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How Does ADHD Affect My Relationships? – From a Couples’ Therapist in Los Angeles

Two women sharing a kiss representing how relationships can still function when one or more parties identifies as an ADHDer in Los Angeles, California.

When it comes to the impact of ADHD, it can be easier to identify how your different symptoms affect you at work or at home. It can be much harder to pinpoint how ADHD affects you in your interpersonal relationships too. You might notice that you can’t seem to engage in relationships like neurotypical folks, and it might lead you to feeling like something is fundamentally wrong with the way you interact. In this blog, we’ll discuss some issues you may be facing, and share several strategies to start tackling them.

Symptom-Related Issues

ADHD can impact your attention, focus, organization, and memory, and this can show up in many different ways. You might find that you have trouble staying engaged in long conversations, or you might lose track of your own viewpoint in difficult disagreements. Your roommate or partner may get frustrated or angry with you for unintentionally forgetting a specific task or appointment. You may also have trouble with large groups or parties because the overwhelming amount of stimulation distracts you from the current activity.

Different Relational Styles

A Black woman and a white male hugging in a kitchen representing that a relationship can involve differing relationship styles in Los Angeles, California.

Many neurodivergent folks find that they have a different way of understanding relationships, compared to neurotypical folks.

An ADHDer might go several weeks or months without talking to a friend and be able to pick up where they left off. On the other hand, a neurotypical person might prefer more frequent contact in order to feel that their friendship has maintained its strength. It’s hard to say exactly why this is the case. However, it is likely that different ways of experiencing time can play a role in this. Many ADHDers have time blindness or difficulty sensing the passage of time. If you find that your neurotypical friend or partner would like more frequent interaction, you might want to plan regular phone calls or in-person dates. These interactions don’t necessarily have to be scheduled, but it can be helpful to have intentional time together every week or every month, depending on the closeness of the relationship. 

Many ADHDers also find that they need a balance of alone time and together time, and find a happy compromise in parallel time. Parallel time can look like each party doing their own activity in a shared space, with or without talking to each other. While neurotypical folks enjoy parallel time too, you might find that your neurotypical friend or partner wants more collaborative time, in which you’re both focused on the same activity together. It can feel awkward, but it can be helpful to talk about how you and your loved one can make each other feel seen and loved.

Different Communication Styles

Two women hugging in a bed representing how there can be different communication styles in a relationship in Los Angeles, California.

Beyond difficulties with attention and concentration, you might find that you also have difficulty with organizing your thoughts or regulating your emotions in conversations with others. Some ADHDers also experience sensory overload, so it can be even more difficult to hold a verbal conversation if the day or the environment is too overwhelming.

The first way you can tackle communication is to think about your own specific style, and what you find is more or less difficult for you. For example, you may find that it is helpful to use physical fidgets or notes during in-depth conversations. You may find that you prefer face-to-face communication over calling, or calling over texting. It can also be helpful to practice active listening strategies, where you reflect back what the other person is saying to make sure that you heard them correctly.

The second way you can tackle communication is to think about how you and your loved one communicate. It can be helpful to give a roommate or a partner a heads-up ahead of time if you are too busy or overwhelmed to talk, and it can also be helpful to check in with your loved one to see if they have the time or energy to talk. By having meta-conversations around what’s okay and what’s not okay, you can more effectively manage difficult conversations. For example, one person might prefer to hash things out in the moment, whereas the other person might prefer to have some space to breathe before tackling disagreements.

Managing Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria

A woman meditating in her room representing the importance of managing ones own emotions as an ADHDer in Los Angeles, California.

Many ADHDers experience rejection sensitivity dysphoria, or intense emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception of criticism and/or rejection. Some signs include feeling very anxious about the possibility of rejection, avoiding situations in which you might be criticized, feeling worry or panic after a social interaction, or taking deep hits to your self-esteem when someone else shows dislike.

This is easier said than done, but it is important to remind yourself that feedback is not always about you as a person. Sometimes, feedback is just about a behavior, habit, or skill, all of which are things that can be adjusted or changed. If your friend or partner says that they disliked something that you did, that doesn’t mean that they dislike you. It can be difficult, but when you are faced with criticism from someone, do your best to pause, take a breath, and remind yourself that you don’t have to act on your emotions immediately. It can also be helpful to look at the evidence of the connection between you and the other person. You may find that you need space to remind yourself of your positive attributes, or you may want time to reconnect after the feedback has been addressed.

Providing Education

This last suggestion is a little more tricky because it can be exhausting for ADHDers to be required to educate the people around them constantly. However, it is also something that can be necessary with the people you care about and interact with regularly. You might want to share facts about ADHD, and your specific experience as an ADHDer. You can share what you have discovered in your ADHD journey, and how your friend or partner can support you in meeting your emotional needs.

Closing Thoughts

Interpersonal relationships can be tough, and they can be extra tough if your brain is fundamentally different from the other person’s. Whether it’s the way that you experience ADHD or the ways that you prefer to relate or communicate, it is totally okay that ADHD shows up in your relationships. We tried to talk about friendships and romantic relationships in this blog, as many of the issues are similar. However, you may find that these issues are much more significant in your romantic relationship. You might want to consider pursuing couples therapy to work on these issues together.

Start Couples Therapy Today

All couples run into obstacles at some point, and couples with at least one ADHDer have their own unique set of challenges. But our couples therapists believe that you and your partner can find a better way forward together. To begin couples therapy at YCC, please follow the steps below.

  1. Fill out our appointment request form here or below using the prompt
  2. Start sessions with one of our caring, neurodiversity-affirming couples therapists
  3. Connect with your partner, leading to a more fulfilling and enjoyable relationship