ADHD and Relationships: How Couples Counselling Can Work For You by Emma Giao
When one or both partners have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), it can bring unique struggles to the relationship. As a couple’s counsellor myself, I’ll be the first to admit that one of the most difficult challenges I encountered at the beginning of my practice was integrating ADHD-affirming care into relationship counselling. It’s a delicate balance between healing each person’s wounds while also trying to help my clients move forward with a new, more constructive way of being in a partnership.
ADHD: What is it?
ADHD is often characterized by several different symptoms including attention difficulties, impulsivity and emotional dysregulation, all of which can lead to impairment in several areas of life. A great metaphor to describe the result of this combination of symptoms is if you imagine having one hundred thoughts all rushing in at once then, like colorful balloons, they start trying to float away. One hundred balloons are hard to catch! This is what makes it difficult for those with ADHD to, for example, follow through and complete a task.
So how does this affect a relationship?
Some examples of how ADHD tends to escalate conflict in relationships include:
- People with ADHD might forget important dates or tasks, such as appointments or doing the evening dishes. This may come across as laziness on the part of the ADHDer, leaving the other partner resentful.
- Impulsive decisions or actions can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or conflicts. Sometimes this is understood as financial mismanagement.
- Paying attention during conversations can be challenging, making communication less effective. This may come across of selfishness or lack of caring about the other person’s thoughts or feelings.
- Managing time and responsibilities can be tough, leading to stress and arguments. This is often misconstrued as a lack of maturity on the part of the ADHDer.
- ADHD can make emotions more intense and change rapidly, affecting how partners connect and relate to each other. This may come across as emotional volatility or overreactions.
Couples counselling can be the difference between a healthy and resentful relationship. Here’s how:
- Psychoeducation: Psychoeducation is the process whereby the couple’s counsellor can explain ADHD through various psychological models. This may help both partners understand the neurobiological underpinnings of the condition and serve to validate the symptoms for both partners. Oftentimes, this results in increased empathy for both parties.
- Tips and tricks for communication: No relationship is perfect; couples will always have some degree of conflict. Couples counselling can help teach both parties to have productive conflicts based on factors such as impulsivity and poor attention. This results in improved communication
- Problem-Solving: Counselors equip couples with problem-solving tools. They help partners work together as a team to find solutions to ADHD-related challenges. This builds on feelings of empathy and emotional support in the relationship.
- Safe Space: Couples counsellors can provide a safe, non-judgemental and productive space where both people can feel heard. This can be a game changer for a resentful partner who is looking to work through feelings of neglect in the relationship.
ADHD poses unique challenges in a relationship. Couples counselling for ADHD is a wonderful preventative and resolution tool that can help partners learn to navigate challenges and build stronger, more resilient connections.
If you are interested in learning more or want to connect with Emma to start doing couples work, reach out to us and we will help guide you through the process.
Emma Giao, RP (Qualifying)