ADHD & Relationships In Adults: Handling Conflicts Together
Oct 26, 2023, 8 min read
ADHD can be difficult to manage in daily life, and can have a significant impact on relationships – particularly romantic relationships.
Here, we are breaking down why relationships involving ADHD can be more argument-prone, why conflict can be harder to manage in those with an ADHD brain, how symptoms like forgetfulness can cause issues, how to handle conflict effectively, and how to access help and support whether you have ADHD yourself, or are in a relationship with someone who does.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about ADHD, we’re here to help.
What is ADHD?
In adults, symptoms may include trouble focusing, impulsiveness and inattention, which can cause issues when it comes to everyday activities like learning, studying, working, organising, remembering, managing time or getting things done. ADHD can also present differently in women than in men, so women may present less features of hyperactivity and more of inattentiveness.
Symptoms of ADHD can lead to inattention such as:
- Regularly making careless mistakes
- Regularly losing important items like keys or phones
- Regularly forgetting important things like paying bills or attending appointments
They can also lead to hyperactivity such as:
- Restlessness and difficulty sitting still for long periods of time
- Regularly fidgeting or squirming
- Excessive talking or interrupting
How can ADHD affect romantic relationships?
Studies have found that established differences between ADHD and non-ADHD adults can increase the risk of experiencing relationship distress. This means a diagnosis of ADHD (or suspected ADHD) can add additional strain to romantic relationships for a number of reasons.
For those with ADHD, these might include the following:
- The symptom of hyperfocus may apply in the early stages of a romantic relationship, where those with ADHD may shower their partner with love and affection, and make them feel like the centre of their world, only to withdraw this level of attention later. This can make their partner feel ignored.
- Inattentiveness symptoms can affect relationships if a partner with ADHD tends to regularly zone out of conversations, miss key details, or say yes to things they later don’t remember. All of this can be frustrating to a partner.
- Another common ADHD symptom is forgetfulness, which can become an issue in a relationship. For example, if they miss a key moment like a birthday or anniversary, or forget to pick up something important.
- Impulsivity in some people with ADHD can cause them to speak without thinking or act recklessly, which can hurt and worry their loved one.
- As a result of their symptoms, someone with ADHD may suffer from a negative self image, a lack of confidence or feelings of shame surrounding their diagnosis, which can prevent them from forming a deep, meaningful connection with a partner.
- Young people with ADHD may find they have more romantic partners than those who don’t have the condition. Studies have found that adolescents with ADHD report having more romantic partners than their neurotypical peers, while females with ADHD were found to have shorter romantic relationships than their neurotypical peers. Having ADHD does not mean this is true for you, but this suggests that unmanaged ADHD could result in less fulfilling romantic relationships.
For those with a partner who has ADHD, these might include the following:
- To maintain structure when managing symptoms like hyperfocus, impulsivity and inattentiveness, a partner may ‘nag’ to encourage their loved one to listen more, be more attentive, and think before they act. This can make both parties feel worse.
- A non-ADHD partner might start to react in anger or frustration when faced with the consequences of their partner’s actions.
- As a result of symptoms like inattentiveness and forgetfulness, a partner may feel they need to take on more of the household chores and admin tasks, which can lead to feelings of resentment in a relationship.
- Resentment can also form as a result of a partner feeling like they need to play the ‘parental’ role in a relationship, while their loved one maintains a ‘child’ role and has their everyday activities micromanaged despite being a grown adult.
Behaviours like the above can diminish the satisfaction felt in a relationship, and studies have found spouses of adults with ADHD said they had lower levels of marital satisfaction and intimacy than spouses of adults without ADHD.
“A common response for the non-ADHD partner is to become overly controlling and nagging ("the only way to get anything done around here") while the ADHD partner becomes less and less engaged ("who wants to be with someone who is constantly angry?")” - Melissa Orlov, Author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage
Why conflict can be challenging for those with ADHD
Learning to manage conflict in a healthy way can be a struggle in any relationship, and takes time and effort from both sides. In relationships with ADHD involved, it is important to remember that some ADHD symptoms may be due to emotional dysregulation – commonly seen in people with ADHD. Emotion dysregulation can cause many feelings, some of which can be hard to handle. These might include:
- A persistent feeling of irritability.
- Intense emotions that don’t seem to match the situation
- Sudden bursts of anger when frustrated, whether due to something significant or something meaningless.
- Impatience, particularly in situations with a lot of stress. Studies indicate that around 70% of people with ADHD are likely to feel more impatient than those without.
Intense feelings can cause arguments and conflict within relationships. If the other person in the relationship is neurotypical, it can sometimes be difficult to understand and respond appropriately, as the ADHD brain handles conflict differently.
One 2012 study conveys this well; when measured in response to certain road conditions during a driving simulation, drivers with ADHD experienced a similar amount of angry thoughts to other drivers. However, they tended to express their anger more while driving, make more tactical driving errors, and have more collisions. These errors were thought to be due to frustration and negative emotions rather than distractibility.
Could high levels of conflict in a relationship indicate undiagnosed ADHD?
Unexplained conflict within a relationship could be an indicator of ADHD for one or both partners. If you or your partner tend to experience angry outbursts or regular feelings of frustration, there is certainly a chance that this could indicate underlying ADHD for one or both partners. A mental health professional would need to determine whether or not this is the case, or if something else could be to blame.
If you are worried about your reaction to conflict within your relationship, or that of your partner, you can speak to a professional to see if untreated ADHD could be part of the cause. They may recommend a number of treatments, such as relaxation techniques, anger management support groups, behavioural therapy or medications.
At Augmentive, our specialists can help you manage and treat symptoms like intense anger or frustration, whether related to ADHD or not.
Important: If your partner has ADHD and presents symptoms that make you scared or uncomfortable, such as intense anger or threats of violence, the advice here does not apply to you. Learning to manage conflict within relationships is about healthy disagreements, but if someone hurts or threatens you, you should confide in someone you trust and consider ending the relationship or putting appropriate boundaries in place.
How to better handle conflict when ADHD is involved
We believe that advice and support for those with ADHD should always be bespoke and individualised, and what works for one person may not work for another. However, learning to handle conflict in relationships in general – with or without ADHD being involved – is a helpful solution to sustain the relationship long term.
Studies indicate that those with ADHD view their relationship less positively than those without the condition, so it is important to seek help, take steps to better manage your ADHD and handle conflict appropriately in order to maintain a fulfilling, happy relationship.
Other studies also suggest that although those with ADHD may struggle to maintain relationships, it is thought that social support can increase functioning in this area. A supportive spouse can help those with ADHD by helping them remain organised with life tasks, meet their responsibilities, and offer non-judgemental support.
If you live with ADHD, it can be helpful to acknowledge the significant impact your symptoms may have on your partner, and avoid dismissing their feelings.
If your partner has ADHD, empathy and patience is key. Nagging and frustration directed at your partner may not have the desired effect, so listen to how they feel and how they would like you to address their symptoms. Also, try to separate your partner from their symptoms and behaviours, and seek regular reminders of why you first fell in love with them – this can carry you through rough times.
Learning more about ADHD can help you to understand how your partner’s brain works. You may find some of our other articles useful and informative:
- What is neurodiversity?
- What are the main symptoms of ADHD?
- How does ADHD typically present in women and girls?
- Why has the number of adults being diagnosed with ADHD increased recently?
- Your guide to ADHD medication in the UK (for adults & children)
- What is ADHD paralysis and how can you cope with it?
- What is the ADHD Iceberg & why is it important?
- ADHD impulsive spending & money management
- ADHD burnout in adults: Why & how it happens
- The complex relationship between ADHD and alcohol
- CBT for ADHD: How well does it work?
How to get further help and support for ADHD & relationships
There are a number of treatments and exercises that could improve your relationship if you are looking for ways to navigate life with ADHD, and a professional therapist can help you with these. For example:
- Individual or couple’s therapy with an ADHD specialist to discuss and manage symptoms and behaviours
- Actively working on your communication skills
- Allowing each other to express feelings without judgement
- Discussing what would be a fair division of responsibilities and chores, and committing to this division
You can reach out to your GP to discuss symptoms of ADHD, or seek private therapy options that can help you manage more effectively in everyday life. At Augmentive, our free 15 minute consultation can help match you with a practitioner who has experience helping those with ADHD, as well as someone who – if desired – can help both you and your partner better understand each other, create systems and boundaries to manage the complexities of your relationship, and help you both find an effective balance that leads to a content and fulfilling relationship.
If you have a question about mental health, like wondering about the main symptoms of ADHD, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps. Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from a private ADHD diagnosis to broader private mental health care.