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's 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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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"]