Beth shares how she and her partner navigated an ADHD diagnosis later in life.
This year I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
It’s commonly considered as a childhood condition, but awareness of adult ADHD has grown so rapidly that over-18s are now being diagnosed at a similar rate.
There are two subtypes:
- Hyperactive – affecting impulsivity and a need to keep moving both mentally and physically
- Inattentive – affecting attention and organisational skills
You can have either one, or ‘combined’ – a mixture of both.
I only became aware of my symptoms later in life when I stumbled upon a list of behavioural traits associated with inattentive type ADHD (formerly called ‘ADD’), and recognised my own habits and behaviours – focus issues, weak working memory, poor mental energy, problems retaining important information … the list went on.
Over our time together, my partner has habitually taken the brunt of the housework where I had struggled with overwhelm, willpower and energy. This caused resentment on his part, and a world of guilt on mine. I couldn’t understand why everyone else seemed to get things done and I just … couldn’t. I felt that perhaps I just wasn’t ‘cut out’ for adulthood, and maintaining a committed relationship.
I sought out a diagnosis from the doctor, and after a few forms and an assessment they confirmed that I had combined type ADHD. I felt relieved. Not because I had an excuse or a reason for these unhelpful behaviours, but because it affirmed that I wasn’t simply lazy or unmotivated, and I could start to seek out ways to adjust my life to suit.
Talking to others, I’ve discovered that these struggles are far from unique for couples. ADHD is very under-diagnosed in adults (especially women), so there will still be many couples facing these challenges without explanation. If you suspect you or your partner may have ADHD, perhaps consider having a chat with your GP and they will be able to advise a course of action.
My journey of discovery and trial-and-error continues every day, but myself and my partner have come a long way to get to this point. Here are a few tips and tricks that have helped us, and may help you too.
Research, research, research!
ADHD is a complex condition which affects people in different ways. Reading through articles and resources about my ADHD type gave me a richer understanding of my behavioural and emotional landscape, validated my experience, and provided me with language to explain my experiences to my partner. I had no idea how many parts of my life had been affected by the condition! For many, research may sound worse than watching paint dry, but there are many great online videos and podcasts to get stuck into that are engaging and fun, and may just assure you or your partner that you’re not alone.
People with ADHD live in extremes, and this includes both good and bad emotions. They can feel immense happiness and joy, but sometimes a full head or a stressful situation can build up and become quietly overwhelming. This can eventually lead to spontaneous emotional outbursts, leaving a partner feeling bewildered and confused! Something as simple as writing down or talking about the small pressures or stresses can make them feel less all-consuming and relieve some of the emotions attached. Learning to communicate when something starts to feel like it’s getting on top of you helps manage these situations before they escalate.
Creating habits and processes to work with our ADHD and not against it, is effective for those with ADHD and partners alike. This will vary from couple to couple, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Work together to find the most appealing shared calendar/reminders apps that both of you find easy to use. This can help you both keep on top of your commitments. It may also be helpful to write upcoming items on something in regular view, like a whiteboard.
- Put in a time to do chores together. Batch cooking once a week and freezing meals can make for a fun afternoon activity spent with one another, eliminating the task of daily cooking, and in turn aids the temptation for a takeaway!
- To help with quality time, store fidget toys or sensory objects in places where you often have conversations or spend time together. This will keep hands busy and help resist the urge to default to scrolling on your phone or zoning in on distracting parts of your environment.
- If you have decisions to make, even independently, it can be helpful to talk them through together. Constant decision fatigue is a common symptom of ADHD and you/your partner may need support in some of the smallest decisions.
Celebrate small victories together
Creating goals is not a fun task for someone with ADHD! To avoid big goals becoming overwhelming, break them down into small tasks that can be done day-by-day. Then share/delegate where you can, and find a healthy way to celebrate each little victory. Try to hold space if achievements aren’t met – it’s likely the person with ADHD already feels bad about it. It may help to hear regular encouragement and recognition for achievements from a partner, as tasks can require more mental energy than if someone neurotypical (non-ADHD) were to do the same.
Find like-minded people
Finding a community of people with similar experiences is a helpful tool too. You can swap tips, talk through your concerns and celebrate successes together. If you struggle to find in-person friends or communities, there are many groups on Reddit and Facebook.
Notice the good
It’s easy to fixate on the ways ADHD can hinder your life, and it can often cause poor self-esteem issues. But the condition offers a vast list of benefits too … Creative problem-solving skills, hyperfocus (keeping focus on novel tasks for long periods of time uninterrupted) and being fantastic conversationalists, just to name a few. Regular encouragement from a partner can be a great help when those low points hit.
ADHD doesn’t need to turn your life as a couple upside down – with some communication and trial-and-error it can be something that can bring excitement and spontaneity to your relationship! Embrace it for all its pros and cons, and you’ll soon start to see a difference in daily dynamics, and hopefully a richer and deeper connection between you.
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