14 Relationship Solutions when ADHD Threatens Your Survival
Many people with ADHD are either undiagnosed or largely unaware of how it can impact all areas of your life. If one or both of you have ADHD, there may be symptoms that plague your relationship that you don’t recognize as ADHD. For your own relationship’s survival, it’s important to learn to recognize the symptoms so you can avoid any fallout that threatens your relationship. These fourteen relationship solutions can help you avoid and manage ADHD symptoms, and move from relationship survival to thriving.
Relationship Solutions That Work for Both of You
Start each day you work together by talking about what you hope to accomplish
With ADHD, a good plan avoids a thousand arguments. Planning is an important first step that requires executive functioning to complete. Just creating a plan can help both of you accomplish so much more. A plan helps alleviate the impulsivity and distractibility that are ADHD hallmark behaviors. If you both sit down together to think through and devise your plan, it can help so much.
Many people with ADHD are verbal processors. This means, they do their best thinking and strategizing when talking things through. So, an easy relationship solution is to create space for this verbal skill to unfold. When you sit down together and regularly talk things out, not only will you work collectively to problem-solve, you’ll manage your time together, and also avoid the pressure and anxiety that last-minute decisions can evoke.
Write agreed on tasks on a ‘to-do’ list (with the time it’s due), and set reminders
With ADHD, working memory can be super glitchy and unreliable. Additionally, time can be elusive. Time management is a known pitfall for most folks with ADHD. That’s why one of the easiest, most important relationship solutions is to have an objective list that ‘holds the space’ in between activities. A great, effective and useful rule of thumb is to write everything down on a list. This helps you capture ideas and thoughts on paper so you won’t lose them. Additionally, the words give both of you some distance from the ever-elusive emotional components that pop up.
Chronic lateness can plague those with ADHD, and it’s because they have an odd relationship to time. They’re notorious for underestimating how long things take, and due to working memory trouble, tend to forget or become distracted. This is why it’s important to make your list more effective, add an estimated timeframe that allows you to complete items on your list. To avoid follow-up foibles, set reminders and auditory triggers to help you align with time. Since temporal discounting is a known ADHD soft spot, making time concrete should always be a goal for you to work more effectively together.
Create your priorities together
Partnership and accountability really help people with ADHD. That’s why we often show up more consistently for others than ourselves. In fact, it’s a very important activation strategy to mitigate procrastination. So if your partner has things s/he wants to do, add them to the list. This helps both of you have a better idea of what is reasonable to accomplish. And, when everything is on the list, you’re both better able to work on prioritizing what should be done first, and share the responsibilities fairly.
Agree on how to share chores & tasks, make and post a list, and set reminders
It seems that the neurotypical partner often feels responsible for remembering to do all the things. As you can imagine, this pressure can easily turn into codependence and create disparity when one partner feels as though she’s doing everything with little support.
I remember the time this became clear in my relationship. I was folding the 3 loads of clean laundry piled on the bed as my husband stood there talking to me. For whatever reason, it never occurred to him to pick up the clothes and fold alongside me until I asked him to. This led to an argument that escalated way beyond a useful takeaway. The reality was, his brain was focused on the story he was telling, and it honestly didn’t occur to him that he could actually fold clothes while telling it, until I asked him to help. For ADHD inattentive presentation, things like this happen more often than neurotypicals can fathom. So in order to live together well, both partners must share responsibility for chores around the house.
To avoid the ‘Chore Wars’ as Melissa Orlov calls them, sit down together and divide the many chores evenly. You’re both adults. One of you should not be over-functioning as a result of ADHD symptoms. This leads to unhealthy patterns and parenting the other. So before you jump in to do the forgotten shore assigned to your ADHD partner, create a chore chart that divides home, child care, and maintenance responsibilities fairly.
Visual Cues help with working memory
Visual reminders work to cue an ADHD brain. The best relationship solution is to write your list down, post it, set electronic reminders (Google Calendar is an awesome tool for recurring tasks and reminders) and then stop talking about it. Your constant reminding can feel like nagging to your ADHD partner. Instead, use the list as a way to externalize your agreements and create an order of operations of how things will get done. This is known as sequencing and is especially effective for ADHD brains. So whenever you can create a path to follow, it works really well for ADHD brains. This way you can go back to the list to revisit your plan when you complete each task in order to cue your next actions.
Another great, effective relationship long-term solution is to work on creating a family/home maintenance binder. In it, you can collect procedures and ongoing maintenance tasks. The reward is worth the work. Having chores articulated, planned, externalized and reminder set makes them much more objective, easier to stay on top of, and share
Push to complete
Progress is progress, and baby steps matter, no matter how small. And, incomplete tasks are some of the most niggly, never-ending relationship wounds when one or both of you have ADHD. Why? It’s neurochemistry. Did you know that one of the key motivating chemicals in your partner’s ADHD brain is Dopamine? And, Dopamine is known as a pursuit chemical. In other words, Dopamine helps us stay on task until we complete it. The problem is, things distract us. It’s much more fun to follow an impulsive shiny, sparkly thought or idea.
So, in order to keep the dopamine working in our favor, it helps to track progress by marking off items as they are completed. And of course, you’ll need to make time to celebrate when you’re all done. But, be careful, too much celebration blunts the payoff. So, to reward your brain, when you complete the items on your list, by all means, check them off and do a happy dance! (This happens to be one of my favorite things to do!)
Drop unnecessary competition between you
Remember how hearing ‘last one in the pool’s a rotten egg…’ helped you get over your fear of cold water and just jump in? Well, it turns out the competition can be a huge motivator. In fact, many ADHD brains LOVE competition. An ADHD partner may actually NEED to create competition in order to get started. And because of this, dropping all competition between you may be easier said than done. So, it’s no surprise to find hidden competition when ADHD couples look below the surface of disagreements.
To ensure healthy competition it’s important to avoid destructive interactions, and that means to avoid competing for attention. In other words, distractions are compelling because they’re novel. So the best ADHD relationship solution is to drop competition with each other and stop competing with things that pull your attention away.
Be intentional with your attention
In coaching, we say ‘intention drives attention and action’. It’s critical to stay in alignment and be sure to act in accordance with your intentions. This can be tough. Your ADHD brain works hard to inhibit distractions. One of the best ways to help it inhibit is to remove the temptation altogether. Turn off the phone, television, computer, or anything that could artificially trigger interruptions by things that don’t matter. Additionally, when you focus on gratitude you’ll naturally avoid the harshness of competition.
Rest and regulate regularly
When you’re regulated, all relationships are easier. And, one of the ADHD symptoms that hides in plain sight for most couples is emotional dysregulation. Dysregulation shows up as moodiness, volatility, reactivity, emotionality, and can build in intensity to create unhinged behavior or even downright verbal abuse. When discussing your relationship issues, choose a time when both of you are rested, regulated, and alert.
Plan time away from the kids (parents and friends)
As harsh as it can sound, you were a couple first. Parents, friends, and kids tend to enter into your relationship after your attraction to each other. Unless you’re a blended family, you first decided to be a couple, way before everyone else shows up. Therefore it’s truly important to prioritize time together in your relationship to keep those home fires burning together.
Let’s face it, it’s hard to make time for each other when you’re constantly pulled in other directions by everyone else. And, if you have kids, you know that their needs will most often prevail in a healthy family. So, an important relationship solution is to avoid distractions by children. If the kids are really young, hire help with chores and tasks that tend to cause breakdowns. An hour or two a week, away from the kids can make all the difference and really restore hope in your relationship. Additionally, enrolling the kids in home maintenance can help. They’ll learn new skills and feel a part of the family unit. And, when they grow up, they’ll be more effective adults!
Don’t sweat the small stuff, get help instead
Get others involved to help you and your partner with those nagging, never-ending tasks, otherwise known as maintenance chores. The thing is, chores are important, but they are rarely ever urgent (until you run out of clean underwear or toilet paper.) It’s so important for couples with ADHD to differentiate between the battles and the war. Maintenance chores are often small and can become scheduled routines. And, when you do similar tasks together, this frees up time. – Don’t let laundry, cleaning, shopping, cooking, and errands hijack your love for each other or be the cause of your split up. Whenever possible, put chores on autopilot or get some help outside of your relationship.
Be assertive with your boundaries to keep people-pleasing in check
One of the key skills to build to get what you want is to build assertiveness. And, unfortunately, ADHD can make you a people pleaser. This creates an ultimate paradox. After all, how can you possibly people-please and be assertive enough to hold your boundaries at the same time?
If you find yourself caught in this paradox, it’s is a good time to press pause and reflect on what it means to you to people-please. Peel back the onion to uncover how people-pleasing shows up. (BTW-This can get deep.) For some, it can even be downright scary or pathetic. But the point is, assertiveness is a skill that helps you recognize and express your feelings.
When you express your feelings directly and ask for what you want using ‘I’ messages. (ex: I am feeling overwhelmed by housework. I need your help. Will you please take out the trash by 8:00 tonight?) Imagine how your relationship dynamics would shift if both of you exercised assertiveness BEFORE you had an argument. What would it take to create space for assertiveness between you? Each of you could work on this together and hold a regular family meeting to discuss your needs and align.
To build a healthy relationship, learn strategies to down-regulate together
One of the most important relationship solutions is to establish healthy, consistent practices together. Additionally, with ADHD aboard, the key to a healthy, happy relationship is your ability to emotionally regulate so you are able to be present in the moments when you’re with your partner. It’s even more effective when you are able to regulate together. that help you to down-regulate like meditation, exercise and quiet time.
Prioritize sleep and rest
Although we’re human beings, we’re often described as human doings. If you’ve become so busy and stressed out you’re on the way to becoming disconnected. When you’re stressed, it’s critical to STOP. Your brain needs to refuel regularly. Without sleep or enough time off to rest, you’ll eventually burn out. When you allow for regular downtime, you’ll build a habit that helps you regularly rejuvenate and fill up.
Healthy and regular sleep is one of the most important, yet underappreciated aspects of a healthy relationship. Without good sleep, all ADHD symptoms get worse. When you’re able to share downtime regularly, your relationship has room to grow, thrive and breathe. It’s important to schedule time off regularly.
In conclusion, there are so many things you can do to help your relationship thrive. When you know how to spot symptoms hiding in plain sight, you can intervene early. Your relationship should be a safe, loving part of both of your lives. Following these 14 strategies will help you feel closer, more connected, and avoid symptoms that may threaten your survival.