ADHD and Relationships

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 20, 2024
6 min read

If you have ADHD, you might find it hard to date, make friends, or parent. That’s partly because good relationships require you to be aware of other people's thoughts and feelings. But ADHD can make it hard for you to pay attention or react the right way.

That doesn’t mean you can't find a romantic partner or good buddies or be a great parent. It just takes patience, self-awareness, and practical strategies.

The most common ADHD symptoms can complicate your social life.

Forgetfulness. Miss a friend’s birthday bash? A no-show on your own date? Do you feel like you’re always getting blamed for forgetting things, when you know no one actually told you about them? You may well forget if you don’t write it down or set reminders.

The condition often causes people to forget things they’re told. That can lead to major problems in relationships. If people have been telling you for years that you’re forgetful, they may be right.

Impulsiveness. Fights over finances tend to be another problem. A common ADHD symptom is doing things on impulse, and that includes buying things. Adults with the disorder can have reckless spending habits and trouble saving money.

Distraction. You meant it when you said you’d get to your son’s basketball game by 4:30 p.m. You really did. But then you got distracted at work, and your cellphone rang, and then you realized you needed to pick up the dry cleaning. And before you knew it, the game was over -- and you were in the dog house.

Indifference. Many romances start intensely and cool down over time. But your ADHD brain can zap a crush too soon. Why? It’s wired to shift attention from old to new more quickly. When your passion fades, it can leave your love interest confused or upset. If you have ADHD, your loved ones and friends might have a hard time getting your full attention, and they may get frustrated with you. On the other hand, you might feel like they're nagging you.

Social miscues. To connect with people, you need to be able to read body signals and social situations. ADHD can make you misunderstand other people’s comments or not notice how they react to your behavior.

Miscommunication. You might not catch the emotional meaning behind words. You might easily overlook the sarcasm, fear, or other unspoken messages. That can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Disorganization. Household clutter can drive a tidy roommate mad. But the tension can go higher if your ADHD leaves you overwhelmed or anxious at the thought of tackling the mess.

If the people you live with tell you that you aren’t doing enough, take a step back and consider whether they’re right. When was the last time you took out the trash? Is your clutter taking over the house?

Your family members may be doing more than their fair share of keeping the household running smoothly.

Sex and intimacy. Your ADHD can get in the way of intimacy -- the emotional bond with your partner. Studies suggest that discomfort and fear of getting close may be stronger the more serious your symptoms are.

At the same time, the impulsivity that’s a hallmark of ADHD can lead you to do risky things. People with the condition tend to start sex at a younger age, have more partners, and have unprotected sex more often.

If you think your ADHD is coming between you and your friends or romantic interest, these tips may help make your relationships more mutually satisfying.

Listen beyond words. Pay attention to body language and tone of voice, too. Don’t interrupt.

Think ahead. When you're about to have a tough talk or feel like an argument may crop up, think about what you want to accomplish before you speak. Try to visualize how you'd like to act before you see the other person. This can help you keep your cool in a heated situation.

Get a trusted buddy to help you interpret conversations. They can help you pick up subtle social cues you might miss.

Watch others for clues on what to do, like where to sit or what to wear.

Role play with a friend or romantic interest to get feedback and improve social skills.

Repeat what you think you heard in a conversation, and ask if you need to know anything else. Let the other person know you understand them by using phrases like “It sounds like you're saying,” or “Tell me if I'm hearing you right ...” Ask questions when you don't understand something.

Talk face-to-face. Texts, emails, and phone calls can’t give you important cues like tone of voice and eye contact you get from a direct conversation.

Concentrate. Look at the person’s eyes and make a mental note not to interrupt. If your mind starts to wander, repeat what you hear in your head to stay focused.

Tell your partner. Some ADHD meds can cause sexual problems. Talk to your partner openly about this and any other issues that may affect your relationship.

Plan it out. If it's tough for you to follow through, and it's a regular source of conflict, work with your loved ones to come up with a “get it done” plan.

For example, you might ask your spouse to let you know about an important birthday the day before it happens. Or you could decide when it's OK for someone to remind you about something. Knowing when to expect a reminder can make it feel less like nagging and more like help. That can hold off a fight.

Don’t play the blame game. When you’re a parent with ADHD, you might feel like you’ve failed your child. If your child has it, too, you may feel twice as guilty -- like you’ve “given” your child the condition. ADHD isn’t something you “let” happen to you. Bad parenting or chaos at home doesn't cause it, either. It’s a biological, neurological, and genetic disorder. Instead of focusing on feelings of guilt and shame, try to find solutions to make your home healthier and happier.

Keep disagreements short and simple. It takes two to argue. When you and your child don’t see eye-to-eye, staying calm -- rather than “winning” the argument -- should be your top priority. One way to do that is to stick to the facts. For example, if your child insists on doing something you don’t want them to do, you can say, “No, and I’m not going to keep discussing it with you. We’ll talk again when we’re both calm.”

Cut yourself some slack when you screw up or don’t respond the way you’d like -- and vow to try again next time. Show the same kindness to your child, too. Research shows that kids are less aggressive when their parents are kind and understanding.

Seek help.Therapy may give you insights and tools to manage relationships. Talk therapy, for example, could help you work through your frustrations and other emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy can teach you to recognize and change thoughts and behaviors that might be affecting your social life. Talk to your doctor about medication, too. Many people find a combination of therapy and medicine works best on their ADHD symptoms.

If you think you or someone you care about has adult ADHD, the first thing you should do is learn about the disorder and how it’s diagnosed.

You can start by looking over free online resources from organizations like Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) and the National Center on ADHD. These sites can help you find local doctors, along with support groups where you can meet people facing similar issues. You can also find out how to get tested for the condition.