Loving with ADHD: Three Powerful Ways to Inspire More Intimacy, Love and Joy


When you live with ADHD in your relationship, you may feel ignored, frustrated, misunderstood, and lonely. If your partner has ADHD, you may feel you’re last on their list of priorities. Stressed and saddled by the unrelenting list of responsibilities, you dislike the parenting role you’ve taken on, while your partner seems to have all the fun.  

If you have ADHD, you may feel your partner is controlling your life. You try to meet your partner’s needs and expectations, but instead, feel endlessly criticized. The best way to deal with your nagging partner is to tune them out. 

When you understand the role ADHD is playing in your relationship, there are steps you can take to have better communication and connection so you can recreate your intimacy together. 


Here are three powerful ways to inspire more intimacy, connection, and joy, in your love relationship with ADHD.  


Deposit A Coin In Your Emotional Piggy Bank 


According to Drs. Julie and John Gottman, two of the world’s leading relationship experts, to make deposits in your emotional bank account, practice “turning toward.”  Turning toward is what they call “bidding for connection.” The act of turning toward means making positive affirmations, acknowledging, and engaging with that person and their attempt to connect. 


Consider this scenario: Tim usually gets back from walking the dog before Jessica returns from the gym. Tim reads his newspaper cover to cover with his double expresso. Jessica walks into the kitchen after her early morning workout. Jessica is rushing to get ready for work. 


Situation One: As Tim reads his newspaper, Tim says to Jessica, “This is a really interesting article.” Turning toward could look like the following:  Jessica replies, “Really, what’s it about?” (Turning away: Jessica silently scrolls through her emails on her phone; Turning against: Jessica replies angrily, “You know I never have time to read the paper,” and rushes out of the kitchen to get ready for work).


In this situation, it’s tough to recognize who has ADHD in this relationship. It could be Tim, who’s engrossed in his newspaper, or Jessica, who’s focused on her emails and her work, and perhaps both Tim and Jessica have ADHD. 

The important distinction is that when you turn toward often, you make a difference over time in connection and intimacy in your relationship. Tim’s desire to share an article was his attempt to connect, and Jessica needed to be aware of that. 


When you live with ADHD, it may be tough picking up on these bids to connect, because the cues can be subtle and difficult to read or recognize. A partner with ADHD may have challenges with impulse control, such as jumping to another topic, or remembering what they wanted to say to respond. A partner without ADHD can erroneously interpret these behaviors as a lack of interest.  The key is when your partner makes a statement, or gesture, press pause. Stop what you were doing, acknowledge that this as an opportunity to connect, and respond. 


The Gottman’s say that even a sigh can be a bid for connection! Other bids for connection include eye contact, a smile, asking for a favor, seeming sad or down, calling your name, seeming frustrated, carrying something heavy, saying good morning or good night. 


For example, using the same above scenario, the following is Situation Two: Jessica walks into the kitchen and hears Tim heaves a huge sigh. “Tim," Jessica says concerned, "You sound like you’re upset, are you ok?” (Jessica is turning towards.) Tim may respond, "Yes, I'm feeling really overwhelmed." (turning towards). On the other hand, Tim may continue to read his newspaper and not look up (Tim is turning away.) Or, Tim may say, “What are you nagging me about now?” (Tim is turning against.)

Schedule a Ten-Minute Check-In 


A check-in time gives each partner the opportunity to think about their own needs and share them. It demonstrates that you want to be there for each other. It also builds trust that you will be there for each other. This structure can be helpful and supportive when you live with ADHD. Having a scheduled, mutually agreed upon time to meet, with questions to start with, can be life-changing.   


The Gottman’s suggest asking each other:

What’s on your mind?

What are you looking forward to?

What are you anxious about?

What’s on your heart?

What do you need from me today?


This gives you an opening into your partner’s inner world. You, in turn, can do everything you possibly can to meet your partner’s needs. 


Align with Your Partner  

There will be times when your partner’s capacity and emotional availability will not match yours. This is Ok and happens to the healthiest of couples. What’s important is how you acknowledge your partner’s bid for connection. 


One way is to acknowledge that you want to turn toward, but can’t at this moment. Even if you’re tired, or not feeling the capacity to engage with your partner, don’t turn away or turn against. Explain briefly why you’re not available. 


Explaining that “I’d really love to hear this, but I have to ____ (send an important email, take the kids to soccer, etc.); can you tell me about it later?” will go a long way. Being more specific about when "later" is can be helpful. "Can you tell me about it [after dinner] when I'll be more available?"


When your partner may not respond to your bids. Keep trying and be patient. If you notice a recurring situation, discuss it with your partner. Be aware that people with ADHD can look distracted while someone is talking, by fidgeting, looking away, tapping a foot, doodling, or pacing. At the same time, these physical movements can be supportive to the ADHD'er to focus and process information. 


If you notice patterns, it's OK to discuss them. You might want to start with I statements to emphasize that that this is also about you and your reactions to your partner: “I don’t want to criticize, I’ve just noticed that when I try to connect with you ….” Another way is to use open-ended questions and to be curious. "When I try to connect with you, I notice you have a tendency to pace. What's that about?"…. “What’s going on for you when you draw these pictures when we have these discussions?” Your partner may be stressed or overwhelmed; or, your partner may simply need to doodle to process multiple pieces of information. 


If your partner responds negatively as if they want to start a fight, try to ignore it and listen for the deeper need underneath. Your partner may be emotionally depleted or dysregulated and could be sending a bid to connect back to you.


For example, Jessica could say to Tim, “rather than giving me an article to read, which is just more work for me, has it ever even occurred to you to find a fun restaurant for us to go to in the Weekend section?” Noticing a deeper need for Jessica, Tim responds, “It sounds like you’re overwhelmed and need a break. I’d be happy to find a new restaurant and have some fun with you this weekend. I'm on it!”


To sum up, the extensive research of Drs. John and Julie Gottman shows that how people react to their partner’s bids for connections is the biggest predictor of happiness and relationship stability. 


When you live with ADHD, to inspire more intimacy, connection, and joy:

Deposit a coin in your emotional piggy bank

Schedule Ten-Minute Check-ins 

Align with Your Partner



Source: The Love Prescription, Gottman & Gottman Ph.D.'s, John & Julie Schwartz, 2022, Penguin Books, New York. 

Some scenarios above are adapted from The Love Prescription.




PS. Need support connecting in your relationship? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we’ll get you on track to help you communicate your needs so you can have more peace and joy in your family!



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