Relationship Struggles? How to Fulfill Your Needs and Strengthen Intimacy with ADHD

Forgetfulness, distractibility, and emotional outbursts characteristic of ADHD can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and resentment in relationships. Here are three ways to strengthen your communication so you can have more intimacy and connection when you live with ADHD.

As a partner with ADHD, you acknowledge your symptoms could be impacting your relationship. As a partner without ADHD, you’re aware you can’t control your spouse, only your own actions. Even so, communication can break down. 


Janet and Alex have been together for ten years. They have three young children, and both work full-time. Besides managing the logistics of their household, they rarely have time to talk to each other besides, “Who’s picking up the kids?” and “We need more milk at the grocery store.”  

Dinners are disorganized and chaotic. Janet finds she needs to talk before the day starts to get a handle on the day. Alex needs his quiet time in the morning to read the newspaper. When Alex needs to talk at the end of the day, Janet has trouble focusing. Janet needs her quiet time to recoup from her exhausting day. There are lots of misunderstandings and frustrations. 


A sample spat may go like this:

Janet: "You never make time for me. Your newspaper is more important than I am. You don’t seem to care about me or spending time together."

Alex: "That’s not fair. Of course, you’re important. You know how I like to read the paper in the morning. It’s always so disorganized around here. I need my space to think." 

Janet: "What do you mean it’s disorganized? Is that why you need your space to read the paper? To escape from me? And not think about the mess you’re criticizing me for?"


When needs aren’t met for the partner with ADHD, the constant reminders about how they should improve or change can trigger feelings of shame, feeling unwanted and unloved, and yearning to be accepted.   

When needs aren’t met for the partner without ADHD, the resulting missed attention can be interpreted as a lack of interest or caring, feeling unwanted and unloved, and being ignored.

Both partners are depleted with exhaustion and overwhelm, and the stress of feeling unwanted and unloved. 

Here are three ways to fulfill your needs and strengthen intimacy and connection when you live with ADHD. 


Ask for What You Need


We are all worthy of having our needs met. Needs can be interpreted as bad or weak, but needs are human.


In the example above, Janet is upset that Alex is choosing to read rather than talk with her. Alex criticizes Janet for the disorganized mess to justify his need to read. 

Peeling back the layers, Janet has the need to talk with Alex, and Alex has the need to read. They both resent each other for not knowing, recognizing, and acknowledging each other’s needs. 

But did either partner ask for what they needed?


We know our partners aren’t mind readers, but we often act as if they are. 

Quick Tips:

• Describe yourself your need is about you only, not the partner you’re talking to. 
• Describe the situation without criticizing your partner. Your partner will hear you and receive you more openly. 


Be Specific and Positive About Your Needs 

Whether or not you live with ADHD, when your partner fails to fulfill your needs, there can be a tendency to feel resentful. 


At the same time, when you live with distraction, forgetfulness, and overwhelm, it’s even more vital to be specific with what you need. Rather than allude to your needs in the hopes that your partner will figure it out, working memory challenges that typically come with ADHD can make it difficult to hold onto information, process it, and do something with that information. 


If you’re uncomfortable with asking for what you need, you may unsuccessfully resort to criticism to justify your need.  It’s important to avoid red-flag negative comments for either partner. The ADHD brain can be emotionally sensitive, and red-flag comments can trigger emotional dysregulation.


In the sample conversation above:
Janet said: "You never make time for me."
Alex said : "It’s always so disorganized around here."



Quick Tips:

• Eliminate words such as “Always” and “never”, which speak to someone’s personal shortcomings and limitations, rather than their actions. Eliminate these words from your conversations. 
• State your positive and specific need: Instead of: “You never make time for me.”  Try: “I need time to talk. I’ll find a sitter for tonight so we can get a bite out this evening.” Instead of: “It’s always so disorganized around here.” Try: “I need 30 minutes to read the newspaper in the morning.”
Ease into asking for what you need by asking for something that makes you feel happy. 


Be Mindful of Your Timing

The ADHD brain is a “now” or “not now” brain. If you live with ADHD, you know what I’m talking about. If something’s on your mind, you may want to talk about it now, or ask for a resolution now, because you may want to get it off your chest, or because you’re impulsive, or because you may forget later, or because you really, really want to now, and you’re not going to let anything stop you. 

Yet, your partner may want to walk away from a heated conversation, give it some rest, and do just the opposite. Your partner may even want to “sleep on it,” which may be tough for you, especially if you were taught not to go to bed upset or unresolved. 

Quick Tips:

Manage your triggers. If you need to manage a need for “now” rather than “not now,” or feel resentment bubbling up:

  1. Recognize How Your Triggers Manifest: Where, if anywhere, do you feel stress in your body? Do you feel pressure in your body, chest, feel sweaty, or shaky, or anything similar? These are signs that you are stressed and triggered. It’s helpful to recognize these trigger signs as they begin to come on.
  2. Calm yourself by taking a break, calmly getting some air, breathing, or getting some water.  
  3. What is the Story You’re Telling Yourself? “They don’t care.” “I’m just going to forget.” I don’t like going to sleep like this.”
  4. What’s a More Positive Story You Can Tell Yourself: “I can press pause.” “I’ll let things settle down.” “What do I need in this moment?” 
  5. Reconnect: If you are with your partner, suggest when you can reconnect. If you’re still not ready at that time, you can decide on another time to reconvene.

Research shows that sleeping on a difficult decision is beneficial. A good night’s sleep helps you process and synthesize old and new information.  
• State your need and ask when your partner is available to meet your need. 


In summary, to fulfill your needs to strengthen intimacy and connection living with ADHD:

Ask For What You Need
Be Specific And Positive About Your Needs
Be Mindful About Your Timing


Source: 7 Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy, Gottman, John and Gottman, Julie (2022). 




PS. Need support asking for what you need so you live a more fulfilling life?

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can create realistic steps toward moving forward now!


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