ADHD and its impact on marriage

When one or both parties in a relationship or marriage suffer from ADHD, Orlov kindly answered many of the questions that affect the lives of our very readers.

Melissa Orlov is the author The impact of ADHD on marriage: understand and rebuild your relationship in six stepsShe also wrote the “Your Relationship” column for ADDitude magazine, runs a popular blog on, and is the special author of the book Married distracted With Ned Hallowell, MD, and Sue Hallowell of LICSW.

Q: In what ways can the symptoms of ADHD disrupt relationships?

A: ADHD symptoms add a consistent and predictable pattern to marriages in which one or both of you have ADHD. As long as ADHD remains untreated or undertreated, these patterns can leave both parties unhappy, lonely, and overwhelmed by their relationship. They may fight frequently or distance themselves from each other in order to protect themselves from harm. A common response of non-ADHD partners is to become over-controlling and nagging (“the only way to accomplish anything here”), while ADHD partners become less and less involved (“who wants to be with someone who is often angry ?”)

If your relationship is affected by ADHD, you may see any of the following patterns:

  • Long-term nagging and/or anger
  • Housework is extremely unevenly distributed
  • One spouse plays a role that is always responsible (“parent” role), while the other is always inconsistent or irresponsible (“child” role)
  • Your courtship is great, you don’t know each other enough, and now a partner doesn’t pay attention at all.
  • You always quarrel, even for stupid things
  • A partner does not seem to remember the agreement or is turned away
  • A partner has had a lot of trouble completing what has been agreed
  • Sexual relationship has been broken

The unfortunate result is that the divorce rate and marital dysfunction rate of couples affected by ADHD is almost twice that of couples not affected by ADHD. The good news is that understanding the role of ADHD in a relationship can change your marriage.

Q: How does it feel to be a spouse with ADHD in a marital crisis?

Answer: There are a series of symptoms of ADHD. Some people do not have ADHD problems in one or more areas of life (such as work), but have difficulties in other areas (such as interpersonal relationships). Those with the most severe symptoms find that ADHD can interfere with almost everything.

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Among other things, people with ADHD in marital difficulties may feel:

  • Secretly or publicly at a loss because when you have ADHD you control your daily life more than others realize
  • The spouse who is subordinate to the “management of things”, especially when the parent/child dynamics are in place
  • Unwelcome or unwelcome because he or she constantly hears that he or she should “change” or do better
  • Fear of failing again.As the relationship deteriorates, the typical inconsistency of ADHD can lead to anxiety about what might happen Next First failure
  • different. People with ADHD understand that the world affects them differently than it affects others. Their minds are often “fast,” “noisy,” or “chaotic,” so they see the world in a way that others are not usually familiar with. A young man described his ADHD brain as “the Library of Congress in his head, no card catalog.”

Q: What about non-ADHD partners? What helps an ADHD partner understand his or her non-ADHD partner’s experience?

Answer: Like the spouse with ADHD, non-ADHD experiences range from mild problems to uncontrollable. On the milder end is a spouse who finds herself surprised and dissatisfied with the ADHD husband not paying much attention to her. On the uncontrollable end is the partner, because she believes that her spouse cannot bear these responsibilities, and she feels that the responsibilities she bears are completely overburdened. She doesn’t like herself and her husband, and has long been angry and frustrated with her plight.

The experience of a non-ADHD partner usually goes from happiness to confusion to anger to despair. He or she may feel:

  • Lonely because her spouse is too upset to take care of
  • Anger and emotional obstruction-Anger that cannot change their interactions or follow-up responsibilities towards untreated ADHD partners permeates many interactions. In order to control this, non-ADHD partners may “hide it in their hearts.”
  • Too much stress-too much responsibility, not enough help, too much anger can make this relationship harmful to non-ADHD partners
  • Exhaustion, despair and sadness-living with someone who has no control over ADHD can be a real struggle. Over time, the repetitive nature of the unmanaged ADHD symptoms in this relationship makes it feel as if nothing will change.
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Q: In your book, you talked about the destructive symptom-reaction-reaction cycle. Can you explain what this is, how it can cause harm in a relationship, and how to break this negative pattern?

A: People tend to attribute all problems in marriage to ADHD symptoms, but this is not the case. Both parties play an important role in their marital dilemma.

ADHD symptoms can bring unexpected, often insidious stress to marriages, as well as many misunderstandings. However, destruction comes from the complete pattern—including symptoms, responses to symptoms, and then responses to reactions.

A typical example is the symptom of distraction, which is one of the most common and important symptoms of ADHD.Distracted ADHD partners usually just don’t pay any Pay attention to his or her spouse. If the spouse does not know about ADHD, then she may interpret the lack of attention as “he doesn’t care about me anymore.” She became more and more dissatisfied with his lack of attention, and began to feel empty and angry with him. He heard the anger, but didn’t know its origin, so he was hurt and irritated by her anger… They entered a downward, strengthening cycle.

On the other hand, if the couple really knows about ADHD, the neglected spouse can say “You have been upset recently and I am feeling lonely. Can we go out on a date and spend some special time together?” You can see how full it is Understanding the situation and responding in a way that acknowledges the presence of ADHD symptoms can make a big difference. But don’t get me wrong-the symptoms are at the beginning of the cycle, so if a troubled couple wants to improve their relationship in the long term, the symptoms need to be controlled or resolved.

Question: You also explained to the couple that this is not a question of working harder, but a question of “trying differently”. What does it mean?

Answer: You can use your knowledge of ADHD and choose strategies that will help you succeed. I call these “hyperactivity sensitive” strategies. For example, just trying harder to remember to do housework at some point in the future may not work, because the symptoms of “distraction” hinder and most likely forget the housework.On the other hand, set an alarm clock on your phone to remind you to do housework When it needs to be done It might work well. A spouse with ADHD may be distracted during this period, but the alarm clock will bring housework back to his or her mind at the right time.

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Q: For couples who are still struggling with the “ADHD effect” in their relationship, but have a better understanding of the patterns that are happening, what key points they need to understand in order to move on, repair and rebuild their relationship ? marriage?


  • This is the effort of two people. In order to succeed, you must all be responsible for your problems and changes. On the contrary, you cannot be held responsible for changes in your partner, including whether to try drugs for ADHD.
  • Do everything possible to understand your differences and your partner’s experience. It will give you greater empathy, patience and even motivation.
  • Optimize the treatment of ADHD. Medication alone will not work. In my book, I wrote about treating the three legs of a partner with ADHD in a relationship. Although there is too much coverage here, I suggest that couples consider a multi-pronged approach.
  • Consider improving your relationship instead of saving your marriage. This will allow you to focus on what is really important-how the two of you relate to each other-rather than the logistics of your relationship. Logistics (who is doing what) is the most troublesome place for marriage.
  • After all, marriage is about happiness. When you complete the six steps to rebuilding relationships I outlined in the book, remember to find as many things as you can to celebrate or laugh. Set aside time to create happiness, not just time to solve problems. You all need to be free from the effort to change the habit you have developed over the years.