People with ADHD–children or adults–hear this phrase from frustrated teachers, supervisors, and yes, even partners, far too often. From the outside, the symptoms of ADHD can make it look as if your partner isn’t trying hard enough, resulting in things being forgotten or left unfinished.
The reality couldn’t be further from the truth: the person with ADHD is likely trying harder than anyone else, but their brain is not cooperating effectively.
ADHD brains are constantly processing information, but parts of the ADHD brain don’t work as well in assimilating information as efficiently as a non-ADHD brain. So it’s not that your partner isn’t trying–they are, but sometimes it won’t be as quickly or accurately as we would like, or the end result may come out differently than we had expected (see this post about what people with ADHD would like you to know about how their brains work).
It can be incredibly frustrating for your partner with ADHD to hear criticism along the lines of, “If you are trying so hard, why isn’t anything getting done?” Believe it or not, “hard work” does not always equal “results,” and for people with ADHD, this can be especially striking and very discouraging.
While no one–ADHD or not–gives 100% effort at all times, when your partner with ADHD is giving attention to whatever is at hand and is not getting the results expected when everyone else appears to be handling things with ease, this can lead to frustration, apathy, or even fear of trying in the first place. But an understanding and empathetic partner who has grasped the idea that the ADHD brain takes longer to sort through and catalogue information can make the difference in their partner achieving success versus feeling constant failure.
Telling your partner to “try harder” likely won’t yield the results you are seeking. “Trying differently” may be more successful. There are many tips and tools out there for people with ADHD who need additional assistance in remembering tasks, getting organized, and staying on schedule. Encouraging your partner to try some of those suggestions can create more opportunities for success than simply trying to make a brain that doesn’t work like yours conform to your expectations.
Of course, some people may try to capitalize on their ADHD diagnosis as an excuse to be lazy. As I said earlier, no one is giving 100% effort all of the time, but that is still no excuse to be purposefully lazy and blame it on ADHD. If your partner is not actively making attempts to change ineffective behaviors, something else besides ADHD is going on.
While we can’t see from the outside how the ADHD brain works in order to make the comparison to a non-ADHD brain, the bottom line is, as the partner of someone with ADHD, it is helpful to understand how the ADHD brain is different, to allow for extra time for tasks to be completed, and to be encouraging when witnessing effective behaviors. “Laziness” is usually far from the reason these people struggle, and having a supportive partner can be tremendously validating and helpful.
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Last reviewed: 11 Jun 2012