Loving someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be challenging for many reasons. You care about their emotional well-being, but you may feel frustrated by their distractibility or inattentiveness. You might also feel like you're under this constant stress to get things done.
People are more aware of the implications of adult ADHD than ever before. There's more awareness and a stronger pull toward advocating for effective ADHD treatment. That said, ADHD relationship issues are very real, and non-ADHD spouses need to be mindful of how tocope with them.
What Is ADHD Spouse Burnout?
ADHD spouse burnout refers to the exhaustion that the non-ADHD partner experiences within a marriage. Many times, this is due to taking on extra responsibilities or emotional labor within the partnership.
This type of spouse burnout rarely happens overnight. Instead, it represents a gradual buildup of relationship issues. If left unaddressed, the burnout can cause serious rifts or even erode the marriage altogether.
Burnout can happen due to:
Untreated ADHD: Untreated ADHD can affect every part of someone's functioning, including their relationships. If your partner has poorly-managed ADHD or lacks coping skills to manage their symptoms, you may be absorbing that fallout in your marriage.
Household responsibilities: The non-ADHD spouse may take on more household duties, including cooking, cleaning, managing money, and childcare. Over time, this can cause both emotional exhaustion and resentment.
Poor communication skills: People with ADHD may struggle to articulate their needs or even find the right words to put their thoughts together. They might also interrupt, provide excessive detail, or unintentionally tune out others. Any of these behaviors can cause significant challenges to a relationship.
Inadequate self-care: People with ADHD may cope with their symptoms poorly, causing them to struggle with impulsive behavior or personal neglect. Likewise, partners might also neglect their self-care because they feel stressed in the relationship. Both problems can cause partners to feel increasingly discouraged within their marriage.
Other relationship issues: ADHD symptoms may not be the only culprit causing relationship stress. But undiagnosed ADHD- or problems with ADHD patterns- can exacerbate other difficulties.
Excessive caretaking: One partner should not be solely responsible for all family functioning. But in ADHD relationships, the non-ADHD partner may end up in a dynamic where they act as the "grownup" and the ADHD partner takes on the role of being an "immature child." This is neither healthy nor optimal for anyone involved.
How to Cope With Your Partner's ADHD
You're not responsible for managing your spouse's ADHD symptoms or taking on too much responsibility just to keep things organized. Adult relationships require a mutual take-and-give, and it isn't fair for one parter to bear all the emotional volatility.
Here are some ways a non-ADHD partner can take care of themselves while also being present in their marriage:
Accept that your partner has ADHD: ADHD is not a matter of laziness, poor willpower, or entitlement. An ADHD brain looks different from a neurotypical brain, which means people with ADHD naturally think and act differently. It's important that you educate yourself on common ADHD symptoms and consider their impact in your relationship. Finding acceptance for your partner can also help you better choose your battles.
Be specific about what you need: Explicit communication tends to work better with an ADHD spouse than being vague or discreet. Statements like, "I need you to do ___ by ___" can be effective. Just because your partner has ADHD doesn't mean you should disregard having healthy boundaries and reasonable expectations.
Prioritize creative solutions: Forgetfulness, difficulty focusing, and distractibility are common ADHD symptoms, but they can be highly problematic in a marriage. Some couples find that it's helpful to brainstorm with creative solutions like having a collaborative to-do list, using visual reminders, or making schedules for household chores.
Don't act like a parent: At the same time, it's important that you avoid treating your spouse like they're your child. Don't enable problems or swoop in to fix things before giving them a chance to manage things on their own. In many cases, this only reinforces cycles of codependency, which exacerbates a sense of learned helplessness.
Seek your own support: Non-ADHD partners sometimes feel alone in their marital struggles. To mitigate ADHD burnout, it's important to seek connections with people who can validate you. You may also want to consider individual therapy for yourself.
Establish clear and realistic expectations: Know what your ADHD spouse is capable of providing and be realistic in knowing that some of your needs may not get fully met. There is some compromise in all relationships, and part of managing ADHD is knowing what you should and shouldn't accept.
Consider couples therapy: People with ADHD often feel guilty about how their symptoms affect the relationship. You both may be able to reduce frustration by talking about your feelings with a mental health professional. This therapist can validate both your experiences and give you practical tips for coping with the ADHD diagnosis productively.
Continue encouraging treatment compliance: ADHD treatment doesn't cure ADHD, but it can reduce or eliminate some of the more intense ADHD symptoms. It's important that you validate your partner for seeking treatment. If possible, try to stay involved with their care.
How We Can Support Individuals and Loved Ones Experiencing ADHD
Adult ADHD can be challenging in relationships and both people may need support in navigating this dynamic. At Resurface Group, we focus on improving communication within relationships, and we help people work through their most distressing emotional issues to feel better in daily life.
Whether you have ADHD or another mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, we are here to support you. Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic problem.