All relationships take work — but some require shared calendars and extra sets of car keys.
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder characterized by ongoing inattentiveness and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. It affects nearly ten million adults in the United States.
"ADHD is a disorder of self-regulation and self-control," Russell A. Barkley, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina and ADHD expert, tells BuzzFeed Health. There are actually three types, and each one is characterized by the symptoms a person presents with: inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, and combined type.
The disorder is classified in medical literature as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but many people still refer to it as ADD (especially those with inattentive-type). For the purpose of clarity and conciseness, we’ll use ADHD in this article.
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Because ADHD impacts interpersonal skills, it can also affect your intimate relationships — and could be the cause of relationship problems without you even knowing it.
Since adult ADHD is often undiagnosed or unmanaged — 4.4% of adults have it, but only 10% of those people have been diagnosed and treated — couples may not even be aware that the disorder is causing problems in their relationship. “In some instances, the problems in a relationship or marriage can actually uncover a case of adult ADHD,” Barkley says.
So if you have four or more of the DSM symptoms or notice all of these patterns and issues below in an otherwise healthy relationship, Ramsay says, you may want to consider contacting a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist who can provide an ADHD screening.
ADHD manifests differently for different people, and, of course, no two relationships are the same, so not everything here will apply to every relationship where ADHD plays a role. See the end of this article for resources on how to get help or to help your partner get help.
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ADHD can make things difficult for all people in the relationship, but understanding how symptoms affect the relationship can help.
The person with ADHD often feels demoralized, ashamed, anxious, inadequate, and misunderstood. Their partner can feel burdened, ignored, disrespected, unheard, and misunderstood. This is why it's so important for the couple to have a shared understanding of the disorder and the problems and patterns it can create in a relationship.
"ADHD isn't an excuse, it's an explanation," J. Russell Ramsay, PhD, co-director of the Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania, tells BuzzFeed Health. It's easy to misinterpret symptoms for carelessness, lack of interest, unreliability, or just being a bad partner. Better understanding the ways that ADHD can affect a relationship is the first step to fixing those issues.
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And proper treatment for the person with ADHD, along with their partner's support, can help control symptoms before they cause issues.
There's no magic cure for ADHD, but the right treatment can help reduce core symptoms and the issues they cause in a relationship so they're easier to work through. "If you have ADHD, you need to find the right treatment (that's medication or another therapy), be willing to stick with it, and get accommodations so your environment is more conducive to your productivity," Barkley says. ADHD is a chronic condition, Ramsay says. It's about managing the disorder effectively both inside and outside of the relationship for life.
If you're the partner of someone with ADHD, it's crucial that you also support their treatment program and educate yourself about the disorder. "If you refuse to believe ADHD is real or view it as lifestyle choice or laziness, you are being very condescending — and if the person with ADHD starts to buy it too, they can become demoralized," Barkley says. This attitude could discourage someone with ADHD from getting treatment that could change their life and turn a relationship around.
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