Many people mistakenly believe that ADHD is a problem seen only childhood -- one that children "grow out of." Yet, about one-third to one-half of those who had ADHD in childhood -- nearly 5% of Americans -- continue to have it into adulthood.
The inattentiveness and difficulty finishing tasks that made it tough for children to sit still in school can evolve into self-esteem issues, trouble holding down a job, and substance abuse problems. These symptoms of adult ADHD can also put a real strain on relationships.
Many adults with ADHD also have never been diagnosed. Until you know you have ADHD, you can't get the right treatment for it and your relationships could suffer.
How Does ADHD Affect Relationships?
The hallmark symptoms of ADHD -- forgetfulness, inattentiveness, difficulty completing tasks, and impulsivity -- can all wreak havoc on relationships. All of these issues can be complicated even more if children are in the picture.
Here are some of the problems you might face if you or your partner has ADHD:
Difficulty listening and paying attention. An individual with ADHD may "zone out" or talk out of turn, making it difficult to communicate. It can also cause the partner to feel as though what he or she has to say doesn't matter or isn't valued.
Trouble completing tasks. ADHD can lead to poor organizational skills and forgetfulness. A man with ADHD may miss his wife's birthday or their wedding anniversary, or may forget to stop at the store on the way home from work as his wife had asked. This forgetfulness may make his wife feel hurt and think that her husband doesn't care, when he's actually forgotten because he has trouble staying on top of things. That same inability to finish tasks may translate into a lack of commitment when it comes to marriage or other relationships.
Inability to handle responsibilities. Someone with ADHD might forget to pay the bills, neglect to clear a dangerous pile of branches from the backyard, or leave a toxic cleaner on the sink while children are playing nearby.
Impulsive behavior. People with ADHD constantly need stimulation, and may fail to think through the consequences of their actions. This can lead to reckless, irresponsible behaviors (like driving too fast with the kids in the car).
Emotional overreaction. Someone with ADHD may lose his or her temper easily, leading to major misunderstandings. Arguments can quickly spiral out of control, because the person with ADHD is unable to talk through issues calmly.
ADHD can destroy your marriage or relationship if you don't get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
How Can Someone with ADHD Get Help for Relationship Issues?
The first step is to treat the ADHD symptoms that are interfering with your relationship. If you haven't already been diagnosed, see a mental health professional (a psychologist or psychiatrist). Many of the same treatments that work in children -- such as stimulant medications, counseling, and behavioral therapy -- can also help adults with ADHD improve their focus and deal with relationship issues. Marriage or couples therapy can help you and your partner better understand one another, and may help heal any rifts that have opened in your relationship as a result of ADHD.
Some other strategies to help ADHD-related relationship problems include:
Make to-do lists of everything from daily responsibilities to items you need from the store. Also keep a calendar of important dates and deadlines.
Ask the partner with ADHD to repeat back any requests, to make sure he or she understands what is being asked.
Simplify your life by cleaning up clutter around the house and only attempting to accomplish a small number of tasks each day or week.
Get into a routine -- for example, go through your checkbook once a week to see how much money you've spent, or plan the entire week's meals every Sunday night.
CDC: "Symptoms of ADHD."
American Medical Association: "New Analysis Cites Economic Impact of ADHD," Sept. 9, 2004.
Kessler, R. The American Journal of Psychiatry, April 2006; vol 163: pp 716-723.
Searight, H. American Family Physician, November 2000; vol 62: pp 2077-2086.