Lets Talk: How to Support Your Partner that has ADHD

Lets Talk: How to Support Your Partner that has ADHD
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All relationships take work but some relationships present with more challenges than others. In general, being in a relationship with someone who is neurodivergent (ADHD, autistic, CPTSD, bipolar, OCD, TBI) can have its special challenges. Although ADHD, autism, CPTSD, bipolar, and OCD all are considered neurodivergences, they are all different in their own way and present with own set of strengths and weaknesses. For today’s post I’d like to focus on ADHD and how you can support your partner but also yourself. I specialize in working with neurodivergent individuals, so I talk about this a lot on a day-to-day basis with my clients, but it also personally applies to me. I am neurodivergent and my partner is as well.

Research has found that ADHD does impact relationships for a lot of different reasons. This can vary from sharing chores in the home, managing finances, feeling connected, and sharing intimacy as examples. A study done by Robin and Payson (2002) found that communication, time management/task completion, and emotional regulation were the top three biggest struggles within a relationship where one of the people had ADHD. The partners who did not have ADHD in this study often reported that over time these struggles with communication, time management/task completion, and emotional regulation from the ADHD partner made them feel unloved, not important, and ignored. Over time this can lead to dissatisfaction in the relationship and potentially even build resentment.

With these top three factors in mind, it can be easy as a partner to someone who has ADHD to over help or become a caregiver. Over helping is where the partner does too many for the other person without considering if it is necessary or not. Caregiving is when the partner becomes obsessed with managing all aspect of life for themselves and the ADHD partner to “lighten the load” or make sure “things go smoothly.” Although in the moment this can feel helpful or good, if one partner is constantly engaging in either, or both, of these behaviors it can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, anger, resentment, and/or depression. This is obviously not good for that partner. It is also not good for the individual with ADHD because it can lead to dependency and even learned helplessness where the individual with ADHD may not believe they are capable or good enough to perform certain tasks. Criticism is something that can come up a lot in these relationships as well which can impact both partners and leave both of them with unsavory emotions.

So how do you support yourself and your partner with ADHD? Lots of communication and boundary setting. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so taking some time to examine yours, then having your partner do the same, and having a conversation about it can be helpful. For example, one person in a couple has auditory sensory issues so vacuuming is too over stimulating for them, so they tend to avoid vacuuming. If this is identified, discussed, and this does not affect the other partner it may be that the other partner vacuums and the other person mops. Roles and responsibilities need to be evaluated and discussed so there are no unspoken expectations. We also cannot expect perfection out of our partner and have to practice patience. If we know our partner struggles with time management, we have to accept that and practice some patience when they don’t get something done. We also have to own the role or responsibilities we take on. We cannot blame or shame the other person if we agreed to do something but then it feels overwhelming. We have to own that we agreed to do this and once that task is complete re-evaluate with our partner about how we can better handle this in the future. Identifying emotions you are feeling and communicating these with your partner is vitally important in this process as well. If you are not communicating how you are feeling, then your partner may not know and they are not able to read your mind.

Boundaries for yourself and with your partner are necessary to. If you find yourself over helping or caregiving, you may need to set some boundaries with yourself and then communicate what you will or won’t do to your partner. Asking yourself questions like “what are my needs?”, “what will I allow, or not allow, to be said or done to me?”, “what makes me feel happy, peaceful, or content?”, and/or “what has worked or hasn’t worked in the past?” This can help you explore what boundaries you may need to set for yourself or with your partner. It can also help you get your needs met as well. Practicing self-care is important too. Think of it like recharging your batteries so that you are fully charged up and ready to show up to your relationship with your partner and be your best self.

Robin, A. L., & Payson, E. (2002). The impact of ADHD on marriage. The ADHD Report, 10(3), 9–14. https://doi.org/10.1521/adhd. 

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