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Understanding The Connection Between ADHD and Attachment Styles

In the U.S., around 5% of adults have some form of ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Some common ADHD symptoms can include restlessness, problems with staying organized, impulsive behaviors, difficulty expressing emotions, and trouble listening.

Certain ADHD symptoms, like difficulty expressing emotions, paired with the individual’s early life experiences, can create insecure attachment styles. As a result, they may have great difficulty managing relationships in adulthood. This can be particularly challenging for romantic relationships.

Interested in learning more about the connections between ADHD and attachment styles in relationships? If so, keep reading below for further insights.

ADHD and Attachment Styles

There is a distinct link that occurs between ADHD and attachment styles. Attachment Theory was created by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1960s. It stated the importance of developing healthy bonds with young children in connection to their primary caregivers.

Then, in the 1980s, psychologists Phillip Shaver and Cindy Hazan took it a step further. They examined these same attachment patterns in adults. Research done by Shaver and Hazan found that 56% of adults had a secure attachment style.

Psychologists break down attachment styles in different categories, but I will describe the following 4 attachment styles:

Anxious (sometimes referred to as Preoccupied)
Avoidant (sometimes referred to as Dismissive)
Disorganized (sometimes referred to as Fearful-Avoidant)

Research has shown that those with ADHD may fall into more insecure attachment styles such as Avoidant or Anxious. This is often due to the fact that they have more difficulty forming consistent and stable relationships. The relationships they do have will be fraught with challenges.

With Anxious Attachment, the individual will often need constant reassurance or have a fear of abandonment. With Avoidant Attachment, the individual will experience difficulty with emotional bonds and intimacy. Disorganized Attachment relates to the desire to be in a relationship while being fearful of it at the same time.

Early Attachment Experiences

ADHD and attachment styles often go hand-in-hand. Attachment theory relates to our interpersonal relationship experiences early in life. Your relationship with your parents can influence your attachment styles.

Positive relationships as a child help you develop healthy and secure attachment styles. Secure attachment is when a child feels safe and supported. However, if you had many negative experiences regarding your parents early in life, you can develop insecure attachment styles.

ADHD symptoms can start showing up in children as young as 3 years of age. These symptoms can make forming secure attachments in early relationships much more difficult.

For example, children with ADHD may be reprimanded by parents more often for not paying attention or being unable to express their emotions. Most of the attention they receive is negative. This can negatively impact their attachment ability as well.

Impact on Relationships

Adults with ADHD can face many challenges in relationships. For one, their impulsivity may cause them to gamble or make large and unnecessary purchases which can strain shared finances. They may also act out, constantly interrupt, or have sudden emotional outbursts.

With disorganization, an individual may have difficulty planning or completing tasks. They will often miss appointments and other time commitments. They may also have messy spaces and will frequently misplace items because of this.

Inattention can also cause issues since the partner with ADHD isn’t giving the reciprocal attention the other partner needs. An inability to express emotions can lead to breakdowns in communication. This causes frustration when one partner feels like they’re not being heard or understood.

Over time, these behaviors can become draining in relationships. It will feel like the partner with ADHD is shutting the other one out. Even if this behavior is unintentional as a result of insecure attachment styles, it can create misunderstandings between partners.

It then becomes crucial to address the link between ADHD and attachment styles even further.

ADHD Behavioral Strategies

For those struggling with ADHD, it can feel like you’re unlovable or unworthy of love. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are behavioral strategies you can implement to help you overcome some of these issues.
To learn better behavioral strategies you need to study the connection between ADHD and attachment styles.

Once you understand and address the challenges that can come with ADHD and insecure attachment styles, you can learn to develop more positive and secure attachment patterns in adulthood.

From there, it may be necessary to look into ways to improve. Identify where you struggle the most. For example, you could focus on areas like:

stronger communication skills
active listening
setting routines
better organization
task management

You may find it helpful or necessary to seek out professional help. This could include elements like medication and support from licensed therapists.

ADHD Treatment and Support

When it comes to ADHD and relationships, many people avoid seeking therapy support because of the stigma involved. But you have nothing to be ashamed of. By going to therapy, you are showing your partner that you want to get better for them and to improve your relationship.

Therapy gives you a safe space to talk and work through your feelings. Oftentimes, by simply talking things through you may experience breakthroughs. This is when you find the connections from your past that influence your adult behaviors.

By uncovering these connections, you can build better coping skills. Couples therapy is especially helpful in addressing the challenges of ADHD and attachment styles in the relationship. Therapies like The Gottman Method can help you address and repair these rifts and strengthen your relationship.

Every person and every relationship is different. Not everyone will experience ADHD in the same way. But if ADHD is becoming a struggle in your relationship, it is vital to get the support you need now.

Find Help for Your Relationship

ADHD and attachment styles can have a profound impact on your relationship. But with the proper help and resources, it is possible to achieve a better balance in your relationship moving forward. You have an opportunity to begin a brighter future for yourself and your relationship, creating more connection, appreciation and intimacy.


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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