Couples and Relationship Therapy

As most of you already know, being married or involved in an intimate relationship is enough of a challenge without the added strain of adult ADHD symptoms. In couples counseling, a therapist works with you and your spouse or significant other to address problems caused by the myriad symptoms of adult ADHD.

In the typical adult ADHD marriage, the non-ADHD spouse attempts to overcompensate for the adult ADHD spouse by doing all the things her spouse forgets or neglects to do, whether it's raising the kids, making dinner, taking out the garbage, or all three.

In time, the non-ADHD spouse may start to feel more like a parent than a loving partner, and it's not unusual for resentment and frustrations to build, tempers to flare, sexual passions to wither, and the marriage to land on the rocks.

Without a therapist's intervention, being married to someone with adult ADHD can feel like living inside a three-ring minus the ringmaster. Chronic clutter, disorganization, disrepair, financial problems, unpaid bills, un- or under-employment, health issues, traffic accidents, drug and alcohol abuse, license suspensions, absentee parenting and discipline skills, children who are AWOL from school, separation, divorce, and child custody fights are just some of the issues a couple dealing with ADHD must handle.

Because most marital problems in adult ADHD marriages stem from the ADHD partner's inherent inabilities and impairments rather than laziness, lack of motivation, disinterest, or lack of desire, couples therapy usually begins by educating the non-ADHD spouse about the neurobiological roots of the disorder.


The biggest culprit of some couples' sexual problems is waning levels of ADHD medication. If your ADHD spouse is usually in the mood at night, know that waning levels of ADHD medication in his bloodstream may be the culprit behind his unfiltered thoughts and impulsive acts that throw a bucket of cold water on your libido.

Although symptoms displayed by ADHD spouses are as widely varied as the spouses who present them, many couples dealing with ADHD deal with similar problems. Just a few of them include:

Spouses lost in space: Because a husband with ADHD may be highly imaginative and restless, he may find it hard to focus on or remember the necessary steps involved in successful lovemaking. G-spot? What's that? With his natural tendency toward restlessness and impulsiveness, an ADHD husband could be a speed demon in bed who's there one minute and gone the next, too hyperactive to enjoy foreplay and cuddling, and prone to ruining the moment with un-romantic comments like, “Wow, you're getting chunky!”

Spouses who are hypersensitive to touch: Many adults with ADHD are annoyed or irritated by being touched in the wrong way, at the wrong time, or over too long a period of time. Make sure you communicate your likes and dislikes to each other, and remember — practice makes perfect.

Spouses who routinely tune you out and forget: Glazing over when a spouse is ranting and raving about a bad day at work, or routinely forgetting important days in her life like her birthday, your anniversary, etc., can leave a non-ADHD spouse wonder why she got married in the first place if she always feels so alone anyhow. A therapist can remind the non-ADHD spouse that her husband's inattention and forgetfulness is a symptom of the disorder rather than an indication he no longer cares. The therapist can also work with the husband to develop remembering cues and strategies.

Spouses who fly off the handle at the slightest thing: Living with an ADHD spouse with a short temper can leave a non-ADHD spouse feel like she's tiptoeing through a mine field or living with a ticking time bomb. Because a non-ADHD spouse never knows what's going to set off her ADHD spouse next, she may avoid conversation and emotionally withdraw. One solution is for the non-ADHD spouse to simply leave the room when her spouse's temper flares. Another is for the ADHD spouse to find techniques to control his rage.

Studies show that marriages in which one or more partners have ADHD are at greater risk for domestic abuse, separation, and divorce than marriages where spouses don't have the disorder. For more information on dealing with adult ADHD in marriage, see Chapter 18.

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