Living with a partner with ADHD

Here’s the situation: you start telling your partner a story, and they don’t seem vaguely interested, and wander off to do something else. You repeatedly ask them to pay the DSTV bill, and three months later, it’s still not done. They forget to fetch the kids from school three times a week – and they’ve forgotten your anniversary for the past two years. Chances are, your partner might have ADHD.

People with ADHD, particularly untreated ADHD, often struggle to establish and maintain settled, happy relationships and have higher rates of divorce. There are various reasons their relationships fall apart.

Unpredictability and impulsivity
Adults with ADHD can be extremely unpredictable and impulsive. This can manifest in their making rash decisions without discussing the consequences with their partner. It also extends to impulsive spending habits – buying a new four-wheeler, when they haven’t completed their car repayments for six months – as well as an inability to save or plan ahead.

This leads to further frustration on the part of their partners, as they have to pick up the pieces and manage household finances, with little support or assistance.

Not-so-fun employment
The reality is, adults with untreated ADHD may have difficulty staying in one job for any length of time. They have lower rates of professional employment and, even if they do maintain a job for some time, they may not perform at work which further may further demotivate them. They may struggle with the day-to-day goings-on of work life, and may not fit in with their colleagues.

As the partner of an ADHD adult, this can be extremely frustrating. There’s no stability or comfort, and you never know if your partner will be holding down their job next week, next month of next year. Partners of ADHD adults sometimes have to pick up the slack left by their partner, or work harder to keep a household running and ensure a steady income.

Forever forgetful
The key symptoms of ADHD – inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity – make it extremely common for adults with ADHD to frequently forget their commitments.

Aside from day-to-day commitments that may be forgotten – appointments, lift clubs, picking up dinner – the important days that mark a relationship also pass with little recognition or planning. Valentine’s Day, wedding anniversaries and even birthdays may also pass, and they’ve been completely forgotten about – no present, no card, no message. This can take a toll on any relationship, as the partner feels neglected and unloved.

Always inattentive
Relationships are built on reciprocity in which one partner shares their emotions – negative and positive – while their partner listens, empathises and offers advice. In relationships with an ADHD partner, however, this is especially difficult to do.

Adults with ADHD struggle to focus and maintain their attention for any length of time, so will often walk away when their partner is trying to share an anecdote or emotion. They appear not to be listening when their partner speaks to them, and often don’t take cognisance of their partners emotions or show any kind of processing of that emotion, simply because they’re ‘zoned out’.

Reckless behaviour
Studies show that adults with unmanaged ADHD are more likely to engage in addictive behaviours, like smoking and drinking alcohol, as well as recreational drug abuse. They’re also more prone to gambling and risky behaviours, which can be tough for their partner to deal with.

The important thing to remember is that this behaviour is not malicious – it’s simply an extension of untreated ADHD. With an effective treatment plan, couples can work together to create an environment that’s helpful and supportive of individuals with ADHD. Medication helps to decrease the symptoms of ADHD, which can also help build a more stable relationship and home environment.

If you feel your partner shows symptoms of ADHD, encourage them to complete this self-assessment form, then visit a healthcare professional with them to find a treatment plan that works.