You’re in a new relationship with a person you feel is really special – congratulations! Once you’ve been together for a while and know your attraction is mutual, it’s time to introduce the topic of your ADHD.
Why talk about your ADHD?
If you have ADHD, your symptomatic behaviors are already present in your relationship…or, if they aren’t there at the moment, they will be in the future. If you’re serious about a longer-term romance, it’s important to be honest about all of who you are. Even if you are managing y our symptoms extremely well, it’s still important for your partner to understand why you take those medications and why running those marathons feels so good.
When do I bring ADHD up?
There’s no need to talk about ADHD immediately. Instead, wait until you know you are genuinely interested – and your partner is, too.
There are two approaches to introducing the topic of your ADHD. One is in the course of doing something fun together. In this case, your partner may have made a comment about how much she likes your quirkiness or be laughing as you buzz into the weeds to look more closely at a plant that caught your attention. That is a good time to say something such as “well, that’s thanks to my ADHD.” You can elaborate later on all of the ramifications.
The second way to bring up the topic is in a more somber moment. You might be on a date, or spending the weekend together, hanging out over a cup of coffee or a Bloody Mary. You might approach her and say “I really think you are amazing and I love being with you. You know that I’m not just like others you’ve dated before…that’s in part because I have ADHD and I thought this might be a good time to talk about it a bit, if that’s okay with you.”
What does she need to know about ADHD?
Here are some key points you could discuss. I wouldn’t do them all at once, but spread out the conversations as you are together over time. You are, in essence, explaining your own way of being. You should also MAKE SURE to be curious about your partner’s way of being, too! It’s not all about you – it’s about getting to know each other better. As you are doing this, don’t be apologetic. You are who you are, and if she isn’t going to be willing to work with you to accommodate ADHD, she’s not the right partner. Further, try not to be defensive when she asks you questions.
- Your brains do not work the same way physiologically and you experience the same events differently because you both see events and store information in different ways. The ramifications are that neither of you should assume you understand the motivations of the others. Instead of assuming you know what’s going on, you should both create a relationship in which it’s a good thing to ask questions. And also great to talk about your ADHD – and her way of doing things, too – openly.
- It is hard for you to organize and plan, and so takes you longer to do the same things. Your partner will want to ‘help’ you, but it’s actually really important that you stand on your own two feet. Otherwise, resentment might build in the future and your partner will take on too much responsibility. You don’t want her to feel she has to do that.
- You may not always pay attention, because ADHD includes distractibility. This isn’t a reflection of how you feel about your partner. So if she feels as if she would like more attention from you, please gently let you know that and you will be happy to refocus yourself in her direction.
- You are very present-focused. This means you can be amazing in the moment, but may have trouble remembering items from the past and plan for the future. You hope she’ll understand this isn’t personal…and be empathetic about the lists you might create to help you stay on top of things.
- You may have noticed I’m kind of a slob (if you are living together and this is appropriate.) It’s not because I’m lazy – I actually don’t SEE the mess because my mind is darting all over the place. Mess doesn’t really bother me. However, I want you to feel comfortable, since this is your home, too. I’m going to create a system to help me remember to pick up – and might request a bit of your help to figure out what's most important to target (i.e. kitchen, or bedroom, etc etc)
- I sometimes get mad at myself because it’s frustrating to have to work so hard to do the things that others seem to do so easily. If you think I’m being frustrated or cranky, please let me know. I don’t want it to affect you!
Your ADHD isn’t all about struggles. It’s also part of why you are who you are. It’s why:
- you love to explore when you are out doing things (distraction takes you in marvelous directions)
- you think up fun and crazy things to do
- you can get totally into the moment and really enjoy yourself when something is fun or interesting
- you are so creative
- you have so much energy
Your partner’s responses
You don’t know how your partner will respond, but however she responds is good. Your job is to listen, empathize, be curious. Again – this is about getting to know each other to see if the relationship is a good fit. She’s likely genuinely interested, and maybe surprised or even a bit scared…and all of those feelings are okay. Handle them as part of her being open to you, and make clear that her expressing herself is positive, because it is!
When to commit
One last bit of advice. You may or may not wish to talk to your partner about this, but it is important for you to keep in mind. Because you have ADHD, your symptoms are masked by hyper-focus courtship in the first 24-28 months of your relationship. This is because our brains (all of our brains, not just those with ADHD) make lots of extra dopamine when we are in a new relationship. This goes away somewhere between 24 an 28 months, on average, and then the ‘real’ you comes out. The one with lower levels of dopamine who finds it hard to pay attention.
To ensure that you two are genuinely well suited for each other, it’s important for you to WAIT until after your dopamine levels return to normal and you see how the two of you do before making a commitment. Waiting may be hard, since part of hyper-focus courtship is feeling that this person is THE one. Wait, anyway. You’ll be protecting both yourself and the partner you love so much from potential misery if you determine that when the ‘real’ you shows up you aren’t so good together, after all.