ADD and Relationships with Others

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Relationships and Adult ADD

All relationships present challenges at some point in time. ADD / ADHD can certainly have a unique impact within relationships. Kate Kelly, founder of ADDed Dimensions Coaching and author of You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! and The ADDed Dimension, notes that ADHD impacts every area of life, including intimate relationships.

Kelly Identifies the Four Major Areas of Difficulty:

Difficulty Being Present and Staying Present

“Perhaps the biggest problem is the ADHD partner who seems to be here today and gone tomorrow,” explains Kelly. “ADHD symptoms are erratic. The person with ADHD may be extremely distractible in the morning, for example, and relatively focused an hour or two later. This can be very difficult for a partner. Their loved one is loving and connected with them in one moment, and gone ‘somewhere else’ in the next. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the disconnects.”

Touchy Touchability

Kelly notes that many people with ADHD also have problems with sensory integration. “In short, this means that the mechanisms that filter sensory input are faulty. Lights may be too bright, sounds too loud and touch may feel irritating or annoying,” explains Kelly. “As you might imagine, this can create difficulties between partners when the ADHD person resists being touched.”

Forgetting Things

ADHD interferes with memory. Kelly acknowledges that the process of remembering is rather complicated, but identifies the main problem with ADHD and memory -- getting the thing to be remembered into the memory banks in the first place. “The first stage of memory is attending to the piece of information to be remembered,” says Kelly. “If your attention is weak, that bit of information may never make it into the brain.”

A Short Fuse

It is not uncommon for those with ADHD to have a quick temper. “Many people with ADHD have a short fuse,” explains Kelly. “Their temper is activated quickly and easily. The partner of the person with ADHD is often bewildered, as the angry outburst seems to come out of nowhere.”

Do you have ADD or ADHD? Does your partner? Sometimes relationships are difficult. ADHD can certainly present unique challenges in a relationship.

It takes two to tango, as the saying goes. Both partners can implement strategies to improve their communication and connectedness in their relationship.

Kate Kelly, founder of ADDed Dimensions Coaching and author of You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! and The ADDed Dimension, provides tips for both the ADHD individual and the non-ADHD partner.

Strategies For The ADD/ADHD Partner:

Work With An ADHD Coach

An ADHD coach can help you develop strategies for self care that will enable you to be more present to your loved ones. Kelly recommends that you include your partner in at least some of your coaching sessions. “You, your coach and your loved one can do some problem solving around the issues that cause friction in your relationship,” says Kelly. “For example, you can agree on a prearranged signal that means you are having a bad brain episode and need time out to get re-centered.”

Focus on Self Care

“When you are having a bad brain day (or hour, or minute), develop the habit of taking a step back to focus on self care,” advises Kelly. “Self care may involve a time out for meditation, exercise or retreat to a sanctuary with minimal stimulation. Over time, you will have less need to ‘check out’ because you are taking preventative measures to avoid overstimulation.”

Clue Your Partner In On Your Difficulties With “Touchy Touchability”

Kelly explains that it is important for you to communicate to your partner that your resistance to being touched has nothing to do with their worthiness or how much you love them. “When your nervous system has calmed down enough to allow for touching, offer a hug or a back rub to your partner.”

Talk With Your Partner About Your Short Fuse

“If you have a short fuse, let your partner know that you are working on this one and that it will take some time to get this particular demon under control," suggests Kelly. Tell your partner that although you realize the anger issue is one you must work on, it may be helpful for your partner simply to leave the room or house when your temper begins to escalate. Ultimately, the anger issue is your responsibility, so it is important for you to get a handle on it. “Work with your coach for strategies to help you retreat when your anger surfaces, so that you can keep your partner out of this particular loop,” says Kelly.

Talk With Your Partner About Your Forgetfulness

“Let your partner know that forgetting things is a symptom of ADHD and that you are working on systems to remember to do what you have agreed to do. Again, I recommend that you work with a coach to develop specific strategies for remembering to remember,” suggests Kelly.

Strategies For The Non-ADD/ADHD Partner

Kelly encourages non-ADD/ADHD partners to:

  • Be aware that your partner’s differences are not a sign of your unworthiness or their indifference to you.

  • Ask your ADHD partner what you can do to get their attention when their mind has wandered off. Be patient. It may take your partner a while to shift gears and focus their attention on you.

  • If touchy touchability is a problem, ask your partner if they feel OK touching youat that point in time. Also, ask your partner to let you know when their sensitivity to touch has subsided.

  • If you are like many non-ADHD spouses, you may have fallen into the habit of reminding your spouse of appointments, errands, etc. Sometimes this can work, but, more often than not, it can develop into a pattern where the ADHD person feels like a child and the spouse feels like a nagging parent. Encourage your spouse to find a coach to help them develop workable systems so that you can step out of that role.

  • Take good care of yourself. When ADHD is a factor in your partnership, both people are affected. You are working just as hard as your partner to overcome the challenges.

What Does One Do If Their Spouse Has ADD/ADHD, But Minimizes or Denies There Is A Problem?

Kelly acknowledges that the situation is a difficult one. “If someone is really resistant to acknowledging the problem, there is not much to be done. They are simply not ready yet,” says Kelly. “You might try leaving books about ADHD around the house. Your partner may be more willing to explore the idea on his/her own, without the pressure of needing to discuss it with you. He or she is likely to have strong emotions around the realization that they may have ADHD. They may not be able to manage those feelings with a witness present. If the situation is critical, stronger measures may be needed. You may want to get help in order to let your partner know that you are at the end of your rope.” If this is the case, Kelly recommends consulting with someone who is experienced at working with adults with ADHD.

This was a wonderful article. Well written and very well understood. Thanks Mossy!

Incredible post!