Marriage

10 Ways to Save Your Relationship

All you need is love, right? Wrong. If you or your partner has ADHD, follow these rules to foster communication, build trust, and reciprocate support.

Names of couple carved into a tree

Regardless of adult attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), falling in love is easy. A rush of biochemical euphoria comes with “new love.” Those of us with ADHD often hyperfocus on romance, not just for the sake of romance, but also to increase those pleasure-producing neurotransmitters (dopamine) that are in short supply in our brains. Highly charged emotions are not part of lasting love. They are just feelings — strong and wonderful feelings — but you need much more to make an ADHD relationship last.

Relationships are hard, and when we accept that fact, we are dealing with reality, not the fantasy that “all you need is love.” All we need is love? I don’t think so. You need coping skills to compensate for your weaknesses and to save your relationship. What tools should you have in your relationship toolbox? Glad you asked.

ADHD Relationship Tool 1: Manage Symptoms

You and your partner must take ownership of your condition. Treat ADHD responsibly by using behavior therapy and/or appropriate medications to manage symptoms, increase dopamine, and help the brain work as it is supposed to. When you do all that, you should see a decrease in ADHD symptoms —like the inability to focus when your partner is talking to you or to follow through on tasks, such as paying bills on time.

Not being heard is a major complaint of those in intimate relationships with  partners with ADHD. For many who have ADHD, listening to others is hard. To increase your listening skills, practice this exercise:

Sit down with your partner and let him talk for five minutes — or longer, if you can manage it. Make eye contact and lean toward him, even if you’re not absorbing every word.

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

After five minutes of listening, summarize what you’ve heard. You might say, “Wow, it sounds like you had a really hectic day. The lousy commute, the awful meeting. At least you got to stop at the gym on the way home.”

After the exchange, do something you want to do. Say, “Now that you’re home, would you mind watching Robbie while I go for a run?”

Your partner will probably be shocked, and pleased, that you have listened to him for a full five minutes.

Commit to Commitment

The main symptoms of ADHD — impulsiveness and the need for constant stimulation — can enhance, as well as threaten, relationships. Because adults with ADHD  are impatient and easily bored, adventurous sexual activities are highly stimulating. Attraction to the new and different may make it difficult to stay monogamous. That’s why it is vital to be committed to the idea of “relationship” — even more so than your partner.

I met a 93-year-old woman who had been married to the same man for more than 70 years. She told me that they had good times and bad times in their years together, and that she had never once considered divorce, though she joked that she had considered murder once or twice. She knew that she had to be more committed to the institution of marriage than to her husband to make the relationship work. There were times when the couple didn’t feel committed to each other, but their dedication to their marriage got them through.

[“The Honeymoon’s Over. The Marriage Ain’t.”]

Use Laughter Therapy

Learn to laugh at yourself (not at your partner) and to take your problems a little more lightheartedly. ADHD causes us to do and say some pretty unusual things sometimes.

Rather than be wounded or angered by unintended words and actions, see them for what they are: the symptoms of a condition you’re trying to manage. A good laugh allows you to move forward in the relationship. I know how difficult this can be. It is easy to be defensive because we have had to explain our behavior for years — when we acted impulsively or glossed over details due to lack of focus. Drop the defensiveness, then let go and move forward.

Forgive and Forget

It is tempting to point the finger at the other person and blame her for the problems in the relationship. But it takes two to tango. When we admit to the problems we may be causing, instead of dwelling on what our partner does wrong, we grow spiritually. When I acknowledge my own shortcomings — identify them, work on changing them, and forgive myself for not being perfect — it is easier to accept my partner and to forgive her shortcomings.

A phrase that sums up this forgive-and-forget concept is: “I did the best I could do in that moment. If I could have done better, I would have.” This takes the sting out of a bad experience, and enables you and your spouse to talk with each other civilly. It is no longer about one of you “doing it again,” it is about being human and making mistakes — something that is possible to forgive.

Seek Professional Help

Most married couples with one or more partners diagnosed with ADHD plan to be married “till death do us part.” But as the realities of living together set in, little problems go unresolved and become bigger problems that seem insurmountable.

One of the common mistakes that troubled couples make is to wait too long before seeking professional help for their relationship. By the time they get to the therapist’s office, they’ve already thrown in the towel, and are only looking for a way to validate their misery and justify their decision to divorce. Don’t wait too long to get help. A licensed marriage and family therapist can teach communication and conflict resolution skills.

6 More ADHD Relationship Tools

Remember to keep doing the fun things you did together when you first fell in love.

Make a rule: Only one crazy person in the house at a time. If your partner is freaking out, you must stay cool and collected.

Go on a date every week.

Treat each other with respect. Learn to love each other’s quirks.

Don’t worry about who is right. The goal is to move forward — not to stay stuck in an argument. It is more important to have a mutually satisfying relationship than it is to be right all of the time.

[What is the Key to a Good Relationship Between ADHD and Non-ADHD Partners?]

15 Related Links

  1. Hi everyone, I’ve stumbled upon this website, and wonder if this is the “problem” with my man-friend (I hesitate to say “partner” because our relaionship has been up and down, on and off for almost five years, and I still dont know where I stand with him). I love him, but find it almost impossible to have what I would call a “proper” or “normal” relationship with him. I spend all my time worrying about him and reading stuff and crying – getting depressed about it all. I am obssessed with him, but worry so much about him, I do not want to give up on him. He seems unable to regulate his life on his own, without the alcohol. I am 68 and he is 64. We are long-distance and do not see much of each other – although we did used to communicate regularly, but not so much recently. That seems to suit him – although he did ask ages ago where we were going, and I said I could not have a drunk in my life. I asked him to do something about the booze, but it seems he is not able to – certainly without support, which he does not want. He seems to need it to cope with his depression and anxiety – but it makes him more depressed. I struggle to keep in touch with him. He insists he does want me in his life, but he gets angry with me and throws me out of his flat after being together for several days, blocks my texts and often does not answer phone calls or emails, or phone me when he says he will. I knew him for four years socially before we got together, and fancied him the moment I set eyes on him. He is otherwise a very sweet man, and will do anything for anyone – much too much sometimes, in my opinion. He doesn’t seem to understand the “rules” of society, and people take advantage of him. We fell very much in love after our first kiss – but things went down-hill from there!! He is most definitely “different”, but then I probably am, too, in other ways – and I liked his quirkyness. I do not conform with what is “expected” a lot of the time – I am a rebel and like being different. I used to love his difference, but now after almost five years it is getting worse and worse. Firstly, he has a huge drink problem, and smokes, which I think is made worse by me being in his life. Although he never drinks and smokes when I visit – which I find amazing. He gets very anxious, has OCD, gets angry very easily, cannot see my point of view, blames me for the upsets, gets paranoid and imagines things that are not true, but then calms down and DOES try very hard to “be nice” and make an effort to be “normal”, and treat me nice – til the next angry outburst!!. I think he may also be addicted to sex (or was in his youth) although he seems to have a hang-up about that now and cannot perform – and gets anxious about that – feels guilty, I think. I have struggled to understand him, read loads of stuff on alcoholism, but after reading these articles, it seems to me that I have found the missing jig-saw piece. Does he have ADHD? But, do I suggest this to him? He may go absolutely crazy at the suggestion. Will counselling improve things – it seems it might. He might be glad that I have unearthed something positive that he can work on and improve his life. Should I give up on him as a bad job? Certainly my friends are horrified that I am still wih him after all the emotional abuse I have suffered. What do others think? I would really appreciate some input here. V.

    1. Lorna, this doesn’t sound like anyone I know with ADHD. Including myself. I’m not a psychiatrist, so it’s certainly *possible* that ADHD is underlying the rest of his issues, but you really didn’t mention any symptoms that fit this.
      In my opinion, you could probably benefit from some good counseling regarding boundaries. You and this man you’re (in your own words) “obsessed” with are both waving some big red flags here.
      I hope you have moved forward since this was posted. Best wishes to you.

    2. Hi Lorna!

      I stumbled on this article and read “most” of your commment and the man you describe sounds very similar to myself, although I’ve learned to manage my addictions, mostly…

      I have comorbid ADHD and BPD which from what I have read is not uncommon. I have the intense emotions with ADHD and an inability to regulate them. Then I have an inability to cope with them from the BPD that results in very turbulent relationships and dangerous behaviors. My wife and I have been together for 12 years now and married for 5 and I would be lying if I didn’t tell you almost every day is a struggle for us. But she understands my issues and loves me anyway.

      I would love to connect with you and discuss this further. I would like to suggest however that you keep in mind many individuals with ADD/ADHD don’t have the attention span to read lengthy responses, or at least that is the case for me!

  2. The most important thing is for you to focus on you and not the other person. You seem to already have some awareness that this is an unhealthy “dance” that the two of you do. It would seem to me that you might want to go learn some new “dance steps” and the best places I know to do that are in therapy and/or a 12-step group for people who struggle with relationship choices. There are several different 12-step programs out there to choose from and the most important thing is to find one that you feel comfortable attending. Go to several different meetings to shop for a group. Listen to the other members’ stories and see if there is anything there you can relate to and see what you might learn from listening to their strength, hope and experience. Codependents Anonymous might be a great place to start. Since your friend/partner seems to have struggles with alcohol, you might want to consider Al-Anon.

    If you continue to focus on your “friend” you will likely continue to be frustrated, confused and dazed. It is hard enough to change oneself and next to impossible to change anyone else.

    There was a book written several years ago called “One Way Ticket To Kansas” by author Ozzie Tinman. I don’t know if there is anything in that book that might help, but I thought it is when I read your post.

    Good luck and keep us posted. By sharing your experiences as you walk through this, you may be able to help others — just like you — who are seeking help.

    1. Jonathon, thank you for your suggestion that I get this book. I looked it up and find it is related to Borderline. Do you think my man may suffer from this rather than ADHD? I did think some while ago that it WAS Borderline he has, as he gets anxious about “being abandoned” and left on his own, but now I feel that the ADHD symptoms are more relevant. Do they cross-over or are co-morbid? I would be interested in your opinion. Lorna

      1. I have no idea if your man has ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder or anything else. Everyone deserves to take good care of themselves so that they can be reasonably happy in this lifetime. Each one of us are responsible for our own happiness. When we over-focus on someone and tie our happiness to them and how they behave, life just doesn’t seem to be so “happy.” Too often, rather than accepting someone the way they are and making decisions about relationships based on that reality-based information (i.e., I accept this person the way they are and either choose to be in relationship with them or choose to not be in relationship with them) we, as a culture tend to try to change the other person into what we want them to be. But that just doesn’t work. It is like the old adage, “You can’t teach a pig to sing; it doesn’t work and it just annoys the pig.” I wish for you peace and happiness.

        1. Thank you Jonathon for your response. I DID, however, find it rather blunt, rude and upsetting – so I hope that is your ADHD taking over, and you did not mean it that way. You did ask that I keep in touch for the sake of others on here. YOU suggested I read the book and I was simply asking if you were suggesting that it is Borderline that is the problem here, rather than ADHD. Or if they cross-over or are co-morbid – i.e. exist together. You didn’t answer that.
          Regarding trying to “change” someone. That is certainly NOT what I am intending to do. I am trying to understand what his problem is. I want desperately to HELP this man, who fnds coping with life and relationships so VERY difficult. I hoped that someone on this forum may be able to point me in the right direction. I am aware that we can only change ourselves, but with self-awareness it may be clear to him that change IS necessary. It is certainly possible to change oneself. The brain is plastic and changeable – if one is willing. I have changed MY way of thinking radically, in many ways, since I have known him, and continue to seek tollerance, awareness and change through understanding. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect him to see that self-awareness, tollerance and change is also required on his part – ADHD or not. Surely that is part of ANY loving relationship. Understanding, accepting, and accommodating the one you love, and endeavouring to change oneself where change is necessary – for the sake of the relationship. I wonder if I have hit a raw nerve with you?
          You said earlier to find some new “dance steps” – which I am trying to do. Yes, I fully agree, that after working on the relationship for a period of time, without the other person trying and without any perceivable results, it is probably time to walk away. For our own sanity. Particularly when ADHD is involved. I am beginning to realize that people with this condition are unable to see the others’ point of view, and have a very inflexible mind-set. So very sad. Lorna

  3. Jonathon, Oh my goodness, your response could not have come at a better time – after all this time. Very strange!! My Angels watching over me? I just spent a couple of days last week-end with this man (it was meant to be five days). He had arranged a concert in the Church with his choir and I went to support him and stay with him. However, after a couple of days, he got really angry with me for something I said and threw me out. He and his crazy (female) neighbour, who he regularly gets drunk with, then rang me the next evening. She lambasted me and verbally laid into me saying I was a jealous woman and why did I upset him like that? I put the phone down, but they kept ringing and ringing me all evening. He rang me yesterday evening, but I could not take the call, and when I rang back shortly after, he ignored the call. I tried to ring just now this mornng, after a sleepless night wonderng what to do, but they have blocked my number on his phone and mobile. He has certainly come to a very critical point in his life now, it would seem. He drinks heavily, he has no money, and has taken out a loan. She controls him, but he seems to like that. He hangs on her every word, and goes to her for advice about me. Then, of course, she sets him against me, saying spiteful things and telling lies – both about me and also to me about him. He insists there is “nothing between them” – they are just “good friends”, but they spend lots of time together, he takes her to social functions with him, she borrows his car (and doesn’t put petrol in), they cook meals for each other and often shop together for the food. It seems to me that there is a “lot between them”. However, I know they do not sleep together, but how long will it be before they do? Certainly in the past, before I came on the scene, she would crash out on his bed, fully clothed, after a long boozing session, when they were both paralytic. She has an even crazier alcoholic sister who is at the moment in prison for stabbing her boyfriend. She used to come round regularly and drink with my man, and one Saturday evening he gave her his credit card to buy some food as she said she would cook for him on the Sunday. Of course, she did not buy the food or cook for him – she used the card to buy booze. It is crazy. He did want me to go to see him last week-end, calls me Sweetheart, said how nice it was being cuddled up in bed (no sex!), and we had a good time until the row. He just seems to blow his top at the least provocaton. He is certainly very stressed and depressed at the moment. He got stressed over organizing the concert. He also had a funeral the same day, two weddings the next day, Saturday, and 2 church services on the Sunday (he plays the organ in church). I noticed his playing after the weddings was very, very slow, but he didn’t realize that. I have tried to get him to see the doctor – to no avail. It just goes on and on. As you say “a merry dance” – but not so “merry”. He seems to be absolutely crazy. And where I thought it was only the booze before, I wonder now if there is something else underlying this. His father ended up having a mental health disorder – whether dementia or Alzhiemers I don’t know. Maybe the booze has destroyed part of his brain, or maybe he was always like this. Maybe it is ADHD, which was unheard of when we were young. Either way – he is in a really bad place, and I do not know what to do to help. I have begged him to let me help him, but he just cannot open up and talk. He is certianly “Bottled Up”, and that cannot be helping with the stress levels. He went to a boys boarding school, only has a brother, who he does not see now, has no other friends than this woman and her family and a domineerig mother, so I just think he does not know how to be with women. He is terrified of women – and this woman next door has completely taken over his life. He told me a little while ago that she “would not allow him to see me”. WHY? He also says she is an important part of his life, and any girlfriend would need to understand that. It worries me, because his mother is very wealthy and elderly, and I think this woman is just waiting until she dies and he inherits all her money and her beautiful house and furniture. They will, of course, just drink it all away. He is very, very vulnerable. He is hopeless with money – just does not understand it. He became bankrupt, borrowed client money he could not then pay back, and went to prison for it. He does not seem to understand people. he is too trusting and cannot see the bad in people. He is very caring, feels sorry for people, and will do anything for anyone – a “people pleaser” – therefore he gets taken advantage of – especially by this woman. He hates confrontation and will not stand up for himself. It just makes me feel so worried for him and so frustrated that I cannot do anything to help – because she has well and truly got her claws into him and poisoned him against me. Now I can’t even ring him, because she has blocked my phone number. What on earth can I do? I did send an email this morning, and of course, there is still the post. And maybe I should just go and see him. But it is a long-distance relationship and a 3 to 4 hour drive. Have you any thoughts? Has anyone else any thoughts? I hate to leave him to the mercy of this woman. I know his children would be horrified – but they are young (23 nd 25) and do not need to have the worry about their father. But should I contact them? Do they have a right to know what is going on? Should I contact his ex-wife and ask her advice and let her decide if the children get involved? They are a lovely, lovely family and are getting on with their lives. I don’t know what to do for the best. Of course, I could walk away – but to me that is the coward’s way out. And I read a quote “I would rather regret the things I DID do than regret the things I DID NOT do”. I don’t want to regret not doing all I could to help. And after all, I do love him. He usually gets worse in the winter when he sits on his own all day drinking and the weather is not good and the National Trust property he volunteers at is closed. By the way – I am going for counselling myself shortly, and have signed up to be trained as a telephone counsellor to help family and friends of alcoholics – so maybe out of bad there will come something good. I just feel like curling up in a ball at the moment, and howling. Will it ever end? I hope this is of help to others. Lorna

    1. PS – He did ring me a couple of weeks ago and say that he thought he should leave the town where he lives and come and stay with me. But he said I did not understand how difficult it is to give up the drink. I said I did, but that he needs help. I said I would not hold my breath, as I have suggested that now for so long – but that my door would always be open. And I have said that again over the last few days, via email. I said he can even have his own apartment, if he wishes, as I have a large house, and live on my own. So maybe that is still an option. He is trying to cut down on the booze – so that is always a good sign. Lorna

  4. I’m in relationship with a man who I believe has ADD/ADHD. The biggest issue is anger and neglect. I have to tiptoe around any subject I want to discuss because his emotional trigger is so sensitive. On the other hand, I listen to him get giddy and excited about his male hangout buddies. If I want to communicate something I think we should work on it ends in a verbal war 8 out of 10 times because he gets defensive. I’m really at my wits’ end because nothing is constructive; his go-to argument is: “you’re always diminishing me” or “look at what you just said.” Even an attempt to discuss how angry he gets (arms folded, cursing, calling names) ends in a battle. I don’t know how to reach him.

    1. Verbatim, I can really, really relate to what you have said here. See my comments above, about my current situation. Why do we do it? Why do we stick around to be abused in this way? I cannot, honestly, understand it myself. It is like picking a scab. I guess it is because we are caring, giving, loving people who can actually see the whole picture, relate to and understand the other person, and want to try to help in some way. Most people would just walk away from it all. But, thank God there are caring, giving, loving people in the world, otherwise there would be NO help for all the fragile, wounded, vulnerable people out there. They need our help. I do NOT feel guilty about being caring and loving – I think it is a beautiful trait – but we just have to be sure that we take care of ourselves, too. For me – there are many, many times when he is sweet, caring, loving and a joy to be with – but then the “other” side of him comes out now and again (usually when he is stressed to the eyeballs) and he is a monster. Jekyll and Hyde. Then there is the booze, which he uses to cope with his anxiety. Like your man, his first comment after a row is usually “you always spoil things, we were having a nice time”. Why can they not SEE that it is they who spoil things? I guess it is a gut-reaction – a defensive reaction when they “project” their problem onto us – in order to get rid of it. Projection is a fascinating subject. If you do not already understand it, look it up. It is exactly that – in order to release themselves from the burden of guilt and anxiety – they will “project” – i.e. try to give or force – the problem onto the other person (like a film projecton camera), so that they can get rid of it and feel relief. My man is the same – he never wants to discuss it all. I guess it makes them very anxious and they can’t cope with that. Would it work for you if you wrote him a letter? Or maybe suggest that you go away for the week-end or a short holiday and try to discuss it then when he is more relaxed? Try to pick your moment. For me, there never seems to be a good time when we can sit down and discuss it sensibly. Of course – you will have to try to keep calm and not allow him to rile you. Not easy, I do know, as they are very good at that!! One thing that has helped me is the mantra – “QTIP” – meaning “Quit Taking it Personally”. Even though it feels like it – it is not usually personal, when they lash out at us. They have a problem. They just can’t handle their emotions. I wonder if going to the gym, running, cycling, martial arts, boxing or other energetic exercise would help him to “get it out” and calm him down? Can you get some counselling for yourself. Some advice as to what is the best course of action to help him? Would your doctor help? I am new to all this, as it has only recently occured to me that ADHD may be the problem here. We need some advice as to what we can do to help. Can anyone else on here point us in that direction, PLEASE? Otherwise, maybe the answer IS to just walk away, with love in your heart, for your sanity. Best of luck. And if you come up with a solution, please let us know!! Lorna

    2. I have a couple of suggestions that I hope might help. First, you might try writing a letter about whatever issue you currently need to discuss. Be careful not to accuse or imply a motive or intention, but stay objective about what happened and then state how that makes you feel. “When you (action), I feel (emotion). I would like it if you’d (state what action or response you want).”
      Second, when he starts to get loud, state what he is doing. “You’re yelling at me. Please stop yelling.” Stay calm and repeat in the same tone (which is hard when in the heat of the moment) until he hears you. If you’re sure he’s heard you and still yells, I would suggest you walk away and try another time and/or another tactic.
      It’s possible that he does it (maybe subconsciously) as a way to avoid bigger conflicts that he thinks will be damaging, or to avoid the blame he thinks is imminent. If he knows it will be about finding a solution, not finding fault, that may also help.
      Counseling, of course, could also be helpful. If not as a couple, you can go for yourself.
      Best wishes.

      1. I find that I often get very defensive when I feel like I am failing. My biggest fear as that people will discover I am a fraud. That I am not a good person and they have no reason to love me. I know this is irrational, but it’s there none the less.

        What works best for me is when people ask me questions about why I did what I did, what I was expecting to happen, how it could’ve been done differently. It lets me come to my own conclusions and then I become more open to asking how I can change. Then the door is open to be told something, because I wasn’t told I did something wrong but rather That I have an opportunity to improve.

        Most people with BPD can’t handle feelings, especially negative ones. So by looking at things as an opportunity to improve, it make things positive not negative and positive emotions are much easier to manage. It also lets us know that who we are is acceptable.

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