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Moment of honesty: ADHD relationship advice is usually not my thing. Mainly because I belong to every single ADHD FB group there is (well, almost) and there, unfortunately, seems to be a non-ADHD partner in every one of them. Saying that their partner is just making excuses. Implying that their mate is intentionally annoying them. Griping endlessly about the messes they make or the chores they don’t complete.
I’m not saying those things aren’t annoying; I’m saying these are the things I constantly hear.
ADHD relationship advice is a touchy subject for me
So whenever anyone starts giving relationship advice to people with ADHD, I always feel a little defensive and have to resist the urge to say “there’s nothing wrong with THEM, how about you take a look at their nagging partner and give the partner some advice on how to chill out!”
That’s not helpful.
I believe that ADHD relationships are remarkable. That we make caring, sensitive, loving partners. We have idiosyncrasies just like every other human being but it doesn’t take away from us being emotionally supportive and kindhearted partners. Having said all of that, let’s get down to brass tacks here: there ARE some trouble spots when it comes to being in a relationship with someone who has ADHD, and I’m not taking away from any of us when I say so. It’s important for us to overcome those challenges in order to thrive in a relationship.
Let’s take a look at some common symptoms and break down where they can create a trouble spot in our relationships with our partners (and really, ANYONE who we are in a relationship with).
Communicating with your ADHD partner
Communication is an integral part of a relationship. You need to know what your partner is thinking and feeling, and what they might need for you. As intuitive as many people with ADHD can be, we can also be a little reluctant when it comes to communication. There are a few reasons for this: fear of disappointing someone we care about, forgetting the details, fear of failure, anxiety over the reaction of their partner, and more. It is important to know you need a partner who is willing to listen with an open heart and mind. You need to BE a partner who listens with an open heart and mind. Creating a safe space within your relationship for both of you to be seen and heard can make all the difference.
Emotional regulation challenges in the ADHD relationship
I know, I know, ADHD people have big emotions. We have rejection sensitive dysphoria. Dating with rejection sensitive dysphoria can be daunting. We can be hypersensitive. This can be frustrating for people who don’t have these big emotions. They struggle to understand what the big deal is. People often accuse people with ADHD of expecting to be coddled or tiptoed around, but that’s not true in most cases.
What can really help in this area is to share with your partner (aka communicate) some of the areas in which you feel especially sensitive and why. Allow them to share their sensitivities as well. This isn’t a one-way street, we need to cherish our partners in the same way we need to be cherished. Giving love can go a long way in getting love in return (and if you are giving and not getting in return, that’s another conversation we need to have).
Taking responsibility for our emotions
What do we do when our emotions cause us to be unkind to our partners though? Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t happen, we can’t overcome something we don’t identify. When we are emotionally charged, it is possible for us to speak from our frustration instead of our love for our partner. This is a good spot where it is important for us to begin to pay attention to our rising frustration.
Reducing arguments within the relationship
Everyone reaches a turning point in an argument where they can feel themselves getting angry, and whether or not they continue can depend on many factors, but there is a really good acronym for that called HALT. If you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, that is not the greatest time to have a difficult conversation. Those conversations have the potential for ugliness. If you’ve already lost your cool with your partner, you need to own it, take responsibility for it, and show them how you intend to fix it. These things take time, but for your partner to feel safe in the relationship you’re creating, they need to know that you are investing time in being as healthy as possible just like you’re expecting them to invest time in being emotionally healthy and understanding you.
Attentiveness in your ADHD relationship
It is called ATTENTION deficit disorder, so you’re probably wondering why I’m listing attentiveness as a trouble spot (yes, of course, I’m being sarcastic). So here’s the deal, in my humble opinion: attentiveness is in the eye of the beholder. The true benefit of being a person with ADHD is that maybe we zone out in the middle of our partner’s story, but we also do fantastic things like hear them tell a story about their favorite childhood cartoon they can’t remember the name of, hyperfocus, find the name, and get them the entire series on DVD.
We can use that hypersensitivity that can be a pain and also use it to pick up on your moods and fulfill our partner’s needs that way. Those things are all attentiveness. So if you find yourself maybe not displaying those outward signs of attention, that’s ok. This is where communication comes into play. A former partner of mine liked to tell me long stories, but my eyes would start to glaze over. We both have ADHD, so we collectively agreed that playing a video game on our phones during lengthy stories was acceptable and needed.
Messiness is one of the more frustrating things to deal with in a partner for me. Yes, you read that right. Mainly because I’m messy enough myself. In my relationship with my ADHD partner at the time, I was definitely the least messy of the two, and his messiness made me want to scream. Mostly because he was messy and also would not even assist with cleaning up his mess. But I digress. Our messiness can be really frustrating our partners while we’re off thinking deep thoughts, blissfully unaware that they’re plotting our demise.
You don’t have to be a perfect housekeeper to find love, you just need to be a team member. On a team, everyone has a position they play. Teammates don’t all do the same thing or help in the same way, but teammates also support each other. Hear your partner and their frustration. If they are asking you to remember to pick up every single mess you make immediately, you can tell them that’s not always realistic, but give them something you can do to ease that burden. We’re all in this together, it is really important to remember that. That means even when we’re annoyed, frustrated, angry or hurt we have to stick it out.
One of the things I used to do that would absolutely drive my partner crazy was to be late. I used to have a serious problem with showing up on time, and even though that particular partner had ADHD, he was one of the most timely people I have ever met. For those of you who have partners who are super timely, and you are not, try to understand that it isn’t their fault (see what I did there?). Seriously though, this time thing can cause a lot of fights. Try to negotiate with them for more flexibility for things that are not time-sensitive. If you can get some grace there, and focus on the things that you MUST be on time for as a couple, you’ll both feel better in the long term.
It isn’t that the ADHD relationship is so very complicated. In fact, I think ADHD relationships are remarkable. The challenge that the ADHD couple faces is the same one that every couple faces: are you going to work together to build the relationship or no? Are you going to insist on getting what you think you deserve without considering the damage it can do to your partnership? Or are you going to focus on working together to ensure that everyone’s needs are met? This isn’t one of those half-ass compromises where only the ADHD person has to change. Those are a band-aid, they don’t work long term. It is my fervent hope that your relationship becomes everything you need it to be. Best of luck to you.
Until next time,
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