Dating When You Have ADHD/ADD
Feeling distracted at work is fairly common, but it's a luxury you can't afford on first dates. Below, experts and couples alike offer advice on dating, loving and living with ADD/ADHD.
ou're the life of the party. Your friends adore you. You're funny, creative, spontaneous (very!), fun, and full of great ideas. You're great at making an instant connection with someone... but when it comes to keeping a relationship going? There's the real challenge.
Welcome to the world of someone who's dating while living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD). Relationships that start out with tons of excitement often end because the person diagnosed
with ADHD suddenly becomes distracted by the newest shiny thing that comes along — or because the other partner feels ignored or disappointed by the ADHD partner's forgetfulness and overall inattentiveness.
|A little ADD can be great thing; a lot of ADD can get in the way of a relationship.|
"There are a lot of positive aspects to people with ADHD," says Dr. Robert Hunt of the Center for Attention and Hyperactivity Disorders, a psychiatric treatment center with a primary focus on ADHD. "They possess a very appealing tendency towards high energy and high curiosity. A little ADD can be great thing; a lot of ADD can get in the way of a relationship." But Hunt stresses that a great amount of progress and improvement can be made by simply becoming aware of the disorder's core symptoms, learning how they might manifest in someone's dating life, and taking steps to counter the romantic toll it can take on relationships.
How ADHD/ADD affects your dating life
Susan Tschudi, marriage and family therapist and author of Loving Someone with Attention Deficit Disorder, says that the core symptoms include restlessness, distractibility and impulsivity. Tschudi explains that "overall, the big challenges for the person with ADD are: 1) staying present in the relationship; 2) not getting distracted; 3) not having restlessness take over, and 4) curbing the impulsive behaviors that could lead the other person to think, 'This person isn't that into me.'"
Here's how these core symptoms translate into behaviors that might negatively impact your dating life:
"A good relationship might get jettisoned by someone a little cuter coming along," Hunt says. "There is a point where one has to give up the search for the ultimate in order to have the real. There is a paradox in relationships for someone with ADD; on one level, this person connects very well and can bond relatively quickly. What someone with ADD is missing is the follow-up — the nurturing of the relationship." Hunt says that he's identified two main issues people with ADHD face: "1) never quite being satisfied/always looking over the horizon [for someone better to date] and 2) becoming overly dependent on a more structured partner" in relationships.
- Forgetting to communicate (call/text) a last-minute change in plans to your date
- Inattentiveness that your date reads as disinterest instead
- A tendency to be late and often feeling stressed by the difficulty of dealing with time-management issues
- Becoming distracted during conversations
- Zoning out and forgetting about dates and social obligations
- Getting distracted by other romantic possibilities
- Blurting out inappropriate comments
- Sexual impulsivity
- Not paying attention during sex
Dealing with the symptoms as a duo
Jennifer Koretsky, author of Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD, has been in a committed relationship for a decade with her partner, Erin Korey of ADHDManagement.com, and the two married last year. Koretsky says that her ADHD issues affected them both since the very start of her relationship with Korey. "I remember that I got us lost on my first date with Erin; this was when I was living in New York City. I wasn't paying attention and took us in the wrong direction on the subway, so we had to get off at the next stop and get on a different train," she recalls. "I was so embarrassed! Luckily, she wasn't upset. Later, she told me that she thought it was kind of endearing."
Koretsky admits that having ADHD continues to impact her relationship with Korey on a daily basis, including her tendency to get caught up in what she refers to as "the cycle of overwhelm." This cycle "is what many adults with ADD get caught up in before they learn how to manage their ADD," Koretsky explains. "You feel like you're running behind on life, so you make big plans about how you're going to get everything in order. And your mind works on overdrive either trying to make it all happen or thinking about making it happen — but the faster you run, the more stressed and overwhelmed you get, and when you're stressed, it's virtually impossible to stay organized, manage your time, or pay attention. Eventually, this leads to burnout. The cycle repeats itself until you learn how to slow down, manage the stress, and approach these challenges from a calm and centered place. In that calm state of mind, you can actually create systems and address the problems."
Koretsky explains how this "cycle of overwhelm" plays out within the context of a relationship: "When the ADD partner is frantic and overwhelmed, [he or she is] very difficult to be around. [The partner] may be snippy, forgetful, angry, and no fun in general. Then, the burnout period leaves that person unable to do much, which can frustrate the non-ADD partner." How does this post-burnout period look
to someone on the outside? "The ADD partner might have a hard time getting off the computer or turning off the TV," says Koretsky. "[People with ADHD/ADD] don't want to deal with anything, so they get lost in distractions. And they feel really bad about themselves for what they perceive to be failure."
|If you're horrible at balancing the checkbook, then let your spouse be in charge of it.|
Resolving this issue isn't always easy, says Koretsky: "Of course, the non-ADD partner may not understand what's going on, and the person with ADD might not understand, either!" But she hastens to add that "when both people do have an awareness, however, the non-ADD partner can become a calming presence that helps the other deal with stress, develop realistic expectations about what can get done, and plan the best way to proceed."
Stress management is the key to a successful relationship
"The very first step in managing ADD is to manage your stress," Koretsky says. "Stress management = ADD management! When you're managing your stress, you're in a much better place to develop the systems and strategies you need to manage your ADD. And when you're managing your ADD — staying more organized, managing your time, paying better attention, etc. — your spouse or partner won't feel the need to nag or take care of you, and you'll both be much happier."
Koretsky emphasizes that managing stress is a long-term goal which ultimately "may require therapy, coaching, medication and/or other treatment options to address." Until you've explored which stress-management techniques will work best for you, she suggests taking a few steps to improve things significantly in the shorter term between you and your non-ADHD partner:
1. Put down anything you might use to distract yourself when taking face-to-face. "When talking with your significant other, put down your phone. As much as you want to do two things at once, you owe it to your partner to give him/her your full attention. Use a fidget toy if you have a hard time focusing."
2. Keep a running list of things you'd otherwise forget about and take it with you everywhere you go. "Find a system to help you remember [things you often forget]. Carry a pocket notebook or use the reminders on your phone. You may have every intention of picking up the dry cleaning on the way home from work, but without a system to help you remember that, your partner will be upset when you forget to run that errand three days in a row."
3. Volunteer to do the chores you enjoy most and negotiate the rest with your partner. "Divide household chores based on strength and interest. If you're horrible at balancing the checkbook, then let your spouse be in charge of it. If you don't mind giving the kids their baths, then you take that responsibility. The more you hate (or are bored by) doing something, the less likely it is to happen."
Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed and a regular contributor to Happen magazine.
For the other side of the story, read Dating Someone With ADD/ADHD.