Photo of a couple arguing in an article by Lisa Rabinowitz titled:Is it normal for couples to fight about everything?

Coping Skills You Need If Your ADHD Partner’s Inattentiveness, Distraction, Or Lack Of Focus Is Hurting Your Marriage

The beginning of most romantic relationships feels like a rollercoaster of fun and excitement. You look forward to spending time together, enjoy going to new (and old) places together, and are excited to learn more about each other. But after a few months, some things might shift: for example, you may notice that your ADHD partner actually sometimes forgets things or stays glued to his phone a little too long for your taste. Still, you don’t say anything.

Symptoms Of Your ADHD Partner

There are 3 types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and a combination of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive. Men and women usually display different symptoms. In general, men have a tendency to display more impulsivity and hyperactivity and women might display more inattentive signs.

Undiagnosed ADHD

Dr.Russell Barkley, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, found that many adults remain undiagnosed with ADHD because of the misconception that ADHD means you have signs of hyperactivity which end in adolescence. This mistake can lead many ADHD individuals to blame themselves for difficulty with “focusing, organizing, planning and follow-through” and think, “I’m just not good enough” or “What’s wrong with me?”

What’s It Like To Be Married To Someone With ADHD

You may find yourself wishing that your partner wasn’t so forgetful or inattentive; you might even feel frustrated about having to nag or remind your ADHD partner about your plans and needs. Perhaps you have reached the point where you simply feel helpless about your partner’s behavior. Alternatively, you may think that if you would just keep reminding your partner to take the medication, then things would change, or if you would just keep encouraging your partner, then he would take the situation more seriously and seek treatment or learn methods to manage this issue. Or you may believe your ADHD partner is lazy and doesn’t care about the relationship, which could lead to your becoming hurt, angry and resentful.

In Comprehensive Psychology, Drs. Barkley and Murphy “reported that patients with ADHD had a higher mean number of marriages, and that they and their spouses reported lower levels of marital satisfaction than did people without ADHD”.

You can find more information and resources about how ADHD affects marriage and relationships on my blog post, 4 Ways ADHD Affects Marriage (Plus How To Insulate Yourself From The Stress).

Coping Skills You Need If Your ADHD partner Is Inattentive, Distractible, Or Lacks Focus

You might have tried different tactics to help your ADHD partner remember things or follow through with an activity, but the situation still has not changed or improved. This can be a difficult fact to face. Another, related situation that many couples can find especially challenging is the realization that the lack of attention, distraction and lack of focus is a lifelong issue and something that really impacts couples’ relationships.

10 coping skills to help you improve your relationship with your ADHD partner:

1. Communicate, communicate and communicate-Take time to learn about “I statements”; listen to understand your partner instead of listening to respond; learn how to read your partner’s non-verbal cues; and work on other communication skills. Effective communication creates connection and closeness instead of criticism and defensiveness. Here’s another tip to improve communication: try to avoid holding in your feelings or avoiding necessary conversations, because over time this leads to resentment or anger.

2. Self-care-It will take energy and understanding to address the issues between your ADHD partner and you, so make sure you are performing self-care on a regular basis, such as mindfulness, walking or reading for pleasure.

3. Remain Calm-Taking breaks if things get heated or performing yoga or meditation will help you remain calm. Since your ADHD partner may have difficulty self-regulating (calming down), you want to make sure that you have techniques to self-soothe so that at least one of you is thinking rationally.

4. Baggage-When you are in a relationship, you and your partner are individually responsible for the “baggage” that each of you bring into the relationship. Everyone has baggage (past issues that have not been addressed), and ADHD might be one of those issues. Take time to work on bringing out the best in you by challenging your narratives and stories, attending counseling on any of your issues or obtaining other support.

5. Notice Patterns-Sometimes couples develop unhealthy patterns of dealing with communication or conflict. Next time you are having a disagreement, notice if you take a parenting or persecutor role in the relationship. If this happens, explore ways to be an equal partner instead.

6. Don’t Ignore-Don’t wait until the bills are a year in the rear, you are about to be evicted, and the IRS is knocking on the door to address your issues; in other words, don’t allow the problem to spiral out of control before you turn your attention to it. ADHD is an issue that needs to be addressed, and you have choices: you can decide to deal with it as a team, or you can choose to go it alone. When you work together to develop a plan to deal with your issue more effectively, you will feel happy and more connected.

7. Accept-When you accept all of your partner, you will have a more secure relationship. Your partner and you will want to feel loved and cared about with all of your “stuff”. Of course, if one of you need to see a professional for assistance, you will need to discuss that issue. It’s not “Ok” to tell a partner that “If you really loved me then you would accept issues, such as abuse, addictions or affairs”.

8. Strengths-It’s easy to focus on the ADHD partner’s challenges of time, money, impulsivity, inattentiveness, or lack of focus, but every day, I challenge you to look for how ADHD brings creativity, fun, excitement and other strengths to the relationship. You can look for ways to make this situation an opportunity to see your partner in a different light instead (it’s probably what drew you to your partner in the beginning of the relationship).

9. Resources-If you are wondering if you have ADHD or your partner has ADHD, you can find books, videos, Facebook groups, podcasts and blogs that can answer your questions and provide support. You are not alone and don’t need to try to figure this issue out on your own. If you have been diagnosed, you may need to speak to a coach for tools and techniques to address executive functioning or other challenging areas of your life.

10. Help-You may need to speak to an ADHD professional for support and guidance around household tasks, family management, chores, organization, intimacy and many other topics. Getting help is not a failure, but it’s a chance to learn how to navigate your marriage in a more effective manner.

As you better understand your ADHD partner and learn how to cope more effectively, you will feel more like a team and more connected. The steps will take time, and change may be slow, but each step is one step closer to a healthy relationship.

Additional reading to support your relationship as you explore options for couples therapy and healing:

Coping Skills You Need If Your ADHD Partner’s Inattentiveness, Distraction, Or Lack Of Focus Is Hurting Your Marriage

7 Ways Your Partner’s ADHD Affects Their Mood Swings & How To Best Address Your Worries

What Causes Resentment In A Marriage (Plus How You Can Heal Resentment In Yours)

Why Do We Keep Having The Same Arguments?

ADHD & Relationships


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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