Relationship Issues for Adults with ADHD

It's not easy for non-ADHD adult and an ADHD adult to have a successful long-term relationship. The author has some suggestions on how to make it work.

As any adult with AD/HD knows, it is very difficult to cope in the non AD/HD world we live in. A relationship with a significant other can further compound these difficulties. If the respective other does not have AD/HD or understand the way we think, these difficulties can be magnified tenfold. As much as our respective others try to educate themselves about AD/HD, the differences in brain chemistry can push a relationship to its limits and in many cases beyond. All good intentions aside, short of crawling into our skin and seeing the world through our eyes, it is close to impossible to truly understand.

I am not a marriage counselor, nor a psychologist, but I am an adult with AD/HD and have been married for nearly eleven years to the most NON of the non-AD/HD spouses. Making a mixed marriage like ours work isn't always easy. But, I can honestly say it is well worth every challenge we face. I also firmly believe that we sought each other out because of our differences. Here are some rules that you may find useful if your relationship faces these pressures.

Educate Yourselves

The most important thing for an adult diagnosed with AD/HD and their respective other, is to educate themselves. Being diagnosed is helpful, but AD/HD is a very complex disorder. It effects adults differently than children. There are many co-morbidities that are present in those with AD/HD, that can either mask symptoms or make them worse.

It is extremely important for the AD/HD adult to understand themselves and why they do the things that they do. This is equally important for the non AD/HD spouse or partner. Reading about this neurological disorder will help to understand the actions, and reactions, of their partner. Understanding this is also the first step in bridging the gap between diametrically opposed thought processes. This education will also help in understanding that inappropriate conduct, while clearly inappropriate, is not present due to a lack of caring about a partner or the relationship itself.

One of the problems that was recurring in my marriage was the distribution of household chores. This was, and still can be, the source of much resentment. My wife often felt, and rightly so, that I wasn't contributing as much effort as she was. When we would discuss it, even before my diagnosis, I would often ask her to make me a list of what she needed of me. I thought that a list would make it tangible and I could work through it. What followed, was even more resentment. Her response was that we were adults and she didn't need anyone to make a list for her. Why should I need that? Understandably, it didn't seem fair to her. After my diagnosis, I began to understand why I needed the list.

When I asked for, and got one, things were much simpler and the list got done. I needed something visual and tangible to work through. This is especially true since it is often difficult to please someone when you aren't completely sure what they want. Add to this, a tendency to hyper focus or daydream and the prognosis is not good. There are still times of resentment, but they are much fewer. We both have seen that I can accomplish things, it just may be in a different way. I also think that seeing my willingness to help went a long way in reinforcing that I wasn't taking her for granted or being lazy.

Don't Hide Behind Your Disability

It is extremely important for both the AD/HD adult and their respective other to understand that AD/HD is NOT an excuse for inappropriate behavior. When lateness or impulsivity occurs to disrupt the flow of a relationship, it is important that the AD/HD adult not hide behind their condition and their partner not get that impression. Understanding how this neurological disorder effects behavior is useful in trying to prevent or avoid it in the future.

This issue is one of the central issues that people with AD/HD, both child and adult face on a daily basis. Unfortunately, no matter what we say or do, there are those who believe that the whole concept of AD/HD is nothing but an excuse for inappropriate behavior. Any appearance that a disability is being used as an excuse is like throwing gasoline on a fire. This issue is central to the raging debate in this country with respect to discipline for special needs children in school.

In truth, there is no excuse for inappropriate behavior. What the Adult with AD/HD and the non AD/HD partner must remember is to try to constructively concentrate on why the behavior occurred and how to avoid it in the future. It is also important when a disability is involved, for the non-disabled partner to understand that the conduct, although clearly inappropriate, is not a reflection on their partner's feelings about them or the relationship. Understanding the disability is crucial in understanding why the behavior occurs and what can be done to effect positive change in the future. Changes that both partners can effect together. If this can be accomplished successfully, the relationship will be stronger because of it.

Another thing that is often overlooked by the non AD/HD partner is the pain and anguish that their partner goes through in trying to do the right thing at times and despite their efforts, things do happen. I can honestly say that I usually start out with hope at getting where I am supposed to be on time. That hope can get destroyed quickly when hyperfocus, or guilt at not being more productive, interfere with my ability to leave point A to get to point B. I get very angry with myself. My conduct is inappropriate and wrong. I know that and beat myself up over it. That doesn't mean it is excusable by any means. This is something that is never seen on the other side. There is somehow this belief that we take pleasure at being late, being irresponsible or otherwise acting inappropriately. I have yet to meet the adult with AD/HD who has expressed this mythical pleasure. I can honestly say that if we could "just do it" as we are often told, we would.

ADHD Medication Helps

Medication can help situations like this in many ways. First, the ADHD medication can go a long way as a tool to help an individual effect positive change in their life. Second, medication for ADHD helps remarkably in showing the non- AD/HD partner how different their counterpart can be under medication. It is an effective way to help them understand that AD/HD is a medical condition and not an excuse. They are in a better position than the disabled adult to assess the difference between their partner on medication and off. The differences in behavior are usually much clearer to another.

I can't tell you how many times this conversation has taken place on a weekend in my house. "Rob, your not medicated are you?", "actually, I am not honey, how can you tell?" There was one time that I ran out of medication and my prescription had to be ordered. I had none for several days. That weekend, I thought my wife was going to throw me out a window. The interesting part of it is that we were married for many years before I was diagnosed. I think it showed her how far we both had come in dealing with many of these issues. There are also times when she will ask me whether or not I plan to take medication, depending on whether or not we are going to a social function or something. It helps her be prepared for the evening.

The important thing to remember about ADHD medication is that it is not a cure and it may not address all of your symptoms. The benefit of medication is that it can be an effective tool for an individual with AD/HD to make positive changes in their life. With the help of a supportive partner, these changes may be more effective and strengthen your relationship.


I certainly don't have all the answers, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about and trying to resolve the issues in my relationship with my family, because it is so important to me. I also think it may be helpful for both the adult with AD/HD and their partner to know that there are others out there who have the same struggles in their relationships. It also may help in understanding that common concerns reinforce the notion that my husband or girlfriend isn't doing this because they don't care about me or our relationship. Relationships are very difficult to maintain, especially when a disability is involved. But, to borrow from the Venus and Mars theory, it is helpful to understand that there are differences in the way that people with AD/HD, and those without, think and perceive the world around them. That understanding can go a long way to making things better.

So good luck in your relationships and tell your non AD/HD partners that there are many others out there just like them too.

About the author: Robert M. Tudisco is a practicing attorney and freelance writer. He is an adult diagnosed with AD/HD and is a member of the National Board of Directors of ADDA and the Board of Directors of the Westchester County Chapter of CHADD in New York. Robert lives with his wife and young son in Eastchester, New York.

Re-printed with permission, 2002 FOCUS Magazine, ADDA



APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, January 3). Relationship Issues for Adults with ADHD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: May 6, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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