Have a Partner With ADHD? How to Make Your Relationship Work

You finally met the love of your life, and you felt the connection right away. As your relationship progressed and you got to know each other better, you learned your partner was diagnosed with ADHD. You’ve heard a thing or two about the disorder, but you’re not certain what it is or how this diagnosis will impact your relationship. And understandably, you have tons of questions.

Know that if you’re in a relationship with a partner who has ADHD, you can still have a strong, healthy bond. With a generous amount of love, understanding, and perseverance, you and your significant other can thrive. Here are tips for making your relationship work.

 Be patient

Couple in bed

You’ll have to be patient with your partner. | iStock.com

Patience is necessary for any relationship to work, but it is even more important when you love someone with ADHD. Understand that your partner is not doing things that hurt or annoy you on purpose. He or she just processes the world differently. Resist any tendency to try to make your partner do things or complete tasks as you do. Some things may take longer to complete or might not get completed at all. Learn to work with your partner, not against them.

Educate yourself

Woman doing research

Learn as much as you can about the disorder. | iStock.com/jacoblund

If you desire a successful long-term relationship with a partner who has ADHD, you’ll need to take the time to educate yourself about the disorder. Doing your part to become smarter about the topic will not only help you become more compassionate, but you’ll also show your partner you care about his or her well-being.

Audrey Hope, a relationship expert and addictions specialist at Seasons in Malibu, says education is one of the keys to a healthy and loving relationship with a partner who has ADHD. “If you’re educated and understand ADHD, you can solve problems easily and have a great relationship since you’ll know what to expect,” Hope told The Cheat Sheet. “You cannot enter this alliance without knowledge and wisdom because you’ll suffer from frustration, loneliness, and anger.” 

Recognize the signs

Man sitting alone

Know the signs before they occur. | iStock.com

If you want to provide a solid support system for your partner, you’ll need to understand the intricacies of the disorder. And part of educating yourself about ADHD is being able to recognize some of the common signs. This will help you understand why your partner might say or do certain things.

Gaining a deeper knowledge of what to expect will help you avoid some misunderstandings. For example, Hope mentions disorganization, distractibility, and impulsivity are some common signs.

Don’t take things personally

couple arguing

Their behaviors are not meant to be a personal attack on you. | iStock.com

A partner with ADHD may be forgetful or have frequent emotional flare-ups. Don’t take this personally. Most of the time your partner’s behavior has little to do with you. “Remember, this is a neurological disorder and the symptoms you experience from your partner aren’t intentional,” Erika Boissiere, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco, told The Cheat Sheet.

Don’t blame your partner

couple talking

Blaming your partner won’t help either of you. | iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

Don’t point your finger at your partner for all of the problems in the relationship. It takes two people to have a relationship, and one person should not shoulder all the blame when things go wrong.

Jeremy Arnold, co-founder of dating app Launch (and who’s diagnosed with ADHD Type I) says blame should be replaced with empathy. “It might feel unfair at times, but resolute support will lead to better outcomes than any amount of direct confrontation ever could,” Arnold said. He also added, “Being the exception will save them emotional energy that would otherwise be invested into guilt and shame, which they will happily spend on using their wiring to bring happiness into your life.”

Don’t resort to mothering

Man comforting his partner

Being a parent to your partner won’t help anybody. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

You care deeply about your partner and only want the best for him or her, but that doesn’t mean you should make yourself responsible for doing everything. Your significant other needs a partner, not a mother. For example, if he or she tends to forget things, don’t resort to constantly nagging. Find creative ways to remind your partner without being overbearing or acting as if he or she can’t handle things alone. In addition, resist the urge to be overly critical.

Licensed clinical social worker Mandi Biesinger explains that acting in a way that could be perceived as mothering or nagging will just overwhelm your partner. Said Biesinger:

They have enough people in their life checking up on them. Instead, communicate and ask how you can be of the most help. Set goals with them and with their permission, follow up.

However, set your own goals and be open to their feedback. The key to maintaining a healthy balance is vulnerability. And if you expect greatness from your partner, work toward the same greatness.

Think before you speak

couple at a coffee shop

Talk to your partner with care. | iStock.com/ArthurHidden

Although this type of relationship can be frustrating for both of you, it’s important to use care with your language. Don’t blurt out hurtful words or say something you know will get under your partner’s skin just so you can get things off your chest. It’s selfish and unnecessary. If you’re upset, pause and take time to collect your thoughts. Harsh words are hard to forget.

Be aware

couple talking

Make sure to openly communicate. | iStock.com

Consistently take the temperature of your relationship. It’s important to take time to make sure both of you are on the same page when it comes to the health of your union. For example, your partner might think everything is fine between you, but you could still be holding a grudge from something he or she forgot to do two days ago. You’ll need to check in regularly.

Biesinger says if you ever feel your communication is starting to falter, it’s time to reconnect to see where things went wrong. “Maintain trust and communication. If you feel either of these things slipping away, reach out for support, set goals, and check in with one another regarding what is and is not working,” Biesinger said.

Talk to a therapist

Couple talking to a therapist

Therapy can help. | iStock.com

Make sure that you and your partner work through any lingering relationship issues with a licensed therapist. You’ll be able to discuss things you may have been shy to bring up in a safe, caring environment. “This can be huge when combating this disorder, as tips and techniques are usually the focus of these sessions,” said Boissiere.

Choose love

Couple riding bicycles in the city

Don’t forget to love each other. | iStock.com/gpointstudio

No matter how angry or frustrated you become with your partner, remember what made you fall in love in the first place. Also, remind yourself that it’s often the disorder, and not your partner, when miscommunication occurs. Choose to love your partner through your challenges. Show up for your partner not only when things are going smoothly but also when things are tough and you want to throw in the towel. Love is a choice, so use each new day as an opportunity to show your partner that you would choose him or her again every time.

 Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo

[Editor’s Note: This story was originally published February 2017]