How does ADHD affect relationships and marriage?

Supporting Partners Drop in Session over Zoom

Having a partner with ADHD can make them an exciting and exuberant person to be with, however their ADHD might also cause some problems in a long term relationship and/or marriage. We hope that this page will serve as a resource to help gain awareness of some of the issues adult ADHD can entail. The information that follows has been developed through listening to the stories and experiences of members from our Supporting Partners group session.

How adult ADHD can affect relationships

Anger, frustration, and “walking on eggshells”

  • Many people with ADHD can be very quick to display anger and/or show their frustration
  • As their partner, you may find yourself trying to pre-empt their angry reaction which might be very draining, or finding that communications can unexpectedly turn into an argument
  • There are many psychological reasons for this.  For some, anger can come from experiencing a high-level of anxiety throughout the day as a result of other stresses related to their ADHD that have nothing to do with your relationship – you may unfortunately just have encountered them at a point in the day when they are very “wound up”
  • If possible, if your partner seems stressed, gently help them to become aware of this, support them in ways that you know they find relaxing or fun, and try to talk to them about what has caused them anxiety or frustration during the day, being clear that you want to help them diffuse the stress so that you can enjoy your time together
  • Some people with ADHD may not recognise their own emotions or their impact on those around them (or they may still be so wound up in their own stress that they are “in their own head”), so be cautious to approach this sensitively.  This is also an explanation why partners with ADHD can become more frustrated by their partner “walking on eggshells” around them, as they are not aware of their behaviour
  • Ideally, as a couple , you can reach a state where you’re able to communicate openly and honestly about each others’  behaviour, doing so in a firm, but respectful and calm way – the more you do this, the easier it will become, but be prepared to face some resistance at first

Jumping into things too fast

  • Some people with ADHD start relationships in a whirlwind, as impulsiveness and obsessive emotions are characteristic elements of the condition for some, only to find that they suddenly lose interest or struggle to find ways to maintain relationships
  • This does not mean that there is no “substance” to the relationship, but people with ADHD might appear to “heat up” and “cool down” quite quickly
  • Some people with ADHD also experience multiple, confusing emotions at once, and they tend to “overthink” everything, meaning they may push certain elements of the relationship to develop too quickly
  • If you can, focus on developing the foundations of a relationship with your partner with ADHD, rather than focusing only on “fast and fun” – try to offer a solid grounding of consistency, as well as being clear about your intentions in the relationship
  • If your partner seems overly energetic or nervous about the relationship, try to reassure them; communicate about your feelings and thoughts, as well as your needs and whether they are being met, as well as how you see the relationship developing

Impulsive behaviour

  • People with ADHD worry that they might forget things if they don’t say them straight away
  • This might come across as talking too much and too quickly, or interrupting you
  • Try to give each other space to speak; point out to your partner when to give you a chance to speak – this might feel awkward at first, but discuss it when you are relaxed and plan how you will share conversations
  • Other impulsive behaviours can include risk-taking behaviour; impulsive purchases; and addictive tendencies, like self medicating and substance misuse – these can have a serious impact on your relationship – if you are and your partner are experiencing these issues, we suggest seeking couples counselling or other appropriate third party support

Hyperfocusing – are you there?

  • Some people with ADHD might use their hyperfocus to escape into work or special interests as a way of coping with stress
  • You might feel like you are being ignored, but it might help to not take it too personally if they seem distant
  • Some people with ADHD are so over-focused that they find multi-tasking difficult
  • Some are capable of thinking about a number of things at once
  • If your partner is hyperfocusing, it might be helpful to set clear boundaries – agreeing a time when they will finish their work and be ready to spend time with you, for example
  • You can also try explaining how their hyperfocusing makes you feel, although bear in mind that if hyperfocusing is a coping mechanism, it is probably unfair to ask them to “stop” something that makes them feel better and they may become defensive about it
  • The ideal situation would be to reach an point of common understanding and balance about “shared time” versus “focus time” – many people with ADHD benefit from time to think on their own, but you should also be clear about what you need in the relationship

Disorganisation and untidiness

  • Living with someone who is chronically untidy and disorganised can be very hard work
  • People with ADHD often seem to live on another planet when it comes to putting things away or not noticing when they have left things around the house
  • A coping strategy for people with ADHD might be to have important things “on their visual horizon” or they might forget about them, but this can seem very untidy and disorganised
  • As with other day to day frustrations in a relationship, it is important to talk and agree clear boundaries
  • It might help for your partner with ADHD to have a space that is “their own,” if possible, within the property, where they can keep things as they want them if the need memory aids.  In other shared space, you agree that it can be tidied and that you both have responsibilities agreed between you to do so

Sleep patterns and lack of sleep – “are you ever coming to bed?”

  • People with ADHD often struggle with their sleep and can get out of sync with their partner’s sleep patterns
  • This can sometimes make intimacy feel impossible
  • Some people are up all night and tired in the day with a feeling of ‘jet lag’
  • Sometimes it’s possible to work together to regulate sleep using routine, exercise, and natural remedies
    • You could try to both have “good sleep hygiene” and put away mobile devices 30 minutes or more before going to bed
    • You could both try to meditate and listen to calming music at night together
    • You could try to set a routine of going to bed at consistent times – this is often very difficult for people with ADHD, but with gentle support from a partner, can become easier
    • People with ADHD sometimes listen to books on tape and/or “white noise” in ear buds to go to sleep, as this distracts the mind enough to stop their thoughts from racing at night

Forgetting and procrastination

  • Related to both disorganisation and procrastination, people with ADHD can be prone to forget and put off things that seem overwhelming and difficult
  • Obviously they don’t want to be made to feel incapable, stupid, nagged, or “parented” by their partner, so being sensitive to this difficulty and not losing your temper if they forget or delay things is important
  • Some mechanisms that help are:
    • Setting an appointment and/or reminder in their phone or internet diary
    • Creating a calendar that you post in the house – on the fridge or on a notice board that they will see every day – be careful not to overload this with too much at once, as important messages need to be emphasised or they may be lost/your partner may feel overwhelmed by too much information
    • Agreeing helpful communication mechanisms, such as sending a text or email reminding them of the important details when the appointment or deadline is agreed and then again on or just before the date/time when it is due (it is important that your partner agree to what works best for them, though)
    • Explain the consequences of delay – people with ADHD sometimes have difficulty thinking ahead about the impact of delaying a decision or an action – explain calmly and respectfully why you feel it’s important to do something and when and what impact it will have on you if it doesn’t happen.  Context is useful for memory

Time keeping – does your partner ever forget to meet you or do things on time?

  • It can be really hard to not take it personally, but if your partner is late it is not because they do not care about you
  • People with ADHD often get “lost in thought” and hours can go by when they don’t realise that an important obligation is approaching
  • People with ADHD have also suffered a lifetime of being late for things they felt were important, like doctor’s appointments, classes, dates, exams, interviews, etc. – imagine how frustrated and embarrassed they probably already are about it, let alone feeling doubly guilty for making the person they love wait!
  • Try to be compassionate and agree ways of communicating with each other, reminding them of things coming up, making sure they have their phone on them, or otherwise helping them remember kindly

Not feeling valued, feeling embarrassed or ashamed, and/or hypersensitivity to criticism

  • Many people with ADHD have been made to feel bad and been criticized throughout their childhoods, through misunderstanding, lack of a diagnosis or simply ‘not fitting in’ and because they have exhibited the various behaviours above that other people found frustrating
  • Any criticism can feel massive and even traumatic, even if it’s just ‘why did you not do that thing?’
  • Validation and feeling heard is very important to your partner with ADHD, as it is with you
  • All people with ADHD struggle with these things, so as you learn and understand more about your loved one with ADHD, try to use respectful language that isn’t angry or critical when your partner does something that frustrates you – it is almost certain that they didn’t mean to

These are just some of the lived experiences of those who have spoken and shared at our sessions. If you recognise or have been affected by any of the issues on this page, or any others, you might find it helpful to talk about them in a safe space with others. If so, you are very welcome to come along to our ‘Supporting Partners’ meeting.

This is a unique meeting that is just for partners that takes place on the third Wednesday of every month at 19:00 GMT over Zoom.  The meeting is a safe and confidential space for partners to share experiences and tips for improving your relationship or marriage. 

References and further reading

9 Ways ADHD May Strain Relationships

Orlov, M. (2010). The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps. United States: Specialty Press, Incorporated.

Scroll To Top