Making Relationships Work

Improve the relationships in your life by strengthening the connections that hold them together.

Relationship advice advice and communication techniques, like food
Relationship advice advice and communication techniques, like food

Loneliness. It’s ironic that, in a time when we are more connected to more people than ever before – via the Internet, mass media, and other high-tech tools – many of us find ourselves more isolated and more lonely than ever. We’ve lost touch with the human touch.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether we’re married or single or even whether we have children. We seem to be cloistered in a cult of self-sufficiency.

Popular author Edward Hallowell, M.D. talks about this in his excellent book, Connect. “The personal freedom this generation – my generation – worked so hard to achieve has exacted its price,” Hallowell writes. “The price is disconnection. You want the freedom to get divorced and leave a painful marriage? Fine… You want to postpone or avoid having children so you can develop your career and avoid making the same mistakes your parents made? Fine.” He continues and lists several other common choices, including avoiding members of the opposite sex and staying away from your parents.

“But in exchange for the freedom to disconnect in all these ways,” Hallowell warns, “you will have to live with the voids you create.”

Building a relationship is all about filling in these empty spaces. Your house and your schedule may not feel very empty, especially if you have a marriage, a child (or children), a job, and all of the other responsibilities that can demand so much of our time. But being busy is not the same as being productive, and having contact is not the same as making a connection. Improving our relationships means that we strengthen the connections that hold those relationships together.

[[Self-Test] Do I Have ADHD? Symptom Test for Adults]

Improving the connections

“I want to be a better parent” is a noble goal, as is “I want to be a better spouse.” Unfortunately, wishing doesn’t make it so.

There is obviously a lot of difference between your relationship with your spouse and the relationship you have with your children. But many of the same principles apply to both.

What are you looking for?

Define how a better relationship would look: “I will know that my relationship with my spouse/child is improving when we are spending at least 30 minutes a day together.” Pick some realistic definition of a good relationship and work toward that goal.

Maybe your relationship isn’t ready for 30 minutes a day of conversation. You may want to think of a more realistic goal: “I will know that my relationship with my spouse/child is improving when we can be in the same room without having an argument.” In either case, set some definable goals for the relationship.

[Read Next: The One Ground Rule for Fighting Fair in an ADHD Marriage]

Find common areas of interest

It’s easier to spend time together if you have some things in common besides sharing an address.

Some spouses and parents make the mistake of assuming that, because they love this person, they will automatically have the same interests. That may not be the case. Don’t assume that your wife/husband/son/daughter loves the annual butter-churning contest as much as you do. Be willing to try new experiences that may not necessarily be your first choice.

Case in point: When I was a boy, I spent all my time playing guitar or listening to music. I never watched or played baseball in my life. Then, as if to prove that the universe has a sense of humor, I had a child who is a complete jock and especially loves baseball. I could have insisted that he take music lessons. Instead, I decided it would be easier for me to develop an interest in what he loves. Baseball is now a big part of our family’s life.

In addition to finding that I really do enjoy watching a ball game, there has been another unexpected reward. Matthew has begun to show a serious interest in music. After spending money on sports equipment, it was a pleasure to buy him his first guitar for Christmas this year. I honestly believe that, had I not shown an interest in baseball – something that was important to him – he probably would not have taken the time to find out why music was so important to me.

Talk, talk, talk

A healthy relationship requires communication. Again, this is true for marriages, friendships, or parenting.

Conversation skills can be a challenge for people who have ADHD, but there are some things you can do to make it easier. First, understand that ADHD – yours and/or theirs – can make communication more complicated. “Once you recognize that interpersonal relationships can and do require ‘work’ for those with ADHD, you may feel less anxious and frustrated,” notes Michele Novotni, ADDitude‘s social skills expert. “If your expectation is that listening is hard, you are more likely to gear up to the challenge. However, if your expectation is that it should be easy, you may often find yourself frustrated and overwhelmed.”

[Additional Reading: How ADHD Impacts Sex and Marriage]