How to Broach the Topic of ADHD with a Loved One

You suspect your partner might have ADHD but are unsure how to bring up the topic.  What do you do?

ADHD in adults can be a sensitive topic.  Some feel that ADHD "is not real" or "just for kids" while others, sensitized after years of comments that they should 'just try harder' might take the suggestion that they might have ADHD as a direct criticism.  And some adults embroiled in the struggles of 'the ADHD Effect' might worry that considering the possibility that they might have ADHD would be tantamount to admitting they are to blame for your marital struggles.

So suggesting your partner might have ADHD is often not as straightforward as simply saying "have you ever considered ADHD?"

Here are some suggestions for broaching the topic:

  • If you have a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD, propose that you both read some background information about ADHD.  Often, adults with ADHD "see" themselves in these books.  Ned Hallowell and John Ratey's Delivered from Distraction or Driven to Distraction are two particularly good choices as they are upbeat and have great ADHD characteristic checklists in them.
  • If bringing up the topic of ADHD feels uncomfortable, consider focusing on the behavioral issues first, without any label.  So you might say "I often feel lonely around you and I think that's because you are often distracted.  Can we work on improving this?"  If your partner can change the behavior, even without a diagnosis of ADHD, you may be fine
  • Introduce your partner to ADHD/partner issues while you are in the car.  By saying something like "I have a book a friend suggested I listen to, do you mind if we put it on?" you can then cue up the section of The ADHD Effect on Marriage that talks about patterns in ADHD relationships.  Many people recognize the patterns, which then makes them more open to considering ADHD.  (The audiobook can only be ordered from this website.)

I've been told stories, over the years, from people who have faced this very issue.  One woman gave a book about ADHD to her partner on the premise that he needed to read it to be more up to speed on the topic for one of his employees (it was ruse, but it worked!)  Another went into her husband's office while he was on the computer and said "do you mind if I read part of this book to you?"  He said something akin to "whatever" and she waded in.  When she looked up about 20 minutes later, he had turned around and was staring at her (she was reading the chapter from ADHD Effect on patterns...)  Others have read short excerpts from Driven to Distraction in bed in the "hey, listen to this" pattern.

The basic premise is this - share information, be as positive as you can, and be very careful not to accuse or create defensiveness in your partner.  Control the urge to "push" because the more you insist your partner hear about ADHD, the more he or she is likely to resist you.