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Is ADHD Ruining Your Relationship?

ADHD messThe mini-upsets of ADHD can erode the foundation of a relationship

It’s not the big stuff that typically destroys a relationship. It’s often the little things that happen repeatedly, over an extended period of time, which tend to eat away and then destroy the foundations upon which a relationship needs to flourish. We refer to these “repeated” events as mini-upsets. When they happen the first time they often seem insignificant. When they occur with mind numbing regularity the effect can be overwhelming.

Mini-upsets can occur dozens of times throughout the day in a relationship that involves an ADHD partner. The ADHD partner often forgets to do something; breaks a promise, arrives late or leaves too early, forgets an appointment, or makes another big mess. When confronted with their action they think that simply saying, “I’m sorry,” will somehow make everything magically O.K. It’s difficult to hear their “I’m sorry” when the same actions continue to occur.

Those annoying little actions tend to add up. While no single act is a big deal, when all the mini-upsets start piling up and multiplying – Watch Out! The relationship is at risk!

Over time, the mini-upsets start to feel like termites ferociously eating away at the foundation of a relationship. The result is a relationship filled with holes and destroyed one small bite at a time. The partner without ADHD begins asking the question, “if I can’t trust my partner with the small, everyday tasks, how can I depend on them for the important things in life?”

That question, if left unanswered, magnifies the attention on the ADHD partner’s unreliable nature and creates distance as well as resentment. If unchecked the resentment can cause the relationship to collapse or implode. Adding to the problem is the fact that the partner with ADHD is often oblivious to the resentment and thinks everything is fine. What an unpleasant shock when confronted with a mad spouse who has finally had enough!

Focus on Your Reaction

Attempting to change a person with ADHD does not work. If it were possible you probably would have done so by now. The real question is what can you do to alter the effects of their mini-upsets? Knowing that mini-upsets have an enormous impact on your relationship and that they are a part of the ADHD personality, the only thing you really have control over is your reaction.

A key element of controlling your reaction is to establish the habit of really talking to your ADHD partner every day. As you talk you should learn to accentuate what they do right. Let them know how much you appreciate their uniqueness or the way they do those things you really appreciate. Do not be condescending and only tell the truth as you express genuine appreciation.
Controlling your reaction is vital when events occur that really cause upsets. The feelings that go along with big upsets must be expressed but in a way that is not damaging to the partner. Be sure to leave out absolutes (you always do this or never do that); avoid negatives (why don’t you think before you do something?) and don’t bring up the past (you did the same thing last month!). Instead, tell them you need to talk about something that happened and then gently explain how you feel.
The purpose of talking is not to condemn or bring up a laundry list of things done wrong. The purpose is to bring awareness to the situation from your perspective and lovingly talk about the repercussions of the event.
A Real World Example
So what would control or your reactions look like in the real world? Let’s say you came home from work to find that your spouse had started planting some flowers along the walkway in the morning. Apparently halfway through the project they suddenly decided to go into the kitchen to bake some bread.
The flowers that were planted look like they may survive but the ones that were left in the cartons have wilted in the sun and look like they won’t make it. Dirt from the planting project is all over the sidewalk and the gardening tools are scattered on the lawn. Water from the hose that was left on has created a small stream that is flowing down the driveway into the street. It’s a mess and your blood begins to boil.
Inside the house there is the aroma of freshly baked bread with a hint of something burning. Apparently the timer wasn’t set again even though you have explained the importance of that important tool many times. Your spouse is tired but happy with all that was “accomplished” during the day. You approval and appreciation is all that is missing!
While the results may not be what you want or expect from an adult, your spouse really has worked hard all day and is eager to share the “results” with you. Your choice at this point is whether to focus on the mess or the intention behind their action.
Dare you burst their bubble by saying something critical now? You know from experience that it could literally be days or weeks before the flower mess is even addressed. You groan inwardly wondering if this is going to be a repeat of last year when the same project was left unfinished all summer long?
What should you do? How do you turn this into a positive?
Now is the time to focus on YOUR reaction. To turn a negative into a positive it helps to express heart-felt appreciation.
Look at the things that were accomplished and more importantly the intentions that were behind them. Tell your spouse the flowers that were planted are beautiful and will be a colorful addition the yard. Let them know the bread smells wonderful and you’re looking forward to eating it warm with butter and a smile.
Follow up with a suggestion that after dinner the two of you could go outside and spend time together finishing up the planting. The positives are accentuated. Your spouse is appreciated. The mess provides the two of you ‘together time’ and by the end of the day, it can be all nice and neat.
Will it happen this way every time? No. But every time you focus on your reaction you can use it to create something wonderful and productive.
Let us reiterate: You Aren’t Going to Change Your Spouse.
They are what they are. You are what you are. We all are what we all are.
Focus on how you react to each situation. Focus on you!
Learning to look at situations a little differently; addressing a problem with kindness and love, can make all the difference in the world when it comes to rebuilding your marriage.
Don’t let the mini-upsets of an ADHD partner drive you crazy or cause you to give up on your relationship. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t think you can make it work by yourself, get outside assistance from a professional. You can get the results you want. Start by being patient with your partner and also learn to be patient with yourself.

Feedback is About ME, not YOU!

Couple having an argumentIf your spouse is upset, disappointed or offended by something you have done, not done, said or not said, her feedback is not an indictment of you personally. Calm down, take a deep breath, and remember that she has feelings too. Step back and try to see things from her perspective.

When your partner or spouse becomes frustrated with you, it does not mean that you are a terrible person; it doesn’t even mean that you necessarily did something bad or wrong. (And it may not have anything to do with you at all.)

Remember: Feedback is about ME (the giver), not YOU (the receiver)!

Instead of becoming defensive and making it all about you; before you begin blaming or minimizing the ‘attack,’ think of this as a golden opportunity to listen. This is a great chance to understand how to be a better partner.

“Thank you for caring enough about me to be honest,” is a great place to start. Assume that your spouse is coming to you out of love. Even if she’s coming to you out of frustration, at least she cares about you and the relationship enough to bring it up.

When someone’s frustrated with you is not the time to defend yourself. That will more than likely intensify the situation. Instead, recognize the anxiety and frustration in your spouse, and allow it to diffuse by listening attentively and apologizing. Later, when everyone’s calmed down, you can address the issue from your viewpoint, gently and lovingly.

And the next time you’re frustrated with your spouse, keep these feelings in mind when you want to give him or her negative feedback of your own. No one likes to feel attacked.

Stop Hurting the One’s We Love!

The closer you get to someone else, the easier your emotions can collide! The challenge to growing a relationship lies in learning how to deal with that collision in a thoughtful and loving fashion.

Remember, partners with ADHD often have a lifetime of feeling “wrong” and dumpsters full of criticism from others. It’s important to learn how to talk about things when they do go wrong and not jump right into defending yourself and trying to regain control of chaos with blame.

Blame is a false solution. While it gives the blamer a temporary feeling of power, wisdom, and control at a time when they feel upset, or like they lack control or power over a situation, it does so at the expense of the feelings of others. The Golden Rule applies here: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. No one likes feeling blamed.

Unfortunately, it’s easiest to blame the people we’re closest to. Sometimes, we want to punish our spouse so that they will feel as badly as we do about a particular event. But really, of all the people we shouldn’t want to make feel bad, he or she ought to be at the top of the list!

Blame gives only the illusion of a solution. We feel like now that we know who’s wrong, we know what to do. But it never helps! Blaming someone just passes your anxiety onto them. Instead, try looking for a positive solution, or even apologizing.

By the same token, when someone blames you for something, recognize that they’re likely just trying to make themselves feel better, even if they don’t realize it. Yes, sometimes you are at fault and need to do better at something, and you need to be open to that possibility too. Generally speaking, however, if someone’s blaming you, it’s more about them than it is about you. Look for opportunities to help them calm down, and look for a real solution to the problem – together.

Stop Blaming ADHD

Couple have fallen out over a disagreementFor people in relationships where ADHD is involved, these five words are often one of the biggest sources of rage because Nobody Appreciates Someone Else Making Excuses for His or Her Own Behavior. Although the excuse may be right-on, “I’m sorry; it’s my ADHD,” is usually seen as a self-serving, hollow and (very annoying) pathetic excuse.

Apologies which seem more like an excuse than something someone is sorry about is viewed as shallow and insincere. Saying these words can have the effect of someone throwing gasoline onto an already raging emotional bonfire.

If you blame ADHD for your shortcomings, then you are blaming something outside of your relationship. Given that we are powerless to control things outside of our own behavior, your partner is left feeling helpless to solve the problem. And, in essence, you are saying that you are also powerless against the problem.

You may be powerless to change the way your brain works, but you are not powerless to control and sensor your actions!

Blaming ADHD can leave both partners feeling as though they are fighting an invisible enemy which cannot be reasoned with. If the ADHD is the only thing at fault, then the relationship must certainly be doomed because there’s no way to solve a problem rooted in an incurable condition.

However, healthy, enjoyable relationships with ADHD people are quite possible!

The key is for both people to commit to not blaming the condition. They must accept each other as they each are and choose to see the best in each other. And again, this is true in every relationship, no matter what the outside issues are. Yes, ADHD can make a relationship more difficult, but that is certainly no cause to say it is doomed. If the partner with ADHD does something foolish, then he or she needs to take responsibility to better manage the ADHD. On the other hand, part of the responsibility also lies with the non-ADHD partner by making the effort to genuinely try to respond more appropriately to daily situations. Undoubtedly as in all relationships, sometimes expectations will not be met, but blaming ADHD is not helpful and as we have already stressed, it can actually be detrimental. Individuals are the absolute, only thing able to mess up any relationship!

By recognizing this, couples are empowered to take actual steps to begin solving these challenges and enjoying their partner, their life and their home.

ADHD: Your Far More Than Your Diagnosis!

People avatars with speech bubblesWhen you’re dealing with a person with ADHD, it can be tempting to make certain assumptions about him based on a diagnosis. While it is important to recognize that he is dealing with ADHD, you don’t want to enable him by encouraging or reinforcing the ADHD label which could allow him to avoid responsibility.

Your partner is a wonderful person who is much more than just a label. Work to get rid of that label and let your partner be him or herself – a unique individual, not a diagnosis.

Every person on earth has things that are difficult for them – yet you don’t hear people saying things like, “I can’t do that because I have Typical Human Being Disorder!” ADHD is not an excuse; it’s a challenge, and even an opportunity.

It is totally O.K to admit to someone that something is not a great fit for your skill set without having to always add “because I’m ADHD.” If we all had the same identical skills, where would the fun in life be? Variety is great!

ADHD is only a part of who you are. It is not your most defining characteristic by any means, and it doesn’t need to run your life. You’re far more than your diagnosis.

For partners, being in a relationship with someone with ADHD does have challenges, but often they’re the challenges that come with any relationship, not necessarily unique to ADHD relationships.


Make the effort to try being in a relationship with each other, not with a label – it’s well worth it, and the results might surprise you!

Top Relationship Wreckers

What We Hear on A Daily Basis

From Actual Patients:


Dr.Robert Wilford & Dr.Sarah Ferman

According to the NonADHD Partner:

“Every time we try to talk all we do is argue”

“My partner doesn’t listen to what I say – like I don’t even matter

“My needs are the last thing on my partners to – do list”

I do everything for us in our life and my partner does nothing!”

“They promise to do something – then totally forget

“Has trouble getting started on a task”
“Leaves a mess – I feel like a Parent to my Spouse not a Partner!”

“My partner just doesn’t learn from their mistakes”

“Doesn’t plan ahead – All I do is nag, all we do is argue and still nothing changes”


“I can’t count on my partner for any thing,even the small stuff, what if I ever got sick and really needed them!”

“Intimacy is the last thing on our list of things that never get done”

“All we do is jump crisis to crisis and the fires never really get put out”
“Under-estimates the time needed to complete a task”

“Forget being on time anywhere”

“Doesn’t finish household projects”
“Why can my partner focus on video games but can’t lift a finger to help around the house?”
“I’m Sorry” is the wrong answer – how about finally doing something and not just keep saying I’m sorry”

“I feel like I am in a relationship with ADHD and not with my partner”

“Says things without thinking”

“Every time we try to talk all we do is argue and trade blame back and forth until were both just too worn out to fight anymore”

“Zones out in conversations- like they don’t even care what is being said”

“Doesn’t respond when spoken to- The “Huh What Syndrome”

According to the ADHD Partner:

I can Never Do Anything Right

“All I hear is constant criticism and nagging – All The Time”

“My partner makes every little thing such a big deal!

“I am sick of being treated like a child who can’t be trusted” 

“I am always being told what to do, & how and when to do it”

“Can’t seem to understand why their non-ADHD partner is always so bent out of shape and in such a bad mood”

Which Partner Are You?:

My ADHD Husband’s Old Baggage is Wrecking Our Relationship

ehebruchHow can we maintain respect for each other? He often assigns malicious intent to things I do that have no such basis. He doesn’t seem to recognize or honor what I am doing right. How can I, the non-ADHD spouse maintain respect for my ADHD husband? As the non-ADHD spouse I feel my husband doesn’t respect me.

Listen as Dr’s Robert Wilford and Sarah Ferman answer this question Live.