ADHD and Relationships

Recap of Meeting 310

There was a lot of ground to cover when it comes to the topic of relationships and ADHD. Most of us have experienced this at some point or another. Whether it be a romantic or family relationship with a non-ADHD person, there can often be a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications. They can lead to arguments or even break-ups. But anyone who wants to keep their relationship alive when ADD is involved has hope. There are a lot of ways to work together to make the situation work for everyone with love and understanding and we talked about some of them.

ADDers can forget special days like anniversaries. They can inadvertently ignore their partner when they are hyper-focused or distracted. They often have trouble interpersonally and forget that quality time is essential to maintain healthy relationships. They may become disentralled when a relationship passes the moneymoon stage. But the reality is that ADDers really tend to value their partners and feel strong emotions of love and loyalty to them. They simply need to find ways to ‘sparkle-ize’ their relationship again.

And when such a couple run a household together, things become more involved. Disorganization, forgetfulness and lack of motivation when it comes to day to day routines cause an ADDer to lose interest and it appears as though they are ‘lazy’ or just don’t care.

Where the relationship problems begin is a matter of misinterpretation. For example, when the non-ADHD partner brings up an issue they are having in the relationship, any number of things can happen. The non-ADD partner may be accusatory or jump to conclusions about why the behaviour occured. They may try to force the ADDer do things in a way that doesn’t work for them. This will get the ADDer’s gander up and a fight may start. Even if the subject is brought up lightly, there is still a possibility it could go badly because ADDers can be emotionally sensitive and prone to feelings of persecution or judgement.

This is what is called the Stimulus-Response Cycle (SRC). In a relationship where the ADHD element is not dealt with on the barrelhead, each person triggers the other until the cycle implodes the situation. A lot of damage can be caused by this outcome and often such events are recalled over and over again as new incidents occur. Such things are really no one’s fault, and how things play out depends on the dynamic of the relationship. But it’s detrimental to the relationship and it’s utter pointless — and this is why I now refer to this SRC as ‘Stupidly Rehashing Crap.’

The only way to get out of this cycle — apart from breaking up — is to both work together.

The first thing to do, if you haven’t started already, is to get educated about ADHD. It’s important both for the ADDer to understand his or her own ‘flavour’ of ADHD as well as for the non-ADHD person to learn about it in general. They need to understand that the ADDer doesn’t have a choice about how their brain is wired. However, an ADDer DOES have a choice to work on changing how they cope with it.

Treatment is also essential. Whether it be therapeutic or pharmacological or both. Couples therapy can also be beneficial, especially if the therapist has a knowledge of ADD. Such therapy often involves a ‘tripod-attack’, as marriage therapist Melissa Orlov puts it:

“Leg 1” involves making “physical changes to balance out the chemical differences in the brain,” which includes medication, aerobic exercise and sufficient sleep. “Leg 2” is all about making behavioral changes, or “essentially creating new habits.” Which might include creating physical reminders and to-do lists, carrying a tape recorder and hiring help. “Leg 3” is “interactions with your partner,” such as scheduling time together and using verbal cues to stop fights from escalating.

ADDers crave structure – even though they may not be good at acheiving it left to their own devices. So any plan to work on the relationship or the home (or both) should have one laid out. You can include anything from household chores to date nights. But when it’s hashed out beforehand, you stand a better chance of racking up successes than if you leave it unspoken.

It’s vitally important that neither partner take things too personally. This is where empathy comes in. The non-ADHD person needs to accept that an ADDer shouldn’t be defined by their condition — separation of the person from the disorder is required. Likewise, the ADDer should try and understand what it must be like for their partner to witness and be affected by their mannerisms and behaviours. At the end of the day both should be accepting of the others position. And it should be noticed that just because you accept something, doesn’t mean you have to like it. But it will allow to work through it toward improvement.

It’s necessary for both to remember and focus on the positives in the relationship. For any couple who has been on the rollercoaster for a while, it is easy to remember the ‘bad’ things. But you came together for a reason and sometimes intentionally remembering positives about your pairing is helpful to move forward.

Finally, and most importantly, I’m not going to tell you to try harder; I’m going to say ‘try differently’. Chances are you have been riding the rollercoaster for so long enough that there are a number of conditioned responses that come out when things go pear-shaped. But you already know that track leads to somewhere you don’t like. So get off the rollercoaster and try a different strategy. Any of the strategies I talk about above will do this. You can empathise with your partner when you are confronted with a stimulus that triggers you instead of letting your kneejerk reaction come out. You can try a new tactic to help yourself remember to shut the lights off when you leave a room or where you left your keys. Anything, think out of the box. As they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and again and expecting different results.

There is hope for a relationship hampered by ADHD. In the end, if both people try hard enough with love and understanding, such relationships can be every bit as rewarding as you want them to be.

Some Excellent Books on the subject? Here you go.

Is It You, Me or Adult ADD? by Gina Pera (copy in our group library)

The ADHD Effect on Marriages: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa Orlov

How To Stay Lovers For Life by Sharyn Wolf (copy in our group library – not specifically about ADD but still a very good resource.

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