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  • Jackie Solarte

Navigating Relationships and ADHD: A Gottman Couples Therapist Approach

ADHD can introduce a unique set of challenges into romantic relationships, including difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and managing daily tasks. This can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and feelings of neglect for both partners. These dynamics often require extra patience, communication, and strategies adapted to navigate the complexities ADHD brings to partnerships.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Common symptoms include difficulty maintaining focus on tasks, excessive talking or movement, impulsiveness, disorganization, and a tendency to be easily distracted. In romantic relationships, these symptoms can manifest in different ways that challenge the dynamic between partners. For example, forgetfulness may lead to missed anniversaries or uncompleted household tasks, impulsivity can result in hasty decisions that affect both partners such as financial infidelity, and poor time management might mean being late to important events or struggling to balance relationship needs with other responsibilities. These displays of symptoms can strain communication and mutual understanding, requiring both partners to navigate these challenges with empathy and patience.

It's important to recognize that the term "deficit" in ADHD is beginning to be considered outdated. A more accurate description might be "difference," as individuals with ADHD do not lack brain functionality but rather display a unique way of processing information. For example, the ability for intense hyperfocus allows those with ADHD to engage with activities that capture their interest, showing that their attention operates differently, not deficiently.

The first step for any couple navigating ADHD within their relationship is to acknowledge the need for personal growth and management before undertaking relationship challenges. The partner diagnosed with ADHD may need to explore medication or a supplement regimen that suits their needs effectively. Engaging in individual therapy, alongside couples therapy, is highly recommended to address personal and relational dynamics systematically. Meanwhile, the partner without ADHD should develop patience and learn communication strategies that emphasize love, respect, and understanding, enabling them to navigate the complexities ADHD introduces into the relationship with empathy and support.

In relationships impacted by ADHD, employing strategies focused on understanding, empathy, and accommodation is key to resolving misunderstandings. Utilizing a gentle start-up for conversations can help prevent conflict escalation by allowing partners to share concerns calmly. Active listening, where the focus is on truly understanding the other's perspective rather than immediately responding, is essential, especially given ADHD's influence on communication. Techniques such as setting a timer for uninterrupted speaking or taking a "time out" during heightened emotions—lasting no less than 20 minutes and no more than 24 hours—guarantee discussions can resume more constructively once emotions have settled. For the non-ADHD partner, offering support without slipping into the roles of enabler or caretaker can be a delicate balance. It is essential to encourage independence and accountability by setting clear boundaries and expectations that promote mutual respect and understanding. Communication should focus on solutions rather than criticism.

Encouraging the partner with ADHD to engage in treatment and self-care practices can also foster a healthier dynamic. For the partner with ADHD, recognizing the impact of their symptoms on the relationship is important. This involves taking responsibility for their behavior, which can be accomplished through self-reflection, actively participating in treatment plans, and employing strategies to manage symptoms effectively.

In conclusion, navigating a relationship where one partner has ADHD requires a unique blend of understanding, patience, and proactive management strategies. By recognizing the challenges and opportunities that ADHD presents, couples can strengthen their relationship and foster a supportive and fulfilling partnership.

For those seeking additional support and resources, consider exploring the following:

  • CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder): Offers extensive resources, support groups, and information on ADHD for individuals and families (

  • ADDA (Attention Deficit Disorder Association): Provides resources, webinars, and virtual support groups for adults with ADHD (

  • The Gottman Institute: A valuable resource for couples looking to build stronger relationships through research-based approaches (

  • "The ADHD Effect on Marriage" by Melissa Orlov: A book offering insights and strategies for couples impacted by ADHD. * Listen to her speak on this topic on the “Marriage Therapy Radio” podcast episode 309.

  • "Taking Charge of Adult ADHD" by Russell A. Barkley: A comprehensive guide for adults managing ADHD, including strategies for daily living and maintaining relationships.


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