Hayley Alexander | November 16, 2021
"The ADHD brain's desire for newness can cause us to pick fights when we’re bored, unintentionally creating conflict to satisfy our demand for stimulation."
When people with ADHD fall in love, we often fall hard. Our spontaneity, expressiveness, and emotional intensity are strengths at the beginning of a relationship where romance rules all. But those same traits can make progressing relationships to the next step a little tricky.
So how can people with ADHD successfully build harmonious relationships? Here are some of our best tips for embracing and working with your ADHD to strengthen your relationship.
1. Reevaluate your relationship expectations
As we grow up, we’re exposed to social norms that show us what everyone thinks a “good” and "healthy" relationship should look like. This shapes how we expect ourselves and our partners to behave.
But, the expectations you hold may not reflect what you actually want or need from a relationship. People with ADHD often navigate the world to the beat of their own drum, and romantic relationships are not an exception to this.
Spend some intentional time talking with your partner about what really matters to you in your relationship, and why. Pay attention to the expectations you both have and reflect on whether they are actually important to both of you. Something that you've viewed as a “relationship staple” because society told you it should be (like texting each other every day, for example) might not actually be a realistic expectation for you.
Remember, your relationship doesn’t need to impress other people - it should satisfy you and your partner.
2. Figure out how to work with your brain, rather than against it
When you talk to your partner about what you both want from your relationship, brainstorm different ways you can achieve your desired outcomes. It may also be helpful to talk openly about how your ADHD might manifest and interfere. For example, while going out for dinner might seem romantic in theory, some ADHDers might find it to be an overwhelming distraction because of all the other people and noises in a public setting. You may find it easier to connect at home - and that's ok.
Try browsing through different resources with your partner and identify settings you think could work for you and your relationship. That way, you'll have a list of different ideas to draw from depending on the context of the situation (and enough novelty to keep you engaged).
3. Manage the connection between stimulation and conflict
The ADHD brain's desire for newness can cause us to pick fights when we’re bored, unintentionally creating conflict to satisfy our demand for stimulation. Conversely, getting over-stimulated can also push us to a breaking point, resulting in emotional overload and emotional outbursts.
Learning to recognise your triggers for over- and under-stimulation - and when they are influencing your behavior - is key for reducing unnecessary conflict, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings in your relationship.
4. Resist projecting intent onto ADHD behaviours
Whether you have ADHD, an ADHD partner, or both, you’re likely to experience some derailed plans, unfocused conversations, and incomplete chores. If you're one to "read between the lines" in relationships, it can be tempting to make emotional assumptions about what these behaviours mean, rather than identifying them as traits or symptoms of ADHD. Because ADHD manifests in different ways for different people, this can still create conflict even when both partners have ADHD.
Taking a constructive and collaborative approach to understanding your ADHD can make your relationship stronger. Instead of getting stuck in a cycle of blame, frustration, and resentment, try to identify pragmatic solutions that focus on the problem, rather than the person.
If you have ADHD and your partner does not, make it clear that ADHD-related challenges do not reflect the way you feel about them. It's always a a good idea to encourage non-ADHD partners to learn more about ADHD and ADHD symptoms, and how they can use that information to be a good partner to you.
5. Address your internalised shame
As kids, many ADHDers are scolded for being careless, selfish, and lazy for behaviours related to their ADHD. More often than not, this continues even into adulthood. This can cause insecurity and make us ultra sensitive to perceived criticism, which can escalate conflict in relationships. Our partners ask us to clean up the kitchen and we tend to hear “you’re always so messy”- and react accordingly.
Internalised shame can also cause us to take it personally when a partner is late or disorganised, as we’ve been taught to associate that behaviour with a lack of care. This is especially complicated when you and your partner have ADHD, as you may end up projecting the same judgement you’ve received back onto them.
Understand what you're worth and when to move on
Your ADHD does not make you unworthy of love. Regardless of whether your partner is neurotypical or not, you deserve a partner that displays some level of empathy and is willing to work with you on managing your ADHD. You should never feel unsafe - emotionally or physically - in your relationship. Keep an eye out for red flags - there is never justification for abuse.
Final Thoughts: Embrace ADHD in your relationship
After digesting the above information, you should have the tools you need to build a relationship with your partner - one that works well for you both and enables you to be your most vivid self. You don’t need to hide or fight your ADHD to have a successful and rewarding relationship. Instead, spend that energy on embracing the things that come naturally to you - like surprising your partner, making them laugh, and finding new activities to do together.
You’ve got this!
Hayley is a queer Pākehā writer based in Aotearoa New Zealand, with an interest in neurodiversity, disability and chronic illness. You can read more of her ramblings at twitter.com/AdhdAngsty.
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