ADHD is an often-misunderstood disorder that can be difficult, even for trained professionals to diagnose. The term itself – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, invites us to make assumptions and associate it with a few select symptoms, chiefly hyperactivity and inattentiveness. In truth ADHD has a wide range of complex effects that impacts each of us individually and often unpredictably.
If you’ve done some web-searching, you may have noticed an overriding, cautionary tone. I respect that, and it’s worth pointing out that none is absolute or conclusive. We humans are far too complex to fit neatly into such boxes of certain causes-and-effects. Instead of enlightening, such certainty can instead, lead to blind stereotyping – where patterned characteristics that are predictable to groups, are misapplied to individuals. That doubles the error from inaccurate to inaccurately unfair! So, with that little cautionary in mind, here are clues to consider if you think your partner may have ADHD.
1) You feel like your partner doesn’t listen to you. Two common symptoms of ADHD are short attention span and inconsistent ability to remember details. Your partner may seem entirely engaged in a story you’re telling, then blurt out something completely off topic. Or, you remind your partner a hundred times to meet you at 3 o’clock on Thursday, only to find they thought you said 2 on Friday. It’s easy here to interpret these as signs that person doesn’t care, isn’t interested, or isn’t invested in the relationship. But if your partner otherwise makes you feel loved and cared for, but can’t seem to remember details or switches gears unexpectedly, that’s consistent with some ADHD findings.
2) You feel like you’re doing it all. It’s important in every relationship that both parties feel a sense of equilibrium in what they bring to the table. This varies from arranging activities together, to taking care of household chores. Mundane tasks may seem invisible or overwhelming to your partner. Realizations that you feel as if you’re the only one contributing, or the only one keeping the relationship going, are consistent in many ADHD relationships. Just FYI, it can also appear the other way around, too!
3) Your partner has trouble believing in themselves. ADHD can manifest as a relentless and frustrating grind. Tasks and states of being that come naturally and readily to those that feel they’re neurotypical can place someone with ADHD in a constant battle to achieve and maintain. Some adults with ADHD have received a lifetime of negative feedback and their bewilderment trying to adapt to a neurotypical world takes its toll. Why can’t you just figure it out? Didn’t you read the directions? Why can’t I rely on you for anything? These comments have huge impacts on self-confidence and beliefs. Don’t be that person! On the flip side, low expectations can foster resentment and partners may exhibit sudden moments of overconfidence or cockiness. Balance here is key.
4) Your partner is hyperactive and/or hyperfocused. Some people associate ADHD with an inability to focus for long periods which can sometimes be the case. However, it’s a misconception that people with ADHD are unable to focus for long. Your partner may be distracted when completing mundane tasks, but might also exhibit signs of hyperfocus, a state of utter absorption with something that genuinely interests them. ADHD implies irregular supplies of dopamine and other neurotransmitters our brains require to function. If something interests your partner and supplies them the dopamine they’re frequently lacking, they may become intently absorbed. Depending on the person, this can mean anything from learning an instrument, to playing videogames, to giving all their attention to a new friend.
5) Your partner is reserved, then suddenly emotional. ADHD is described by challenges in regulating both attention and emotions. The same way you may overreact when you’re overworked, exhausted, or stressed, your partner may be unaware of certain over reactive emotional responses. These can also arise in other areas of your partner’s life like finances, work situations or long-term goals and planning.
If you suspect that your partner may have ADHD, I suggest you start with a clear and direct conversation. Avoid accusing or fault-finding and present your interest with open curiosity. Express your point-of-view as just that, and allow-encourage your partner to present theirs.
Next steps could include seeing a psychologist or other diagnostician with abundant ADHD experience. Know that there are many treatment options from medication to cognitive behavioral therapy, to holistic methods like diet, exercise, and meditation. It’s possible for loving couples where one, or even both have ADHD, to grow and maintain great relationships and marriages!
Mark Julian is a Certified Coach; Business Counselor, Author and ADHD Specialist serving startup and veteran business-persons with ADD related challenges. He provides mentoring and results-driven coaching to today’s new-breed of business builders! Mark’s a member of the ICF, CHADD and is an accredited Edge Foundation Coach. Mark’s office is located at the George Mason University Small Business Development Center where he’s provided guidance to business owners since 2010. For more information visit www.clearviewcoach.com.