For many of us, getting an ADHD diagnosis – especially if it first comes as an adult – puts us on a path to self-discovery.

Suddenly, we can make sense of the struggles with ADHD relationships we’ve faced, like difficulty staying still, focusing on conversations and attending to detail. It can feel like somebody has switched on a lightbulb – and we now have the chance to make some sense out of all the clutter.

However, our newfound self-knowledge will only get us so far. The process of sorting through our life can’t happen without the understanding and cooperation of the people around us: friends and family, colleagues and romantic partners.

This isn’t about extracting sympathy from those around you or using them as a crutch. It’s about communicating your self-knowledge so that you can have the most fulfilling relationships possible.

Read more
ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - ADHD relationships

ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - ADHD relationships

How ADHD impacts romantic relationships

If one of the most common desires in a partner is for the person to be ‘there’ for us, ADHD can present a real obstacle for intimacy. 

It can be devastating to pour your thoughts out to your partner, only to feel like their head is in the clouds. It can be frustrating to bear the brunt of procrastination, whether it leads to broken promises or missed opportunity.

While distraction and procrastination are two common symptoms of ADHD, another manifestation is hyperfocus: a seemingly unshakable concentration on specific topics of interest that causes someone to lose track of time. If you experience hyperfocus, your partner may feel neglected or frustrated that you’re out of reach.

Whether you have inattentive ADHD, hyperfocus or both, good relationships start from a place of self-knowledge. Spend some time thinking about when you’re at your best and when you’re off your game – ask a trusted friend for feedback if this is hard for you.

Then set a time to discuss these issues with your partner, from a non-judgmental point of view. Choose a distraction-free environment, set a timer for each of you to talk for equal amounts of time – and commit to not interrupting until they’re done.

At the end of the talk, choose one change each one of you is committed to making, write it down, and schedule a time to talk again next week (it can help to stick to the same schedule).

Start next week’s meeting with a recap, a recognition of successes and a commitment to address ongoing challenges.

For adolescents living with ADHD, teenage relationships present their own challenges. ADHD can ramp up the roller-coaster of high school years, where kids’ natural impulsivity reaches a fever pitch under the influence of hormones.

Talking to a therapist can help provide a steady, mature perspective to get you through the ups and downs.

How ADHD relationships impact our profession

One of the common misconceptions about ADHD is that it causes people to be less-than-ideal employees: distraction, procrastination and challenges with time management aren’t top on the list of must-have qualities in the office.

But the truth is, people with ADHD have strengths – even superpowers – that can be a real advantage in the office, if everyone knows how best to support one another.

Once again, it starts with self-knowledge: Are you a big-picture thinker? Are you a deep expert in a certain topic? Do you struggle with task completion or paying attention to minutiae?

Maybe you aren’t best-suited to be a 9-5 employee; maybe you’re more of a CEO type (but you’ll probably need a great, detail-focused assistant). Or maybe you need to reconsider your role in your team, to ensure that you can stay in your zone of genius and other people can stay in theirs.

ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - ADHD relationships

ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - ADHD relationships

How ADHD impacts families and friends

In the case of families and friends, the range of possible issues and challenges is wide. We recommend starting with an inventory of the struggles you face in social and familial circumstances.

For example, do you get antsy on long outings? If so, how can you build an escape-hatch? (Bring a book, listen to a podcast, don’t go on the outing, go for a run beforehand.)

The same lessons we discussed above vis-a-vis romantic and professional relationships still hold: Know yourself, communicate with others, then plan a strategy to handle (or avoid) the situation.

If someone close to you has ADHD

While most of this post is geared to providing tips and tricks to the person with ADHD, there are also things that their partner, colleague, family members or friends can do to remove friction from the relationship.

First, remember that they aren’t distracted, fidgety or unfocused on purpose. ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder. It’s not something they can switch on and off at will.

Second, do your best to set up your relationship for success. This doesn’t mean bending over backwards for them to build a soundproof room. It means choosing low-distraction environments for important conversations and then communicating with them in a succinct, non-judgmental way.

Third, practice makes perfect. Once you open the lines of communication and work to understand your mutual needs, know that it won’t magically become smooth sailing overnight.

You’ll both need to troubleshoot the relationship and continue to offer gentle reminders. As long as both of you give it your best try – and know that each one of you is trying their best – the odds are in your favour.

ADHD relationships