What Does Trust Look Like with ADHD? (On the Right ADHD Trail Telesummit Bonus)

In the telesummit interview, Melissa talks about how the presence of ADHD and the inconsistency it may bring means that couples must modify how they build and maintain trust.  As part of that discussion she talks about a specific trust equation that can help couples think through the issues they face.  This trust equation is a modification of John Gottman's work (see John Gottman's The Science of Trust).  In this bonus she shares the trust equation and tips for improving how you build trust.

The ADHD-informed adaptation of Gottman's trust equation is:


The opposite of lying and deceit.  Keeping promises to the best of your ability and being truthful in the relationship.  Operating with openness about, and ownership of, all positive and negative events.

Positive Moral Certainty:

Knowing your partner is a moral, ethical person, even when their actions seem otherwise.  Delineates how you think your partner will treat you – with respect, integrity, kindness and good intentions.

Empathy for, and Understanding of, ADHD:

In-depth understanding of how ADHD symptoms present in your relationship; an appreciation for the difficulties ADHD poses
for both of you.

Empathy for, and Understanding of, Anxiety:

In-depth understanding of how anxiety symptoms present in your relationship; an appreciation for the difficulties anxiety poses
for both of you.

Note that my modifications are in italic.

Tips for rebuilding trust

The implications of this view of trust for are, simply stated, that ADHD partners garner the most trust from their partners when they improve consistence, eliminate lying, and own their mistakes as well as their victories.  Willingly admitting that they don't always get it right and communicating clearly around mistakes allows the other partner to understand that 'we are all human and make mistakes but my partner still has my back'.

The best ways to improve consistency and dependability (the first part of the trust equation) are to:

  • optimize treatment for ADHD (see my free treatment ebook from my home page for more on this)
  • work with a counselor to overcome the desire to cover up out of embarrassment or shame
  • create safe ways to regularly check in with, and coordinate with, your partner (some use regular task meetings; others use regular emotional and relationship-focused meetings for this)

Both partners must work on emotional stability in order to support the moral certainty (part 2 of the trust equation) - treating your partner with respect and kindness are critically important elements of building and maintaining trust.  Shame and emotional dysregulation associated with ADHD often interfere with this part of the trust equation, as does anger and resentment in the non-ADHD partner.

The best ways to improve positive moral certainty are to:

  • work with a counselor to address emotional issues such as shame, anxiety and family of origin trauma.  CBT is a good mode for addressing anxiety; internal family systems is a good mode for addressing family trauma; and someone very knowledgeable about ADHD can help with all of these issues
  • locate your top 3 most important values - those you hold most dear.  Then reflect upon your life to see if your own actions are aligned with these values.  As one example - if you hold respect dear, are you treating yourself and others with respect?  Journaling, counseling, and deep conversations with friends or loved ones are just some of the ways to do this exploration

Finally, part 3 - building empathy.  It's hard to have ADHD...and to be partnered with someone who has ADHD.  You will have strong emotions around some of your interactions.  Finding empathy for your partner's situation may be difficult, particularly if you feel a great deal of resentment or if you are not someone used to thinking deeply about either your own emotions or the emotions of others. 

The best ways to improve empathy towards your partner are to:

  • learn all you can about ADHD and how it impacts adults and adult relationships.  My couples seminar is one of the best ways to do this.  If you're not up for that, both of my books (The ADHD Effect on Marriage and The Couple's Guide to Thriving with ADHD) are great resources. Other books about ADHD and related issues can be found here.
  • the book You Don't Have to Take it Anymore is a good resource for those seeking to address feelings of resentment.  So is Dare to Forgive.
  • my non-ADHD support groups are a a friendly and supportive space for those interested in working through common emotions associated with being partnered with someone with ADHD