How to cope when your partner has ADHD

When you think about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you might picture children who are overactive and have a hard time focusing. However, ADHD symptoms can continue into adulthood and sometimes create issues in relationships, especially between couples.

“ADHD is defined as a persistent pattern of inattention or hyperactivity. A person can have a pattern of inattention, hyperactivity or both. To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms have to start before the age of 12, be persistent for at least six months, cause functional impairment and occur in two out of three settings, which are at school, home, and the doctor’s office,” said psychiatrist Dr. Asim Shah.


 Inattention-type ADHD

Common signs of inattention-type ADHD include:

  • Inability to focus
  • Issues with completing tasks
  • Becoming easily distracted
  • Forgetfulness
  • Disorganization

Although some people who show symptoms of inattention-type ADHD say they have ADD, Shah said this is actually incorrect. In the late 1980s, the term ADD was declared obsolete. Inattention-type ADHD is now widely considered to be the accurate clinical diagnosis.

Hyperactivity-type ADHD

Fidgeting, tapping hands, not being able to sit still, running around, talking excessively and interrupting conversations are all symptoms of hyperactivity-type ADHD.

Although the hyperactivity aspect of ADHD usually goes away with age, inattentiveness can remain. Poor organizational skills, emotional outbursts and impulsive behavior can all potentially impact a relationship.

Couple coping

So how can couples work through these issues? Shah said:

  • ADHD is treatable: It’s important to be sure your partner is on the right medication(s) to treat the symptoms.
  • Therapy can help: Consider seeing a psychiatrist or a therapist who can help guide you on how to deal with symptoms.
  • Practice empathy: The partners of those who have ADHD should work on having more empathy and patience for their significant other. Rather than getting upset at your partner for not listening, think about changing your response. It’s possible that they may have missed their medication that day or it needs to be adjusted. Communicate with them face-to-face and ask questions so you know what is going on.
  • Write reminders: Written reminders and time keeping are important for those with ADHD.
  • Address impulsivity: For example, if your partner is struggling to resist impulse shopping, you should consider adjusting the budget until they can stay focused.
  • Family support: Being an advocate for the person with ADHD is extremely important. Once issues are identified, the family can work as a team to help find solutions.

Dr. Shah is a professor and executive vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. Learn more about the Baylor Psychiatry Clinic.

-By Julia Bernstein

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