ADHD and Relationships

Tessa Burns MartinAdult ADHD, Couples Counselling

Written by Cheryle Sherwood, Registered Psychologist at Serenity Now

The more patients I see with Adult ADHD, the more I realize just how pervasive ADHD can be in an individual’s life. The triad of symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity sound fairly benign when seen on paper, however, seeing how much these impact adult level of functioning is profound.

One such area that has come into focus for me as of late is that of relationships. ADHD can create havoc in a relationship! It is fairly common that an individual with undiagnosed ADHD will often marry or partner with an individual that is organized, methodical, and is able to help the person with ADHD become more organized, structured, and successful in many areas in their life. Unfortunately, how this often plays out is that the organized partner will become frustrated or fed up with having to control the finances, the social calendar,  the family schedule, and any other number of responsibilities because the individual with ADHD does not have the skills to do so. This leaves the non-ADHD partner feeling like they are doing ‘everything’ or need to ‘parent’ the ADHD partner for fear of chaos taking over the home. Not a great feeling and definitely NOT conducive to an equal and loving relationship.

Conversely, the partner with ADHD may start to feel controlled or perhaps stifled, as if they are being ‘parented’. This may cause some anger, resentment or even behaviors to ‘get back’ at the non-ADHD partner. The context for strife in the marriage has been set.

The typical pattern that is evident to me is that an adult with untreated ADHD is finally assessed, diagnosed and treated, the therapeutic strategies start working, the medications are taken and they inevitably attend the next session stating “I can’t tell you how this has changed my life”. When I inquire as to what has changed, the typical responses are as follows:

“My wife/husband says I actually listen when she/he is talking to me. I felt like I was listening before, but now I actually HEAR what she/he is saying. My mind isn’t going off in a million different directions. It feels like things are getting better”

“The kids aren’t as annoying as before. I can actually spend more than a few hours with them. I have more patience, I don’t mind them making noise. It’s like a ‘patience pill’ for me”

“My wife/husband doesn’t have to find stuff for me anymore. I can actually remember where I put things, and I don’t get mad when he/she moves things”

“My boss says that he can see a change in me big time. My expenses are actually in on time! I’ve never been able to do it before”

With appropriate assessment and treatment, Adult ADHD is quite manageable, and with various strategies, individuals can be successful both at home in relationships and in the workplace. It takes commitment and a desire to change, but really, what doesn’t?