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6 Common Challenges in ADHD Couples + Tips for Coping

ADHD Couples, or couples in which at least one person has ADHD, have twice the rate of divorce compared to the general population. ADHD impacts multiple areas of life, and is in fact considered a disability by the Americans with Disability Act. Whether you or your loved one has ADHD, the impact of ADHD can present some challenges in your relationship. You may have experienced tensions in communication or in differences in executive functioning, such as focus, energy, impulsivity, organization, or forgetfulness. In this blog, we’ll discuss six common challenges for ADHD couples, and offer some tips for coping.

1) Only one of you seems to follow the clock.

A close up of an alarm clock on a nightstand. This could represent the struggles with time management that ADHD treatment in Los Angeles, CA can address. Learn how a neurodiversity-affirming therapist in Los Angeles, CA can offer support with online therapy in Los Angeles, CA and other services.

You may have heard that people with ADHD struggle with time blindness, or difficulty with perceiving the passing of time. This can look like losing track of the time during activities or routines, or incorrectly estimating how much time a task might take. For example, a neurotypical person might have no issue leaving the house on time, while an ADHDer may be chronically late in spite of their best efforts. If you are a neurotypical person with an ADHD partner, you may find yourself feeling confused, frustrated, or angry when your partner loses track of time again, especially when it impacts you or your other loved ones.

Another point of contention might be the way that the ADHD partner is able to ‘mask’ functional impairments in more visible areas of life, only to suffer in the more private areas of life. For many ADHDers who feel intense pressure to succeed at work, they may dedicate all of their energy to work assignments, leaving themselves with little to nothing left for home tasks. This can leave the neurotypical partner feeling like they have to shoulder the burden of keeping up with household deadlines, such as bills or appointments. Over time, this can lead the neurotypical partner to feel like more of a caregiver than a partner, which in turn can lead to frustration and even resentment. It is important for both partners to set reasonable expectations for managing time-bound household tasks. The partner with ADHD can learn to communicate their difficulties with scheduling and learn to manage their time, and the neurotypical partner can set boundaries for a more equitable balance in household management.

2) Impulsive decisions can impact your relationship dynamic.

Some people with ADHD can struggle with impulsive behaviors that can have harmful consequences for themselves and their partner. For example, the ADHD partner might send a message or email that should have been edited, or never sent in the first place. They might engage in self-destructive behaviors such as poor nutrition, gambling, or impulsive shopping. It is important to note that these impulsive behaviors are generally not intended to be malicious to anyone. However, left unmanaged, this impulsivity can take a toll on the relationship, financially and emotionally. Challenging consequences, such as health or financial issues, can lead to shame and guilt for the ADHD partner and anger, fear, and worry for the neurotypical partner. The ADHDer in the relationship can benefit from therapy or medication to help manage impulsiveness, without hurting yourself or your loved ones.

3) Not everyone can easily multitask. 

Multitasking is a skill, but it can be more challenging for some people with ADHD. If focus or concentration are more difficult for you, you might not be able to juggle simultaneous tasks. For example, it might feel impossible to complete a household chore while always monitoring a pet or a child. Or it might be particularly challenging to remember your next errand when you have been distracted or interrupted by a call. These challenges can create friction in a relationship, since the neurotypical partner might not fully understand why their ADHD partner can’t multitask two seemingly ‘easy’ activities.

A man checks his phone while in a store representing the struggles with multitasking that an ADHD therapist in Los Angeles, CA can address. Search for an online therapist in New York to learn more about the help adhd treatment in los angeles, ca or New York can offer.

Neurotypical people often seem to have the intuitive ability to break down multiple complicated tasks and manage their time so that each task is completed efficiently. For example, the neurotypical partner may have no difficulty with cooking a full meal while cleaning as they do so. They can assess their available ingredients, determine the order of steps, estimate the amount of time each step requires, and juggle any tidying in their ‘wait’  time. This ability to organize steps, manage time, and multitask may be a frustrating struggle for the ADHD partner.

This imbalance in multitasking can create an imbalance in the relationship, in which the ADHD partner may need support from their neurotypical partner to complete complicated tasks or to pick up any steps that were missed. This challenge can be especially pronounced during times of crisis and conflict, as high emotions can exacerbate the ADHDer’s struggle to problem solve and make decisions quickly. Over time, this can take a toll on the neurotypical partner. It can be helpful for both partners to start from a place of mutual understanding of how you each approach different tasks, and which tasks are more doable for each partner. Creating a better understanding of each partner’s strengths and skills can allow for more empathy, patience, and problem solving for success.

4) Regulating emotions does not come easy during conflict.

Another challenge for ADHD couples involves differences in processing information and managing sensory input. This can be especially prominent in neuro-blended relationships, in which one partner is neurotypical and the other partner is neurodivergent. For the neurotypical person, it might feel relatively easy to focus on an important conversation. However, for the person with ADHD, it can feel challenging to sustain attention on emotionally difficult conversations. The partner with ADHD might lose track of the conversation, get distracted by other topics, or become overstimulated and disengaged. As a result, the neurotypical partner, who wants to discuss serious topics extensively, can feel disconnected. And the ADHD partner, who might be feeling pressured or misunderstood, can struggle even more to stay in the conflict at hand. 

It’s important to note that this difficulty to stay engaged is not stemming from a lack of intention or care. Many ADHDers experience heightened emotional responses, and some experience more difficulty juggling intense emotions with immediate responsibilities. This can look like losing control of one’s emotions, leaving their partner to be confused and hurt at an emotional outburst. But with so many thoughts and emotions to keep track of during conflict, the ADHD partner might be unable to help how flooded, drained, and exhausted they feel. It can help for both partners to take the time to discuss what might be most effective in resolving conflict. For example, when emotions are too heightened, it can be beneficial to take a time-out to breathe and calm down. That way, both partners will be able to revisit the issue more calmly.

5) Your brains may be very different.

People with ADHD may find it difficult to process auditory information, remember instructions, and implement multi-step processes. For example, a long lecture or presentation may be unhelpful to an ADHDer, if there are no visual cues or alternative forms of engagement. That same presentation may be super helpful to a neurotypical person, as they are able to process and understand the information presented verbally. Additionally, both parties may have different recall after an event, as memories can be processed and stored differently. A neurotypical person may be able to recall memories that happened in their childhood easily, whereas an ADHDer might need some sort of cue or trigger to recall specific moments. 

In regards to multi-step or multi-part processes, a neurotypical person might approach the parts in one way, while a neurodivergent person might approach them in an entirely different way. At the same time, the ADHDer might find that their brain is able to move from topic to topic quickly and in creative ways, and the neurotypical person might not be able to follow. It is important to note that not all people with ADHD have the same cognitive processes. Thus, even if both partners have ADHD, they might still have very different brains. By taking into account your unique brains, you will be able to approach each other with more grace, patience, and understanding.

6) You may have unchecked resentment in your relationship.

A couple appear to argue with one another while gesturing with their hands. Learn how ADHD treatment in Los Angeles, CA can offer support for relationship issues. Contact a neurodiversity-affirming therapist in Los Angeles, CA for more info about online therapy in Los Angeles, CA and more.

One struggle for many ADHDers is starting a task and staying focused long enough to complete it. This can present a serious challenge in a relationship, as the neurotypical partner may feel that they cannot trust their ADHD partner to follow through with something. For example, consider household management tasks. The neurotypical partner might not feel they can depend on their ADHD partner to do the dishes or the laundry. And it is very likely that the ADHDer means to do these tasks, but gets distracted along the way or forgets by the time evening rolls around. While it is unintentional, the lack of completion of agreed upon tasks can feel intensely frustrating for the neurotypical partner, who may feel that they are always picking up the responsibilities. That’s not to say that the ADHD partner doesn’t feel frustrated too. They might very well feel frustrated with themselves, and with their partner’s lack of understanding for their efforts and struggles. Over time, this frustration, lack of trust, and lack of understanding for each other can turn into resentment.

Another challenge is the struggle for many ADHDers to attend to the relationship itself. Whether the ADHDer experiences inattentiveness or restlessness, this can show up as a lack of attention or engagement with their partner or relationship. In turn, the neurotypical partner might feel that the ADHD partner is bored or disinterested in the relationship. For example, the ADHD partner might unintentionally miss an important date due to their inattention or forgetfulness. Or they might have a tendency towards tools that provide constant stimulation, such as a phone or video game, due to their hyperactivity or restlessness. This seeming lack of engagement is not an intentional lack of interest in the relationship, but the neurotypical partner can still feel sidelined and neglected. As the neurotypical partner feels more neglected, they may in turn decrease their attempts to engage with their ADHD partner, who may not understand why this is happening. This lack of mutual engagement can create resentment in both partners.

What can ADHD couples do?

Relationships are hard work. For the neuro-blended ADHD couple, it is essential to practice good self-care, manage boundaries and expectations, and use communication strategies that work for both of you. The more you are able to offer patience, compassion, and forgiveness to each other, the more you will find that you can face these relationship challenges together.

If you are having trouble with any of these areas, a skilled neurodiversity-affirming therapist can help you identify ways to get started. By learning to develop much needed coping skills and communication tools, ADHD couples can improve the effectiveness of their conflict resolution. Couples therapy can be a great place to start exploring and discussing your differences in an open and welcoming space. 

Begin Couples Therapy with a Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapist in Los Angeles, CA or New York today!

At our Los Angeles, CA, and New York City, NY-based therapy practice, we have many neurodiversity-affirming couples and family therapists who can help you navigate the complicated dynamics in neuro-blended relationships between neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals. For your added convenience and simplicity, we offer online therapy for anyone in the state of California or New York. We know that your relationship is important, and we want to help you work through whatever’s holding you back from a thriving relationship. Follow the steps below to begin.

Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective

There are many options for treatment using online therapy in California and New York, it just depends on what you’re needing. And while we certainly service Asian American folks, we also work with individuals from other cultures, too. So, whether you need support in overcoming anxiety, burnout, trauma, or PTSD, we can help. Likewise, we serve teens and couples in need of support, too. So when you start online therapy with us, you can bring your whole self, including past struggles, cultural impacts, and more.