A Therapist With ADHD Answers Questions You Might Have If Your Partner Has Been Diagnosed With ADHD
If you have learned that your partner has ADHD, you may be asking yourself a lot of questions. You may be wondering what this means for them, for you, and for the relationship. I will try to answer some of the most common questions I hear with the article below. I am both a person with ADHD and a counseling therapist. SPOILER ALERT: Counseling can help your partner manage their symptoms of ADHD. Schedule an appointment now by clicking HERE. to get started right away!
Question 1: Does my partner's ADHD mean my relationship is doomed?
Answer: No. At least, it doesn’t have to! Remember that ADHD is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition. Your partner has always had it. It’s not something new. ADHD is probably even part of the reason you fell in love with them in the first place! ADHD is accompanied by “superpowers” like spontaneity, high empathy, hyper-focus, and creativity. These can all be used to maintain and even improve a relationship. Further, ADHD has been around for as long as there have been humans. We only started pathologizing it 40-50 years ago when our culture started rewarding performance in a desk above performance on the farm or in the woods or on a work site. Remember, ADHD is not so much a “disorder” as a “trait” or “way of being”. It’s just the way we are, not anything new, and having a name for it doesn’t have to change anything. Any diagnosis is only there to label and describe a set of symptoms and to allow for better conceptualization, treatment, and recovery.
Question 2: Will my ADHD partner ever get better?
Answer: It depends on what you mean by better. Yes, they can learn to employ new skills that will improve their performance on boring, tedious, or uninteresting tasks. No, they won’t always agree with their partners on what to focus on. Yes, they can learn to prioritize work and home administrative skills in order to provide an income and steward it effectively. No, they probably won’t stop being a little more impulsive than most other people. Yes, they can learn to become more mindful of their mental state in the moment and improve their compassion and limit their speech. No, they won’t suddenly become the most socially skilled person at the cocktail party, BUT, you’ll be surprised to learn how much they are always observing about the expressions, mannerisms, and interactions of the people around them. In some cases, developing this awareness can bring sudden growth in key areas and drastically improve social functioning.
Question 3: Will my ADHD partner change over time?
Answer: Yep. But, honestly, who doesn’t? Every human being develops and changes over the course of their life. We all get better at skills we practice and worse at skills that we don’t use often. ADHD is considered a “neurodevelopmental” trait. That means that it will impact us in different ways over the courses of our lives. Personally, I’ve become more easily triggered by sensory stimuli over the past few years. For example, I can’t stand hearing a digital metronome. It drives me absolutely bonkers, like when a dog hears a siren. It never bothered me until I was about 40 years old. Somewhere along the way, my hearing became more easily affected by this stimulus, and now a strong emotional response happens when I hear it. This is an example of neurodevelopmental change. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to listen to my spouse more, to better manage my time at work, and to slow my mental processes down enough to better regulate my emotions. But as time passes, these issues will fluctuate. Perhaps I’ll become more easily angered in the future, or maybe I’ll have a little more trouble focusing than I used to. The person with ADHD will typically experience distress and volatility. In most cases, this is because of the emotional regulation difficulties that ADHD brings. While these changes can cause conflict and friction at times, the good news is that they are often just minor annoyances. It helps me to remember that these difficulties are a direct result of the same condition that makes me creative and witty and artistic. Personally, I wouldn’t trade my supposedly “disordered” brain for a “neurotypical” brain, even if I could.
Question 4: How can I help my ADHD partner get better at the things that are most important to me?
Answer: This question is super important! If you’re asking it, then chances are your partner is oblivious to how much their actions bother you. Or, maybe it’s not their actions but their lack of action that bothers you. Your irritation is completely OK for you to feel, it’s very common, and your situation is legitimately very frustrating for you! Conflicts with a partner over unmet expectations are the main reason clients come to see me! It helps to start with an understanding of the ADHD'er’s perspective. They probably seem completely disinterested and unmotivated toward anything that isn’t INCUP (Interesting, Novel, Competitive, Urgent, or Passionate) to them. So, getting them to do housework, to actively manage finances, or to go to a boring class at church, for example, might feel like pulling teeth! Some things will just never fit well into the INCUP list of motivators. However, when you communicate your needs to them in a way that evokes their passion, then they can see the need, connect with it empathically, and respond to it accordingly. You might have to really paint the picture for them about how much it means to you that they do dishes every day. If you respond to them making the bed with verbal gratitude and appreciation statements, they’ll be more likely to understand the importance, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll repeat the behavior. So, you’ll need to dig a little deeper and find a way to earnestly express to them that you’re feeling hurt and/or not feeling supported at a deep emotional level when they don’t do housework. When you can connect the dots for them that their performance as a roommate has some impact on the intimacy and attachment you feel for them, chores become a passionate pursuit for them! They love you, and once they understand the impact they're having one you, it will make a huge difference. Now you’ve spoken their language and appealed to INCUP, so you’ll likely see results.
Question 5: Why is my ADHD partner so inconsistent? Answer: The creative brain is simply not wired to be consistent. It likely literally hates doing things the old boring way. The creative brain craves stimulation and newness. It thrives when it can be impulsive and explore new challenges. But the good news is that deep down, it also knows that it needs routine and structure. Your partner knows that you and your family are counting on them. They absolutely do not want to let you down, even though they keep messing up simple tasks. This probably distresses them more than they are letting on and makes them doubt their own worth over time. The bane of the ADHD’er's existence is the shame-filled voice of the Default Mode Network (DMN), which won’t stop interrupting when they try to focus. Their brains all-too-often become overwhelmed with the DMN's blame, doubt, and regret, and they simply lose focus due to emotional dysregulation. This creates a cycle of self doubt and disappointment in which they try so hard to not mess up again that they actually wind up messing up again. Over the years, this erodes their willpower and they can even develop a learned sense of helplessness. The only way to help them break this cycle is to use consistent affirmation and encouragement toward them as you adjust your expectations of them. NOTE: Do not stop expecting performance out of them, just stop expecting consistency. You should communicate an expectation that they will persistently and daily pursue goals and complete tasks, but not that they would be consistent in the way they do boring or tedious daily tasks. They need freedom balanced with structure to thrive.
I hope this post has been informative and helpful. I specialize in working with creative professionals across Georgia who have Anxiety, ADHD, and/or High Functioning Autism. If you’d like to speak more about these or other types of issues, please give me a call at 770 615 6300. You can also schedule a session and learn more about my practice at www.altmancounseling.com I offer telehealth and in-person sessions. I am in-network with Aetna insurance and provide paperwork for filing out-of-network claims.