Is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) affecting your relationship? Dr Quratulain Zaidi of MindNLife discusses strategies for couples to deal with this.
“ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a neuro-developmental disorder that involves problems with attention, concentration, impulse control and increased activity levels. Millions of people are affected by the disorder, and it has many faces. Boys were once thought (incorrectly) to be more commonly affected – and that they would just “grow out of it”. In fact, boys, girls, men and women can all live with the effects of ADHD, across every age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and it can cause significant impairment at work, in school and in the lives of those affected by it.
Symptoms differ from person to person, but there are three basic types:
#1. Primarily Inattentive: the main symptoms are inattention, distraction, and disorganisation.
#2. Primarily Hyperactive/Impulsive: symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are evident, especially in childhood.
#3. Combined: this type has symptoms from each of the other two.
Research into the mysteries of ADHD is booming. It’s being redefined as an executive functioning disorder rather than a behavioural one. Research in 2017 revealed it as the most common childhood mental disorder, affecting one in 10 children and teens, and one in 25 adults.
Undiagnosed ADHD affects millions of adults and their romantic relationships. In the past year, I’ve seen more and more couples coming in whose relationships have been impacted by the disorder. Sometimes, the adults aren’t even aware of their ADHD; or, their child has been diagnosed first, and they’ve only started to recognise it in themselves.
Understanding ADHD and how it affects a couple can help improve things, and there are certain strategies and tools that can be implemented for achieving a healthy, fulfilling and calm relationship.
Impact on the relationship
Adult ADHD can be tricky because symptoms vary from person to person, but certain complaints are most commonly heard.
- Inattention: Losing focus during conversation can make a partner feel devalued, and lead to frustration and resentment.
- Excessive talking: One-sided monologues can come across as selfish and un-empathetic, leading to other people feeling their opinions aren’t considered important.
- Hyperfocus: The inability to shift focus manifests itself as being stubborn or not taking your partner’s perspective into account.
- Failing to remember information: If a person misses birthdays and anniversaries – or even the details of a recent conversation – it can make it seem like they’re unreliable or incapable, or simply that they don’t care.
- Easily bored: The constant need for stimulation can be draining for the partner, and he or she may find themselves needing some downtime.
- Getting their own way: Making important decisions without consultation can have a huge impact and really make a partner feel their opinion doesn’t matter.
- Disorganisation: Difficulty being organised or completing tasks can lead to daily life chaos. This can cause resentment and frustration for the partner, who might feel like he or she does more of the physical and emotional work in the relationship.
- Explosive temper: Adults with ADHD have difficulty regulating their emotions, leading to angry outbursts that can leave partners feeling hurt or fearful.
How to help: moving forward together
ADHD takes up mental and emotional bandwidth – it’s exhausting for the person with the disorder and their partner. So, how do we move forward? Identifying and understanding what’s having the most impact on the relationship is the first step – and maybe the most challenging; only then can things improve.
#1. Communicating better
Communication often breaks down when one partner has ADHD. Surface behaviours (for example, she’s always late for dinner) often mask a deeper issue (he feels under-appreciated because she never shows up on time). Couples can also fall into a “parent-child” dynamic, where the non-ADHD partner feels responsible for everything and the ADHD partner feels like a child. This chronic pattern of micromanaging and underachievement can result in feelings of shame and insecurity for the ADHD partner. It also increases the risk of depression.
One thing I reinforce with all the couples is that “communication” is not what you say, it’s what the other person hears; so, it’s important that you ask your partner what they heard. Here are some strategies that are proven to be effective in improving communication in couples.
- •Use “I feel” statements followed by a description of the situation and how to improve it, rather than “You” statements that can create a feeling of blame.
- Avoid digital communication; talk in person as often as possible, and use nonverbal cues too.
- Engage; to avoid allowing your mind to wander, repeat what your partner says and rephrase or ask relevant questions for clarification.
- Be honest and open; talk about how your ADHD can impair your ability to remember things or follow through on tasks. Sharing your struggles helps your partner understand.
- Hold eye contact when listening.
#2. Focusing on teamwork
To create balance in a relationship, both partners have to work together. Having ADHD doesn’t mean that you can’t find balance; it means you have to rely on open and honest communication and feedback to find ways to help one another.
#3. Renegotiating and delegating
If ADHD interferes with your ability to pay bills on time or manage money, ask your partner to handle those tasks. When couples divide tasks based on their strengths, they get through their to-do lists without feeling overburdened or resentful.
#4. Checking in
Set up a weekly check-in at a predetermined time with your partner to find out what’s going on in their world and share your world with them. This allows people to slow down and reconnect with each other.
#5. Having structure
Routines, schedules and visual planners (using whiteboards or sharing Google calendars, for example) help ADHD households and allow the partner with ADHD to know what to expect, stay on task, and complete important tasks.
Finally, any relationship has its challenges and requires sustained effort. An ADHD relationship can, at times, require a little more acceptance, understanding, patience and compassion. In my experience, what sees any long-term relationship through are the basic tenants of honesty, commitment, mutual respect and genuine care and love. With this strong foundation, if two people can learn to accept the imperfections of self and partner and recognise each other’s strengths, they’re on a road to a long, successful and a meaningful relationship.
Dr Quratulain Zaidi is a clinical psychologist specialising in individuals, families, couples and teen issues including cyber safety, teen parenting, bullying, eating challenges, and self-harm. Her private practice is in Central. 6347 9955 | mindnlife.com
See more in our Health & Fitness section:
How to raise grounded children
How expat couples should support each other
This article first appeared in the February/March 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.