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Dr Hallowell ADHD and mental and cognitive health

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Overview of How ADHD Affects Relationships

• Consistent patterns exist in relationships where one or more partners has ADHD that can be identified and managed once the partners are aware that some of the issues they are facing are related to ADHD symptoms (and the non-ADHD partners response to those symptoms)
• Anger, frustration and emotional abuse are common in these relationships

Typical ADHD/Non-ADHD Relationship Patterns
• Hyperfocus courtship can mask some ADD symptoms, particularly the distraction/lack of focus symptom.

Non-ADD Partner
o Angry and frustrated – almost all of “scutwork” (chores, organizing, etc) falls to this person
o Feels unloved due to lack of attention by ADD partner
o Confused and resentful of change from courtship patterns
o Over time, feels worn out

ADD Partner
1. Often unable to see his/her impact on partner
2. Feels nagged or constantly criticized – “I’m never good enough for you”
3. Needs to agree to treatment to start breaking pattern
4. Often not a good communicator

• Other common patterns: mess maker and mess cleaner-upper; pesterer and tuner-outer; victim and victimizer; master and slave

• Miscommunication: common for non-ADD partner to interpret ADD partner lack of focus as lack of love.

• Relationship burnout ensues – too much stress, too much desire on part of non-ADD partner to “change” partner, too much resistance on part of ADD partner to this criticism, too much hurt in the inattention. These are “distracted relationships” and the feel like a roller coaster ride.

Repeating Cycle Increases Conflict
1. ADD symptoms of forgetfulness, disorganization, distractibility annoy partner
2. Partner devalues partner with ADD
3. Partner with ADD withdraws
4. Partner angrily reiterates expectations of attentive behavior, ADD partner responds, but…
5. back to 1

Key Elements of Successfully Overcoming These Patterns:

• Education about ADHD – call a truce and learn about ADHD symptoms and how ADD affects marriages (www.adhdmarriage.com blog) – separate symptoms from ADD person.

• Work to “reinvent” the relationship – forgive the past and move on – too much trauma to “fix”. Instead, focus on today and tomorrow (also plays to ADD tendency to live in the now)

• Have a sense of humor

• Set some specific rules: No nagging, no disregarding of others’ concerns, schedule specific times to focus on each other in loving way

• Praise freely and work to set positive patterns in motion (after years of negative patterns)

• Different perceptions: Both partners DO NOT perceive the world in the same way. Structure communications around this idea and make no assumptions of understanding on part of partner

• Need a counselor who understands ADHD and is willing to work in the present and the future (see “reinventing” below)

Reinventing These Relationships:

• Try not to look back (too tempting to “blame” ADD partner for problems, which isn’t accurate)

• Identify harmful patterns and roles as they happen in the present. Doing this, and creating a plan for what to do to change these patterns, helps diffuse residual anger

• Identify what partners love about each other

• Identify and reinforce each persons’ strengths

• Create a new structure for communication, household chores (important!!), behavior using standard ADD treatment techniques

• Insist that partners break communication patterns that are negative (“you can’t”, “you never do”, “it won’t work”, “you’re dumb”, “you should just try harder”)

• Make sure partners work as a team – carefully watch dynamics of control, dominance and submission

• Practice differentiating between ADD as a reason for behavior, and ADD as an excuse for behavior.

• Leave sexual intimacy for later – can’t be the first thing that gets “fixed”, though increased physical intimacy of some sort is very important to help re-establish broken trust (some of these relationships do not have sexual issues, but many do – including hyper sexuality of an ADD partner)

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