When Both Spouses Have ADHD

What’s it like when both partners have ADHD in a relationship?  Is it different from when only one has ADHD?  Are there other resources we need to know about?  Are there different challenges?  These are questions I get regularly and would like to answer here.

Relationships in which both partners have ADHD tend to resemble those in which only one partner has ADHD but with some small variations.  These are:

  • Both partners need to be fully invested in taking care of their ADHD symptoms.
  • It’s harder for one partner to “borrow” the executive functions of the other partner, unless that other partner has a good treatment plan in place.  So treatment is even MORE important in these relationships.
  • It’s possible that you’ll be more sympathetic to your partner’s disorganization and planning weaknesses.  However, what I observe more often as I work with couples is that if both are untreated, the lack of organization starts to take over the relationship and cause resentment in at least one partner – just as if you had a non-ADHD partner there.
  • You likely share a common background and history as relates to ADHD symptoms – that is that you understand your partner’s struggles growing up, as well as his or her “unique” way of being in the world.

When I work with dual-ADHD couples, what I see most often (and this may be because these are the people who find me, I admit) is that one partner takes on the role of the non-ADHD spouse.  This is the person who is more organized and who is frustrated that the other partner isn’t.  I hear things such as “If I can get my ADHD under control, so can you!” and frustration such as “my partner does not completely accept his ADHD as real and has only been somewhat supportive in helping me with my own struggle.”

It’s pretty easy to see which partner is the more organized, so for purposes of using my book, many of the things I describe for the non-ADHD partner can be applied (perhaps with some modification) to that more organized ADHD partner.

If you are in a two-ADHD partner relationship and having trouble, here are some immediate next steps:

  • Learn all you can about how your ADHD negatively impacts your partner.  It’s happening in both directions in this relationship.  That means TWO of you must take full ownership of your ADHD in order to succeed as a couple.  My book is a good resource for this, as is my couples seminar.
  • Measure both of your current treatments up against the three legs of treatment I describe.  It's highly likely you’ll discover that one or both of you is sub-optimizing treatment.
  • Talk about the importance of good treatment in how each of you will experience the relationship…and about what your goals are for the future.  What do you want your relationship (NOT your marriage) to look like?  What would enable that?  How are your symptoms impeding that?
  • Create a plan to get there (again, my book has lots of tips about what that plan should consist of – including the six steps you take to get there)
  • MEASURE your success against your plan – modify the plan as needed until you can measure successes and celebrate them.

Accepting that your ADHD impacts your partner is tough, whether or not you have ADHD.  Inside you, you want to say "I'm doing all this hard work on MY ADHD, why aren't you working harder on yours?"  It's a legitmate question, of course, but not a particularly productive one as it fosters resentment.  This isn't a "tit for a tat" sort of thing.  The best question to ask yourself is "Am I doing the most I possibly can to manage my ADHD?"  Once you can answer that question in the positive, you can more easily go to your partner and say "here are all the things I was contributing which are now out of the way.  But we still have problems, so I'm asking you to start looking more closely at yourself.  No more just blaming me!"  In the meantime, however, one of the good things about being in an ADHD relationship is that as you can have conversations about symptoms that are easy to turn around.  Asking the question "How do my ADHD affect you?" and genuinely listening to the response, validating the response, and acting on it makes it easier to then ask “So if my symptoms impact you so much, can you see how your symptoms impact me?  Let’s talk about symptom impact in BOTH directions.”

As in any relationship, don't wait for your partner's "support" to encourage you to make the changes you need to make.  That support is GREAT to have - don't get me wrong here - but you need to make the changes that improve your life with or without your partner's support.  (It's just easier to do if you get that support, which makes it in your partner's best interests to give that support...but of course there are all sorts of complicated interactions that sometimes prevent spouses from giving support when it's needed.)  More on that topic later.


excuses for behavior

This is the first time I have posted, so excuse the messups,My girlfriend of 10 years has add .I know having add does not give you a free ride but she has apparently found a way to justifiy her behavior and to stop taking her meds (adderral) She now proclaim that since she has joined a "New Age-" and a metaphysical group that believes that their is no "wrong" in the world and that all you have to do is use your mind and create a perfect loving world, with no stress whatso ever yet her behavior is getting worse.I am at wits end HHHHHEEEEELLLLLPPPPP!


Different types of behavior

Her behavior might be exactly what she needs for HER to live as a happy, single person (few responsibilities is what it sounds like) but may not be what YOU need to be in a fulfilling relationship.  Have a serious talk with her about the differences between being single and committed - ask her how she sees her new philosophy fitting in with the commitments and negotiations that happen in a relationship between two.  If she is in a "I do whatever the hell I want" mode that stays for a long time, the logical response to that is "it is your right to do what you want, but if you don't want to take me into account, then it's hard to see how we are going to remain together."

Both have different symptoms, conflict *sorry long post*

I am in a relationship with another person who has ADHD. I have the most trouble with talking too much, keeping things uncluttered, and time management. His biggest issues (in my opinion of course) are a tendency to get overwhelmed by chaos or too much stimuli, lack of filter, inability to pay attention to anything not delivered in short sound bytes, and problems with controlling his anger. We both have issues with remembering things like dates and appointments, conversations, and general working memory stuff.

This is our current situation. I moved in with him 5 months ago. He knew that I had a hard time with stuff (where to put it, and not realizing I made into chaos). When Dr Hallowell describes ADHD as a fuzzy tv screen or static on a radio, I have that, but visually. So whether a room is clean or messy I have a hard time seeing more than just a bunch of jumbled things. I have a tendency to walk through a room, turn around, and realize that the drawers are open, I've dropped things where ever I was using them without putting them away. When I am happy I am bubbly and talk a lot. He said I was like a hummingbird when we had been dating for a short time. This week I was compared to a hyena with verbal diarrhea. Since I moved in, the biggest issue has become his unhappiness with those 2 issues. I admit that they are an issue and am frustrated, but also know that when I am able to work through them, at least in the recent past, I have been able to make things a lot better. Good enough to be proud of myself.

I moved across the country and started over, successfully, and have something to be proud of. But I don't feel proud anymore. I feel not good enough. He doesn't like the way I do the dishes, he wants me to remember to close the cabinets, go to bed at the same time as him (8pm), not leave things around the house-ever. That means I can't put anything down on a horizontal surface, spill anything even if I wipe it up right away, leave anything on the floor by my side of the bed, etc. Essentially I feel as if I have to be perfect. I hear about every thing I do that isn't what he wants. The other day I was proud of myself for cleaning the kitchen. He came in and told me that I needed to wipe the appliances horizontally and not vertically because I was going to ruin his stuff. A few days later he got mad and pointed out that I left the windex out. I am always hearing about the drawer I left open, asked when I am going to clean about 10 different parts of the house at once, and frequently discover that he has been counting and he is mad because he had to pick up a dish for me 6 times last week. So even when he isn't complaining he is keeping track.

He gets mad when I interrupt (I get mad at myself too, since I catch myself about 1 second after I do it). I interrupt when I am nervous. The constant criticism makes me nervous. When I interrupt he blows up, yells, and then stomps out of the room. Many times we will be talking about something and trying to figure out a way for me to do it so that I can remember and he won't nag. Today it only happened twice, but both times he told me to leave him alone and went into the bedroom, staying there for hours. That was a low number of meltdowns, but cost me an entire day of prep for the coming week. My clothes are in there and I needed to wash and fold, etc. But if I don't leave him alone when he tells me to, I get yelled at. Many days there are 3 or 4 blowups. I am starting to think that he has realized that he can get out of any discussion by saying he is overwhelmed and storming out of the room. Last week he really lost it and told me that he was about 2 seconds away from ending it. Now I am scared that I will trigger that anger again and have him end it.

It sounds like I am in a horrible situation but there are so many good things. When he is having a good day and remembers to take his adderall, has enough sleep, and things are just working well for him, he is loving, sweet, and I can see that he adores me. I adore him too, for his sense of humor, intelligence, and all the qualities I fell in love with before this unhealthy dynamic crept in.

I have been treated for my adhd for about 6 yrs, but recently read the ADHD Effect on Marriage and realized that my treatment was obviously not working well enough in this situation. I tweaked my adderall dose and started strattera. Started omega 3 fish oil. I still need to do better with sleep and exercise. He was treated as a kid but hadn't since he was about 16. He started seeing someone about 6 months ago, and the guy put him on adderall but wouldn't change the dose or switch to another prep or another med when he didn't feel it was helping as much as it should. He has the numbers of several docs that were recommended by a reliable source but hasn't called them. He intends to he says, but hasn't. I will not push because he has resented that before I and I promised myself I would not meddle. He also read most of the book and was on board but now says he tried all of the suggestions and they didn't work. We weren't trying at the same time! He wouldn't buy a copy and I had to lend him mine, so we got out of sync. At this point I am hesitant to get him to start at the same point in the book as I will start again, because he is so out of control with his treatment that it probably would be of limited use and I don't think he would try a third time.

Do you have any suggestions? I have not been able to find anyone who knows about adhd that can do couples therapy. I would write more but I said I would do the dishes and he will be home soon. I have to haul ass or will hear about it later....

I am ADD and he is ADHD

I am in an 8 month relationship that feels like 8 years to both of us. We don't want to end it...we both say we want it to work. ..but we can't quite seem to make it happen. I am in counseling. I am not medicated. I am fairly aware of my brain conditions. ..He is not medicated and is dealing with ring a recovering addict for larger part of his life. I see his heart and soul like he was 12....but in both the good and bad ways. He is very reluctant to take meds. Oh did I mention he has probably worked 4 weeks of these 8 months and I am self employed for 12 years..and very proud of my self but not too much. So we also don't have insurance so that us rough. We do have a NP we go to( primary care)..but counseling is expensive. ..mine is covered till July for counseling. At any rate. ...lol I mentioned I am ADD RIGHT! :) it's make or break time . I am the "non adhd" In relationship. ...I just can't take the abuse it's not good for me and I know it...but the parts where I can relate. .. so it's super had to end it so this is my last ditch effort i need him to get a job and work on his adhd...How long should i give him? Our relationship is extremely dysfunctional. ..do I just en d it? He says it just feels all super overwhelming but hasn't taken the several opportunities to leave ..How do get him to see that if he addresses his ADHD then it makes all the things in your head more possible??? If my "condition" had caused me years of addiction and avoidance of life like it has him..If I finally knew the was a reason for my condition ....I would deal with it aggressively..like cancer...( Omg it felt good to say that. .and to not get interrupted...While expressing my emotions) Thank you for making this site! Anyone that has any thoughts on this situation from either and all views is much appreciated.

My 2 cents

OK, coming from the person who wrote the post before yours- on my end things are a struggle but we are doing the couples sessions "on demand" and some good has started to come of it. If you both are on board with it, I recommend it. It would probably be more effective if you both were treated though.

This is based on what I have learned from this site, the couples program, my past in an abusive relationship, and a lot of knowledge of adhd stuff (I'm a psych nurse and go on research binges, many related to ADHD).

First, coming from someone who was in an abusive relationship and got out. There are different levels of abuse, all are destructive and harmful. BUT disclaimer.... Is there physical violence, threat of physical violence, controlling who you are allowed to socialize/interact with? Does he tell you that he won't let you end it or that you would never survive without him? Does he say or do things just to get a reaction from you, to control your emotions to get what he wants? If you think any of this applies, then safety trumps ADHD. Go to the site for the Nat'l Domestic Violence website and poke around. They have some good screening tools that will tell you if you should be worried in that sense. If your relationship is based on the kind of abuse that I mentioned above, you probably can't fix it, and need to consider a safe exit plan.

That said- you mention that neither of you are on meds. You mentioned counseling but didn't say what kind... It sounds like he is not addressing it at all. Does he have a formal diagnosis? It may be helpful for him to get one, if only to hear it from someone other than you. Since insurance is an issue (I get that, mine has such a high deductible that I see a psychiatrist of my choice and pay out of pocket) I'm assuming that meds are an issue of affordability. Have you addressed your own treatment in all of the other ways that are not medication? That includes fish oil, a healthy diet, exercise, enough sleep. Some people don't get any benefit from meds but a lot from the other stuff, particularly exercise. 

You can't make him realize anything. If it hasn't clicked in his head that he may need to pursue help, it just hasn't. Every time you push it, or really even mention it, you bring it into the power struggle. The only thing you can do is take ownership of your own brain. I was adequately treated before my current relationship started, but have realized that just because I see a psychiatrist and take meds that does not mean I am off the hook. I have a lot that I need to do to create a better environment in my brain and seeing myself as the "treated one" vs the untreated one was holding me back.

I recommend changing everything that you can to help your ADHD, and maybe he will see how much it is helping you. He may even want to hear your opinion at some point if you let him ask on his own. 

If you do everything you can for yourself, and are patient for a bit longer, and he doesn't come around.... You may need to end it. BUT you will leave in better condition than you are now, having addressed your own issues.