Finding the Right Partner When You Have ADHD

And email from a woman in the EU asked a question that encouraged me to write this post:

“There are a lot of issues to address when one is looking for a new partner -- expectations that so quickly shoot into heaven, first dates with fascinating but overwhelming talking, constant change in how I see a person whom I'm interested in, insecurity in addressing my needs -- do you know any helpful videos or literature on the topic?”

I didn' I wrote this post for people with ADHD who are dating.

Finding the right person is always a challenge.  If you have ADHD, perhaps even more so.  The reasons for this for the ADHD partner include:

  • Hyperfocus courtship can mask the symptoms of your ADHD.  This means that the person your partner falls in love with won’t act the same way once the additional dopamine in your brain that comes with infatuation wears off.  It’s possible that you’ve had past, longer-term relationships that have suddenly soured and so you are wary.
  • Insecurity and self-esteem issues. We all wonder what a new love interest thinks of us.  Those with ADHD are prone to inconsistent behavior because of their symptoms – this can make meeting the expectations of a relationship harder, with non-ADHD partners being more critical over time than is healthy.  While you’re used to this, do you continue?
  • Overwhelm.  Dating, or even responding to texts while dating can feel overwhelming.  ‘Do I respond now?  Wait?  Am I talking too much?  Too little?’

What to look for in a partner

What makes a great partner for a person with ADHD?  Seek out someone who…

  • Is flexible and empathetic.  Even well managed ADHD results in greater than average inconsistency in time management, follow through and planning.  First and foremost, look for someone who does not easily get flustered when things don’t happen as they expected.
  • Shares your values and passions.  Marriage takes a lot of work, whether or not ADHD is in the mix.  But with ADHD there is the added issue of the ADHD partner having difficulty motivating him/herself to get things done when they become boring.  It helps a lot if the two of you share significant passions so that you have regular interactions that remind you how fun it is to be together that offset some of the most difficult parts of living with ADHD.
  • Respects who you are.  You will not be like your partner, by definition.  If you have one partner with ADHD and one without, you will be even more different because you will experience the world quite differently.  Someone who sees the positive in your way of being in the world, who admires your strengths, and who seeks the positive in others is a good fit for anyone, but particularly for someone with ADHD.
  • Is willing to wait at least 3 years before getting married.  Hyperfocus courtship is a big deal in relationships because the extra dopamine your brain creates during this period makes the ADHD partner extra attentive and focused (it’s great!)  But for the longer term you need to know that your partner also loves you when you have your normal ADHD issues.  Your body stops producing the extra dopamine 20-28 months after you start dating.  Wait at 36 before agreeing to tie the knot.
  • Can support him/herself financially if needed.  Those with ADHD are more prone to experience job issues.  For long-term security, someone with a track record of being able to hold a job is a good fit.  Just in case.
  • Is willing to engage in issues and work together to address them, without taking over.  It’s important that both partners be willing to address their areas of conflict and negotiate their differences.  A person who holds it all inside, or who is not able to get in touch with his or her emotions in a constructive way is not a good fit with someone with ADHD.  There is too much potential for bad feelings to build up.  And someone with a history of raging is definitely out.
  • With whom you can laugh.  Life is unpredictable. Finding humor in the preposterous situations in which you will sometimes find yourself is a big bonus.

And what about you?

Finding the right partner isn’t just about that partner.  It’s also about you.  A healthy relationship happens when two unique individuals come together, respecting that each partner has the right to their own way of being and thinking.  You will have differences, and research suggests more often than not you will not permanently ‘solve’ those differences.  As a result, it is your joint responsibility to negotiate those differences.  Sometimes you’ll get more of what you want and, importantly, sometimes your partner will get more of what s/he wants.

ADHD is likely to be one of those big issues.

For someone with ADHD, that means that you have a responsibility to manage your ADHD.  Great relationships are about bringing your best self to your relationship.  The self who is respectful and willing to be influenced by the other person’s point of view.  The self who wonders ‘how can I be kind to my partner right now?’ when faced with a surprise or disappointment.  The self who might be easily distracted, but understands that in order to have a great relationship s/he must carve out ‘attend time’ to actively demonstrate how his/her love for a partner.

For the partner with ADHD, managing the ADHD symptoms the best you can is definitely part of bringing your best self forward and nurturing a great relationship. (For more on optimizing treatment for adult ADHD download my free treatment e-book from my home page.)

ADHD partners deserve, and can get, the love they seek

Relationships impacted by ADHD develop specific, predictable patterns that can hurt your connections (see my book, The ADHD Effect on Marriage for more on this topic).  But knowledge is power – once you understand the patterns you really can find the love you dream of.  Finding the right partner is the first step.