“My Self-Esteem Was Garbage:” How ADHD Impacts Relationships
“I dated loser after loser, unavailable men, dangerous men… My self-esteem was garbage, and it was reflected in all of my dating decisions.” These women tell us about the relationship decisions that they feel were influenced by ADHD.
As a teen, Taylor* struggled to develop intimate social relationships with her peers. She felt compelled to drink in nearly any social setting — including on dates and around boys. In high school and college, she never ‘hooked up’ with a man without being under the influence. At age 29 — after years of low self-esteem and criticism — Beth finally had her first healthy romantic relationship.
“I dated loser after loser, unavailable men, dangerous men,” Taylor, a woman with ADHD, told ADDitude. “I never had a ‘real’ relationship until I met my future husband at age 29. We didn’t marry until I was 33.”
Taylor was the last of her siblings, and of her small friend group, to get married.
“People always told me that I wouldn’t find a husband, that no man would ever love me, etc. My self-esteem was garbage, and it was reflected in all of my dating decisions.”
Low self-esteem and lagging social skills are common for children with ADHD. With the proper treatment plan, teens can go on to have healthy and successful relationships. But for women and girls — who often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed 1, 2 — the impact of untreated ADHD cannot be understated.
[Download: Hormones & Symptoms of ADHD in Women]
We asked ADDitude readers: “How has ADHD influenced your decisions about dating, marriage, and other relationships?” Answer this questions yourself in the Comments section, above.
How Does ADHD Affect Relationship Decisions?
“Before I was diagnosed, I was easily manipulated by a narcissist who didn’t need to try hard to make me fall into patterns of masking. By the time we divorced, I had masked so much and for so long that I didn’t even know who I was anymore. My ADHD influenced me by thinking I could publicly prove my worth if I married again. That was an even bigger disaster… I have remarried — yes, for a third time — but since being diagnosed, I understand myself, my needs, and my worth to a level that allowed me the confidence to talk with my current husband calmly and openly about my struggles. It’s not paradise all the time, but it is healthy and supportive.” — Brianna, Iowa
“I have been impulsive with all of my relationships prior to being medicated. I either move in quickly, get married quickly, or have children quickly without paying attention to the red flags.” — Courtney, New York
“Absolutely; [there was] lots of risk-taking in [my] late teens and early 20s. Lots of impulsive sex, forgotten contraception, zoning out, and not interpreting male behavior correctly. I put undeserving men on pedestals because of my own lack of self-worth, a lifetime of negative self-talk, and what I didn’t know were ADHD symptoms.” — An ADDitude reader
[Read: Why ADHD in Women is Routinely Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, & Treated Inadequately]
“Though I did not realize it when I was younger, I see now that my ADHD had a huge influence on my relationships — both romantic and platonic. If I was around someone frequently in school or work, I found it much easier to keep up with those relationships. Once a situation changed and required any level of effort on my part to keep up with the relationship, it would begin to fade. I still find it extremely difficult to initiate phone calls, texts, and get-togethers. With my spouse, I forget to call or text during the day. It’s like out of sight, out of mind.” — Gina, Florida
“It makes my marriage much harder because my spouse doesn’t understand (he says he tries) why my ADHD brain works the way it does. I have realized that maybe being married isn’t for me, but I am not confident enough to do anything about it.” — An ADDitude reader
“Over the years, I’ve learned that the level of stress and shame in my life is directly proportional to the efforts I make to have relationships of any kind. So, I don’t. Isolation isn’t ideal, but it’s easier and less stressful than trying to maintain friendships or romantic relationships.” — An ADDitude reader
“Since I got my diagnosis, my relationships with many people have changed — mostly because of their prejudices against ADHD. But my relationship with my fiancé and our daughter has greatly improved because we now know why I am the way I am. It helps to avoid lots of conflicts that would have evolved to arguments before my diagnosis.” — An ADDitude reader
“My ADHD played a significant part in my decision to stop dating and spend more time alone. I like and understand myself! I don’t have to apologize for my clutter. And I’m fortunate, after one marriage, to have produced a wonderful young adult son with whom I share this complex and creative brain condition.” — Kathy, California
“Unknowingly, yes. Neither one of us was diagnosed at the time, but I remember breaking off an engagement with a very smart, nice young man because we both seemed to have difficulties with follow-through on household (and other) tasks. I knew our budget would be very tight, and I had trouble with maintaining a strict budget. I knew just these two issues were more than enough to cause us serious problems.” — Victoria
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“My daughter is always educating others on the limitations and difficulties of living with ADHD. She works hard every day to keep her coping skills at above-normal levels. She does not want to date or marry another person with ADHD as she feels daily life would be difficult, especially when she becomes a parent.” — Barbara, Georgia
“I was diagnosed when I was already in a relationship with my current partner. My partner also has ADHD and is part of the reason why I was finally diagnosed. I think if anything happens in the future and we are no longer together, I would look for a partner who is supportive of my ADHD.” — An ADDitude reader
“My relationship is just ending after 19 years largely because of ADHD, I believe. She is never able to just laugh over things that go wrong, whether because of my ADHD or our sons. I grew up in a family that always said, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’ and some of our funniest memories are of things that went awry. I am in no hurry to look for another serious relationship in my lifetime. I’ll stick with my friends who love me as I am.” — Janice, California
“Marriage has become a struggle; we believe all four of us have ADHD. No one is good at follow-ups on low-interest items. We have sought outside advice on how to distribute tasks, partner better, and learn coping skills.” — An ADDitude reader
“It is difficult to form relationships when you are always talking. Learning to listen has been difficult.” — Lisa, North Carolina
“Sometimes I have to limit my time with friends or family members who try to change my bad habits. It’s overwhelming.” — Donna, Georgia
“My spouse and my daughter have ADHD. I realized that I need to preserve energy and have to say ‘no’ to things I would like to say ‘yes’ to in order to preserve my well-being.” — An ADDitude reader
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.
Women with ADHD & Dating: Next Steps
- Download: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship
- Read: From Love Bombing to Boredom
- Read: The Rules of Dating (and Breaking Up) with ADHD
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View Article Sources
1 1 Kessler R.C., Adler L., Barkley R., et al. (2006). The prevalence and correlates of adult ADHD in the United States: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Am J Psychiatry, 163(4):716-723. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.2006.163.4.716
2 Slobodin, O., & Davidovitch, M. (2019). Gender differences in objective and subjective measures of ADHD among clinic-referred children. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, 441. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00441