ADHD Symptom Fixes And Relationship Solutions
Relationships are an expression of ourselves with others. A relationship is an entity that connects and binds each of us in emotional attachment. What attracts us to one another is not fully understood. Depending on our emotional health, we may be attracted to others based on our past experiences or our future desires. As a result, relationships are a huge part of what makes us human and each relationship we have is defined through subtle nuances.
Abraham Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs proposed in a 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” considers a ‘sense of belonging’ as more fundamental than one’s sense of self-worth. It follows then that being in a relationship with others is not just important, but essential to building your sense of self-worth – knowing that you matter and are worthy of whatever you desire. That’s why when one (or both) person(s) in your primary relationship has ADHD, it matters.
Since ADHD symptoms tend to affect nearly every part of how your brain works, it makes sense to pay attention to and notice how your ADHD manifests with your partner, family members, friends, and colleagues. If you’re a neurotypical partner to someone with ADHD, you may feel largely ignored. You may feel the nagging responsibility for all the things your ADHD partner consistently ignores or forgets. You may be in an unwanted, chronic co-dependent situation where you are holding most of the responsibilities in your hands. This can lead to feelings of resentment and anger, and cause you to nag, feel exhausted, and even invisible.
ADHD Relationship Problems Tend To Hide In Plain Sight
If you are the partner with ADHD, the fallout from your ADHD symptoms may cause you to no longer even recognize your partner. The person whom you once loved, cherished, and couldn’t be without has somehow disappeared. Or worse, she may have slowly but consistently turned into a control freak, a nagging bully who is never happy, no matter what you do. As a result, you may find yourself avoiding interacting to avoid fights. Or, you may be choosing instead to stay too busy, or to lay low and out of sight until the dust settles. Although these classic avoidance behaviors help stave off conflict, they don’t work in the long run.
In a relationship though, conflict, arguments, or avoiding each other can become chronic and dysfunctional. These behaviors are very often how ADHD symptoms manifest between two kind, healthy, reasonable people. And, when ADHD is either undiagnosed or unrecognized, its effects can sabotage even the most robust love affairs. Conflicts arising from undiagnosed ADHD don’t just lead to chronic misunderstanding or conflict, it gets worse. If you’re plagued by undiagnosed and unaware ADHD, your relationship may be heading toward the dreaded 58% of ADHD relationships that end up splitting up. (Barkley, ADHD What The Science Says by Russell A. Barkley, Kevin R. Murphy, and Mariellen Fischer, The Guilford Press 2008 pp. 380-384). This is what author Melissa Orlov calls ‘The ADHD Effect” in her book The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa Orlov, Specialty Press 2010).”
If you are in a relationship where you either know or suspect one of you has ADHD, here are some smart ADHD relationship solutions to revitalize, restore, connect, and heal your failing partnership.
Relationship Solutions For the Partner with ADHD
Exercise, eat and sleep regularly to help you down-regulate and feel balanced.
It’s well-known that ADHDers tend to struggle with the small stuff that creates a sense of balance in life. So one of the best ways you can show up as your best self in your primary relationship and fix ADHD symptoms is to regulate yourself from the bottom up.
Many experts feel ADHD has been misnamed and instead should be known by the key ADHD symptom of dysregulated emotions. If you approach ADHD through a different lens, you’d directly connect how important habits are to regulating yourself. Habits are built when your behaviors become consistent over time. Good habits are enforced and enhanced when you connect healthy activities together in a chain. This creates what I call a ‘cadence’, ‘chain’, or ‘habit stack’ that works together to regulate your brain.
However, having ADHD makes it super easy to postpone decisions and put-off the most helpful, healthful, and natural ways to regulate your brain and fix symptoms. These include 3 essentials: sleeping, eating, and exercising.
To live well with any partner and fix your ADHD symptoms, you need to focus on being the best you. Many unmedicated ADHDers find that incorporating regular sleep, food, and exercise habits into their days is what saves them from feeling dependent on meds.
If you want to try it, chose one area and then focus on one at a time (for a month or two) to gather data and experiment with ways to support consistent action. Clearly focusing on one area at a time will help you to build regular healthy habits. Don’t just say it, try it. Give yourself the gift of one focused week in one area and journal your progress and observations as you go. You may find like others that changing the behavior, changes the brain.
Track your ADHD-related behaviors (like how often you find yourself avoiding or distracting yourself from doing things, and interrupting others).
For example, if you’re a classic interrupter who tends to blurt things out and talk over your partner, gather data. Step off the merry-go-round of the consistent complaint and take a week and track when you actually do it. Tracking your behavior is one of the best ways to get real about your ADHD symptoms. Maybe your partner has a point? Data will help you see it. Additionally, you can track how often you find yourself avoiding or distracting yourself from doing important things. Data is the most helpful tool when trying to improve your relationship.
Getting a handle on what you actually do provides data. Data can be very helpful to create instant ADHD symptom fixes. In ADHD Coaching, our first goal is to build keen awareness around your experience, and gathering real-life data is our first goal.
Seeing your behaviors as others see you will provide you with perspective. And, according to many coaches, perspective is everything. A shift in your perspective can truly shift your thoughts, behaviors, and improve your relationship.
Learning more about your ADHD will help determine if relationship problems are related to ADHD symptoms.
One of the biggest difficulties you have in relationships with others is not recognizing the insipid effects that ADHD can have on every area of life. For you to truly heal your relationship, an adequate diagnosis is essential. If you’re not sure about a diagnosis, there are online, free screening tools to help you recognize your symptoms. And if you have a hunch, then take the next steps to connect with your doctor to get a diagnosis.
If ADHD is a monster hiding under your bed, an accurate diagnosis will be like turning on the lights.
However, ‘may the buyer beware‘. There are MANY online sources for information these days. Communities and pages abound on nearly any social platform. But as my PhD-bound son always reminds me… ‘Check your sources!’ While online communities can offer great support and help you normalize certain known symptoms of this condition, the best place to find information is through research and experts in the field. You’ll find a plethora of resources at addamagazine.com, as well as CHADD.org.
Take prescribed medication regularly (yes, even on the weekends).
Medicating ADHD is a very loaded subject for many people. However, hundreds of studies have shown the effects on behavior when meds are used consistently. It is a personal choice, and many alternative therapies are available. However, alternative therapies often include life-style shifts, experimenting with and building new habits, increasing activity levels, and shifting your diet which all take time to implement. Coping with feelings of overwhelm begins with intention and action. Many people find that meds make leaping that gap between intention and action, easier.
Some people experiment with using no meds on the weekends. The thought is that they feel the meds are in some ways ‘pushing’ their brains, and they report wanting to give their body a break from meds periodically. If you feel you need to do this, you can. I suggest you pay attention to the symptoms. You’ll only know if this works well for you and your relationships through thoughtful and attentive experimentation. That’s when doing this next tip is helpful.
Know that too often, your intentions do not reflect in your actions.
It’s true that you judge yourself on your intentions, however, your partner judges you on your actions. With ADHD, you may show up as consistently inconsistent. Because inconsistency and impulsivity are hallmarks of having ADHD, in most relationships, these behaviors will show up, and sometimes cause real problems. And, it’s true that ADHD meds can help you notice disruptive behaviors and develop healthier habits. Typical ADHD medications will help you do several things more reliably: enhance your alertness, activate and initiate behaviors, inhibit your impulse reactivity, regulate your emotions and thought loops, and stay focused and persistent toward task completion.
Additionally, meds can improve your ability to keep things in your mind (solving for working and prospective memory glitches), and stay on task (focus and persistence). Medication may help you remember to flip the laundry, pay the bills regularly, and stay focused on those dirty dishes until they’re clean, dry, and put away. But, as they say… Pills don’t teach skills. Much of living well with ADHD boils down to creating a framework you can remember and easy-to-maintain systems around the symptoms that slip you up. If you spin your wheels and find it difficult to get started on tasks, this helpful free ADHD Activating and Initiating tool can help you locate and distinguish what’s in the way.
The ADHD symptom fix for forgetting is to set alarms and reminders.
An easy ADHD symptom fix for forgetting is to set alarms and reminders to externalize your memory.
You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again. Set alarms for everything that you need to do at a certain time. AND set reminders for things that recur cyclically. The ADHD symptom you need to support is a glitchy ‘working memory’ – holding things in your mind and remembering to remember.
- Winning Formula: Distinguish between alarms and reminders. Remembering takes mental energy and focus. So instead of keeping thoughts, details, and appointments in your head, GET THEM OUTSIDE OF YOUR HEAD. When you find yourself forgetting things often, you need a simple solution to support your working memory. Set alarms for appointments and things you’ve said yes to that have a due date or time assigned. For things you need to remember to do that have a wider time-frame, set a reminder. In Google, Appointments land on your calendar at a scheduled time, and Reminders show up as a string tied around your finger. This one distinction can make a big difference for you.
- Use technology consistently but avoid the rabbit holes. Technology makes it convenient and so much easier to use alarms and reminders that help you remember important things. And the best way to prevent your partner’s nagging (which is the most common complaint about ADHD partners) is to follow through with the things you say you’ll do. However, try to avoid searching for the latest and greatest app designed to solve your problem. Chasing tech solutions can be a colossal time-waster and is a classic case of an ADHD dopamine hunt. Instead of searching outside yourself, figure out what is most natural to you, then find a solution to support the gaps in your own ADHD symptoms. Remember, done is better than perfect. And FINDING a tech solution is NOT the same as USING a tech solution.
- Decide on a calendaring approach. Once you’ve decided, pick a tech solution and start. Create a weekly and daily habit of setting reminders and appointments. Set reminders for things that re-cur over time like laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, and cyclical maintenance tasks like changing the water or furnace filters. Anything that has a time assigned is an appointment and should be treated as such on your calendar. When you go to the dentist, schedule a luncheon, or time for your monthly pedicure, make it time-active. Your cell phone is all you need to make it easy to remember important events, notes, and appointments. What’s more, it’s super easy to use voice commands to add reminders, events, and appointments to your online calendar. When you plan first, then build habits to set reminders consistently, you solve your brain’s ‘working memory’ gaps.
Guard your ‘yes’ because it comes with a cost.
Many of my clients self-identify as people-pleasers. Being a people pleaser is a double-edged curse with ADHD. As such, many people do two things that work against them. Their people-pleasing approach makes it very hard for them to inhibit their emotions. That’s what makes it hard to say no when someone asks for help. The problem is, your yes has a high price tag.
Everything you say yes to has a cost in time, resources, effort, attention, and sometimes money. Think of it this way… pay now, or pay later. In other words, saying no now may be painful for a minute or two as you experience another person’s response. It may disappoint the person who is asking. But your yes is your most expensive answer. When you say yes – you have not obligated yourself to someone else, whether you intend to commit or not, you’ve set their expectation.
To get better at this, consider playing with “NO” as your go-to answer for a week. Any request that comes up, unless it’s urgent or critical, say no. Play with that answer, and see how it feels to use NO to set a boundary around your time.
Another ADHD symptom fix is to write things down to remember to follow through.
The best way to prevent your partner’s nagging is to start following through with the things you say you’ll do. Another key skill that has been offloaded to tech too often is writing lists. The dawn of task management apps appeals to ADHDer’s need for novelty. However, searching for a sparkly new app often proves to be less effective than a trusty pen on paper.
You see, when you write things down, you actually force your brain into a focus state. Writing actually alerts the attention centers of your brain. To write things down, you must push thoughts through your pre-frontal cortex, before they become words on paper.
Too many ADHDers have chosen ‘convenience’ over what works. Snapping a picture is fast, yes. Because snapping a pic requires less attention and focus, your brain’s neurons don’t ‘record’ that event the same way. This makes it harder to remember in the future. As a result, many people have chosen convenience instead of this ‘age-old’ useful practice of writing things down. So if you’re struggling to remember and follow-through, try writing out your task list for a week and see if it helps.
ADHD can be difficult to live with, but you are not alone. If you’ve tried and failed and feel you need help, find it.
Going it alone with ADHD, especially if your relationship is hanging by a thread, is the worst thing to do. Stop ignoring the data before you. If your spouse is on a rampage, pay attention! One of the most effective ADHD symptom fixes is to get outside help.
Many people reach out first for relationship help by finding a therapist. But, many people with ADHD do incredibly well with a 3-pronged approach to managing their symptoms and living powerfully. The 3-prongs are
The trifecta approach to ADHD can help you learn about and accept your ADHD. Building your knowledge helps you take deliberate actions. Deliberate actions lead to consistency which is what supports your relationships. Surrounding yourself with supportive people, help to sustain you and allow you to thrive in a life that fits.
If you’re struggling, and your relationship is hanging in the balance, contact me for a complimentary Discovery Call and we can discuss how coaching may help. Click here for more information on Adult ADHD.
Next week’s post will take a look at your ADHD relationship from the non-ADHD partner’s point of view.