Relationship problems are one of the most common complaints reported by adults when they seek an ADHD diagnosis and that isn’t just on Valentine’s Day.
Navigating relationships can be difficult enough, but when one or both partners have ADHD, relationships can be even more complicated to manage. So what problems occur in an ‘ADHD couple’ and what can be done to ensure these relationships are successful?
Decades of research into ADHD and relationships has identified many relationship issues and adult ADHD is associated with a higher risk relationship and marital distress, separation and divorce. These problems can include:
- Listening skills
- Poor decision making
- Impulse spending
- Low intimacy
- Inability to finish tasks
- Mood issues
This might even be a self-propagating problem. There is some evidence that issues such as poor marital adjustment in ADHD couples increased severity of ADHD symptoms being linked to greater stress in romantic relationships and family and impaired interparental relationships in ADHD affected families have been reported. Importantly, both ADHD and non-ADHD partners agree that one of the most problematic issues they face is the non-ADHD partner feeling ignored or unimportant.
It has been suggested that partners of adults with ADHD, whether that partner has ADHD themselves or not, tend to respond to the partner’s behaviour in predictable ways, which can lead to a sense of unfairness or inequality.
Physical Intimacy in an ADHD Relationship
Intimacy is usually a central element of any healthy romantic relationship. There is a direct link between a couple’s intimacy and overall marital satisfaction. ADHD-related behaviours such as disorganisation, memory problems and boredom during routine tasks such as cleaning the house or preparing meals, may contribute to conflicts with partners. These conflicts may lead to resentment, and may subsequently damage levels of intimacy in a relationship.
Studies have shown that the greater the number of ADHD symptoms, the greater the fear of intimacy. Fear of intimacy and a reduced belief in the value of intimacy appear to be strongly related to symptoms of inattention. Sex is a component of intimacy in a relationship and ADHD also affects sexual activity. Couples have reported sex as too rough, fast and painful, often lacking foreplay. The tendency to become bored easily may also lead to affairs and risky sexual behaviours.
Some suggestions for improving intimacy in an ADHD relationship include educational components, behavioural interventions (such as intimacy homework assignments), communication training and couples coaching.
ADHD Couples Counselling
There are many couples counsellors offering their services online to ADHD couples. Whilst there is a paucity of robust evidence for the effectiveness of ADHD-specific couples counselling and no regulated ADHD counselling organisation in the UK, there is emerging evidence of its usefulness. At the centre of the process is education about ADHD, and therapy should blend general evidence-based marital therapy with strategies targeting the neurobiologically based problems of ADHD.
Author: James Brown PhD.
Editor: Alex Conner PhD.