12 Most Common Ways ADD Kills Relationships (and How to Fix It)

12 Most Common Ways ADD Kills Relationships (and How to Fix It)

Falling in love with someone with ADD/ADHD can be easy. People with this common condition, which brain SPECT imaging shows is associated with having low activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, are often highly intelligent, creative, and “out-of-the-box” thinkers. They often make wonderful writers, artists, and salespeople. They’re natural risk-takers, which can make them great entrepreneurs CEOs. And they tend to be the kind of people who run toward dangerous situations—think firefighters, ER physicians, and trauma nurses—while most people run away from them. Life with ADD/ADHD types can be spontaneous, exciting, and unpredictable.

Living with these people, however, can pose some special challenges that may lead to marital conflict. At Amen Clinics, the global leader in brain health, our neuropsychiatrists have worked with thousands of people with ADD/ADHD and their partners. Based on this experience, here are the 12 most common issues that arise in these relationships and some simple strategies to help partners of ADD/ADHD people cope more effectively.

12 ADD/ADHD Relationship Killers

  1. Speaking without thinking: This is perhaps the most damaging problem with ADD/ADHD in relationships. Just because a person has a thought doesn’t mean that it is accurate or that or that they even necessarily believe it. Many people with ADD/ADHD just say what comes to mind, such as “That dress shows all your bulges,” “That’s a stupid idea,” or “You aren’t smart enough to get that job.” These statements can be hurtful and damaging to the relationship.
  2. Misperceptions: Misperceptions often causes serious problems in relationships. Often the spouse of an ADD/ADHD person has to spend an inordinate amount of time correcting misperceptions that lead to disagreements. One Amen Clinics patient said that before he was leaving on a business trip, he told his wife that he was going to miss her. She heard his words as “I’m not going to miss you” and was angry at him for the rest of the night, no matter what he said.
  3. Distractibility and interruptions: Due to distractibility, conversations are often cut short or left uncompleted, leaving the other person feeling unimportant. The ADD/ADHD person’s need to have what they want right away often causes problems in situations where they need to take turns, such as in conversations. Spouses often complain that they are cut off or interrupted, which makes them feel disrespected.
  4. Chronic procrastination and disorganization: The ADD/ADHD person often waits until the very last minute or is too disorganized to get things done, such as paying the bills, buying holiday gifts, or making dinner reservations for anniversaries. In addition, they may not complete chores even though they fully intended to do so. This may irritate spouses who feel the need to pick up the loose pieces or who feel unloved or unimportant.
  5. Sensitivity to touch: Some ADD/ADHD people are sensitive to touch, which makes often shy away from affection. This can harm a relationship, especially if the person’s partner wants or needs affection.
  6. Excessive talking or lack of talking: Sometimes people with ADD/ADHD talk for self-stimulation. There is an internal drive to go on and on. This may irritate significant others, who feel like a prisoner of the conversation—or monologue—because they can’t get a word in edgewise. The partners of other ADD/ADHD people complain that there is little talking or emotional expression in the relationship. “They seem turned off when they come home” is a common complaint. Often when spouses ask about their day, the only response they get is “fine” or “okay.”
  7. Takes high risks/thrill-seeking: This type of behavior worries the partners of the ADD/ADHD person. In some cases, spouses feel pressured to go along with dangerous or reckless behavior, causing a rift in the relationship.
  8. Easily frustrated/ moody/angry: Many spouses say that they never know what to expect from the ADD/ADHD person. “One minute they’re happy, the next minute they’re screaming,” is a common complaint. Small amounts of stress may trigger off huge explosions. Some studies have reported that up to 85% of people with the condition have rage outbursts, often with little provocation. After this occurs several times in a relationship, the partner can become “gun shy” and may begin to withdraw from the person. Untreated ADD is often involved in abusive relationships.
  9. Creating drama: This is a common complaint of people living with someone who has ADD/ADHD. People with the condition often look for trouble as a way to self-stimulate. Rather than ignoring a minor incident, they focus on it and have difficulty letting it go. Things in an ADD/ADHD house do not remain peaceful for long periods of time.
  10. Chronic anxiousness or restlessness: ADD/ADHD people often feel restless or have anxiety, causing them to seek out ways to relax. They may use excessive sex, food, or alcohol to try to calm themselves. One patient at Amen Clinics had sex with his girlfriend over 500 times in the last year of their relationship. She left him because she felt that their relationship was only based on sex.
  11. Failure to see others’ needs: Many people with ADD/ADHD have trouble getting outside of themselves to see the emotional needs of others. Spouses often label them as spoiled, immature, or self-centered.
  12. Lack of learning from the past: Often people with ADD/ADHD engage in repetitive, negative arguments with their partner. They don’t learn from the interpersonal mistakes from their past and repeat them again and again.

6 Survival Skills for ADD/ADHD Partners

With some simple techniques, you can navigate your way to a happier, more peaceful relationship with your ADD/ADHD partner. Here are 6 strategies the neuropsychiatrists at Amen Clinics recommend.

  1. Be specific. when you ask your significant other to do something. Instead of “Can you rake the leaves?” try “Can you rake the leaves before lunchtime?”
  2. Set up reminders and alerts. To counteract distractibility, disorganization, and trouble completing tasks, create lists for your ADD/ADHD partner and use technology to “ping” them when they need to do something.
  3. Adjust your expectations. Accept your partner’s strengths and weaknesses and don’t expect more than they can deliver.
  4. Set healthy boundaries. Let your significant other know how you expect to be treated and let them know when they are crossing that line. And be prepared to regularly remind them of your boundaries.
  5. Create a brain healthy lifestyle. Encourage your loved one to engage in healthy habits that naturally stimulate the brain. This includes daily exercise, a diet that’s higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, meditation (to increase focus and attention), and supplements (rhodiola, green tea, and omega-3 fatty acids).
  6. Know their ADD/ADHD type. The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics has helped identify 7 types of ADD/ADHD (Classic ADD, Inattentive ADD, Overfocused ADD, Temporal Lobe ADD, Limbic ADD, Ring of Fire ADD, Anxious ADD). Knowing more about their individual type can increase understanding and can help you come up with targeted solutions to reduce symptoms and improve relationships. When natural solutions or traditional treatments aren’t working, a brain scan may be beneficial to identify their type and to see signs of other problems, such as traumatic brain injuries that can mimic or worsen ADD/ADHD symptoms.

ADD/ADHD—as well as anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions—can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

13 Comments »

  1. I’ve been married to an add/adhd man for 55 years and just about everything on the list rings true, especially #4 and #12. I sure wish I had known some of these strategies. He is a wonderful person though, with the qualities you describe . It’s been kind of like a rollercoaster ride, and I’m glad we stayed married.

    Comment by Jerilyn Tyner — October 12, 2020 @ 4:03 AM

  2. Valuable information that would have helped me earlier on in my relationship, but will help me in the present.

    Comment by Denise Caruselle — October 12, 2020 @ 6:00 AM

  3. What if your husband believes he has no problem, yet you described his behaviors “on the money?” He shuts down for days, asks for divorce every time. I know he doesn’t mean it. I’m his 7th wife and knew nothing about his behaviors. We are older and promised to take care of eachother. I have been diagnosed w manic bipolar w severe depression, I understand my issues. I’ve been under the care of a psychiatrist for 11 yrs and w therapy and medications, I feel great and also learned about mental health from dealing w same after working w the disabled population professionally for 35 yrs.

    Comment by Teri Krause — October 12, 2020 @ 6:50 AM

  4. I really need to do these things.

    But with my ADD & procrastination I am doubting that I ever will….

    Comment by Kirby Merrell — October 12, 2020 @ 7:05 AM

  5. My life partner is ADHD and we have been on the verge of splitting up this past year because he exhibits all of these behaviors. It has been a very difficult road but now I know, thanks to this article, that there is reason for his behavior that goes beyond his conscious decisions. This clears up so much!
    Thank you!!

    Comment by Yvonne Varela — October 12, 2020 @ 7:34 AM

  6. It may seem like a small thing but I do not like that you left police officers out of your description of those that run into danger. In this current anti-police climate, it is wrong and seems on purpose. Response?

    Comment by Diane Milecki — October 12, 2020 @ 7:40 AM

  7. I am married to an ADD/ADHD person and we have major problems. Abuse is involved and we are going to court yet again at the end of this month for his physical abuse. He has been under the care of both a psychiatrist and psychologist for years and also medication. We tried to enter into marriage counseling but were told he’s clearly “not doing the work” so they wouldn’t help us. I have to call the police to stop the behavior and when court comes I say I don’t remember or have his lawyer get me a lawyer so he doesn’t go to jail. I’m afraid things have escalated to a point beyond return. What is the best way of avoiding getting to the physical point? I can’t just go in my room as he will simply do what he wants and break in. I don’t want to leave our pets in the house with him in this state to just “get out”. I sure could use some advise. Thanks

    Comment by Jenn H. — October 12, 2020 @ 11:03 AM

  8. Wow, this is spot on with traits my husband has. He’s a good person but it’s been a roller coaster of a marriage for 40+ years. Every time it gets to be too much and I’m ready to give up something comes along to encourage me to stay. You’re like divine intervention, thank you!

    Comment by Aprile — October 12, 2020 @ 2:33 PM

  9. My husband has ADD. All if this describe him except the dare devil thing. He is not like that at all. But the mean things and the inattentiveness is brutal. I dont know what ti do any longer.

    Comment by Nathalie — October 12, 2020 @ 5:18 PM

  10. This it good to know however I no longer want to be on the receiving end of his tantrums and lack of responsibility. It feels good to know I have done my best and it is time to stop fighting against something that will never change b

    Comment by Bethany — October 12, 2020 @ 6:10 PM

  11. I noticed a list of skills needed by the spouse of the ADD person to cope. No list of responsibility by the person with ADD listed in this piece. A common approach. The other skill needed by the spouse of ADD is the need to deal with anger. So the work goes on….

    Comment by Emily — October 12, 2020 @ 7:43 PM

  12. You should also say it’s ok to get out of a relationship with an adhd/add person. Being a martyr and dealing with these issues single handedly do not make a life conducive to peace.
    Sometimes the only way through is to leave.

    Comment by Mary — October 13, 2020 @ 6:53 AM

  13. I would love more on those who chose law enforcement as a career path, as well as those who also have struggled with a porn addiction and financial infidelity. I can find the porn addiction information as a stand-alone, but not in connection with ADHD, although some places briefly mention infidelity. Help.

    Comment by Kaylin — October 20, 2020 @ 10:03 AM

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