Learn how ADHD and affairs can ruin your relationship.

ADHD and Affairs: What You Need to Know

When you’re married to someone with ADHD, you’re likely to face unique challenges that neurotypical couples don’t face. While ADHD does not impede your spouse’s ability to love you and feel deeply committed to you, the symptoms of ADHD can lead to disastrous behaviors, including extramarital affairs.

One of the primary symptoms of adult ADHD is impulsivity. Unfortunately, impulsivity is often a driving force of extramarital affairs.

While the link between ADHD and affairs is understudied, it isn’t as uncommon as you might think. If you’re worried about your spouse having an affair or dealing with the aftermath of an affair, you’re in the right place.

The Link Between ADHD and Affairs

Adults with ADHD aren’t always using what you might consider their “rational” minds. In fact, the thought process of an adult with ADHD can seem quite rational to them when it doesn’t make sense to others. This effect isn’t constant, which is why ADHD can often lead to behaviors that are otherwise out of character.

Because ADHD can increase impulsivity, it can lead to high-risk choices. When someone with ADHD is feeling impulsive or emotionally unregulated, they often struggle to connect potential consequences to their actions.

How can this lead to an extramarital affair? While neurotypical adults are more likely to stop themselves from indulging in sudden urges that aren’t worth the aftermath, neurodivergent adults could get swept away by that impulse, realizing only when the impulse fades that what they’ve done was wrong.

Can A Man With ADHD Be Faithful?

Yes, a man with ADHD can be faithful to his partner. Some men with ADHD might face a challenge with fidelity, but it’s more related to the individual. ADHD does not predispose someone to being unfaithful. The potential challenge for a partner with ADHD is impulsivity, distractibility, need for excitement and inattentiveness. You can discuss how to address these possible risks as a couple.

ADHD And Lying

ADHD and dishonesty seem to be linked due to the embarrassment and shame around making mistakes, such as forgetting things that are supposed to be done. Also, many ADHD partners have an insecure avoidant attachment style which has a higher propensity of lying.  Individuals with this attachment style are inclined to lie because they want to avoid potential fights and arguments. The wish to maintain peace and calm leads them to agree with their spouse’s requests when in actuality they don’t agree with their partner.  

This behavior is rooted in a fear of confrontation and entrapment.

Non-ADHD Spouse Feeling Burned Out

It’s common for the non-ADHD spouse to grapple with a multitude of emotions about their partner’s betrayal. Feelings of exhaustion, tiredness and burnout are some of the frequent statements that the non-ADHD partner expresses about the behavior and situation with their ADHD partner. Sometimes the non-ADHD might feel burned out, sad, angry and lonely because they found out their partner has been spending time and effort on another relationship when they have been begging for attention and connection. 

The non-ADHD partner might feel burned out because affairs have occurred numerous times or they want and need answers to many questions and concerns. Unraveling the many levels of an affair can be overwhelming and disconcerting when trying to juggle that newfound information with work, parenting, and daily life. The betrayed partner might not be sleeping well and ruminating about the affair which compounds the feelings of burn out. 

ADHD And Serial Cheating

Serial cheaters are unfaithful repeatedly with the same person over an extended period of time or choose different partners over days, months or years. Serial cheating can occur on an emotional or physical basis or a combination of both. Some ADHD partners may exhibit serial cheating behaviors, but are ADHD partners cheating at a higher rate than the general population? 

There’s a lack of concrete evidence or statistics that point to ADHD partners being serial cheaters or cheating more than the general population. The challenge for individuals with ADHD is how do they channel their desire for excitement and impulsivity within their relationship. Individual differences and the impact of ADHD on your relationship are more important variables that should be considered. 

How to Avoid An Extramarital Affairs in Your Marriage

The last thing you want is to become distrustful of your spouse because of their ADHD. While there may be a potential link between ADHD and extramarital affairs, having ADHD does not guarantee that your spouse will cheat.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to insulate your marriage from the possibility of an affair, even when your spouse struggles to control impulsivity. Let’s take a look at some tips to avoid affairs in your marriage to an adult with ADHD.

Communicate About Your Emotional Needs

One study found that an estimated 96% of people whose partners have ADHD face difficulty or strain in the relationship. Your spouse may struggle to be an equal participant in your household. You may feel the need to micromanage their task management.

When neither of you is talking about your emotional needs, walls start to go up. One or both of you might start to feel resentment for each other and your marriage. Maintaining open communication about your emotional needs can keep the connection strong and create a safe space to confront problems as they arise.

Communicate About Your Sexual Needs

Impulsivity isn’t the only thing that can lead to an affair. Many married people, both neurotypical and neurodivergent, find themselves seeking sexual satisfaction outside of their marriage. In fact, if your spouse’s ADHD makes it difficult for them to focus on your sexual needs, it could increase the chance that you would seek satisfaction elsewhere.

In a marriage, it’s crucial that you can talk about sex. The goal is not to coerce your spouse into having sex when and how you want but to find ways to increase the shared love and pleasure. If one or both of you seems distant or dissatisfied sexually, it’s time to have a conversation about it.

Establish a Game Plan for Impulsive Moments

If your spouse does exhibit frequent impulsivity, you may want to come up with a game plan. What do you expect from your spouse when they’re feeling impulsive and they’re not around? What steps can they commit to that might curb those impulsive feelings?

Keep in mind that this game plan isn’t going to be foolproof. No matter how many times your spouse practices the steps, like leaving a function or giving you a call, their foresight to follow the plan might dissipate in the moment. That said, it’s better to address your spouse’s impulsivity and find ways to work with it, rather than ignoring it or hoping that it goes away.

Discuss the Consequences of Infidelity

As we’ve already mentioned, adults with ADHD can have trouble connecting the dots between actions and their consequences. If you know that your spouse has felt the temptation to have an affair in the past, you should have a conversation about what that would mean.

Talk to your spouse about how infidelity would make you feel. Explain that it isn’t just a matter of principle and that an affair would cause you mental and emotional harm. Let them talk about their feelings as well and have an open conversation about what is at stake.

Attend Couples Counseling with an ADHD Specialist

Whether or not your spouse has had an affair, ADHD can impact a marriage deeply. Working with a couple’s counselor who understands ADHD is a good step to take before things get out of hand.

A couple’s counselor can mediate conversations between you and your spouse and offer guidance when difficulties arise. In that safe space, you can reconnect with your spouse, express yourself, and find healthy ways to mend your relationship.

While there are no definitive studies on ADHD and affairs, the impulsivity associated with ADHD poses a risk. If you are worried that your marriage is at stake, consider

reaching out for a free 20-minute consultation with Lisa today.

FAQs:

Is an emotional affair the same as an actual affair?

Yes, Dr. Shirley Glass, expert on Infidelity, addressed in her book, Not Just Friends, the term emotional affairs. Emotional affairs are sharing intimate details about your life with someone outside your relationship. In partnerships, it’s important to turn to each other for support and love. When you start looking for someone else to provide that comfort because you think your partner is unavailable or your partner is unavailable (address with your partner or in couples counseling) then it’s a slippery slope that may result in a betrayal.

Do women with ADHD cheat at the same rate?

Great question! I have not seen research on this topic. However, I think you want to look at your relationship and notice if both of you are caring for each other, yourselves and the relationship. When couples take care of each other and the relationship, then there is a lower possibility, but not guaranteed, that cheating will occur.  

Is ADHD the cause of someone deciding to cheat in a relationship?

ADHD does not cause anyone to cheat and ADHD does not make someone cheat. On the other hand, an ADHD partner may need to be more aware of putting up guardrails in relationships and being cautious of what they discuss with other people and how much time they spend with others versus their partner. For example, if I go on vacation with a friend that I have a close relationship with and share a lot of intimate details, this event might lead a couple to discuss boundaries and limitations. 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Rabinowitz

Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC is a certified Gottman therapist working with couples in the US and internationally. Lisa has worked for many years with couples who have both diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHD. Her certifications and experience uniquely qualify her to support couples with relationship challenges that often feel insurmountable. Please reach out for a free 20-minute consultation with Lisa today.

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