Dating Someone With ADD/ADHD
Any partner can be frustrating now and then, but dating someone who's been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder poses a special set of challenges. Read on for some expert advice.
"Hello! Are you in there?"
Do you ever feel like saying that when your date's zoned out in front of the TV, or so distracted by everything and anything that he or she forgets that you're supposed to be in headed out for your dinner reservation… right now? While all of us
exhibit this type of distractibility and inattentiveness some of the time, people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD) exhibit these symptomatic behaviors much of the time. So how does a couple cope with it? The answer, according to experts, lies in knowing what can reasonably be expected of the person who's been diagnosed with ADHD and creating strategies that ensure both partners avoid falling into a parent/child dynamic by default.
|People with ADHD can also bring a lot of joy and excitement to their relationships.|
Why dating with ADHD/ADD can be difficult
Susan Tschudi, marriage and family therapist and author of the new book, Loving Someone with Attention Deficit Disorder, says that relationships which include a partner who's been diagnosed with the disorder often don't even make it out of the gate, since that person's distracted behaviors are taken as signs of disinterest by their potential mate in the early dating stages. In fact, "they often don't make it to the second date," Tschudi explains. "Their dates often interpret the person with ADD's habit of looking around the room as a sign of boredom."
Another problem people with ADHD face is the very real possibility of being passed over by potential dates due to unconventional lifestyle choices that result from learning to cope with the distractibility, restlessness and impulsivity that Tschudi identifies as being ADHD's core symptoms. "Their dates see someone with a checkered job history. Many people with ADHD get bored, so they job-hop; they get fired because they have difficulty handling details of the job," she explains. Meanwhile, "their date might be thinking, 'I don't know if this person is dependable.'" But Tschudi emphasizes that "when these people find their niche and find something that suits them — something with creativity and room to grow — then they can do quite well."
Hidden benefits, issues to watch for and coping strategies for couples
People with ADHD can also bring a lot of joy and excitement to their relationships. "Being married to someone with it is never boring," says Erin Korey, Managing Partner and Chief Operations Officer of ADHDManagement.com, who has been with her partner, Jennifer Koretsky, author of Odd One Out: A Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD, for 10 years and married for one year. "[People with ADHD] are never satisfied with the status quo — they need a certain amount of excitement and newness in their lives at all times," Korey says. "And that newness can come in many forms, from experimenting with a new dinner recipe to planning an exotic vacation. Sometimes, that need for excitement can drive you a little crazy! But suffice it to say, your marriage — unlike many marriages — will never be stuck in a rut."
As fun and delightful as someone with ADHD can be, the challenges the disorder brings into a relationship can be very real — especially when it comes to getting everything done on time. "My partner's ADD impacts our everyday life primarily in the realm of planning and time management," Korey says. "Many experts have noted that [people with the disorder] experience time as 'now' and 'not now,' so it's really important to plan ahead. For example: If my partner and I don't plan our meals a day in advance, when I ask her, 'What are you making for dinner tonight?' she's going to say, 'I can't think about that right now; I'm busy with x, y, and z.' Before you know it, 6 p.m. rolls around and we're ordering pizza," she explains. "We make a habit now of planning every day the night before, including things like
meals, phone calls that need to be returned, what time we need to be in the car to get to the pediatrician appointment, etc. Otherwise, the day can quickly devolve into chaos."
|This type of impulsive behavior can be very isolating.|
Tschudi points out that verbal impulsivity can be another source of relationship strain for couples. "I was working with a woman who was the non-ADHD partner. Her husband with ADHD was very impulsive. Once while attending a social engagement, the husband said to another woman, 'Wow, you've really put on a lot of weight.' The wife was mortified!" Tschudi recalls. "This type of impulsive behavior can be very isolating. Most of us have a door in our brain that is shut; before we say or do or something, it sits there for a second. For the person with ADHD, that door is broken — or isn't there at all."
Avoiding the "parent my partner" trap
Tschudi says that people with the disorder will often "seek out a partner who doesn't have ADD, who is organized, a 'tour director type.' That works for a while — one leads, the other goes along — but over time, this can lead to a dynamic [between partners] that's like a parent/child relationship. The non-ADD person falls into a parental role and the other partner's thinking, 'You're not the boss of me.'" Tschudi counsels that the non-ADD partner can avoid a lot of frustration by "being aware that the forgetful and disorganized behaviors are not character issues," stressing that it helps to "externalize the behavior by telling oneself: 'That's the ADD behavior.'"
"Try to work on clear communication," Tschudi says. "Use 'I statements' to state your preferences. Stay away from things like, 'He/she should know…' The main thing for people to realize is that ADD affects the person in every area of life. Anxiety and depression are very common, because this person realizes that something isn't working right. [People with the disorder] feel like they're screwing up all the time, and this causes moodiness and irritability."
Setting up "systems" for success
Often, the key to making a couple's relationship work comes from the partner diagnosed with ADHD having developed individual coping strategies and "systems" which can also help them function together as a pair. "At first it was hard for me to understand my partner's systems," Korey says. "'Systems' is a big word in our house, because systems are an important part of living successfully with ADD. However, an ADD person's organizational systems often differ dramatically from those of someone without. What works for one person often doesn't work for everyone else," she explains. "For example: My partner needs a designated space to dump mail, papers, and other miscellaneous items to be dealt with at a later time. We literally call it 'the ADD table,' because it's a mess of random papers and objects. It definitely used to irritate me, but I've come to accept it as just another part of our home."
"My best tip for dating someone with ADD," offers Korey, "is to be OK with a relationship that may not look like your friends' relationships. Your boyfriend or girlfriend may not have the foresight to pull off a surprise ski weekend or fold the laundry for a week after it comes out of the dryer, but he or she will make up for it in fun." After all, Korey says, "ADD folks do not tolerate ruts, and they'll always be looking for something new that excites them. Embrace the person's spontaneity, and know that you'll never get bored as long as you're together."
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 When You Have ADHD/ADD.