9 Essential ways to stay connected with your partner when ADHD puts on the pressure
The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother* – the well-known quote that tenderly preserves the idea that love between parents is foundational for great parenting. Parenting – being both incredibly rewarding and challenging – comes with a unique deluge of demands when parenting an ADHD-diagnosed child, that puts a strain on the marital relationship.
ADHD and your marriage
ADHD is a chronic condition, and parents put a lot of focus and attention on their child, often leaving the spouse feeling neglected. Parents might disagree on the best course of treatment for the child.
Conflicts arise over an unequal distribution of responsibilities and chores, leaving the over-burdened parent feeling isolated and abandoned.
In US-based study of more than 500 parents, couples raising children with ADHD are about twice as likely to divorce by the time their children reach eight years of age as couples whose children don’t have the condition. Encouragingly though, once the children are older than eight, they have the same rate of divorce, which means that once couples develop strategies for reducing stress in the early years, the better the chance of a happier marriage and a happy home.
When you or your spouse has ADHD
Parenting dynamics can get further complicated when one partner has ADHD, the symptoms making it harder for them to manage a household. The partner who doesn’t have ADHD often takes on more responsibility to offset the lack of focus and follow-through of the other spouse. Impulsivity is also contributing factor – where the spouse with ADHD may say or do things without considering the consequences. All these factors can rouse resentment from both sides.
By making the effort to reduce frustration and maintain a strong connection, you can create a supportive and loving home environment. Here are some practical ways to maintain connection with your partner and form a wonderful parenting partnership:
Create small moments of attachment and intimacy.
According to Dr John Gottman, who has been studying marriage and divorce for over 40 years and who is the executive director of the Relationship Research Institute, good relationships are about small moments of attachment and intimacy. This can be shown by expressing interest in the story she’s telling or paying him a compliment, listening to her ideas, or starting a bedtime ritual. Even for the time-starved, these intentional moments foster respect and affection between spouses.
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Dr Gottman suggests that one way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. For instance, an angry wife may assume, that when her husband left the toilet seat up, he was deliberately trying to annoy her, but he may have done it absent-mindedly. Give him the benefit of the doubt.
Share your joys.
Another kindness strategy is to share joys and small wins. Connect over each other’s good news by taking sincere interest and respond positively.
Delegate chores based on interest and capability.
Dr Sharon Saline, a US-based ADHD expert, advises that instead of fairness being your goal, aim for effectiveness and equanimity. “Make collaborative agreements with plans for accountability and lean into each other’s strengths. This way, you can break down tasks into manageable parts or delegate chores based on interest and
Capability,” she explains. “What skills do you and your partner each have? If the division of labour seems imbalanced, how are you addressing that? Do you make joint lists and assign the tasks so one person isn’t doing it all? Zoom out and think about the big picture.”
Communicate clearly, and talk, talk talk.
Speak to each other face-to-face or on the phone. Practice reflective listening, where one person talks and the other listens, later repeating what was said so that nothing is misunderstood. And then take turns. This improves listening, and acknowledging your partner. If your partner has done something that you’ve asked, show appreciation.
Get on the same page about treatment.
Besides the ‘normal’ things that couples fight about, parents of an ADHD-diagnosed child may also fight about parenting philosophy, the best way to treat the child and how to handle difficult situations. Once you get into agreement on these core issues, either between yourselves or with the help of parenting training., it will allow you to present a united front when dealing with your children and will drastically reduce the amount of conflict in the relationship.
Adjust the treatment plan.
Monitor your child’s treatments – medication, behavioural or parenting strategies – to ensure that your child’s behaviour improves. If something isn’t working, look for opportunities to make tweaks, because the better your child’s behaviour, the less stress on your marriage.
Foster closeness, fun and bring back the laughter.
Find common ground and do things together. Have the weekly date night. Do a cooking class together. Try a new restaurant…basically look for fun ways to make great memories.
Seek professional help and support.
Dr Saline says if you can’t connect positively, then you’re connecting negatively. “Anger and hostility also reflect a deep connection, just not a productive or pleasant one. If these activities are tough for you because there’s too much blame or resentment, I encourage you to seek counselling.”
* Quote by Theodore Hesburgh, American Roman Catholic priest and educator (d. 2015). *
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