We, at Open Forest, have asked a couple of experts to share their thoughts with us on how best achieve a happy relationship when one partner has ADHD symptoms. Here is what they said!
Tip #1: Slow Everything Down
Chris Seiter runs one of the largest websites for breakups and says that they see a lot of breakups caused by ADHD. A person with ADHD can constantly be on the move. Almost as if they are powered by some invisible motor. Sometimes it’s important to make a conscious decision to slow everything down. You may find that not only will your patience go up but your partner (with ADHD) may start to slow down as well.
Chris Seiter is the owner of http://www.exboyfriendrecovery.com, where he talks and writes about post-breakup dilemmas such as ex-recovery strategy, getting over your ex, the no contact rule, and texting, among others. Alternatively, engage with him on Twitter.
Tip #2: Assume Best Intentions
Elaine Taylor-Klaus, the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, writes that ADHD is like a third party in a marriage, and if you don’t pay attention to it, resentment builds. Communication grinds to a halt. Marriages crumble because of what is unspoken, rather than because of what is spoken. So the most important thing a couple can do to manage ADHD is to assume best intentions (that your partner wants to be helpful) and keep the conversation open without judgment or shame. Ask for what you need from each other, and understand that it may take time for a partner with ADHD to figure out how to fulfill the request.
Tip #3: Positive Reinforcement
Dr. Celia Trotta, a board certified psychiatrist, writes that people often become frustrated by their partner’s lack of attention or inability to complete shared chores and responsibilities. Help your partner stay on task by making to-do lists, making a shared calendar and providing gentle reminders. Don’t forget to thank your partner for their efforts. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Celia Trotta, MD is a psychiatrist and can be found at Psychiatry Health on the web where she also offers a blog and information about various psychiatric disorders. Alternatively, engage with her on Twitter.
# Tip 4: Don’t Interrupt Your Partner When They Are Concentrating
Sue Rose, a nutritionist and author, who has managed well with ADHD herself, highlights the fact that ADHD individuals in a relationship often experience incredible tension. She advises to save frustration, arguments, and breakups by understanding that, although ADHD people lack the ability to focus, it is coupled with an amazing ability to hyper-focus when on task. Try not to interrupt your partner when he/she is concentrating. If your partner works from a home office, jot down notes when you’re tempted to interrupt, and then ask all of your questions at an appointed time (e.g. lunch break) or slip your note under the door. I work at home, and when I¹m charging along in hyper-focus mode and my partner interrupts me, it can take me hours to get back to my task! Not only is it frustrating; it’s expensive!
# Tip 5: Talk, Plan, and Learn Together
Michael Drouilhet is an LCSW who has personal experience of ADD in a relationship. His tips for living with an ADHD partner are:
- Talk with your partner about getting diagnosis and medication for ADHD. It will make a world of difference.
- Together read books/articles about ADHD and strategies for living together.
- (Re. attentional difficulties) Plan out strategies: reminders, signals to stop, repeat, slow down and what partner needs to remember important things.
- (Re. impulsivity) Discuss/implement strategies on how to act, especially in public. Cognitive skills to ask oneself about the behavior: is this useful, what may be consequences, and so on.
- (Re. hyperactivity) Discuss appropriate/useful stimulants to slow down the behaviors. Discuss and implement strategies between them designed to increase ADHD’s awareness. Also, skills that the ADHD partner must honor.
Michael Drouilhet has been an LCSW in private practice 37 years. He has ADD and his wife not. We’ve seen ADD/ADHD clients for many years and have developed our own successful skills for living together. Visit Michael on Facebook, or check out his book, “When ‘Happily Ever After’ Isn’t.”
# Tip 6: Learn to Self-Regulate
Dr. Stacy Haynes, a Counseling Psychologist, author, and CEO of Little Hands Family Services believes that self-regulation is a useful place to start to look after a relationship affected by ADHD. If both partners can learn the ability to self-regulate through strategies such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation this will help balance their response. When we can regulate together, we can calm the atmosphere and the energy that we put out. This will help in those moments when the ADHD partner feels they are unable to control themselves and gives the non-ADHD partner an outlet and way to help.
Stacy Haynes is a Counseling Psychologist and CEO of Little Hands Family Services, where clients are served to overcome situations in their lives to help themselves and their families excel. Visit her website at Parenting Tips 2 Go, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Stacy has also authored two books, titled “Powerful Peaceful Parenting: Guiding Children, Changing Lives” and “Anthony Meets Dr. Stacy: A Book About ADHD.”
# Tip 7: Don’t Take Things so Personally
Dr. Elayne Savage is an experienced communication coach and internationally respected expert on overcoming rejection and handling disappointment. She tells that she has worked with hundreds of couples over 30 years where one partner has ADHD and has found that the following works best.
“Don’t take your partner’s quirks personally! The inattention, disorganization, distractions, forgetfulness or impulsivity is NOT about you! Sometimes ADHD has not yet been diagnosed, but symptoms are observable in the sessions or by the miscues and misunderstandings they describe. What a change in the couple’s interactions when the possibility of ADHD is pointed out and some education provided. So much is explained by offering this diagnosis. It’s quite amazing to watch the disrespect and rejection transform to respect and better understanding.”
Elayne Savage, Ph.D., is the author of “Don’t Take it Personally: The Art of Dealing with Rejection.” Visit her website or follow her on Twitter.
# Tip 8: Make Time to Talk Logistics
Anita Chlipala is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and she foremost advises people in a relationship affected by ADHD to minimize miscommunication. Some couples talk to each other at inopportune times, such as when one is distracted or engrossed in another activity. Communicate when both of you can give each other undivided attention, especially if you’re talking about important or time-sensitive matters. You can maximize success by setting aside a few minutes each day for “logistics talk” – making sure you’re both aware of important events, deadlines, etc. One partner won’t always know when it’s a good time to talk, so if they pick a bad time, speak up and let them know that you’re preoccupied and will approach them as soon as you can.
These eight short tips from experts go a long way to smooth potential problems over in a relationship when one or both partners have ADHD symptoms. Effective communication, patience, and regulating emotions are key. ADHD is also related to unique skills and abilities when well-directed, and an understanding partner can help to share in many heady experiences by working, planning, and learning together!