Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder impacting your marriage?

Learning to live with a permanent partner requires ongoing adjustments. When your mate has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), both of you are challenged to an even greater degree. Yet, with knowledge, compassion and help your marriage can survive and thrive.

Dr. Julie Ann Dopheide’s 2009 ADHD update states, “Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neuropsychiatric disorder that impairs social, academic and occupational functioning in children, adolescents, and adults.” She cites research that shows deficits in the neurological-connectivity of certain brain regions and lowered or increased emotional reactivity.

Though ADHD is most often diagnosed in the U.S. in children, it also affects 3-5% of adults.

Some behavioral characteristics of ADHD in adults include: inattention, distractibility, poor concentration, disorganization, procrastination, chronic lateness and forgetfulness. Emotional symptoms may present as: mood swings, difficulty controlling anger, low frustration tolerance, impulsiveness or chronic boredom, depending upon whether they have attention deficit with or without hyperactivity symptoms.

Many couples, who experience relationship difficulties, are unaware that one of them has ADHD. The non-ADHD spouse is exasperated by the chronic disorganization, forgetfulness and lack of compliance by the mate, despite numerous promises to change. The mate with ADHD is bewildered by his/her inability to manage basic tasks more effectively and may feel inept and shamed by failing to improve despite sincere attempts. The non-ADHD partner assumes that these behaviors are volitional, in sheer disregard of his/her wishes and signify an indifferent, non-caring or purposefully oppositional mate. The pair’s relationship is strained and unsatisfactory.

Many adults discover that they have ADHD subsequent to the diagnosis of their child. Once they realize that the disagreeable conduct and emotional expressions are not attributable to personality faults or willful reluctance to abstain from annoying habits, the diagnosis of ADHD is sometimes responded to with great relief.

Accepting that one partner’s brain is neurologically “wired” differently helps the non-ADHD partner deal with the same behaviors with greater compassion, understanding and acceptance. The mate with ADHD often gains a greater self-awareness, improved self-view and may welcome available medical and behavioral treatments.

Dr. David Goodman, Director of the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland notes, “If the ADHD spouse is receptive to diagnosis and treatment, functionality typically improves fairly dramatically.”

• Understand that your partner’s distractibility, disorderliness, procrastination or forgetfulness may be symptoms of ADHD – not signs of character flaws or lack of love for you.
• Suggest that your mate be evaluated by an ADHD professional to confirm or rule out the presence of this disorder.
• If your mate is diagnosed with ADHD, be compassionate about his/her frustration and suffering resulting from this medical handicap.
• Seek both medical and behavioral help. ADHD is treatable with great success.
• Know that in a healthy marriage a hardship of one mate is a couple’s condition.
• Embrace ADHD as a treatable, manageable condition that requires your cooperation in living with it and unites you toward a more loving and intimate connection.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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