ADHD And Relationships. How To Make It Work

Having healthy relationships is essential for physical and emotional well-being. Strong, healthy relationships and social support have been associated with less stress, longer life, and healthier life, including reduced risk of stress, depression, improved immune function, and heart health. 

For individuals with ADHD, however, having healthy relationships can be very challenging due to their symptoms.

The adhd wood in living room for medical concept 3d rendering

 ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in childhood, affecting an estimated 5 to 7 percent of all school-age children. Research shows that this condition continues by the age of 25 at least in 15% of the cases, while another 50% of the people would experience ADHD in “partial remission”.Thus, they will still have symptoms that interfere with day-to-day life,  including social life and relationships. Read on to learn more about why maintaining healthy relationships may be more difficult for someone with ADHD and solutions to improve them. 

 ADHD and  relationships 

About half of all children with ADHD have significant issues with their peer relationships. These difficulties occur because they have trouble in conversations, intrusive or impulsive behavior, inattention, and problems regulating emotions. Hot temper, low tolerance to frustration and mood swings as well difficulty completing tasks, lack of focus, poor time management skills are all common signs of ADHD that have a negative impact on relationships at school and home. For some children with ADHD, it is harder to make and maintain friends and behave appropriately in social settings. As the symptoms persist into adolescence and adulthood, these problems increase the risk of loneliness, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. 

During adult years, ADHD can have a significant impact at work, due to decreased concentration, focus, and motivation, lack of time management, self-discipline, and completing work assignments. 

Lack of self-confidence,  trust in others, and poor self-image associated with ADHD  have significant, negative impacts on relationships. 

At the beginning of a relationship, an individual with ADHD may be excessively attentive and romantic, attending to all the needs and desires of the partner. This is known as ADHD hyperfocus, although this term is not officially recognized  in the DSM -5 textbook. However, that hyperfocus does not last for too long. The person with ADHD can change their attitude within days or weeks. The partner will be completely ignored and left wondering if there were any real feelings in that relationship from the beginning. 

As time passes, more and more challenges put a strain on the relationship. Dealing with children, financial decisions, family problems, and day-to-day chores when one person in the couple has ADHD becomes more and more difficult. Sex life is often affected as well. Ultimately, these conflicts lead to painful divorces and breakups. 

Social skills training 

Social skills training can effectively help a child or adult with ADHD to be less impulsive or aggressive as well as improve behavior in social settings and relationships. There are different techniques available including coaching, role-playing, watching videos, and other educational material related to positive behavior and learning strategies to manage conflicts. 

The goal of this training is to learn how to communicate, listen and engage in conversations, how to deal with various social situations, how to cope with anger and frustration, and how to respond to praises and criticism. Training sessions are available 1 on 1 or in small groups. For children, many schools now have social skill classes available for ADHD and other conditions.

Some therapists recommend visualization, as a way to get additional practice and improve specific social skills. Those who need to practice those skills can rehearse in their minds, thinking they use the skills with the people they are planning to interact with. They can repeat a scenario in their mind as many times as they want to learn that skill.  In the case of role-playing, the child will practice the skills with others, who can also provide feedback. 

Couple therapy 

Couple therapy can address relationship issues, as the therapy supports both partners, helping them improve communication and cope with various relationship problems. It is important to acknowledge that ADHD is the real problem, not the person who has ADHD. Couples have the chance to learn about various techniques and practice them. A popular technique called emotionally focused therapy ( or EFT) invites the couple to identify problematic patterns that impact bonding and attachment. Both partners have to discover past feelings that may have been blocked yet affect the current relationship. They learn how to express emotions in a way they would connect, rather than disconnect with the partner. This technique helps heal older trauma while creating a safe and secure attachment within the relationship. 

Therapists also suggest finding activities that can be enjoyed together like yoga classes, learning a new instrument, or a foreign language.  

Although ADHD can have negative impacts on a relationship, many people with this condition can learn to manage the symptoms, improve social skills and enjoy a beautiful, healthy relationship. It is important to work with a therapist to set up goals, and have a clear plan and techniques to achieve them. The brain has an incredible ability to rewire and respond when trained properly.