Managing Conflict When You Have ADHD

If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may feel like the deck's stacked against you when it comes to conflict. That's because

ADHD can:

Make it hard to pay focus or pay attention. You might zone out during conversations or arguments, and the person you're speaking with might feel like you're ignoring them. They may even feel like you don't really care about them.

Cause you to be unmotivated or make it hard for you to finish tasks. Other people may misinterpret this as laziness or a sign that you don't care.

ADHD can also:

  • Make you more irritable or prone to arguing
  • Raise the chances that you're late, don't follow through on things, or forget important events, like birthdays
  • Make emotional outbursts more likely
  • Lead to impulsive behavior, like drinking too much or overspending

All these things can bring on disagreements. But having ADHD doesn't mean you can't have good, healthy relationships with people close to you.

You can manage conflict and ease stress. Follow these steps:

Keep Up With Your Treatment

It eases symptoms. That can help you avoid confrontations and make it easier to deal with problems as they come up.

Most of the time, ADHD is treated with cognitive behavioral therapy. That's a form of talk therapy that helps you identify or change negative thoughts. Medicine can also help. Many folks find a combination of both works best.

If you often have trouble dealing with others, think about seeing a therapist or ADHD coach. They can do role-playing exercises with you to teach you new ways to communicate. They can also teach you skills to help you work through difficult conversations and situations.

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. You can even 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.

Focus on Communication

Simple steps can make any conversation easier. Make sure you:

  • Are face-to-face with the other person when you're talking to them
  • Listen carefully when they're speaking
  • Don't interrupt
  • Ask questions when you don't understand something
  • 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 ...”

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Know That People Want to Help

You might feel like the people closest to you are constantly criticizing or nagging you. Odds are, they just want to help and see you do your best. Try to keep in mind where they're coming from.

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.

Call a Time Out

If you feel like you're losing your cool or a conversation isn't going the right way, take a break. It's OK to ask for a breather if you feel unfocused. You can resume your discussion later when you feel calm and ready to talk things through.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 17, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Social Development: "Future Directions in the Study of Close Relationships: Conflict is Bad (Except When It's Not.)"

CDC: "My Child Has Been Diagnosed with ADHD—Now What?"

National Institute of Mental Health: "Could I Have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder?"

CHADD: "Social Skills in Adults with ADHD."

Clinical Neurophysiology: "Effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on neurophysiological correlates of performance monitoring in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder."

Judith Orloff, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, UCLA.

CHADD of Northern California: "How Adult ADHD Affects Relationships: Strategies for Coping."

HelpGuide.org: "Adult ADHD and Relationships."

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