Did you know that around 2.5% of adults have ADHD? While there are many effective ways to treat ADHD, the reality is that there is no way to completely eliminate all of the symptoms. As a result, people with ADHD are likely to experience a variety of impairments and challenges in different areas of their lives. One key life area that is often impacted by ADHD is the area of relationships. Living with ADHD can bring additional stresses into relationships, both for the person who has ADHD and the people living with them. Not only is it important for people with ADHD to understand how it can affect their relationships, but it’s also important for their loved ones to understand so that everyone can work to get their needs met in a helpful way.
Keep reading to learn about how ADHD affects relationships.
What Is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. Individuals with ADHD often struggle with sustained attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. There are three main subtypes of ADHD: primarily inattentive, primarily hyperactive-impulsive, and combined presentation.
The inattentive subtype is characterized by difficulties in maintaining focus, organizing tasks, and following through on activities. The hyperactive-impulsive subtype involves symptoms such as fidgeting, restlessness, impulsive decision-making, and difficulty waiting one's turn. Combined presentation combines features of both inattentiveness and hyperactivity-impulsivity.
ADHD is often misunderstood as simply a lack of focus or hyperactivity. However, it's crucial to recognize that ADHD involves a complex interplay of neurobiological and environmental factors.
Individuals with ADHD may have differences in brain development, particularly in the areas related to attention and impulse control, but also in other areas related to executive functioning including organization, time management, emotion regulation, and activation and motivation.
How ADHD Affects Relationships
Trouble With Communication
People with ADHD can face unique challenges in communication because their brains often process information differently. Active listening may be especially challenging. People with ADHD may find it difficult to maintain focus during conversations, leading to missed or misunderstood information.
Additionally, impulsivity can impact communication, causing individuals to interrupt others or speak before fully processing their thoughts. Organizing thoughts and expressing them coherently can also be a significant challenge for people with ADHD. They may struggle with communicating linearly, jumping from topic to topic, or providing excessive detail without being able to stay on track.
Since people with ADHD may face difficulties with organizing and prioritizing tasks, time management can be a real struggle. People with ADHD might find it challenging to maintain focus and attention on specific tasks. This can cause issues in relationships if someone expects their partner or loved one with ADHD to always have things done within a certain time frame.
Another aspect of poor time management is that people with ADHD may have a hard time getting to places in a timely manner. People with ADHD may chronically underestimate how much time is needed to get to appointments or planned events. Partners and loved ones of people with ADHD may find themselves giving their loved one artificial times to arrive at events so that they actually do show up on time.
Difficulty Regulating Emotions
For those with ADHD, fluctuations in emotional states can be more intense and rapid compared to individuals without the condition. This can pose relationship challenges as partners may struggle to understand or adapt to the sudden mood shifts. On top of that, individuals with ADHD may find it difficult to express their emotions effectively or regulate their responses during conflicts.
The impact of emotion dysregulation in ADHD goes beyond the individual’s internal struggles. It often spills over into interpersonal dynamics. Loved ones may perceive those with ADHD as volatile or unpredictable due to their emotional reactivity, potentially leading to strained connections.
Everybody forgets things from time to time, but for people with ADHD, forgetfulness can be a constant struggle. This forgetfulness isn't simply a matter of absentmindedness; it's a core feature affecting their daily lives.
Forgetfulness can lead to missed appointments, forgotten promises, and overlooked responsibilities. The constant need for reminders and repetition can strain relationships as partners or friends may feel burdened by the extra effort required to accommodate these memory challenges.
The impact of forgetfulness on relationships goes beyond just inconvenience; it can also affect trust and emotional connection. Forgetting important events or conversations can make loved ones feel unimportant or neglected. In some cases, coping with a partner's forgetfulness may lead to feelings of isolation for both parties. The individual with ADHD may feel guilty for letting their loved ones down, while those close to them may struggle with feelings of being misunderstood or unappreciated, or even just simply the real-world effects of their loved one’s forgetting.
Struggles With Changing Routines
Structure and predictability can be useful in helping people with ADHD manage their symptoms. As a result, changes to routines can be difficult. When routines are disrupted, it can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and difficulty in shifting focus. This can impact their relationships as the people around them may not fully understand the challenges they face in adapting to change.
While their partners or friends might perceive their resistance to change as stubbornness or unwillingness to compromise, it's crucial to recognize that many individuals with ADHD genuinely find it difficult to adjust. Working with an ADHD therapist in Toronto can help couples navigate some of the challenges that come with the disorder.
Lack of Impulse Control
Impulsivity is a very common symptom of ADHD. This impulsivity can manifest in various ways, such as speaking without thinking, making impulsive decisions, and interrupting others during conversations. Partners or friends can misunderstand these behaviors as rudeness or lack of consideration.
The impulsive nature of individuals with ADHD can also lead to difficulty in maintaining boundaries and keeping promises. They may agree to things on a whim and then struggle to follow through due to impulsivity. This can create frustration and disappointment in their relationships as others may feel let down or unsure of what to expect.
Side Effects of Medication
Many people with ADHD take medication to help manage their symptoms. In general, there are many benefits to medication for ADHD and good reason to consider medication as one of the treatment options in ADHD. Although there can be many benefits to medication, it can also come with side effects.
Some of these side effects can include things like low libido, insomnia, and mood swings. This can create challenges in relationships as these side effects can impact how a person with ADHD interacts with those around them.
Get Help for ADHD
Even though it’s true that ADHD can create more challenges in maintaining relationships, none of these challenges are insurmountable. People with ADHD in relationships can thrive and build healthy connections just like anyone else. The key is to understand the disorder and the symptoms that come along with it. Skills training for ADHD can play a tremendous role in supporting individuals in coping with some of the core symptoms that come along with ADHD, ADHD-informed relationship counselling can help people navigate relationships affected by ADHD, and other supports such as the Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs) ADHD program can help people with ADHD better manage emotions, conflict, and the challenges that come along with ADHD.
At Shlomo Radcliffe & Associates, we provide relationship counselling in Toronto as well as other therapeutic services. Book your free 15-minute consultation today.