same mental health concerns;”2 this research is among the first to study the prevalence of assortative mating among individuals with ADHD.

Researchers analyzed three different groups: 94 adults without ADHD, 43 adults with a history of childhood ADHD but no current clinically significant ADHD symptoms (the ADHD-Desist group), and 27 adults who reported currently having clinically significant ADHD symptoms and impairment (ADHD-Persist group). These participants rated their partners’ ADHD symptoms and their own associated problems, including intimate partner violence and financial difficulties.

Assortative mating was found to be particularly common among adults in the ADHD-Persist group: 90% reported that their partners had four or more clinically significant symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity. Individuals in the ADHD-Persist group were more likely than those in the ADHD-Desist group to choose partners with elevated ADHD symptoms. Additionally, adults with persistent ADHD who had partners with elevated ADHD symptoms reported more intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization and financial difficulties than did adults in other two groups.

“Existing investigations of romantic relationships involving adults with ADHD have thus far had a singular focus: assessing the qualities of the adults with ADHD that increase the risk of maladaptive outcomes.” This line of inquiry does not take into account the qualities of partners that could contribute to relationship difficulties. Acknowledging and studying the role that romantic partners play can help improve relationship interventions.

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1Steele CM, Wymbs BT, Capps RE. Birds of a Feather: An Examination of ADHD Symptoms and Associated Concerns in Partners of Adults with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders. December 2020. doi:10.1177/1087054720978553

2Mathews, C. A., Reus, V. I. (2001). Assortative mating in the affective disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 42(4), 257–262.