The ADHD Strain: How Relationships Collapse Under the Weight of ADD

Our loved ones with ADHD are vibrant, creative, and generous. They push us outside our comfort zones, and remind us to laugh. Sometimes, their ADHD symptoms also make them harder to love. Here, real-life couples share their biggest ADD-related relationship challenges and frustrations.

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Understanding ADHD Relationships

ADHD is not the kiss of death. The condition, alone, can’t make or break a romantic relationship. But, if symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) are not properly acknowledged, treated, and accepted, they can — and often do — create or exacerbate marital tensions.

Knowing this, we asked more than 1,200 partners, both with and without ADHD, to name the condition biggest strain on their long-term relationships. With answers ranging from distractibility to feelings of shame, we found criticism — and a need for understanding — on both sides. Here’s what respondents said, in their own words.

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From the ADHD Side: His or Her Lack of Empathy

“My husband just doesn't understand ADHD and chalks up my shortcomings to laziness, selfishness, craziness, or not wanting to change. All of these are untrue.”

“I need her to understand me a lot more — my anxiety, ADHD, etc. She doesn't listen to me.”

“I think the hardest challenge in my relationship is that my partner still doesn't understand who I am — and she still doesn't understand that I'm not doing these things on purpose.”

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From the Non-ADHD Perspective: My Feeling of Neglect

“I like quality time together, so it's hard on me when my partner ‘disappears.’ It’s important for me that we reconnect at the end of each day — but he's not available because he's lost in his latest project.”

“I really want his time and attention, but it is difficult for him to sit and relax. Projects seem more important than our relationship at times. It is hard not to take it personally.”

“I don’t feel important. I don’t feel like I get any help. I have to do a lot to keep everything together.”

[Sick of Arguing? Try a Smarter Compromise]

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From the ADHD Side: My Shame

“Knowing I could be a better wife — more loving — if my brain didn't just shut down, or if I didn’t take things so personally.”

“My marriage could have been so much better if I had a normal brain or even knew about my ADHD — but I think the damage has been done.”

“Feeling shame that I never can/will be able to measure up.”

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From the Non-ADHD Side: His or Her Self-Absorption

“He’s often so consumed with his own emotions and issues that it’s hard for him to be present for the rest of us.”

“His perception is self-centered and he has a hard time reading social cues — so I feel misunderstood a lot of the time.”

“Though I know he doesn't mean to be this way, ADHD makes him self-centered.”

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From the ADHD Side: My Distractibility and Diverted Attention

“My biggest challenge is being more considerate of my wife — her presence, her needs, her challenges. Usually, I'm in wonderland.”

“I get distracted when my husband and I talk. He says that I interrupt, and that he cannot always tell if I'm paying attention.”

“I am continually forgetting details or events because I'm not fully paying attention. This can be incredibly frustrating for both of us — but especially for my partner.”

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From the Non-ADHD Side: His or Her Time Management

“She can easily lose track of time. She can also have trouble adjusting as plans change or if things go differently than she was expecting.”

“I struggle with his total unawareness of the passage of time or what time it is — he runs late to a lot of things, and I am an on-time sort of person.”

“My partner struggles with waking up on time, getting to work on time, and leaving work when she says she will.”

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

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From the ADHD Side: My Extreme Emotions

“I lash out sometimes when my emotions become intense.”

“I have a shorter fuse and am constantly trying to be understood — plus I’m always catching up on stuff and feeling harried.”

“I can become frustrated and angry quickly — it’s very hard to deal with everyday challenges when your response is so extreme.”

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From the Non-ADHD Side: His or Her Forgetfulness

“He forgets to do things, and then when I finally get fed up and do them myself, he gets mad — saying, ‘I was going to do that!’”

“If I don't have him write down an event, a reminder, etc. on his calendar (now on his smartphone — yay!), it just doesn't happen. It's like I never said anything.”

“He rarely completes all the steps of a task before zoning out. For example, he will put the plates on the table, but forget to put the silverware out as well. Doing the dishes, he will leave several behind — seemingly unaware that they’re there.”

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This clutter drawer is an example of a good cleaning tip in action.
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From the ADHD Side: My Disorganization

“I frustrate my husband because I hoard things (according to him, lol).”

“I am always trying to clear stacks of papers that I leave around because I have intentions of doing something with them.”

“No matter how hard I try, I always seem to have piles of ‘stuff’ around that, in turn, clutter my mind.”

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From the Non-ADHD Side: His or Her Denial

“He is unwilling to take responsibility for almost anything — he refuses to consider treatment, refuses to use strategies, never apologizes, and blames everyone.”

“He attributes his ADHD symptoms to a core personality flaw, and not to a neurobehavioral disorder.”

“He doesn't perceive his actions as problematic and doesn't see how they impact the family dynamics. He refuses to take medication and thinks he can manage it on his own — but I disagree.”

["I'm Not Trying to Drive You Crazy, Really"]

10 Comments & Reviews

  1. It’s good to see both sides. But is it just me that has trouble finding thoughts and feelings shared by the non-ADHD spouse/partner of a woman with ADHD? As the latter I’ve combed through various articles and forums looking for advice and relatable stories. But I usually find women without ADHD sharing their frustrations about their ADHD husband. I hope to see more of the reverse in time as ADHA awareness and acceptance grows.

    1. I’m the female with ADHD in mine… I found most of what I read in other’s comments to ring true. Especially the hording, paper pile ups, the seeming disinterest my husband feels when I can’t seem to sit still or focus on us, especially around physical intimacy. The self centeredness & talking about my own stuff (though he says usually he doesn’t care, Since he doesn’t typically like to share his own). My extreme emotions, especially frustration, I’m just NOW seeing as an ADHD thing! So neither of us saw it as that…

      1. I plan to discuss with my non ADHD male partner… I can let you know what he says… He likely won’t take the time to share here, but is typically brutally honest with me when I genuinely request it as such.

    2. I was just thinking about that even before finishing the article. I personally think that this might have something to do with gender roles and how we are perceived. For example, men are often expected to be the leader in a relationship and if he is disorganized then that often puts more pressure on the woman to step up. I’m not saying that men have a harder time than women but just that they are expected to have everything together and to be there for their spouse when things go wrong. Women often take on the roles of the organizer, making sure that everything is running smoothly and everyone is where they need to be. If the male in the relationship is constantly not where they need to be or out of sync then women need to parent them as well to make sure that everything happens. But, men typically don’t have as much on their plate as women do. They are there as a source of strength and an anchor for women while we deal with the day today stuff. They pick up the slack where we can’t do it all and we expect them to be there for us physically and emotionally when we need them to be.
      This can make it hard when your partner is off doing their own things and you feel like they are not listening to you. When women have ADHD they are still more likely to be focused on family but men are often given more time and freedom to have projects of their own away from the family so their interests often pull them away while a woman will often still be involved. Even if the woman is really creative and has things that pull her away their partner can step up and pick up the slack. Whereas if a man does this his wife is more likely to feel resentful because she is already in the middle of everything and now she has to pick up the slack for her partner.

      So, I think that the relationships can often be harder it’s the man that has ADHD because women feel alone in all the parenting and organizing of it all. They kind of feel that their partner is absent. Women often want more emotional support too and when their partner is always distracted they may feel unheard and ignored. Guys generally take care of their own emotional needs and don’t need their partner to fulfill that role.

      When a women has ADHD she might have things that are a little more disorganized but she is still putting in 110% to make sure that her family is running on time and everything is functioning. When things get out of control the male partner can step in and set things right or help out. Men are also generally more accepting of people in a way. They are more likely to just accept that people aren’t going to change and then do what they have to, to keep themselves sane. For example, the article where the wife is running around saying she’s ready but still doing all the last steps while her husband reads the newspaper. He’s learned that she will never be ready on time so he finds something to occupy his time while she finishes so that he won’t end up stressed or angry about the situation. He doesn’t stand there and watch his partner and make comments about how they are never ready. I think that women are more likely to do this because they already have so much on their plate and all these people are relying on them. When their husband is also one of those people then it can just create more stress.
      Not all couples are like this and not all males or females respond in these ways but I think that’s why we hear more comments of frustration from females with male partners then the other way around. Also, there is the physically hyper component which is more expressed in males that females. This could add to the feeling of men not being there and tends to be easier to diagnose than the mental hyperness that women exhibit. Men might think that their wife is cutely scatter brained but unless he is a distracted but brilliant scientist or something the same is not as well tolerated in men. Both due to societal expectations of the sexes and the way responsibility is divided in relationships.

      Anyway, this is what I was thinking about before I read the article. Mostly because I’ve read a lot of articles where the woman is thanking her husband for being there for her and keeping her in the right direction but not a lot of the opposite. I think that for women they may be more likely to vent their frustrations of their partner rather than to just accept and work around the problem. They want compromise and for men to step up to the plate.

      I hope that no one will feel that they are a horrible partner or that they will not ever make a good partner because of what I said. Any partnership can make it if the partners are willing enough to compromise and find what works for them. At the end of the day love and time spent together will generally triumph and whatever else can be worked out as you go along.

  2. I agree, I have been searching for information on women with ADD in a relationship. I am 50 year old woman and going through a divorce. In the aftermath I just found out about my ADD (inattentive) and am deeply sad to realize how it impacted my relationship, my whole life actually. I was being treated for depression, I had no idea but now everything makes sense. It’s like having to rewrite my history. I need information on women with ADD.
    ADD and women

  3. I have been married 19 years. My husband has probably had adhd all his life but became a big issue after our marriage.He hyperfocuses on things and im a disposable value to him.I have brought up the adhd probability and he brushed me off saying Im the one to see a doctor. He blurts out anything he wants without knowing it hurts. He respinds angrily to the silliest things andd has no empathy towards me or others. Im crying at the moment bcs he just had a big argument with me about limiting me access to the car and others……Refuses to take any responsibility…Im despaired.

    1. One of the things you said sent up a red flag, and I had to reply. I don’t know the circumstances, but when you said he wants to limit your access to the car and others (I don’t know what the others part is), that shows that he’s being controlling. It borders on emotional abuse. Please make sure that this is not happening. If you need help, please get help, or get out.

  4. I think women are more open to communicate than men are. Men try to cover things up for there spouses, and keep things close to there chest, in which could be unhealthy for them. I was married twenty five year with a spouse whom is ADHD and it was terrible for twenty five years. I did everything to help her. We ha d two amazing kids. I mean I did it all. All of the rearing of the kids, house chores, preparing all of their meals. I would do it again for my kids. The behavior that she played got the best of me, and I wanted and got out. Gob bless people whom are suffering. The behavior that comes with ADHD is horrible. She refused help, unitl divorce, at that point the damage had been done.

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