How does ADHD affect relationships?

October 20, 2022
by 
Dr Stefan Ivantu

How does ADHD affect relationships?

This is by far the most commonly asked question. When it comes to ADHD, there is very little research available around how people with ADHD experience relationships. Those who are easily distracted might not seem to be paying attention to those they love. Their other half may feel constantly dismissed and may ask themselves why the other person behaves in such a way. In mental health, there is no one-size fits all as conditions can manifest differently from one person to another. However, I am going to present some of the most common asked questions:

Does ADHD affects my relationship?

You may be wondering why it is that within your relationship, there is no equal division of responsibilities. The partner of someone suffering with ADHD, may take on all the admin responsibilities or anything that involves careful planning. Dealing with symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity, may result in broken promises or risky financial decisions. People with ADHD could find it difficult to remain satisfied within relationships and can be stuck, feeling a constant need for change.

Couple with ADHD having relationship problems

ADHD, alcohol, and drug use. Is there a link?

Few people are aware that those suffering from ADHD are at a higher risk of alcohol and drug misuse. These addiction behaviours can be interpreted as ‘self-medicating’ untreated symptoms of ADHD. This behaviour, however, only becomes the rocket fuel in igniting the next argument or break-up. In some cases, the addiction itself can be secondary to undiagnosed ADHD and can improve or even resolve after receiving support for ADHD.

Having ADHD and saying no to a glass of wine

Why do people with ADHD forget important dates?

People suffering from ADHD struggle with time management. They may always be running late for important events or not turn up at all. Sometimes, they may even forget social events or anniversaries unintentionally, making their partner feel empty and disappointed. They may also find a new, exciting activity and simply hyperfocus on it, ignoring everything else. Sometimes they can even ignore their own basic personal needs.

A person suffering with ADHD taking notes

Can ADHD cause divorce?

Like many other mental health conditions, ADHD can cause stress in the family life. Living with ADHD symptoms, especially if the condition is undiagnosed, can undoubtedly add to marital problems. There are also limited studies, suggesting that parents of children suffering with ADHD, can be at twice the risk of divorce. At the same time, some experts caution that it may not be fully accurate to argue that ADHD causes divorce. Some couples even believe that ADHD's more adventurous traits may be beneficial to their union. Although the quantity of available data is not great, seeking help for ADHD may improve relationships in the long-term, similar with any mental health conditions when are well managed.

Couple with ADHD going through divorce

Can I have a successful relationship?

Many people who date someone with ADHD say that their partner is spontaneous, enjoyable, creative, and fun. There can be advantages, particularly, when the couple are able to complement each other. For example, the partner or spouse who does not have ADHD completes the admin work and plans activities whilst the person suffering from ADHD, may have a successful career involving creativity, and risk-taking or they may be good at resolving problems on the spot. With the appropriate support for ADHD, relationships may become more sustainable.

Successful couple with ADHD

What if ADHD is undiagnosed?

A partner with undiagnosed ADHD and is, therefore, not receiving treatment, makes the scenario worse. Even therapy might not be sufficient to reduce bitterness and hostility. A break-up can be more likely, the longer that the troubles are allowed to go on in a relationship. In unfortunate situations, the person suffering from ADHD may cause irreparable damage or become involved with the authorities. More recently, a link has been established between long-term physical health implications in people suffering with ADHD.

ADHD undiagnosed cause of inequality

Any tips on managing finances in a relationship?

Arguments over finances are very comm in relationships. Impulsive behaviours and overspending can often result in conflict. People suffering from ADHD may end up spending more, investing significant sums of money in new hobbies, constantly make payments late, or paying the so-called, “ADHD tax”. This topic needs further explanation because it is not a straight-forward element of the condition. I would recommend reading my blog ADHD and Finances: A Difficult Relationship.

ADHD woman managing finances

How can I help my ADHD partner?

It is necessary for people with ADHD to understand how their condition affects others and to learn how to develop sustainable relationships. However, it is equally crucial for their loved ones to be aware of the difficulties associated with ADHD and offer both support and compassion. Simply encouraging your loved one to seek help, can make a significant difference in your relationship.

Help your partner with ADHD

References and more resources

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases: a nationwide population-based cohort study - PubMed (nih.gov)

Often Overlooked and Ignored, but Do Not Underestimate Its Relevance: ADHD in Addiction – Addiction in ADHD - FullText - European Addiction Research 2020, Vol. 26, No. 4-5 - Karger Publishers

Developmental progression to early adult binge drinking and marijuana use from worsening versus stable trajectories of adolescent ADHD and delinquency - PMC (nih.gov)

Rate and predictors of divorce among parents of youth with ADHD - PMC (nih.gov)

Adult ADHD and romantic relationships: What we know and what we can do to help - PubMed (nih.gov)

Inattention and Hyperactivity-Impulsivity: Their Detrimental Effect on Romantic Relationship Maintenance - PubMed (nih.gov)

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