ADHD in Relationships: How to Overcome Frustration Now!
Living with ADHD can contribute to misunderstandings, frustration and resentment in close relationships.
The ADHD brain is wired differently in its ability to hold onto multiple directions, focus and perform a related task before it is forgotten. Impulsivity can cause an individual to blurt things out or act without thinking. Challenges with emotional regulation can make it difficult to discuss things in a composed, calm manner.
The first steps to transforming your relationships, whether it be with a partner, child, close friend or colleague, is to understand how ADHD is showing up for each person in the relationship.
Rebuild with Understanding
If you’re the person with ADHD, you may feel endlessly criticized and nothing you do feels good enough. As a result of feeling constantly nagged and reminded that you didn’t or aren’t meeting expectations, you may become defensive. You may unintentionally withdraw because you just can’t take in more feedback that you’re not measuring up.
If you’re the person without ADHD, you may feel ignored, unacknowledged and unheard. You may feel that you’re the only one in the driver’s seat taking responsibility for everything that needs to get done. You may feel like a warden, constantly reminding. Over time, you may feel like the person with ADHD doesn’t seem to care about what’s important or even care about you.
Here are three tips to help you improve your relationships living with ADHD.
Acknowledge the Impact of Your Behavior
• Accept responsibility and understand that the symptoms of ADHD aren’t what’s causing challenges, but rather how each person responds to the symptoms.
• Validate, acknowledge and respond to each other so everyone feels heard.
• In a romantic partnership, avoid the parent-child dynamic, where the non-ADHD partner takes the role of a controlling parent and the ADHD partner takes the role of struggling child. This dynamic causes resentment and frustration for both partners. Furthermore, it's unmotivating for the partner with ADHD who will feel that there’s no use in trying.
Connect by Communicating
Rather than arguing over details, address the feelings behind what triggered an incident. For example, if an individual with ADHD is late, rather than arguing over the details of being late, address the underlying, deeper meaning that lateness represents.
• Use "I-Statements" to start with the feelings. “I feel like I'm not being cared for when you walk in the door late.” Leading with feelings can open up deeper communication and understanding of what’s important and relevant to each partner.
• Keep ADHD symptoms in mind, such as challenges with time management in the above example. ADHD symptoms are not an excuse for behavior, but they add some context and can assist in de-personalizing a situation.
• Communicate face-to-face, ask questions and don’t be afraid to clarify what you hear. This is especially important for the partner with ADHD who may have a tendency to feel they may miss parts of a conversation.
Even with all the “right” tools to communicate, it’s important to block out pockets of time to collaborate and support one another. This can be in the form of a once-a-week logistical meeting, for partners and/or families and colleagues. Tasks can be discussed, split up based on strengths, and followed-up on. The bonus of these meetings is less nagging, less withdrawing, and less overwhelm. All involved know they can count on the logistics meeting to discuss projects and tasks, and move forward with getting things done. In a romantic relationship, you can also have a separate meeting where you only focus on your relationship, no logistics at all.
• Try to avoid interrupting, which for a person with ADHD, can be a strategy to make sure they remember what they want to say. If curbing interrupting is tough, experiment with writing a few key words to capture your thoughts. If you’re inclined to try this,you might want to inform the person you’re communicating with about your intentions, so they don’t misinterpret your actions as a distraction for not paying attention to what they are saying.
• For a person without ADHD, communicate in small chunks and pause, so that the person with ADHD can absorb what you are saying. During this pause, the person with ADHD can clarify what they heard to check for understanding.
• Focus on what each person is trying to achieve, rather than whether they were successful in their actions. For example, if he or she lost focus or didn’t completely accomplish a task, that doesn't mean he or she doesn't care.
To summarize, living with ADHD has an effect on relationships, whether it’s with romantic partners, family members or colleagues. It’s important to understand that the symptoms of ADHD aren’t what’s responsbile for causing the challenges, but rather how each person responds to the symptoms.
To improve your relationships living with ADHD:
• Acknowledge the Impact of Your Behavior
• Connect by Communicating
Experiment with some of these and let me know how it goes for you!
PS. Need more assistance improving understanding, reducting frustration and building resilience living with ADHD?
Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some solutions you can put into place now!
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