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Adult ADHD Affecting Relationships

By Erin Beck ; Updated August 14, 2017

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, affects every area of a person's life, including his relationships. Many people with ADHD are creative and fun to be around, attracting romantic partners to them. But the symptoms of untreated ADHD can put a strain on relationships. ADHD can even hurt relationships when it's treated because of the internalized self-beliefs of the person with ADHD. Find out how ADHD is affecting your relationship, then learn how to stop it from continuing to cause problems.


ADHD is a disorder characterized by trouble focusing, impulsivity and in some cases, hyperactivity. While it's usually diagnosed in childhood, sometimes people with ADHD don't discover it until adulthood. Adults with ADHD may display chronic forgetfulness, low self-esteem, difficulty controlling anger, low tolerance for frustration and chronic boredom. About 1 percent to 5 percent of adults have ADHD. ADHD can be effectively treated with medications and counseling.

Internalized Beliefs

An adult who grew up with undiagnosed ADHD may have internalized negative beliefs about herself. She may have wondered why she was different from the other children. She may have been criticized for her behavior and still feels a sense of shame because of it. Some high-achieving adults have internalized the belief that despite their success, they are frauds and will eventually be found out. Because of these beliefs, they may have trouble trusting themselves and rely on others to make decisions. They may anticipate rejection from their partners, so they become overly sensitive or critical.


Adults with untreated ADHD may have difficulty listening during conversations, even important ones with a loved one. They may forget to call when they say they will or fulfill other obligations. In response, the partner of the person with ADHD may feel as if her thoughts and concerns are not being valued. Then, if the person with ADHD is criticized or labeled as lazy for displaying ADHD symptoms, he may grow resentful of his partner. ADHD may also contribute to reckless acts, such as driving too fast or impulsive financial decisions. The partner of the person with ADHD may react with criticism, contributing to the person with ADHD's negative self-beliefs. People with ADHD may also be especially prone to angry outbursts, so relationship disputes become blowout fights quickly.

Manage Your ADHD

To manage your own ADHD and strengthen your relationship, first see a doctor to determine an appropriate treatment regimen. Then, focus on being self-accepting and setting realistic goals for yourself, recommends Melinda White, MFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Remember that those with ADHD do best when their time is structured. Anticipate when you will need special accommodations, plan for them and let your partner know ahead of time. For example, if you have decided that one of your responsibilities will be laundry, let your partner know that you will do the laundry in short bursts, rather than spending a whole evening on it.

Strategies for Partners

To maintain a strong relationship with a partner who has trouble focusing, learn as much as you can about the disorder. You must fully understand the disorder to move past your feelings of anger and hurt, according to Gina Pera, who moderates an online support group for partners of people with ADHD. Try your best to be patient, accepting and understanding. Don't try to take on too many responsibilities because of your partner's needs. Instead, make a plan together. Each of you should take on responsibilities that best fit your strengths. Maintain open, honest communication. Encourage your spouse to remain on his treatment plan.

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