10 Ways to Balance ADHD with a Happy Marriage

Long-term relationships can get rocky if your spouse has attention deficit disorder. Here, 10 helpful tips for keeping the romance alive and balancing one another out — whether it’s taking joy in a honey-do list or reading up on ADHD.

Married man with ADHD pushing his wife on swing outside in autumn
Married man with ADHD pushing his wife on swing outside in autumn

A happy marriage takes work. A happy marriage to a spouse with ADHD takes more work.

The following tips are ones my wife and I have used in our “mixed” marriage — I have ADHD, my wife doesn’t — to help each of us love the one we’re with.

1. Study up on ADHD. There are many excellent books on the topic, and the one that I’d recommend most is my own book, Delivered from Distraction. The more you understand ADHD, the better you will be able to understand your spouse. Of course, no two people with attention deficit are the same, but there are commonalities it helps to know about.

2. Avoid making a “moral diagnosis.” By that, I mean attributing the negative behaviors associated with ADHD to lack of motivation or effort. If your spouse tells you he will take out the trash, and he walks right past the trash, don’t assume he did that on purpose or that he was being defiant or passive-aggressive. Don’t assume he is selfish or doesn’t care about you when he overlooks details or forgets important obligations. This is all part of the ADHD package. The moral diagnosis only makes matters worse.

3. If your spouse has ADHD, don’t treat her like a child. This is unromantic, and increases the struggles and resentments on both sides.

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

4. Set aside regular times for conversation — at least a half hour a week – at the same time, in the same place. Pick a time when you know you will be able to sit down and make plans, set up structures and routines, and talk through problems. Clear communication is key. Many couples “communicate” only when they are arguing or fighting. Communication leads to understanding, which leads to empathy and intimacy.

5. Speaking of intimacy, don’t forget about making love. People are so busy these days — whether they have ADHD or not — that they often let sex slip to the bottom of the list. Lovemaking is one of the few human activities that is fun and good for you. Do it as often as you can. Make dates for lovemaking. The anticipation is a form of foreplay.

6. Create a division of labor in which each spouse does what he or she is best at and dislikes the least. For example, I am bad at accounting, and I hate dealing with financial matters. My wife, on the other hand, likes being in charge of the money and is good at keeping track of it. So she handles it all. I turn over my paycheck to her, and she tracks our expenses.

7. That leads to another important point. If you are the one who has ADHD, as I am, be grateful for coaching and “honey-do” lists from your spouse. Don’t think of them as nagging, but see the lists as helpful reminders. People with ADHD need reminders, structure, routines, and schedules to keep our lives on track.

[11 Rules for Fighting Right and Forgiving Faster]

8. Make sure your spouse understands what you are going through. The spouse who has ADHD is sometimes not aware of the impact his actions have on his mate. His intentions are good, but the impact of his actions, often, is anything but good. Explain this to him, not in the context of an argument, but during one of your regular communication sessions.

9. Play together, doing things you both like to do. Having good times makes getting through the tough times much easier. Plan fun activities, sometimes just for the two of you, sometimes with the kids.

10. Love the spouse you have. Don’t try to turn him or her into someone else. Find the good in your mate, and appreciate it and cherish it. It feels good to cherish someone, just as it feels good to be cherished.

[Help! My Spouse Is Always (Fill In the Blank)]

Edward Hallowell, M.D., is a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel.