Oftentimes when clients share with me any frustrations they’re having with a partner, we come to realize that it’s because their partner is neurodivergent. The difficulties they’re experiencing, while completely fair and valid, can be overcome by developing a deeper understanding of how your partner’s brains work. With that knowledge, the challenges can be addressed directly with kindness and empathy. Dating someone with ADHD can be a real joy – let’s talk about it! (If you want to know more about ADHD – check out our previous post.)
Dating someone with ADHD can lead to some challenges if you aren’t equipped with a solid understanding of how ADHD works. Here are some frequent complaints I’ve heard:
Common issues when you’re dating someone with ADHD:
My partner is:
- insensitive and rude
- not respectful of my time
- distracted and all over the place
- overly emotional
First, it’s important to remember that any of these complaints can apply to anyone. Being disrespectful of someone’s time (for example) is not limited to people who have ADHD.
That said, if you read this list and identify with these points as consistent issues in your relationship, it is quite possible that your partner has ADHD. Here are some things to understand about your partner that might help you work through these complaints:
“My partner is insensitive and rude”
ADHD brains move fast, and they don’t always have good “brakes” that normally help us to check if our words will come across as hurtful.
A few tips:
Evaluate your needs and communicate them kindly. Help your partner to understand the “why” behind the way their words hurt you and decide together how they can communicate in a way that’s helpful rather than hurtful. Understand that their behavior is likely not intentional, and it will take practice to set new habits.
“My partner is not respectful of my time”
Time blindness is a real thing. ADHD brains can lose track of time very easily when they go into hyperfocus. This is not necessarily a sign of someone who is intentionally being disrespectful.
Here are a few ways you can help a partner deal with time blindness:
Communicate what you need from your partner in advance. Give them the opportunity to understand your perspective. Ask if they’d like help with a reminder once a certain amount of time has passed. People with ADHD really begin to thrive when they are empowered to use their ability to hyperfocus and can count on an external source to keep track of time over time passing. (My husband has ADHD, and he has really benefited from having a physical timer on his desk that helps him keep track of time.)
“My partner is messy”
When you’re dating someone with ADHD, things can get messy – literally! Messiness can go hand-in-hand with ADHD. This is typically because ADHD brains have this amazing ability to keep people focused on the next task when the urgency of the current task has passed and cleaning up doesn’t tend to pass the threshold of urgency.
Be aware of spaces in your home that need to be kept clutter-free and ask your partner to help you keep those areas clean. Another great tip is to set ‘catch-all’ baskets in cluttered areas. Make cleaning up as easy as “put your stuff in the basket and then put the basket on the shelf”. The name of the game here is simple: Keep tidying easy. Make cleaning as simple as possible. Set your partner up for success! Be patient with reminders. Creating new habits takes time.
My husband and I had a laundry basket in our room that has a lid on it for our entire marriage. I’ve never seen him use it. He’ll put laundry on top of the basket or beside the basket, but he won’t take the time to open the lid and drop the laundry in. It felt infuriating. You won’t believe the solution – we got a laundry basket without a lid on it and put it on the path he takes to the shower instead of hidden in the corner. Yep, that was the problem, he was moving so fast he wouldn’t take the time to open the lid. Guess where the laundry goes now? In the basket.
“My partner is distracted and all over the place”
An easy-to-understand way to describe an ADHD brain is that it works as a very strong, effective filter. For information to capture an ADHD brain’s attention, the topic at hand must meet at least one of the following criteria: novel, interesting, challenging, or urgent. If the topic at hand doesn’t meet that criteria, they’re brain will filter it out and they’ll move onto the next thing.
Recognize that someone with ADHD needs the space and the time to be “distracted” (focusing on areas that engage their brain). ADHD brains are basically screaming for more external stimulation from their environment. It’s not uncommon for me to walk in on my husband playing a video game, watching a YouTube video, and running a conference call for his job at the same time.
Communicate to your partner what’s important to you and why. Help them overcome their brain’s incredible filter and help them prioritize accordingly. Saying something like “it’s very important to me that you pay attention to this conversation” will go a long way. Be sure to help prioritize your partner’s needs as well by remembering how their brain works – honor that! Allowing them to pair the conversation with another form of stimulation (such as a fidget toy) can be helpful too.
“My partner is overly emotional”
The parts of the brain that control executive function (part of what makes a brain ADHD) are the same parts that regulate emotion. People with ADHD can appear to have difficulty controlling their emotions.
No one wants to hear that they’re overly emotional. It can come across as extremely dismissive. A person who feels their feelings is a healthy person. It is inappropriate to expect a partner to minimize or conceal their emotions, even if there seem to be a lot of them. The task here is to separate yourself from taking it personally. You can validate your partner’s feelings without “fixing” their feelings. Let them feel and talk about it after the big waves of emotion have passed. (Disclaimer – I’m not advocating for abusive behavior. There is no excuse for emotional abuse.)
At the end of the day, remember this: knowledge is power. Understanding who your partner is and why, combined with effective and gracious communication of your own needs in the relationship, will always leave you with a positive result. Dating someone with ADHD can feel hard, but if you are able to better understand what makes them so unique, it will become much easier.
We’ve talked about ADHD in this post like it’s a bad thing. Allow me to be clear, it’s not. Here are some things I love about people with ADHD:
- They’re spontaneous
- They’re hilarious
- They’re creative
- They have a strong sense of protecting and caring for their people
- They usually develop great communication skills
- They can keep things light-hearted and fun
- They dream BIG
As someone who dated someone with ADHD (and later married that person), I understand the challenges. But the reward is so worth it. (I specialize in working with clients who are ADHD.)
If you’re interested in scheduling a free 15 minute consultation with a team that specializes in ADHD (or supporting people who are dating someone with ADHD), click this link.
This is part one of a two-part series. Click here to read our post about dating someone with autism.