Attention Disorders and Relationships

Attention disorders diagnosed in childhood often continue well into adulthood. ADHD can take various guises, showing up in different ways over time – and when it persists into adulthood, ADHD can be felt as particularly disruptive in social and romantic relationships.

Conflict between couples

Adult ADHD can cause difficulties in relationships

How does ADHD affect our marriages and romantic relationships?

With the rising awareness of attention disorders, many adults are discovering that
ADHD may be the answer to the many challenges they face in starting, keeping and managing relationships. Sometimes, only one partner has ADHD symptoms, and sometimes both! In either case, the difficulties posed by forgetfulness, impulsivity and lack of follow-through, for example, can often become a cause for conflict and even a breakdown of communication.

As is often the case in romantic relationships – at first, it’s all about the romance. However, over time, challenges posed by ADHD symptoms start to take over daily routine, and couples may find it difficult to cope with growing feelings of anger, disappointment and frustration.

Some of the challenges that cause relationship problems:

  •         Distractibility causing difficulty in paying attention and listening to the other
  •         Difficulty in planning and in carrying out decisions
  •         Trouble with keeping track of responsibilities and completing important tasks
  •         Difficulty keeping things orderly and preventing clutter from building up
  •         Troubles with emotional overreaction and losing one’s temper

Consider for example a few real-life examples that can occur when one or both partners are dealing with ADHD:

Laura is trying to tell Robert about what happened today at work and a problem she’s having with a colleague. Robert is having trouble concentrating on what she’s saying for more than a few minutes at a time, all the while displaying signs of impatience by  being preoccupied with other things like his cellphone, or the football game on TV.
It’s not that Robert doesn’t want to listen – the problem is that he can’t!

Laura signed them up for a group tour. The day before the scheduled trip, she started packing and asked Robert for his help in getting some of the equipment they would need. Robert nodded his agreement, but kept procrastinating. Finally, the next day – right before they had to leave – they discovered they weren’t prepared and the final packing was rushed and messy. When Laura expressed her disappointment over being late and forgetting the water bottles, Robert’s temper suddenly exploded with excuses and irrelevant reasons why he had put off doing what he said he would do.

What can you do to treat attention difficulties in your marriage or romantic relationship?

There are many treatments availble to help manage attention disorders. Perhaps the most important of all is to learn about the symptoms and gain compassion and understanding about how these can develop into interpersonal difficulties. This is the foundation on which it is possible to then build a strong relationship, based on values of understanding and patience.

Couples who feel that their relationship has already suffered from ADHD fallout may wish to turn to couples therapy and begin a program of cognitive training to start providing symptom relief. Professional cognitive training programs – such as that offered in this site – can help develop and strengthen those abilities that lie at the root of such relationship problems: Improved focus and attention, the ability to control impulsivity and emotional overreactions, quick and efficient decision-making, improved ability to plan ahead and be organized.


Attention disorders can harm adults’ quality of life no less than that of children diagnosed with ADHD, and sometimes even more severely. Symptoms of attention disorders are often at the root of relationship difficulties – as they tend to spiral into misunderstandings and feelings of mistrust – undermining the relationship’s stability even as it progresses.

However, by understanding ADHD, it is possible to make use of professional help to treat and manage the upset caused by the symptoms. Understanding and compassion can help create a strong and thriving relationship, steering past the bumps along the way.

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