Image Credit: Getty Images/ Cecilie Arcurs

4 Relationship Struggles with ADHD (and How to Overcome Them)

Reading time | 6 mins

Forget what you might have heard — in my opinion, people with ADHD are fun to date. We’re always up for an adventure, and ready to try new things and explore new places. As a person with ADHD, I love fast-paced environments and meeting new people. I’m also intensely curious about humans and love asking deeper questions when I get to know them. In this day and age, dating can be a fun way to make all of those things happen.

Having been in a number of long-term relationships, I’ve experienced all of the fun parts (and the not-so-fun parts) of love, romance, and the particular challenges intimate relationships present when you’re living with ADHD. Here are a four of the relationship struggles I have as someone with ADHD, and my tips for overcoming them.

Struggle #1: Zoning out

I’m highly prone to zoning out when I’m out to dinner with my girlfriend. Giving someone your undivided attention is incredibly important in a relationship, and as someone with ADHD, this can sometimes be a bigger challenge for me than for others.

It’s not just those of us with ADHD — if you walk into a restaurant nowadays, you’ll see probably more than half the guests on their phones, hardly paying attention to one another. Social media, apps, games, alerts, notifications — our phones are like nagging little pests that constantly need our attention every moment of the day.

That pesky voice is even louder for someone with ADHD. It’s not only my phone, though; the minute my eyes start wandering my brain wanders with them. The architecture of this restaurant is so fascinating, definitely Baroque inspired. Are they playing Bach right now? I love this fugue! The G minor chords drive such emotions in the cello. I wonder how many bottles are in that wine cellar. Who invented wine cellars? Who invented wine? Why are wine bottles shaped that way? I need to Wikipedia the history of wine bottles immediately!

You get the point.

No matter how romantic we may be (or want to be), people with ADHD tend to have trouble focusing for long periods of time, which can make us seem disinterested to others.

Solution: Ask questions

My biggest trick for staying focused during conversations is to ask questions. For me, I can focus on things much more when I’m learning something new or actively engaging. My girlfriend and I work in completely opposite fields. I work in film and she works in medicine, so there’s an endless array of lessons we get to learn from each other!

Practice active listening to help you stay focused more during conversations. You’ll get to learn much more about your person, their work, and interests. Plus, because you’re actively engaging, you’ll be much less likely to zone out during those long, wonderful dates.

Struggle #2: Rushing in

As someone with ADHD, I love a good adrenaline rush, and there’s no rush quite like the start of a new relationship. While the newness is certainly exciting, it can lead to impulsive behavior. Case in point: I once said the L word on a second date and was laughed at for four minutes straight.

My friends often tell me that I rush into relationships way too quickly. As someone who had a late diagnosis, I always just attributed this to being a romantic and sensitive Latino musician… but it turns out it might just be the ADHD. I still love intense emotions and spontaneity, but sometimes it can become unhealthy and lead to reckless tendencies — or even worse, heartbreak.

Solution: Slow it down

Emotional regulation is much easier said than done. When we first become attracted to someone and fall in love, our brain is flooded with dopamine — the so-called “feel good” chemical — so the last thing we want to do is slow down.

Be honest with yourself about this new person. Do you really like them, or do you just like the rush they’re giving your stimulation-craving ADHD? Are they logically the right person for you, or is it purely a spur of the moment feeling?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the answers swaying one way or the other. Just make sure you take time to process your feelings and reflect on them before communicating with your partner. This will help you avoid rushing into things too soon.

Struggle #3: Forgetfulness

I’m extremely prone to forgetfulness. Whether it’s birthdays, anniversaries, dinner plans, or forgetting that I was supposed to make a quiche for the family lunch, it seems that I’m always forgetting something.

As your life becomes more and more intertwined with your significant other, there are more details to keep track of and it can be hard to keep up. This can lead to fights, disappointment, and feelings of rejection. I’ve forgotten more dinner plans than I can count, and I’m not proud of it.

I can blame my ADHD to a certain extent, but once I realized that my forgetfulness was inconveniencing and even hurting the people close to me, I knew I needed to make some changes.

Solution: Hey, Siri?

Here’s one of the ways your phone can be your friend. Love them or hate them, our smartphones can be incredibly effective tools to help us with our daily life. I use Siri to remind me about everything. I have a reminder set for two weeks before every important anniversary and birthday (If you’re reading this, do it right now. You’ll thank me later).

Another really effective technique is making my phone’s background a clear reminder of my plans tonight. Something strange that stands out, like a photo of pasta if we’re getting Italian food that night. It’s silly, but it works for me.

Aside from technology, I also love using visual reminders that are directly in the path of my daily routine. For example, if we have plans to go swing dancing, I will put my suspenders and bow tie right on the knob of my front door, so that when I’m scrambling because I’m late for work and (probably) forgetting, I see those articles of clothing as I’m running out and remember what I need to bring.

Struggle #4: Infidelity

This one’s my least favorite one to talk about. There’s some mixed research that suggests people with ADHD may be more likely to be unfaithful to their partners. And there are a ton of anecdotal reports about ADHD and cheating all over the web.

Though it absolutely doesn’t apply to everyone, the impulsivity that comes with the disorder may have the potential to make some people with ADHD more prone to cheating on their partners.

Solution: Understand yourself

People with ADHD tend to be novelty seekers. If you’re feeling like there’s a chance you might cheat on your partner, try to look inward to see if there’s another void that’s not being filled.

Are you searching for a new adrenaline rush? Try hiking, skydiving, yoga, taking a dance class, going to flight school, getting a SCUBA certification, or going surfing.

Intensely curious and wanting to learn something new? Enroll in a night class, watch TED Talks, listen to a podcast, or join a social club.

Are you feeling bored and wanting a change? Go on a trip with your partner, have an experience together, volunteer at a local pet shelter, take dance classes together, go stargazing — anything that involves activities together.

If these things don’t work or it’s something else altogether, it might be time to consider relationship counseling. There’s no shame in seeking out expert help, and your relationship may be that much stronger if you’re able to confront what’s not working.

The takeaway

Everyone faces relationship struggles and nobody is perfect. Likewise, these four struggles don’t define everyone with ADHD. I’m sure there are several more struggles that each person with ADHD deals with on an individual basis.

Not everyone with ADHD is going to be a cheater who forgets everything, zones out during conversations, and rushes in to every single romantic relationship. As with any partnership, getting to a good place takes work, time, and honest, open communication — with yourself and with each other.

Article resources


ADHD-US-NP-00021  JULY 2018