ADHD and Fighting Stereotypes

When I work with couples impacted by ADHD I often see an unintentional bias towards using the label of ADHD as a negative descriptor, rather than as a medical term that enables treatment and describes a particular way of being.  This negative labeling - used by both partners - hurts relationships. as it may lead to blaming the ADHD partner for ALL relationships issues, while providing too easy an out for non-ADHD partners who also play a role in relationship issues.

ADHD partners are often quite sensitive to the use of the label of ADHD as a result.  This is easy to understand, and I've written a recent post on the topic at psychologytoday.com which I urge you to read.  But more importantly for this adhdmarriage blog, what can you do to lessen the potential damage of stereotyping and labeling in your ADHD-impacted relationship besides the obvious - not using the label for anything beyond a medical descriptor?

Let me tackle that here with three immediately actionable ideas:

Be aware that every person has the right to change his or her mind.  Try not to critique ADHD partners who do so, or feel that they are untrustworthy.  If you are the ADHD partner, be open about why you changed your mind...and honest with yourself.  If you 'just didn't get around to it' or ran out of time, then the decision to do something differently isn't about changing your mind, it's about an ADHD symptom that isn't managed as well as it could be.  Look at what happened and learn from patterns you see.  Take action to become more reliable.

Challenge all ADHD stereotypes with knowledge about ADHD from reputable sources.  Yes, there are symptoms that describe the condition that probably mean someone with ADHD will make more than his or her fair share of mistakes.  But not completing something does not need to translate into 'you are stupid or lazy'.  It could me you have trouble staying on task.  Learn what others with ADHD have done to deal with that particular symptomatic behavior.  If you are a non-ADHD partner, exercise flexibility and patience as your partner searches for coping strategies that work.

Engage!  Adults with ADHD cannot easily fight these stereotypes unless they actively try to manage their ADHD.  You probably won't get things to be perfect, but just the act of genuinely applying oneself to address ADHD is enough for most non-ADHD partners.  You will make progress, and your effort to do so tells your partner you care.  Engaging means treating ADHD and its impact on your relationship very seriously.  It DOES make a difference...and you can, too, by acknowledging this and doing all you can to improve your own ADHD-impacted actions.

The Negatives of ADHD

I can hear non-ADHD partners groaning as I write this, saying something like "but the ADHD symptoms really ARE negative!  It IS a negative label!"  Yes, ADHD has a serious, and often negative impact in the lives of couples.  But my point is simply this - creating a stereotyped label that only looks at the negatives of ADHD does not do justice to the adult who has it - there is much more to that person than just the fact that s/he has ADHD.  If the ADHD adult buys into the negative label then s/he can lose hope.  If that adult fights the negativity of the label by denying ADHD can be a major problem, then active treatment is ignored.  So focusing on the label and the symptoms of ADHD may be expedient, but it hurts in many ways...it obscures the good of the person who has it.  The person who is caring, thoughtful, creative, energetic...or whatever those characteristics are OTHER than ADHD that you love.  Too much "ADHD" focus and you lose touch with the positive.  This is why I encourage couples to try to do fun and challenging things together - everyone needs to be reminded of the positive to counteract their troubles.