“If You Love Me, Please Take This Seriously”

We don’t mean to hurt you. But we do — again and again. You feel like screaming, pulling out your hair, or lying in bed and crying, “When will she get it? Will this ever stop?” I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that if you love someone with ADHD you need to read this with an open mind.

Couple arguing
Couple arguing, talking, fighting, relationships, marriage
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Assigning Blame. Exerting Control. Arguing. Giving Up.

All of my life, this unhealthy pattern has unwound and scarred my relationships. It has created rifts and hurt feelings, but it has never, ever worked to change my attention deficit disorder behaviors. Because it simply can’t. Because disapproval is not a cure for ADHD.

The problems always begin the same way: I do something stereotypically ADHD. I forget an engagement or speak without thinking or fail to finish what I started, and someone close to me gets hurt. They feel frustrated or angry (or both), and spend many sleepless nights trying to come up with solutions. That alone tells you they care, but caring is not enough; we need understanding, too.

And I know that might sound like a lot — I mean, you’re already doing a lot of work in this relationship, right? When you love a person with ADHD, life is harder. We understand that. But life can also be more vivid and more rewarding if we can figure out a way to break the blame-control-argue cycle together. You need for us to try, and we promise to keep at it. We need for you to attempt these 12 things — every day.

Illustration of head, brain of child with ADHD with icons representing “multiple intelligences”: book smart, body smart, people smart, etc.
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1. Believe That ADHD Is Real

We are the black sheep, the outsiders, and the oddballs. We’ve been this way since forever, and we’ve never felt we were good enough. Our disorder is not only invisible, it is frowned upon, misunderstood, and causes our loved ones pain and suffering. That is a terrible feeling. We usually can’t believe how we act (we’re just used to it). Rolling your eyes tells us that you think we’re making excuses or lying. Please believe us when we tell you how difficult a simple task is to complete. Disbelief only pushes us farther apart.

ADHD woman alone on swings
ADHD woman alone on swings
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2. Allow Us Time to Process

Our minds are bombarded constantly with thoughts that fly in and out of focus faster than we could ever hope to organize or process them. Imagine a noisy, dizzying Indy 500 race speeding around inside my head, none of which anyone else can see or hear. Why can’t we communicate our thoughts? Because we can’t hear ourselves think. When we find a quiet space — a gap to let the thoughts slow down — we can communicate more clearly and calmly. Please give us the time to find that space.

[Get This Free Download: Your Guide to All the Best Parts of ADHD]

Man with ADHD, alone with thoughts, outside
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3. Grant Us Some Emotional Space

Our emotions take us hostage. As speeding thoughts bombard our brain, we cannot speak or focus on work. Our cognition shuts down and our emotions begin to control everything we do. On top of that, we are missing the emotional regulators that allow rational thoughts to guide us despite what we feel, and the blinders that help us focus even as intense emotions flood in.

We know it’s asking a lot, but please wait to talk with us until our internal intensity fades, and we’re calm enough to reflect and think before speaking.

Human head as a set of puzzles on the wooden background
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4. Talk About ADHD

Let’s stop pretending that ADHD is not harming our relationships. Sweeping it out from under the rug takes away some negative stigma attached to it, and normalizes ADHD as a part of our lives. So become educated about ADHD, and how it biologically affects the brain. Scientific explanations help to unravel the mystery of this strange, perplexing disorder.

Learn the facts and then accept the reality that it is a part of your life. Fighting ADHD takes up valuable energy and power that could be used for treating and better understanding it.

A person with ADHD feels like he is walking a tightrope
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5. Don’t Dismiss Our Anxiety

We walk on the ledge of a skyscraper most of the day — on the brink of anxiety that may go from zero to full-blown panic in a millisecond. Imagining catastrophic events is second nature to us. One fleeting thought is all it takes for us to create horrific scenes in our minds. And trying to deal with these overwhelming scenarios (real or imagined), causes us to become frozen, angry, or isolated. That’s our survival mechanism; the way we’ve learned to cope with our anxiety. It’s not always healthy or logical, but we’re working on getting better.

man hyperfocused on computer
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6. Respect the Zone

The zone we love is the same one you hate. It’s here that we can concentrate intently and deeply on things that we love — sometimes so fully absorbed in our work that we don’t see, hear, or think about anything else. And I mean anything. Many of us encourage and feed into this hyperfocus when it’s happening because we fear that, if interrupted, we won’t ever be able to focus with the same depth, vision, and perception again.

If you interrupt us, we may panic and screech like an opened emergency-exit door. Instead, please ask us, “When would be a good time to talk?" At that time, we can take a walk, sit over coffee, and talk about whatever you like. But not before that time — sorry.

[Read: Accept Them. Support Them. Have Their Backs.]

A supportive post-it note on the desk of a person with ADHD
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7. Encourage Us to Achieve Our Goals

ADHD isn’t an excuse for irresponsibility. It’s a real medical condition and it means that what comes easy to you may be difficult for us. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do something; it means that it’s just much harder for us. Simple tasks that you take for granted — for example, opening mail, paying bills, and filing papers — are a triathlon of executive functions for us.

We understand why you may want to criticize and correct our behavior, but try to accept that that is our reality. Doubts and disappointments will not make these tasks any easier for us; but encouragement just might inspire us not to give up. So please acknowledge our successes — no matter how small.

Alarm clock ringing with deadline word to remind a person with ADHD
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8. Help Us Make the Future Matter

Ironically, deadlines are helpful. And reminders are, too. But nagging? Not so much. The presentation of the reminder determines our reaction. Please remember that we suffer from time blindness, which means dates don’t register. The future is vague and blurry, and it doesn’t really matter. Deadlines help because they are goals with time limits that make the future a reality (something we have trouble registering). That’s how ADHD works.

ADHD couple, holding hands, supportive
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9. Look for the Good

When you’re frustrated and annoyed with trying to help a loved one again, the understandable temptation is to focus on only our negative traits. It feels impossible to remember our good qualities. And listing them only feels like it will set unrealistic expectations — and lead to disappointment.

At times like this, try to accept your loved ones as they are. Look for the good, and focus on it. Never lose sight of your loved one’s awesome qualities. If it’s your partner, remember the fun-loving, impulsive personality you fell in love with. Go back in time. Love them again, as if you first met. If it’s your child, remember the feeling of holding your newborn infant in your arms for the first time.

Couple with ADHD in love holding hearts.
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10. Be a Supportive Partner

Words of encouragement wield far more power than do insults or put-downs. We desperately need cheerleaders rooting for our success and believing in our ability to achieve — in part because it’s often so difficult for us to believe it ourselves. Let your loved one know that you are on the same team working for the same goal. And please remember that we learn a lot from you. When you’re patient with us, you teach us patience. When you talk lovingly to us, you remind us how to love.

A young woman with ADHD looks upset
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11. Know That We Feel Bad

It’s not always obvious, but deep inside our hearts and souls we know that we're driving you crazy. We feel bad about ourselves when we upset you. We know we’re difficult to deal with sometimes, and we feel shame and guilt over that. For most of our lives, other people have told us we weren’t doing our best or trying our hardest. These words took root and sprouted into doubt, worry, and performance anxiety. To this day, they tell us we were never good enough and we probably still aren’t. We live with that every day.

Yoga concept. woman with ADHD practicing lotus pose on the beach at sunset
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12. Take Care of Yourself

ADHD relationships can suck the joy out of your life, we know. Though you may feel an unbalanced burden of responsibility in our relationship, please make time for yourself, to do something that makes you happy. Stress is bad for your health — mentally and physically. Take a walk. Go to the beach. Breathe in the smell of the ocean. Sit in a park and enjoy the trees. Learn to meditate. Find an exercise class. Dance, laugh, and feel happy again. If you’re so inclined, invite us. Chances are, we’d love to join you!

[Next: Does Your Lover Have ADHD? Read This.]

15 Comments & Reviews

    1. Hi Michael,
      My partner was diagnosed with ADD about 5 years ago and I find myself asking the same question. I often find myself feeling frustrated, angry or lonely. Getting as much information as possible helps me. Reading as much as I can about his brain helps me to understand more about his behaviour and reminds me that it’s not personal. I think talking to others in similar situations helps and reminds us that we are not alone.

    2. My heart goes out to you!

      I would want my spouse to not put off doing the things they enjoy for themselves. Self-care is something you both need. Be good to yourself now, not sometime in the elusive future when things ‘get better’ or things are less stressful and complicated.

      Your comment reminds me to let my spouse know how much I appreciate him, and that I need to stop more often to recognize his hopes and dreams, and need for “relief”.
      Best wishes!

      1. Sadly never… Atleast in my case. I’ve been trying to explane ADHD to family, friends and co-workers sins I was dignosed. To hopefully help them understand me better. Yet only very few have acknowldged it. The rest jus don’t care.

      2. As someone diagnosed late in life, late 60’s, finding ADDITUDE has helped me more than all the so called specialists I’ve been to. Some do more harm than good. Reading about people dealing with so many personal issues in daily living with ADD/ADHD makes me realize I’m not crazy. 🙂 People, friends/family, of my generation and younger can’t seem to comprehend ADD/ADHD. I realize now why I always felt different.

    3. The man i was dating at the time of my diagnosis said that he was glad that i found out because it made it easier to understand why i did things the way i did.

  1. Very Helpful Slide-show! Very comprehensive and accurate.

    I have one suggestion #13…
    Sometimes we need our spouse-or other- to do some activities on their own- without asking us to participate. If I had time and energy to do it with them I would, but too much togetherness is suffocating. I need my partner to have activities they do independently to keep my sanity. That way when we do things together I am not plagued with thoughts of what I am not getting done.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I read it with tears rolling down my face. Although I can express what I am thinking just fine, my bedside manners need a lot of work. I do mean a lot of work.
    I got a nice extra large dose of ADHD when I was made. To say I am not “normal” is an understatement. It is certainly not normal to get mad at your boss and tell them that you are two seconds away from crawling over the desk to kick their ass. Had she said one more word, I would have. It is not normal to have thousands of dollars of clothes because I dont know what material my skin will tollerate from day to day. It is not normal to wake up in the middle of the night with the sound of music blasting throughout the house only to look around and realize no one else is awake so the music is in your head. Its not normal to avoid relationships because your afriad of what you might say or do. Its not normal to wonder if plow your car in a tree to remove yourself you wont be able to hurt anyone anymore. Nothing about ADHD is normal. I have often told my husband that I know I am hard to be around and I know he needs breaks. Hell, I dont want to be around myself a lot times either. I think understanding and empathy is the best fir loving a person with ADHD.

  3. If the purpose of this article is to improve non-ADHD/ADHD relationships by addressing the non-adhd partner, then it would be so much more effective if the author took the audience’s experience into account. We non-ADHD people need to understand our ADHD partners and be patient and loving with them for sure, but to improve the relationship, we need hope for the relationship by being reminded of of what we can enjoy from the relationship, or by learning new ways to improve the relationship. Judging by the other comments, I’m not alone in feeling that this article, while it may have done well in helping individuals with ADHD to feel more understood, it left me feeling more hopeless. I assume that the author intended for us, after reading the article, to understand the ADHD experience better, and to reframe our hurtful experiences from then on, thus improving our relationship. I think I would need more explicit help with reframing, because just hearing what I should expect from my ADHD partner, considering the negative emotions already attached to that, is not enough to effectively nudge my relationship in a positive direction.

  4. Here’s the section I have a hard time with: “It’s not always obvious, but deep inside our hearts and souls we know that we’re driving you crazy. We feel bad about ourselves when we upset you. We know we’re difficult to deal with sometimes, and we feel shame and guilt over that. For most of our lives, other people have told us we weren’t doing our best or trying our hardest. These words took root and sprouted into doubt, worry, and performance anxiety. To this day, they tell us we were never good enough and we probably still aren’t. We live with that every day.”

    Even the writer of this article can’t stop and acknowledge the non-ADHD partner. Notice how by the end of the paragraph it goes right back to “my experience with ADHD is hard.” Are there any resources on this site that even attempt to validate the non-ADHD partner’s experience and view point? A literal hallmark trait of ADHD is that they lack empathy and insight into other’s experiences. It is completely disingenuous to write things like “We know we’re difficult to deal with sometimes”, which you don’t actually understand, and then to pivot back to the ADHD perspective. And of course, no acknowledgement that while being empathetic is difficult, it is still the responsibility of the person with ADHD to show empathy. Not just think good thoughts about it.

  5. @justbehonest: the point of the article was not to instill hope or validate the experience of the partner, there are lots of op eds on here that will do that. The point of this was to instill a little empathy for your add/adhd partners experience. Yes, most days it feels hopeless to us too. We wake up everyday knowing that we will wake up every day for the rest of lives and struggle function “like normal adults”, and on top of that, be shamed for our neurological differences.
    Also, we DO feel great empathy for our partners (studies show manic (bipolar and mood disordered) states are associated with decreased empathy not add/adhd.) in fact, the amount of empathy we feel for those close to us actually reinforces the shame-cycle. We often can’t help but disappoint and hurt those close to, and so when we do we feel horrible and empathize with our partners deeply. This then cycles back into shame because we are not intentionally doing the things that cause the hurt. We feel flawed. As a partner, it’s important to understand how seemingly small and “insignificant” comments can reinforce or trigger this dangerous cycle. I’m in no way saying it’s ok for us as add/adhd people to use this as an excuse to stop waking up everyday ready for the daily battle and working on improving our areas of struggle. But that’s a different conversation than the one the author is trying to have.

  6. And oh yeah, we do know how hard it is! It’s hard for us to be around ourselves. I daily disappoint, hurt and annoy the crap out of myself, Iif I could get away from me I would. But we also have the rich inner life that comes with this. As a partner you don’t get that depth of experience of the positive sides of this. But as the author notes, you get spontaneous, quick thinking, vivacious, creative partners- so focusing on these aspects too will help get you through the inevitable struggles you will face if you choose an adhd/add partner. TBH, it’s a lot of extra work and accepting a lot, and that should be taken into consideration if you’re in a relationship with someone like us. Not saying if any person should or shouldn’t choose that, but it should be considered and you need to make that informed choice consciously. It’s the only way to muster enough patience to get through the day-to-day challenges add/adhd will present in your relationship and you/your partners individual lives.

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