You have an ADHD partner and are excited to make plans. You enjoy spending time together and talking for hours.
But, sometimes, things irk you in your relationship. You know your partner wants to see you, but you don’t understand why your partner is always running late.
You know your partner cares, but you don’t understand why they forget your birthday.
You know your partner wants to discuss things that bother you, but you don’t understand why you are having so many communication problems with your ADHD partner.
ADHD and communication difficulties with an ADHD partner
A partner with ADHD may have a tendency to interrupt, impulsively answer, and not wait for their turn to respond. They may have difficulty following the thread of the conversation, especially in a crowded room or with distractions, such as cell phones.
You may notice that their thoughts are expressed in a disorganized fashion. They may jump from one topic to another and you may have difficulty understanding what they are trying to say.
3 ADHD communication difficulties you may be having with your ADHD partner and how to solve them:
1. The criticize, blame, and shame problem.
ADHD partners are very sensitive to criticism for forgetting things, losing their keys, being late for appointments, and not picking up items at the store.
Non-ADHD partners may blame their partner for many of the issues in the relationships, such as losing a job due to issues of procrastination, not following through or meeting deadlines, not carrying their weight in the relationship, or the relationship not being fair and balanced.
These are common complaints by the other partner.
The ADHD partner frequently holds a lot of shame around their mistakes and challenges in their life and relationship. This problem may leave the ADHD partner feeling and viewing themselves as defective, less than, or not good enough.
The ADHD partner needs to learn ways to accommodate these challenges. As a couples therapist that counsels couples with ADHD, I highly recommend ADHD coaching or therapy to learn coping strategies to improve daily and executive functioning.
The non-ADHD partner needs to learn about the ADHD experience to better understand their partner’s struggles too.
2. The forgetful, interruption, and jumping topic-to-topic problem.
When ADHD partners can’t remember what they were going to say, impulsively interrupt, jump from topic to topic, the non-ADHD partner can feel frustrated and irritated by these behaviors.
The ADHD partner is not trying to disrupt the conversation or upset their partner, but they need to learn ways to slow down (which is not an easy task) and listen to their partner.
Before this communication problem occurs again, ask your partner if you can handle this situation by doing the following: one partner will speak (called the speaker) and the other partner is going to listen (called the listener).
The listener will take notes on what the speaker is saying. When the speaker is finished sharing their thoughts, then the listener can summarize what they heard the speaker say. Then you switch roles.
The speaker should share their thoughts for no longer than five minutes (set a timer if you need to) because it may be difficult for the listener to focus for more than five minutes.
You can always switch back and forth a few times. Try to keep your ideas succinct though. Taking notes on what your partner is saying and this time limit can help the listener focus on the conversation.
3. The distraction problem.
If you are trying to talk and a partner with ADHD keeps looking away or has difficulty following the conversation, sometimes the non-ADHD partner will feel rejected, abandoned, or unloved by these behaviors.
You need to put away the cell phones and turn off the television or music or any other distractions.
If you’re thinking that you can’t turn off your kids, then if you have children who are interrupting your conversation, you may need to ask them to wait, go into another room, or have the conversation when the kids are not around.
Sometimes sitting close to your partner and having direct eye contact (this is not a staring contest) may help with the distractions too.
ADHD does not have to negatively impact your relationship, but you will need to understand the challenges and issues to be able to address them.
All couples have communication problems, but when you have a partner with ADHD, you need to learn more effective methods of solving your communication problems.
ADHD and communication difficulties in adults.
Dr. Hallowell and Dr. Ratey define ADHD as a “neurological syndrome whose classic defining triad of symptoms include impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity or excess energy.”
Usually, partners with ADHD are described as friendly, very busy doing many things at one time, and sometimes appear moody. Sometimes, they self-medicate using drugs or alcohol.
Partners with ADHD can hyperfocus on their partners. At the beginning of your relationship, hyperfocusing keeps partners engaged and motivated to see each other. You might like the attention that your partner provides and the ability to make you feel special.
As the relationship progresses, since the ADHD partner has difficulty regulating their attention and is drawn to novel and new experiences, their attention on the relationship might wane.
Taking advantage of these solutions for ADHD communication difficulties in relationships, however, can improve the experience for both partners over time.
Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC, is a licensed counselor in the states of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and Florida. She is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist and PACT Level 3. She offers free 30-minute consultations for ADHD communication difficulties and other relationship obstacles.