Maybe you’ve known all along that your partner has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Or maybe you’re in the early stages of dating, and they just told you they have ADHD.
Regardless of the scenario, their symptoms can affect your relationship.
Estimates suggest anywhere from 2.5 percent to 4 percent of adults live with this condition. That said, ADHD often goes undiagnosed, especially in adults. So it could be even more common than existing research indicates.
Characteristics of adult ADHD often include:
- difficulty concentrating
- a tendency to get distracted easily
- trouble completing important tasks on time
- getting so absorbed in something that the rest of the world fades away
- difficulty staying organized or motivated
- quick changes in mood
- impulsive behavior
- absentmindedness or forgetfulness
- restlessness, which might seem like extreme energy
- fatigue and other sleep problems
In addition to creating stress and tension, these symptoms can lead to misunderstandings and conflict.
You want to help your partner and improve your relationship, but you might not know exactly where to start — especially when your efforts to help only make things worse.
Here are 10 ways to offer healthy support without draining yourself or neglecting your own needs, whether you’re in a long-term relationship or just stared dating someone with ADHD.
If they haven’t received an ADHD diagnosis, talking to a mental health professional or primary care physician is a great place to start.
A professional can help your partner:
- learn more about ADHD
- explore ways symptoms affect their life and relationships
- learn skills and coping strategies to better manage symptoms
- practice communication skills
- address anxiety and other co-occurring conditions
- explore treatment options
Not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of therapy. If your partner seems hesitant, it often doesn’t hurt to ask about their reservations and explain why you think therapy could help.
Your support might encourage them to reach out, but keep in mind it’s ultimately their choice.
Relationship counseling with a therapist who specializes in relationships affected by ADHD can also help you and your partner work together to navigate the unique challenges you face.
Part of a parent’s job involves teaching children how to handle the various responsibilities of everyday life. This means offering reminders and constructive guidance when tasks go undone or aren’t completed correctly.
When you follow along behind your partner, sweeping up their mistakes before they even happen, you effectively remove them from their role as an equal partner in your relationship and put them back in the role of child.
“Parenting” your partner can make them feel controlled and can create distance or resentment in your relationship. It can also sap your energy and make it more difficult to connect emotionally or physically.
Remember: You’re a team. Try offering encouragement instead of frustration and exasperation (like, “You forgot again?”), lecturing, criticizing, or doing everything yourself to get it done “properly.”
- Avoid: “I can’t believe you didn’t finish! We agreed we’d get all the chores done today. You could have finished if you’d just stop daydreaming. I guess I’ll just take care of them now.”
- Instead, try: “We did a great job today! We finished almost everything on our list. I really want to enjoy our time off, so why don’t we get up early to wrap up the last few together?”
If you live together, there’s the issue of dividing up household chores and responsibilities, so neither of you ends up with more than your share of physical or cognitive labor.
If your partner has ADHD, this division of tasks might take a little extra thought, as people with ADHD may have different strengths.
They might be a fantastic, creative cook, but have trouble getting dinner going on time. Or maybe they enjoy grocery shopping, but they have a hard time remembering specific details, like which brand of tomato sauce you like.
In these scenarios, maybe you pipe in with a gentle, “I’m looking forward to your cooking tonight. Is there anything I can do to help you get started?” Or maybe you help out with filling in extra details in the shopping list.
Recognizing your individual areas of expertise can help you share tasks more effectively and appreciate each other’s unique skills.
ADHD is a mental health condition. Your partner doesn’t choose to have it. Their behavior reflects ADHD symptoms, not a desire to annoy you or make you miserable.
You probably know these things already and still occasionally feel frustrated and ignored. That’s absolutely normal. Keep in mind, though, your partner likely experiences plenty of inner turmoil themselves.
Navigating the responsibilities of work and daily life can challenge anyone, but it can prove even more emotionally draining for people living with ADHD.
On top of that, they might also worry you’ll give up and leave them if they keep messing up. This can add to the stress of managing symptoms and make it even harder for them to focus.
Try asking how they feel to get more insight into their day-to-day experience. A deeper understanding of what it’s like to live with ADHD can make it easier to consider their perspective and offer compassion instead of criticism.
It can also help you focus less on specific behaviors and more on them as a whole person — the person you love and admire.
Misunderstandings and miscommunications can create problems in any relationship, but communication difficulties commonly show up in relationships affected by ADHD.
Forgetfulness and procrastination can make you feel neglected and ignored. If they seem distracted or disinterested when you talk with them, you might assume they don’t care about what you have to say.
On one hand, it is important to talk to your partner about how you feel.
Still, when you point out behaviors in an accusatory or critical way — “You never…” or “You always…” — they’re more likely to respond defensively. This can fuel further disagreement and disconnect.
- Use I-statements to center the conversation on how specific behaviors affect you. Try “I feel unheard and unimportant when you change the subject and talk over me,” instead of, “You don’t care about anything I have to say.”
- Listen to their side of things. After sharing your feelings, ask for their thoughts about what you said.
- Mention concerns in a timely manner, so problems don’t fester or create anger and resentment. During conversations, stick to the topic at hand instead of bringing up older issues.
- If either of you starts feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take a break and try again later. Resolution might take longer, but you’ll probably both feel better about it.
- Check in with each other regularly to address issues early on.
Above all, remember that respect is key. While it’s OK to ask your partner to do specific things or remind them about important responsibilities, doing so with consideration and kindness can make all the difference.
It’s natural to want to support your partner, but it’s just not possible to anticipate every potential concern. It’s also not realistic (or helpful) for you to manage every aspect of their life.
Trying to solve everything sends the message you don’t believe they can do anything for themselves.
This can discourage them and chip away at their motivation to even try.
Instead, it can help to practice a “take it as it comes” attitude. Once you notice a problem, bring it up and work to find a solution together.
Let’s say they have a habit of sitting down to draw whenever they have a few spare minutes before heading out somewhere. Usually, they lose track of time and end up running late.
You might encourage them to either set a reminder alarm before they pick up their pencil, or avoid drawing just before heading out the door. If this strategy works, they might feel motivated to apply it to other situations on their own.
- Avoid: “You forget everything, and you’re always late!”
- Instead, try: “I wonder if setting a reminder on your phone would make it easier to leave on time.”
Time management and scheduling apps help plenty of people better manage ADHD symptoms, but not everyone finds technology useful.
Similarly, leaving notes around the house for your partner could help jog their memory. But they could also see your notes as passive-aggressive reminders of their forgetfulness, or an attempt to manage them 24/7.
Instead of urging your partner to use a specific strategy, explore available options together. If they don’t like Post-It notes, maybe you offer to help them try out scheduling apps instead.
When they let you know something doesn’t work for them, respect their decision.
You can’t change or control your partner. Building a healthy, thriving relationship means accepting them as they are, just as you want them to accept you.
Instead of focusing on what goes wrong, make more of an effort to recognize the things you value and appreciate about them: the way they make you laugh, their intelligence and creativity, your shared dreams for the future.
Think before you speak
Before you bring something up, try asking yourself:
- Is this behavior creating a problem?
- Did something important not get done?
- Do I only want to say something because I feel frustrated?
- How can I offer suggestions with empathy and respect?
Running through these questions in your head can help you decide when saying nothing is, in fact, a better option. Don’t forget to give yourself some space if you think your body language might reveal your underlying emotions.
Boundaries are important in every relationship.
Setting boundaries means outlining specific things you will and won’t accept. This makes it easier to protect your emotional energy and get your needs met.
Boundaries also help you set limits around your own behavior, so you can better support your partner.
A few examples:
- “I’d like to discuss things calmly and respectfully, so let’s agree to take a break if either of us raises our voice.”
- “I’m fine swapping chores when you ask, but I won’t finish up your chores when you forget.”
It’s also essential to understand and respect your partner’s boundaries. They might say:
- “I feel like a child when you tell me what I should do, so I’d appreciate it if you wait to offer suggestions until I ask.”
- “I prefer when you remind me about chores in a non-accusatory way, like ‘Would you mind washing the dishes now?’ instead of ‘You forgot to wash the dishes after dinner.’”
It’s healthy to prioritize your partner and the needs of your relationship, but it’s just as important to maintain supportive friendships.
While you may not want to share every detail about your partner with friends and family, it can help a lot to know loved ones are there to support you.
When you feel stressed and need a break, you might meet a friend for a hike or jog. When your partner gets caught up in a project, you might drop in on family instead of feeling lonely at home. Make time for what you enjoy, even if your partner doesn’t join you.
Counseling can also help, even if you don’t experience mental health symptoms yourself. Therapy offers a safe and private space to talk about relationship concerns and explore strategies for working through them.
Treatment can help improve ADHD symptoms, but it won’t cure them completely.
ADHD will likely remain part of your relationship, but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Exploring new ways to support each other and working to improve communication can go a long way toward making your relationship last.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.