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ADHD Strain on Relationships

March 16, 2023

Relationships are tough, but especially when one partner has ADHD. While having ADHD does not make someone a bad partner and it does not mean you are doomed to be unhappy in a relationship, it does bring about different challenges for you both to face together. This “ADHD strain” can be especially true when one partner has ADHD and the other does not.

The main thing to remember if you want to improve your relationship, is that it’s a two-way street. The partner with ADHD is not just automatically at fault, nor is the non-ADHD partner. Both partners actions and reactions are equally important, and both need to be willing to make changes and compromise to create a healthy, happy home for all involved.

Common ADHD Relationship Challenges:

1. ADHD Denial

As with any problem, the first step is admitting and accepting there is one. Whether someone doesn’t believe their ADHD impacts the relationship or a non-ADHD partner doesn’t fully understand what ADHD is like, denial can be a big hurdle. It can be beneficial to help a non-ADHD partner learn about how ADHD symptoms impact everyday life, so they can better understand what’s really going on and improve communication.

2. Inattention Interpreted as Lack of Affection

One common misperception is that an ADHD partner’s lack of attention means they don’t care or love their partner anymore. It can make their partner feel lonely or ignored when inattention symptoms are taken personally. One prime example is when going from dating to marriage/living together. Many with ADHD exhibit hyperfocus during the dating phase—their world revolves around their partner, and they shower them with a lot of attention. When the relationship becomes more settled, there can be a drastic detachment which is jarring for the non-ADHD partner. The ADHD partner may have simply become distracted or returned to focusing on other aspects of their life. The best thing to do in this situation is to address it with your partner. Stating how this makes you feel ignored, but you know it’s not intentional, can help your partner realize how it comes across. Effort must be made on both sides to not take it personally when the ADHD partner’s focus is elsewhere and for the ADH partner to create a way to make sure they are giving their partner the time and attention needed.

3. The Ease of Miscommunication

We all know the saying to never assume…well, it’s true! Many times it’s easy to assume you and your partner understood what the other meant, and well, that can be disastrous. With ADHD in the mix, it’s easy to question the motives behind the ADHD partner’s actions since they may not always make sense to those without ADHD. Many times non-ADHD partners need to remember to take the actions at face value and not read more into the situation than is really there. Actions caused by inattention, hyperactivity, or emotional dysregulation, are not purposely done to hurt. If you question something, ask your partner what they meant. Don’t let the feelings fester but address them with your partner and see what can be done to help clarify things in the future.

The way confrontation or clarification happens is just as important as speaking up. Many times, nagging, complaining, and yelling enter the picture, which can make the ADHD partner pull away. Nagging creates shame, and shame creates distance. If your partner forgot to do the dishes for the fourth time this week, instead of complaining about how they need to try harder or doing it yourself begrudgingly, see if they might need to do things a different way than the norm. Task management can be a challenge with ADHD, so using reminders, apps, charts, etc. can be helpful tools. But just because there is a reminder system doesn’t mean that system will work for you and your partner specifically. Try out different methods to find what works!

4. Eggshell Emotional Response

Emotional dysregulation can present in many forms: outbursts, anger, tantrums, rudeness, etc. But when these symptoms go unchecked, it can feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner. Often the non-ADHD partner will begin anticipating the mood changes or reactions to please their partner, but when their attempts inevitably fail, resentment can creep in. The main thing here is unchecked symptoms. If the ADHD partner can treat this (whether with medication, supplements, behavioral therapy, meditation, etc.), these reactions can become less extreme for their partner.

5. Imbalance of Responsibilities

The bane of every relationship is chores and household responsibilities. Adulting is not easy, and neither is navigating who does what, when, and how things are done in your home. ADHD partners especially can struggle with completion of chores and forgetfulness. If one partner (ADHD or not) finds themselves handling more of the work, it can be frustrating and seem like their partner is irresponsible. Once again, finding the method that works for each of you can help chores go more smoothly and actually get done.

During the everyday chaos and challenges, don’t forget that you love and care about your partner. Their actions don’t negate them receiving empathy and compassion and neither do yours. The most important takeaway is that you’re solve the problem and dealing with the symptoms together, not just blaming your partner.

Remember that your brains operate differently, and neither way is right or wrong. Both are valid and you both need to feel accepted and heard for the relationship to flourish. Finding common ground and communicating effectively in the format your partner can receive is key.

If you'd like to learn more about ADHD for yourself or your partner, be sure to check out our article on managing adult ADHD!

Managing Adult ADHD


Orlov, M. (2022, July 11). 9 Ways ADHD May Strain Relationships. ADDitude.

ADDitude Editors. (2022, October 31). The ADHD Strain: How Relationships Collapse Under the Weight of ADD. ADDitude.

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