Ask the Experts

Help! My ADHD Spouse Finds Relationship Drama Stimulating

Two ADHD experts provide relationship advice for readers navigating conflict-seeking behavior, toxic love, couple fighting, and other common relationship problems.

Relationship problems, Relationship Advice, toxic love
Relationship problems, relationship advice, toxic love

Relationship Problem: Couple Fighting

Q: “My spouse and I fight a lot. He provokes conflict, whether he’s aware of it or not. It’s like he needs the stimulation of an adrenaline rush. How can I break this pattern?”

Here are some approaches you might take based on the underlying motivation for his conflict-seeking behavior.

He finds conflict stimulating. If the fights are purely about stimulation, then your approach should be two-fold. First, don’t engage by being sucked into an argument. Practice emotional stability work such as meditation, journaling, exercise, mindfulness, or anything that enables you to stay calm in the moment. Respond to him by saying, “I can see that you’re upset.” You might want to tell him in advance that you don’t wish to join in these conflicts but would be happy to address any relationship problems you have when he is calm.

[Free Resource: Emotional Regulation & Anger Management Scripts]

Second, it would serve him well to replace the conflict with another form of stimulation, such as exercise, or taking up a new sport or hobby. Of course, he would need to first agree that the conflict between you is not desirable. The less you feed the conflict stimulation, the more likely he is to go in a better direction.

He is stressed out. Stress and ADHD are a combustible pair, and many people lash out when under pressure. In this case, stay clear if the stress cannot be avoided (for example, he’s late for a plane and very agitated) or seek ways to reduce household stress, if there isn’t a specific trigger.

You’ve become the “enemy” in your relationship. Your partner might be picking fights with you because a storyline has developed in his head that you are doing things to him that he doesn’t like. Common examples: You’re too controlling, or your behavior triggers feelings of shame. He generally feels unloved and even disliked, so he lashes out in anger. If this is the situation, you need professional couples counseling.

Melissa Orlov is a marriage consultant who specializes in helping ADHD-affected couples balance their relationships.

Relationship Problem: Toxic Love

Q: “We’re worried about our young adult daughter’s relationship. Her boyfriend seems manipulative and controlling. She has ADHD and hasn’t had a lot of romantic experiences. What should we do?”

Since your daughter is an adult, the best (and only) thing you can do is express your concerns and offer your support. Pushing or encouraging her to leave her partner may strengthen their bond, and he may use this to further alienate your daughter from friends and family.

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

If or when your daughter does leave the toxic relationship, offer support without judgment. Refrain from criticizing her former partner. Remember that a person in an abusive relationship will return three times, on average, before they leave for good. Be prepared for the possibility that she’ll return to the relationship and decide in advance how you will respond if she does.

— Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., is a clinical specialist in child and adolescent counseling.

Relationship Problems with ADHD: Next Steps

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