ADHD & relationships – topic overview

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Just ask the uber-famous relationship therapist Esther Perel. 

“Never before has the couple been such a central unit in our social organization”.

Intimate relationships have never before been so crucially intertwined with our sense of self-worth.

Relationships are difficult. Effective communication is difficult. When one or both people in a relationship have ADHD, instances of miscommunication and misunderstanding can be even more prevalent.

The positive note is, a diagnosis of ADHD is the first positive and crucial step. (link to test)

Knowledge is Power

Learning about the physiological differences between how an average brain functions and how an ADHD brain functions, can help immensely in creating understanding in relationships dealing with ADHD. The famous quote “knowledge is power”, rings very true when it comes to understanding and dealing with ADHD. Learning is the first crucial step. 

Interpretations of common ADHD behaviors and the interactions with these behaviors are the decisive factors in success or failure. For example, perhaps your partner with ADHD is chronically distracted and finds it difficult to follow through on promises. These behaviors often result in the non-ADHD partner feeling lonely and unloved. This might result in resentment and frustration. The negative cycle goes on and on. Trust is broken and dismay and confusion set in.

You are more different than you think

Misunderstanding and misinterpretation is the core of the problem in our example. So what to do about it? The solution can be found in knowledge, understanding, and the use of effective strategies from both parties in the relationship (link to article on relationship strategies and tips). The communication toolbox that you both employ must take the ADHD into account. ADHD coaching and therapy can be life-changing. Self-education and learning through books and podcasts. Physiological treatments can include medication, alternative therapies, sleep guidance (link to article on sleep), a fitness regime, and an ADHD-friendly diet (link to article on nutrition). 

What doesn’t work

Nagging. It doesn’t work and it won’t help. Taking over tasks and treating your partner with ADHD like a child can have detrimental effects on the relationship. The loss of authority and self-respect can have severe consequences on the family dynamic when children are involved. 

Processing conflict in an open, non-aggressive and non-defensive way, takes great effort on both sides. You may need help with this. Finding an ADHD coach or relationship therapist is a wonderful first step in improving your intimate relationship, in finding your way to communicate, maintain respect, understanding, and intimacy with ADHD. 

Emotional dysregulation is very often part and parcel of ADHD. Rejection sensitivity is a manifestation of emotional dysregulation in adults, where people experience rejection or criticism, either real or perceived, as extreme pain or trauma. The rejection sensitivity is linked to both the emotional dysregulation of the ADHD brain and also a consequence of the collection of past experiences of being judged, rejected and criticised because of ADHD behaviors. Rejection sensitivity can feel like a world crumbling, catastrophically intense pain. This sensitivity proves especially difficult in relationships. 

For the neurotypical partner, you will need a suitcase full of understanding, patience and empathy. When your partner tips into the ‘red zone’, understand that this is not the time to discuss or resolve the problem. Give your partner time and space for the rawness of the emotions to calm down. For the ADHD partner, different strategies will help at different times. When you are feeling emotionally fit and strong, use these moments to push yourself into more uncomfortable situations where a small rejection or criticism is likely to take place. Use these times to come back to unresolved conflicts with your partner. Practice makes perfect, and you will find yourself pushed to the ‘red zone’ less often. If you are in the red zone, employ the strategies you know work for you. Go for a walk, play with the dog, water the plants. It is often most helpful to couples dealing with rejection sensitivity to know that they are not alone and that it affects many couples dealing with ADHD. 


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