Sarah struggled with disorganization and procrastination. Her husband was so frustrated by the late bills and missed anniversaries, he was on the brink of leaving her.
Desperate for help, Sarah reached out to me and learned how to implement daily routines and systems that helped her stay on top of daily tasks and follow through on long-term plans.
Not only did her relationship with her husband improve, she began to thrive at work.
Mark had a history of financial trouble due to impulsive spending. This impulsivity strained his marriage to the breaking point.
Working together, Mark developed strategies to control his impulses, create a budget, and implement plans.
With his newfound financial stability, Mark and his wife were able to rebuild trust and connection in their relationship.
Before getting help for my ADHD, there were days when I was so overwhelmed trying to get important things done that I’d choose mindless tasks like ironing, folding laundry, or picking up stuff around the house; anything that left me feeling just a little bit accomplished. Also, I love the feeling of crossing things off my list. Some things never change…
One of those tasks that left me feeling accomplished, at least initially, was grocery shopping.
I went to the store and started putting things into the cart and once at home, I took the time to put everything away and organize the refrigerator. It felt great. But once it came time to prepare meals I realized that I went to the store without having made a meal plan. I would get so angry at myself. Negative emotions like this are hard to hide. Needless to say, my kids were almost afraid to ask: “What’s for dinner, Mom?”
Meal planning requires organization, planning, and looking at the family’s schedule for the week. For us ADHD people, this is not in our DNA.
The feeling of guilt didn’t end there. The lack of planning often resulted in food waste. I always felt awful. My husband was the one taking out the garbage and when I heard him go through the fridge my body would tense up. I’d feel guilty and embarrassed at my inability to plan.
My fellow ADHD folks may relate to this: When I used to go to a store to buy clothes for myself I found myself quickly in the company of two of our traits: Overwhelm and impulsivity. The choices always felt like such an overload and when impulsivity kicks in we buy too many things. The guilt might show up at the register but if it doesn’t it makes its presence known by the time the shopping bags land in the trunk.
Where they stay until it’s safe to bring them into the house. While you cut the tags off you can hear someone asking: “Is this new?” and you already know what your answer will be. Definitely not the truth. These kinds of situations left me feeling short-tempered and defensive around my family. Of course, this caused a ripple effect of negative energy throughout the entire house.
Living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) can be a complex and challenging journey, not just for the individual diagnosed but also for their loved ones.
People living with ADHD/ADD are often frustrated, disappointed, and in emotional distress which puts a significant strain on their relationships.
They unintentionally put their loved ones on a rollercoaster that leaves everyone exhausted, and the relationships strained with misunderstandings, confusion, and emotional outbursts.
However, with the right support, people can learn to manage their symptoms and build healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
Five Relationship Challenges for People With ADHD/ADD
People with ADHD/ADD often struggle with disorganization: missed appointments, late payments and messy living spaces. (Out of sight out of mind; so everything needs to be “out”, thus creating clutter which in turn makes them feel overwhelmed and anxious)
Time blindness; an inability to correctly organize their time and schedules, leading to late pick up of children, missing special occasions, and double booking.
They feel guilty, irresponsible, and embarrassed.
Their loved ones feel frustrated, overlooked, and not respected when their trust is continually eroded; along with their feelings of being a priority.
The good news first: It’s possible to change! You can learn to build proper routines, time management strategies, and habit layering that are so often elusive to those with ADHD. You might feel like you left a trail of failed attempts behind but there is a way. Even people with ADHD have some kind of routine and since instant gratification very well might be another one of your unwanted qualities, let’s use it in your favor.
What is something you do every day early in the day, and what can you build into that routine? Here’s an example. You feel badly about yourself because you never take your supplements but one thing you do consistently is walking straight to the coffee machine as soon as you wake up. Habit stacking might look like this: You walk to the coffee machine and start it. While it heats up you get your supplements ready. You get a quick win, early in the day. (Instant gratification) Once that new routine has formed you can add another one.
2. Impulse Control
ADHD/ADD also brings impulse control issues.
Impulsive shopping, gambling or jumping into risky investments can lead to financial strain and conflict in marriages. Even just saying yes to things that don’t fit into our calendars can lead to issues down the road.
A person with ADHD might react impulsively in a disagreement, saying things without considering the consequences, walking away from loved ones and slamming the door.
They then often feel out of control and full of shame, leading them to hide their actions.
Their partners end up feeling hurt and confused. They are left experiencing mistrust, and anxiety from these impulsive actions.
Again, change is possible. Remember that our impulses are mainly driven by two hormones called dopamine and serotonin. These hormones send happy signals throughout the body. We need a balance of these hormones to know when to indulge in an impulse to create pleasure, and know when to stop for well-being. For people with ADHD, there often is no balance.
You can ask your doctor to check your hormone levels. But if you want to do something starting today, you need to know that you can stimulate the production of your dopamine with exercise, good nutrition, and even by checking off small tasks from your to-do list.
What is one small thing that you can do today to move the needle? Look at your calendar, where can you fit in a workout? Keep it simple. Maybe just a walk, twice a week at the same time and then build from there. Or get in touch with someone who can help you change your diet – one step at the time.
3. Emotional Dysregulation
Emotional dysregulation is another aspect of ADHD/ADD that can take a toll on relationships.
People with ADHD experience anxiety, mood swings, and frustration, and may be quick to show anger and emotional outbursts.
They may also have a sensitivity to rejection; leading to Intense responses from interpreting minor interactions as rejection.
Their partners find it difficult and draining to predict their reactions. They might feel like they are navigating a minefield which leaves them exhausted and stressed.
Calming your nervous system with meditation, journaling and gentle movements like yoga can help you feel more in control of your emotions. You can begin to recognize the sensations in your body before reacting emotionally. Understanding how our thoughts also create our feelings can help you take responsibility for your role in a relationship. I have found Havening to be a wonderful resource.
Whatever you choose to implement, remember to chunk it down into bite-size pieces so that the new task doesn’t feel overwhelming. Also, make sure you layer it onto something you already do in your day. For example: put a notebook or a gratitude journal under your alarm. When you set your alarm at night take just one minute to write down a few things you are grateful for.
4. Societal Expectations
While managing ADHD/ADD as a single person is not easy, introducing a partner and children can be extra tough on someone for whom organization, planning and staying emotionally calm are a challenge.
For the person with ADHD/ADD, the constant struggle to meet societal expectations for being a good parent, running a household, and meeting community obligations can lead to anxiety, depression, and despair.
They blame themselves; believing they’re lazy, not smart enough, and it feels like everyone else is capable of following through except them. They often feel unworthy and they often use the words: always and never when they describe themselves. I always fail. I never follow through.
For their partners, when simple family moments erupt in tension and struggle without warning it is taking away more of an already eroded foundation of their relationship.
It is important to acknowledge how your behavior affects others but blaming yourself is not the way to go. You have to own your journey and make a decision to find a way to change. Making the decision is the most important piece here. Oftentimes I hear people say: “I’ll try…” unfortunately that is not enough. Pick one of the simple steps we are talking about in this article and start building your own new habits.
You might want to consider an accountability partner or a coach to help you stay focused and committed. My recommendation is that the accountability should not be your husband or wife.
Don’t forget that people with ADHD have strengths too. They often are creative, playful, and spontaneous. Let your strengths shine through and have compassion with yourself.
5. Downward Spiral of Self-Esteem
People with ADHD/ADD often feel like failures, thinking they lack willpower and personal strength.
Their self-confidence and self-esteem erode; often leading to a downward spiral of substance abuse, or mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
The substance abuse and mental health disorders may be addressed but the underlying ADHD/ADD often go undiagnosed.
Their partners may feel angry, helpless, confused, and defeated against addictions and mental health struggles.
If these topics resonate but you thought of yourself more like a “scatter brain” then you might want to consider getting a diagnosis from an ADHD/ADD specialist. The first time I looked into this for myself I did not get the answers I was looking for. If that’s you then I encourage you to not give up.
Be resourceful, you will make connections and find ways that lead you to the answers you need. Living with ADHD / ADD is so much easier once you get an understanding of what you are dealing with.
Living and Loving with ADHD/ADD
ADHD/ADD is not a personal failure, but a neurological condition that requires specific coping strategies to overcome challenges.
It’s possible to learn better organization systems, regain control over your impulsivity, regulate your emotions, challenge societal expectations, and regain your self-esteem so you and your relationships can transform for the better. It is possible to thrive. It is just not going to happen right away.
I have been there. Always failing and never following through. But there is hope for lasting positive change. I have never felt closer to my husband and my children than I do now. I am running two businesses, I am consistent with my workouts, I have no emotional outbursts and most importantly: I am planning my meals wisely. I love cooking and we have very little food waste. It’s those things that remind me how far I have come.
At home we have a fun, loving, honest and stable relationship with each other. I never thought this would be possible for me.
It is possible to live and love with ADHD/ADD, and you deserve that.