5 Mistakes You’re Making That May Be Holding Your Partner Back

Let’s start by saying that it can be really exhausting living with ADHD: for you and for your partner. When we depend on our executive functions to manage our jam-packed lives, we can quickly feel de-railed and impatient. The words frustration and overwhelm come to mind. So, none of these suggestions are easy. Just holding it together is often all you can handle, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

1.  Forgetting why you fell in love in the first place.

Maybe it was their spontaneity, or maybe their talent, or their compassion, or who knows what. But, when life gets on a treadmill, it can sometimes be pretty hard to even remember what you both used to do for fun. When the laundry piles up, and the punctuality issues leave you counting the minutes you’ve been inconvenienced, it may be time to book a lunch date, go watch her soccer game, see him in improv class: make the effort to see them out of the context of the “grind”.

Tip: Don’t just see each other at home after a day’s work.

2. Assuming that your goals are mutual.

Maybe as your partner’s attention issues have come more to light, you have changed too. Maybe as he has become more unstructured, you have held on by being more so. You start the day rolling your eyes that he didn’t think to make the bed, and her dish is on the counter, and you’re in the car waiting first, and before you’ve left the house “You have had it up to here”. Maybe your partner doesn’t notice or care if the bed is made, maybe she truly isn’t bothered by a couple of dishes on the counter, and you are the one holding all the anguish. Make sure you both know what matters to each other, so you’re not holding on to goals that are misaligned. Where can you give and take? How can you make sure the effort you each put in will matter to your partner.

Tip: Work to make mutual goals, and then own the goals that are just yours as yours. It will help you in the long run.

3. Letting resentment grow in silence until it has taken you over.

Girls Looking At Each OtherWith so many couples I have worked with, growing feelings of resentment have been building for so long that the layers are deep. By the time you’re talking about it with each other, you are already drowning. “Fighting” is part of being in a couple. Compromise is normal, and hard. But, if you aren’t talking to each other honestly, the walls can get pretty high, and the pile just gets higher. You might think you have let go, but those feelings may be impacting you more than you think.

Tip: Talk sooner, even if the news is bad news, and even if you need to seek help to facilitate.

4. Not getting support for yourself.

The impact is real: seeking your own support is just as important as your partner seeking support. I have had so many partners say to me: “Am I crazy? What’s ADHD and what’s just a marital challenge? At what point is it about me getting help? How do I fit in with this? I’m relieved to learn about ADHD, but I am so tired inside!” Don’t think it’s just about your partner getting support. You deserve and need help too. ADHD is never an excuse, and it’s never about just one person changing. It’s a team effort, and with the right support, moving forward is possible.

Tip: Book an appointment for just you. You need a safe and objective space to find your way too.

5.  You’re stuck in a parent/child communication dynamic.

I hate the idea of couples getting into a place where this is real, but it does happen, and it can be difficult to get rid of this dynamic. The sooner you can get on a level playing field you will see your partner find their full potential. When a person with ADHD is so stuck they aren’t using their strengths, and has lost their spark, their symptoms will become even more overwhelming. Build each other up. Be the partner each other knows you can be.

Tip: Work to treat each other as equals. You don’t have to agree, but make sure you don’t have a power dynamic where one is higher than the other.

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Laura MacNiven, M.Ed. Health Education, is the Director of Health Education/Coaching at Springboard Clinic.

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4 Replies to “5 Mistakes You’re Making That May Be Holding Your Partner Back”

  1. “The impact is real…” YES!! This is important for partners of adults with ADHD, but also for parents raising kids with ADHD. Partners and parents alike need to focus on self-care and their own well-being too, which can be tough.

    Penny Williams
    Author of “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD” and “Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD”
    ParentingADHDChildren.com

  2. My partner has ADHD. He is also a sex addict (mostly compulsive porn use and masturbation). And he ticks every box for narcissistic personality disorder, and possibly has some Asperger tendencies. And he can’t regulate his emotions or soothe himself, so he is always having over-the-top reactions to really minor things.

    [Me: “Oh, hey, you left the ketchup out.”
    Him: “So what are you saying, that *you’ve* never left anything out?”
    Me: “Uh, nope, I’ve definitely left stuff out and I’ve appreciated it when people let me know.”
    Him: “You’re such a hypocrite! Jumping down my throat when I’ve done the same thing as you!”
    Me: “I’m not jumping down your throat, I just pointed out…”
    Him: “STOP ACCUSING ME…”
    Me: “I’m done. You can have the rest of this conversation on your own.”]

    All of which is to say that I am so tired of articles like this (which are echoed in the sex addiction and personality disorder communities) which imply that it is somehow the partner’s responsibility to keep the ADHDer / SA / Narc calm and on track. *Especially* when the ADHDer reads articles / books like this and then comes back and says the partner is being emotionally abusive by not constantly working around his “quirks” (which include lying, manipulating, gaslighting, spending savings on frivolous things without discussing it first, raging over neutral comments, etc.), while he never so much as implements one helpful suggestion for any of his disorders (writing things down or using the reminder function on his phone to combat his ADHD; going to meetings and working his CBT journal for his sex addiction; finding and working with a competent, no-bullshit, psychologist for his narcissism).

    When you’re trapped with one of these people (for instance, for financial reason), and everyone is telling you that you somehow hold the magic key to making everything better — but you don’t, because they were like this looooooong before you met them, and because their behavior is entrenched, and they have no desire to change — and no one will listen because, “codependency”… then suicide starts to look like a wonderful option. I’d like to see someone write an article or book about that. I really would.

  3. MelissaTex, you may be financially constrained right now, but you can get out of it. If your ADHD partner won’t work on things at all, that’s less of an ADHD issue and more of a denial or avoidance issue. I would strongly urge counseling for both of you (together and separate sessions), and if that doesn’t work (or hasn’t worked, if you’ve already tried), then I urge you to consider which is more valuable to you: your relationship with your partner or your life? Good luck.

  4. Our relationship is AD/HD and AD/HD. We knew he had it, but didn’t understad that I had it and it just hadn’t been discovered. He actually clued me in with a newspaper article. This list is true of the two of us as well. The more I understand my frustration and overwhelm the more patient I can be with him – if I do the 5 things listed. Otherwise, watchout, it’s tornado alley!

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