How Adult ADHD can sabotage relationships.
Adult ADHD is a cruel relationship bed-fellow!
It troubles me, just how often therapists do not identify the symptoms of Adult ADHD playing out in a relationship. A relationship that often started out in an exciting whirlwind but is now wallowing in the trenches of repeated disappointment and deception, and only vulnerably held together by the desperate hope, that maybe the good times might return.
No one wants to be told they have a neurological disorder, and it can be especially challenging to hear for the person with Adult ADHD!
There is no definitive blood test or even neurological test, but rather a collection of behaviour traits that the person themselves, is baffled as to why they keep repeating.
The neurochemistry of ADHD wreaks havoc in the executive functions of the brain – preventing people from reliably being the person they want, and mean, to be. This isn’t an excuse, it’s a frustrating reality, for both the ADHD sufferer and their loved ones!
So what are some of the most typical behaviour traits that can indicate, that maybe undiagnosed Adult ADHD is the culprit in the breakdown of your relationship?
ADHD messes with memory, specifically, working memory, so the person forgets –
They forget where they left their phone and keys; they forget to do that thing they promised to do for you; they forget to restrict the screen time for the kids as was agreed; sometimes, they learn to be a wonderful list maker, in trying to reduce the number of forgotten tasks.
The impulsivity of ADHD can create some really big problems when it comes to following the rules or making wise decisions.
It can often be a major player in addictions. But it was often the risk taking and crazy fun behaviour that first attracted their partners – their fun side can be really fun, until it’s not!
ADHD is definitely not good at organising, so life can get messy –
Often the person doesn’t even see the mess (be that physical mess or emotional mess) and tidying up after themselves is not their forte. Quite frankly, such chores can seriously bore them, so they might start with the best intentions, but finishing might be a long way off, if at all, because they’ll often get side tracked, again, thanks to the inherent focus issue of ADHD.
ADHD creates a restlessness that can make the person fidget and struggle to focus –
But the physical hyperactivity of childhood ADHD, often becomes an internalised busy brain that just wont stop. It can be hard for them to switch off at night and hard for them not to keep pestering for something they really want but their partner doesn’t.
ADHD is not a good time keeper and it often makes the person run late –
late for appointments; late doing things they knew had to be done but have left until the last moment; late for work; and late to see their part in the latest blow-up!
ADHD creates the perfect breeding ground for fibs and blatant lies.
Often the person genuinely doesn’t remember so they make up a plausible excuse that can sound suspiciously like a lie to the person they have let down. They can also become so tired of always being wrong or in trouble, so that they lie to avoid another shame filled moment. But that response, of course, creates a much bigger shame filled chaos, thanks to the impulsivity of ADHD that doesn’t allow them to think things through.
ADHD needs novelty to help the brain work, so it can feel bored really easily –
and, conversely, if the person really enjoys something, it can allow them to become totally absorbed and lose track of time, leaving their partners feeling unimportant, not valued, disrespected or simply unloved. Of course they’ll promise not to do it again (because they really are good people at heart), but they’ll forget that or get side tracked when the time comes!
ADHD doesn’t allow the brain to slow down enough to reflect, let alone create insight.
So they can really struggle to see the other’s perspective in an argument – leaving them arguing their point tenaciously until their partner gives up with the futility of trying to be heard.
ADHD makes emotions hard to access, let alone manage –
So they will often lose their temper or storm out, whilst their partner, hurt and perplexed, wonders what just exploded! Their stonewalling can go on for hours, days or weeks until their sense of emotional overwhelm starts to calm. Empathy won’t be really forth coming until they’ve had help to reflect and see a bigger, more nuanced picture!
ADHD makes bedfellows with anxiety and depression.
Comorbidity is very common for those suffering the chaos of ADHD and too often, only those subsequent disorders are diagnosed leaving the real culprit creating further anxiety, depression and personality disorders in the whirlwind of unmanaged ADHD.
The neurochemistry of ADHD creates a sensitivity to criticism even whilst they are avid blamers themselves!
They can be blunt with their comments, and yet incredibly sensitive themselves to even the slightest hint of criticism. It can feel so unfair to them because they judge a situation by their intention, whilst their partner is only seeing the outcome, and the two can look very different!
ADHD can create wonderfully creative minds as thoughts race, but following through on them, is not so easy.
In fact they can have a lot of things on the go at one time, but struggle to finish any of them.
ADHD also messes with the best intentions of the most loving parent.
They can be the fun parent (especially when its time to calm down and put the kids to bed!) but also the very cranky, short tempered parent who is too impatient and harsh. Often their partner feels like they actually just have an extra child, not another parent, sharing the load of child raising.
In short, where ADHD goes, relational chaos isn’t far behind.
ADHD has always created chaos in the brain that carries it, and that internal chaos creates external chaos that overflows into their relationships. When it’s undiagnosed, and therefore unrecognised, it leaves the partner struggling to find safe, stable ground as they reel from one misunderstanding or explosion to another.
Now it might sound like I’m also describing the traits of a narcissist –
And in a way, I am! Adult ADHD is very single minded and self centred – but the difference is, the person really does have good intention and when we slow it all down in session and help them reflect, they usual can join the dots to reveal genuine remorse and frustration at their inability to reliably be the person they mean to be.
Really ADHD is just “too” everything …
– too loud – too distracted – too impatient – too argumentative – too careless – too stubborn – too lazy – too excitable – too day-dreamy – too accident-prone – too frustrated – too unreliable – too reactionary – too impulsive – too angry – too messy – too forgetful – too untrustworthy –
At least that is what the person with ADHD has always heard said about them!
Having ADHD is not easy! Not easy for the person, and not easy for their partner.
That’s why I have deep empathy for both, when they come to my counselling room, confused, exhausted and fed up with trying to both ‘feel loved’ and ‘feel enough’ in their relationship.
Any of this seem familiar to you? If so, you have my empathy too, because ADHD in a relationship can really hurt and I don’t want either of you to hurt anymore! The way out may not be an easy road, but a well qualified relationship therapist is a good place to start. But make sure it is a relationship therapist who comprehensively understands the relational nuances of ADHD. Even with really good intentions, but the wandering attention of Adult ADHD, therapy can go awry if the ADHD is not recognised in the relationship issues!
It usually takes a mixture of medications, good relationship therapy, great strategies created in therapy/coaching, and a healthy diet, along with regular exercise, to help the person reliably be how they’ve always wanted to be.
Most ADHD sufferers really appreciate empathic understanding (yes the irony isn’t lost!) and support. I have developed a somatic, trauma informed relationship therapy, that those with ADHD seem to love because it calms their nervous system and slows their racing brain, so that listening and making sense of things, is a whole lot easier for them. So don’t give up just yet, help is at hand for both of you.
Further Reading :
TAKING CHARGE OF ADHD
Dr Russell Barkley
MORE ATTENTION, LESS DEFICIT
Dr Ari Tuckman
IS IT YOU, ME OR ADULT ADD
THE ADHD EFFECT ON MARRIAGE
THE MINDFULNESS PRESCRIPTION FOR ADULT ADHD
Further Listening (because reading can be challenging if you have ADHD!)
ADDitude – ADHD experts
ADULTING with ADHD