Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (also known as ADHD) is commonly diagnosed in children. However, it’s also extremely common for adults to be diagnosed with Adult ADHD. In the past, ADHD was overlooked or misdiagnosed, and so there are many adults who have it, yet have never been properly identified. Other adults may have adult-onset ADHD, meaning it did not occur until they were older.
Today I’m going to discuss ADHD symptoms, types, and treatment. My hope is that if you identify with or relate to any of the following, that you may be able to pursue some help.
Adult ADHD Symptoms
ADHD symptoms can include lack of organization, losing things, and impulsive behavior (spending money, making rash decisions, etc.). It can also include lots of energy, racing thoughts, and not finishing projects. Those with ADHD get distracted easily, and it may be difficult to focus on tasks. On the other hand, they may “hyper-focus” on certain things and get so wrapped up in it that they don’t take breaks to eat or use the restroom.
Some people with ADHD fidget a lot and struggle to sit still. They may be viewed by others as “careless”. Those with ADHD may struggle with negative self-esteem or feel like they’re not good enough. They may enjoy things with lots of mental stimulation (video games, extreme sports). They often struggle in school, whether it’s losing homework, forgetting about tests, or struggling to focus on tasks given.
ADHD has a genetic component to it, and it’s not unusual for it to be passed from generation to generation. If your family has a history of mental illness, there is a possibility that there may be some ADHD in the family tree.
Types of ADHD
There are actually 3 different types of ADHD, according to the DSM-5: ADHD-Hyperactive Type, ADHD-Inattentive Type, and ADHD-Combined Type.
ADHD-Hyperactive type is what most people picture when they think of ADHD–impulsiveness, lots of energy, talking a lot, and bouncing around. These children usually struggle a lot in school and are identified as defiant or troublemakers.
ADHD-Inattentive type is more focus (or lack thereof) related. Those with AHDH-Inattentive Type often struggle with concentration, focus, and starting/completing tasks. They are usually disorganized and easily distracted. They often daydream in school.
Those with the Combined Type diagnosis struggle with both Hyperactive and Inattentive symptoms.
ADHD Impact on Marriage
ADHD can make relationships complicated and hard. Let’s talk about romantic relationships specifically. Sometimes the dating or marriage relationship becomes more of a parent-child relationship than an equal partnership, where one partner is the responsible adult and the other one (with ADHD) is irresponsible.
I talked a little bit about hyper-focus with ADHD, but I want to explain how it can impact a marriage. It’s not unusual for someone with ADHD to make their partner the thing they hyper-focus on initially when they start dating. They may be all about the other person and make them feel so loved and appreciated. The thing with hyper-focus is that it evolves and changes. That means after a while, the person with ADHD will move onto something else to hyper-focus on (think exercise, a hobby, a certain diet). This can leave the other partner feeling neglected, ignored, and duped.
Follow through can also be an added complication to a marriage with someone with ADHD. It can be frustrating to ask them multiple times to do something, only for them to forget or get distracted. This then causes the non-ADHD partner to “nag”, and then both partners feel annoyed and frustrated.
Those with ADHD can be very impulsive. This means they may make decisions without thinking through the possible consequences. This can obviously cause financial and other issues within the relationship. It also means that there can be a lot of anger, tantrums, and some disrespectful/rude behavior that can occur. This can cause the non-ADHD spouse to walk on eggshells.
Sometimes the non-ADHD spouse feels resentful. This is not what they signed up for, and it can be hard to understand this mental illness.
ADHD Impact on Other Relationships
Even friends and other family members may struggle to be in a relationship with someone with ADHD. Those with Adult ADHD can come across as not caring about others, or even appear to ignore others. It’s not that they don’t care, but there are many symptomatic reasons why—for example, their brains may be racing so much that they miss important details. They may also have every intention of responding to a text or phone call, but they get distracted and forget. They may even impulsively say things that are hurtful, without thinking through the possible consequences.
There are many treatments for ADHD, including medication and therapy. Medication can help slow your brain down and increase your ability to focus. Some clients have reported that it’s like the clouds have parted in their brains for the first time. Therapy can also help you learn to change your maladaptive behaviors and learn tricks to be able to increase your focus and memory (for example, how to use relaxation techniques and meditation to clear your thoughts).
The biggest thing I would recommend is to educate yourselves. If you believe you have ADHD, learn about what sub-types you have, and identify the symptoms you experience the most. Also, work to educate yourself on ways to change your behaviors and increase awareness of your partner’s needs.
If you are in a relationship with someone with Adult ADHD, it’s also important for you to educate yourself. Learn about ADHD, so that it may help put a name to some of the symptoms. Work to communicate your needs to your partner. Understand that it’s going to take a lot of patience and hard work.
If you reading this, and you think you may have Adult ADHD, please reach out for help! Therapy can be a safe space for you to process and work through the ADHD symptoms. Also, marriage counseling can be both validating and a healthy way for you and your spouse to process through the many complications having ADHD can bring to a relationship.
Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling in Carmel, Indiana. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.