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It’s Not Just For Kids: Your Partner with ADHD (Part 1)

Your partner forgot to pick up the kids at daycare, again.

The dinner with friends was going great until your partner suddenly made a blunt comment that hurt your best friend’s feelings.

You try to have a conversation with your partner, but always feel as if their attention is elsewhere, or they get up abruptly and walk away when you are mid-sentence, or they fiddle with whatever is within reach and wiggle in their chair like they are a child again until you give up and stop talking.

Such is life with a partner with untreated ADHD.

Some quick facts about ADHD in adults:

  • Although ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, it’s estimated that 30-70% of adults still have symptoms. Many adults were never diagnosed as children, or they were misdiagnosed with other disorders, such as learning disabilities, depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. As a result, adults with ADHD sometimes do develop depression or have low self-esteem because they were not treated appropriately or were called “stupid,” “lazy,” or “unmotivated” because of their ADHD-related behavioral patterns.
  • Forty to sixty percent of adults with ADHD also have a child with ADHD (Waite, 2010).
  • To be given a diagnosis of ADHD (for the first time) as an adult, the symptoms must have been present during childhood. If the symptoms first appear in adulthood, it is likely that the symptoms are related to a different disorder.
  • The pharmacological treatments for adult ADHD are similar to that for children–namely, stimulants and sometimes also antidepressants–but these medications may work differently in an adult than they would in a child.
  • ADHD is recognized as a disability under federal legislation (the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; the Americans With Disabilities Act; and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act). Appropriate and reasonable accommodations are sometimes made in the workplace for adults with ADHD, which help the individual to work more efficiently and productively.

If you look at most ADHD-related websites (see below), they have a special section dedicated just to how this disorder manifests in adults.

For partners of people with ADHD, it can sometimes feel as if you have a child, instead of an adult partner. This causes strain on relationships, but ADHD can be managed effectively, and even put to good use.

The top issues that challenge the relationships of adults with ADHD are relating to others, being successful at work, contributing equally at home, and sexual functioning. Today we’ll talk about the first two, and Part 2 of this topic will come on Monday.

  1. Relating to others: Having a relationship with someone with ADHD can really bring the symptoms into focus. Adults with ADHD struggle with many of the “proper” behaviors of a “good partner,” including paying attention to conversations, being realistic about time commitments, setting limits, following through on promises, and remembering important tasks, dates, or obligations. Remembering that your partner has ADHD–not is ADHD–can go a long way in helping you step back from the edge of anger and frustration when your partner “messes up again.” People with ADHD usually have good intentions, but get overwhelmed by the fast pace of the world and fear disappointing others, so they say “yes” when “no” would be a more appropriate answer. This article outlines some strategies for coping with your partner’s illness.
  2. Being successful at work: Generally, most jobs require that employees arrive on time, complete a certain amount of work each day in order to meet deadlines, pay attention to details, and sit still and listen quietly in meetings. All of these are challenges for someone with ADHD. In addition, people with ADHD get bored easily, so they may frequently change or quit jobs, which can result in financial instability. People with ADHD are also more likely to be fired because of their behaviors. This article has some sound, practical tips that can help your partner with ADHD be more successful at work. Also, encourage your partner to look for jobs that utilize the positive aspects of ADHD, including creativity, high energy levels, and problem-solving.

Other helpful resources:

PsychCentral blogs on ADHD: ADHD in Focus and ADHD: From A to Zoe

Online ADHD Support Group

Dozens of articles about ADHD

Organizations and Support Groups guide to Adult ADHD

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD by Eileen Bailey and Donald Haupt, MD

Is It You, Me or Adult A.D.D.? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder by Gina Pera

The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa C. Orlov (and a related article, including an interview with the author: ADHD and Its Effect in Marriage)


Waite R, Ramsay JR. Adults with ADHD: Who are we missing? Issues Mental Health Nursing. 2010;31:670-8.

It’s Not Just For Kids: Your Partner with ADHD (Part 1)

Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, is a patient advocate for Women's and Children's Services at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor associate and a National Certified Counselor who specializes in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapies. Her book, Loving Someone With Anxiety, will be published by New Harbinger in the spring of 2013.

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APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2019). It’s Not Just For Kids: Your Partner with ADHD (Part 1). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Mar 2019
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