So perhaps you have finally got that ADHD diagnosis – and you are taking the medication….. So what’s the problem now? Here’s some very important news – ADHD is really likely to be affecting your relationship – and you need to do something about it. Actually, both of you do…..
ADHD is a ‘good news’ diagnosis. All the research shows that, with treatment, ADHD can be well managed by 70-80% of adults. For most who get their diagnosis as adults there is a massive sense of relief as, at last, you have an explanation of what has been going on in your life – and an obvious path for significant improvement! You might think that all you need to do is take that pill…
Taking the pill is not enough…
Actually, that ADHD diagnosis is also ‘good news’ for another reason. It explains why you have been struggling in your love life. More often than not, adults with ADHD struggle in long term relationships and, sadly, over time the chances of divorce increase far more rapidly for those with ADHD in their relationship than for those who don’t have it.
Okay, so that’s actually bad news! The good news is that there has been a lot of research done and we now know a lot about what is going on – and about the very predictable patterns that the presence of ADHD – and particularly undiagnosed ADHD – create in a relationship. These patterns, once accurately identified, can be dramatically changed – improving your relationship so that it really can become better than you imagine possible at the moment. It isn’t even that hard to do – it just takes commitment to change the dynamics of the relationship – from both of you.
Is ADHD Impacting your Relationship?
So, if you are wondering if your relationship problems might be explained by the presence of ADHD, here are five signs that you and your partner might look for:
- ‘Parent/child dynamics’. Often the partner without ADHD has taken on most of the responsibilities and resents the pressure this creates. This is usually as a result of the ADHD partner having trouble following through on tasks that are boring or need full attention. One indicator that ‘parent/child dynamics’ are going on is that one partner feels s/he has another child for a spouse, rather than an adult partner. This dynamic is incredibly destructive to both partners. Part of the power of the ADHD diagnosis is finding a path to bring you both back to being equal status partners.
- The ‘constant critique’. In an attempt to get an ADHD partner to complete unfinished household chores or change their “lazy” habits, it’s just too easy for non-ADHD partners to feel they are forced to nag, remind and tell the ADHD how to do things ‘better.’ Unfortunately, unless the spouses have agreed that specific types of reminders are necessary and acceptable, this just doesn’t work. “Nagging” always hurts a relationship. The issue isn’t one of “willpower” on the part of the ADHD partner, but rather “brain wiring.” A better choice is to set up ADHD-sensitive structures and habits to support better distribution of chores and timely completion. It really can be done!
- The hyperfocus courtship. For many without ADHD, you just haven’t been courted until you experience the amazing hyper-focus a person with ADHD can deliver! In those early days you feel like the sun, moon and stars all combined. This person really, really does love you. It’s everything you ever dreamed it could be! Unfortunately, that hyperfocus stage inevitably ends – often quite abruptly. Distraction once again becomes that ADHD norm. The non-ADHD partner is left feeling confused and alone. S/he might start to feel as if (s)he was tricked – or made a fool of – that it was all some sort of act. It wasn’t – it’s ADHD.
- No matter how hard you both try, things never seem to change – except for the worse. Until couples know ADHD is part of their relationship they tend to choose ADHD-unfriendly solutions to their problems. One example; asking an ADHD partner to “just try harder” and expecting a better outcome. Another example; trying to suppress a non-ADHD partner’s anger because there is no obvious way to express it without incurring quite dramatic and even frightening defensive responses. Once you know about ADHD though, you can choose different approaches which are known to be effective when ADHD is present in one or both of the partners.
- You have a child diagnosed with, or suspected of having, ADHD. ADHD is highly heritable. Adults with ADHD have about a 50% chance of having a child with ADHD. The degree of heritability of ADHD is right up there with eye and hair colour. So to put it the other way around, if you have a child with ADHD, the chances are very high that at least one of the parents has it, too. If you already know one of you has ADHD, then just assume it’s impacting your marriage. Once you learn more, you’ll usually see that it is.
What should you do about it?
You need to educate yourself – and you need to get some proper relationship counselling – but not just from Relate or whatever local services are offered wherever you live. This is a job for a specialist. Much is now known about the specific strategies that work to create healthy relationships for ADHD adults and their partners (with or without ADHD). Experts in this field are hard to come by, but Melissa Orlov, who has been a leader in this field for years, is one of the best. Psychiatry-UK is really proud to be working with her.
She visits the UK about twice a year to give face to face seminars, however the most convenient way to attend one of her courses is to do it online. Given over 8 weeks, these courses involve listening to the lectures of her live course and interacting with Melissa with questions both in the webinars and via email and surveys. The online course is unique in its depth and expertise and has a very impressive track record of helping many couples. Her next live course starts at the end of January, 2018, and there are still places available. For times when the live course is not available, she offers a self-study version without that personal access.
We recommend the service and believe that it offers excellent value for money, however, you may be interested to know that, if you have an ADHD diagnosis, either from us or from another suitably accredited psychiatry service, (NHS or private), you should be able to get NHS funding to take this course, under our medical supervision, as long as your GP supports your funding application. We can also get NHS funding for a number of other specialist coaching and therapy services if the assessment indicates that they would benefit you.
Please fill in this initial inquiry form if you would like to discuss this further.
Some other Resources for Couples Impacted by ADHD
The ADHD Effect on Marriage by Melissa Orlov. An award-winning book which provides an overview of the patterns encouraged by ADHD, and steps needed to improve your relationship.
The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD by Melissa Orlov. Melissa’s second award-winning book focuses in-depth on emotional issues of particular concern to couples impacted by ADHD.
www.ADHDmarriage.com – Melissa has numerous resources on her website, including a free ebook about optimizing treatment for adult ADHD, available for download from the home page.
You got my attention when you said that ADHD is hereditary, and adults with ADHD have about a 50% chance of having a child with ADHD. With this in mind, I will be sure to seek a professional’s help. My 14-year old son has been showing signs of ADHD, and I am afraid that he has gotten it from me. Since I was young, I have been experiencing restlessness and attention issues.
I believe that I have ADHD but don’t know how to approach my doctors about it. I also feel that the undiagnosed patterns contributed to my relationship breaking down. I want to know how to change my views and thought patterns and behaviours. Please help!
Hi Chrystal – Firstly, thank you for getting in touch and we do apologise for the late response. If you visit our Right to Choose page, you will find advice on how to seek a referral. You will need to make an appointment with your GP to talk about your condition and discuss any symptoms. It can be a good idea to complete an ASRS form first (Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale) to check whether your symptoms are consistent. This is available to download from the Right to Choose page. There is also a letter template that you can complete and take to your GP.
If your GP feels that an assessment would be appropriate for you, you can ask to be referred to Psychiatry-UK under Right to Choose. Please note that we currently have a waiting list of up to 6 months for an appointment.
I’m 34, got diagnosed at the end of August and my wife left me in oktober because she the meds did not have the desired result. A few months ago she kept saying we’re on the brink of separation because I just didn’t do what she wished me to do and what I had committed doing. I started to check out because after 12 years of marriage I had nothing more to say, nothing more to do, I just couldn’t do it. Her leaving me is both great and terrible. Great, because I am now taking full responsibility and ownership of my behaviour and taking concrete steps to become better. For whole my life I have been pushing against these roadblocks which made me fatigued and often hopeless but it also made me stronger. Now with professional help and medication these roadblocks start to dissolve which means I am about to speed a 100 miles an hour. I suppose I have already compensated adhd by 50% and with help I can get it to 80-90%. Terrible, because my wife and I had been through a lot, our love is pure and our bond is strong (yes sounds contrary) and we have two beautiful kids. She’s just through and I can’t blame her. She has been my support and I have been hers. I need to let her go if I were to save the quality of our relationship that the kids would deem sufficient. It is what it is. Not all is lost, and there is much to be gained.