How to Deal with a Loved One Who Has ADHD


Your partner said they’d be home by 6:00 but showed up at 8:30 because they got caught up in something and lost track of the time (again). Your partner zoned out (yet again) during an important conversation, and you’re left feeling unloved and unimportant. Your partner promised to figure out vacation plans but now says you never even had that conversation, and they never promised anything! You love someone who is distracted, disorganized, and impulsive. Yup, your partner has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD or ADHD), and it’s driving you nuts! Well, I’m here to help! Today you’ll learn all about ADHD and my 12 steps to finding connection and peace with your partner.

11-minute read

What Exactly is ADD/ADHD?

First things first, ADD and ADHD are the same thing. ADD (attention-deficit disorder) is just an outdated term for what we now call ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). Some people with ADHD have hyperactive behaviors, and some don’t, but the diagnosis is ADHD either way.

ADHD is one of the more common mental disorders affecting children. The problem is that those children grow up, and now those issues from learning and school become issues with careers and relationships. Compounding this is that many adults were never diagnosed as kids, so they don’t realize they have adult ADHD and all the problems that go along with it. For someone to be diagnosed with ADHD, they need to have consistent symptoms for at least six months, and there needs to be difficulties in more than one setting. For instance, if you only have issues with your romantic partner but not at work or with your family, then it’s likely a different issue, even though the symptoms are similar.

There are three main types of ADHD:

  1. Predominantly inattentive presentation
  2. Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive presentation and
  3. Combined presentation

Let’s talk first about the person who has an inattentive presentation. This person has a lot of trouble staying on task. They have difficulty focusing and staying organized. They don’t pay close attention to details and often make careless mistakes. You might be speaking to this person, and they have a look in their eyes that lets you know they’re not really listening, that they’re somewhere else.

They have a hard time following through on instructions or commitments. They’ll likely start something with a lot of energy but lose their focus pretty quickly. They don’t manage their time well, their desk or bedside table is often a mess, and they are constantly losing their keys, glasses, phone, or papers. They avoid anything that takes sustained mental effort unless it’s something they enjoy immensely. So, this person might have no ability to stay focused during a couples therapy session but will then stay up all night playing video games or reading about World War II.

Their time management sucks, which means they often make promises and commitments in good faith but then don’t keep them. They forget to return phone calls, pay bills or pick up the dry cleaning. You’ve asked them to write it down and make a list, but then they forget where they put the list!

The hyperactive or impulsive type is often someone who buzzes with a certain kinetic energy. They’re always “on the go,” or you can just feel them vibrating or ready to burst. They might fidget and have a hard time sitting still, or they might be very talkative and consistently interrupt or jump into conversations that were none of their business. They might even jump uninvited into a game that they then take over! They’ll blurt out answers in class or dominate with talking and commenting in a work meeting. They might finish your sentences or have trouble having a real conversation because they don’t really listen when others are talking or don’t allow them to speak much at all as they dominate a conversation.

And, of course, someone might be a combination of the two, which is the third type of ADHD.


Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for actionable tips and tools to help you find more ease, joy, and happiness in your life and relationships!


What Causes ADHD?

Scientists haven’t been able to identify any specific causes of ADHD. While there have been studies showing that genetics contribute to ADHD and several genes have been linked to ADHD, no specific combination has been pinpointed as the cause. Research has shown anatomical differences in the brains of children with ADHD in comparison to other children without it, so we know that the brain is definitely functioning differently for those with ADHD. There are also a few non-genetic factors that have been linked to ADHD, such as low birth weight, premature birth, exposure to toxins (alcohol, smoking, lead, etc.) during pregnancy, and extreme stress during pregnancy.

ADHD and Relationships

When you love someone with ADHD, there’s a pattern that tends to develop. You’re exhausted because you’ve been holding down the fort and making sure everything’s taken care of. You try to rely on your partner, but they consistently don’t come through, so you feel like you can’t count on them and like the only adult in the relationship. You remind and cajole them to follow through on commitments, but after awhile, it’s just easier to do it yourself. Because of all this you feel unappreciated, frustrated, lonely, and unimportant.

Meanwhile, your partner feels micromanaged, criticized, and nagged. To their mind, there’s nothing they can ever do that’s “enough,” and you’re just focusing on the times they don’t follow through versus all the things they do get done. They complain that you treat them like a child and often tell you to relax or let things go. They see you as controlling and nit-picky and will often say something just so you’ll get off their back with no intention of following through.

They think you’ve changed, and you have. In the beginning of a relationship, your partner’s ADHD symptoms were manageable, especially when you lived apart. You didn’t see them constantly looking for their keys, and you weren’t living with that messy desk or refrigerator that hadn’t been cleaned out in months. But then you move in together, and the stakes get higher. However, your partner has a job and is making their life work, so you dismiss so many red flags, or you’re OK in the first year or two picking up the slack.

But then life gets more serious. Maybe you buy a house or have kids. Maybe you move or change jobs. Life becomes more stressful and full, and now those ADHD symptoms either get worse or just seem so much worse. You do change your expectations because now there’s more to do, and you need them to step up. You hate that you’ve become a nag, it feels so unfair, but are you just supposed to be a martyr and do everything and clean up your partner’s messes? In the end, everyone’s feeling hurt, resentful, misunderstood and unloved.

The 12 Steps to a Happier Relationship if You Love Someone with ADHD

  1. Don’t take things personally. Stop assigning meaning to what your partner does (or doesn’t do). If your partner zones out during an intimate conversation, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you; it means they have ADHD. Get their attention and ask if you can continue with the conversation or if you should come back to it later. Ask when they zoned out (what was the last thing they heard you say?). Ask them to repeat back what you said to be sure they’re in the conversation with you. Do this from a loving, accepting place. Not from fear and anger.
  2. Separate your partner from their symptoms. When someone has an addiction, we talk about symptoms of their disease (lying, self-centeredness, or irresponsibility) versus seeing these as personality traits. For sure, once a person is truly clean and sober, these symptoms are alleviated, and they act very differently. The same can be said for how you view your partner with ADHD. Don’t label them as selfish, irresponsible, or uncaring because they’re not. These are all symptoms of their mental disorder. You know there’s a caring, loving person in there, or you wouldn’t be with them.
  3. Break the parent/child dynamic. Remember you have to connect to correct, and if the connection isn’t on equal footing, you’re not going to be able to motivate your partner (or yourself) to be healthier with this issue. If you want a partnership, you need to treat your mate like a partner, not a child. And if they see you as a parent, they’re going to act like that annoyed teenager who just wants you to get off their back! This dynamic is the breeding ground for real resentment and, of course, no sex life because no one wants to have sex with their kid or their parent!
  4. Get educated. If your partner had cancer, you’d learn everything you could about their type of cancer. You’d consult multiple doctors if treatment wasn’t working, and you’d likely even join a support group. With ADHD, I often see partners who don’t educate themselves (past some cursory understanding) because on some deep level, they think their partner could control this if they wanted to. It’s time to learn more about ADHD and what the person with it is going through. Learning how the brain of a person with ADHD is actually wired differently will often help you find that compassion and ability to distance your partner from their symptoms. It’ll also help you keep hope alive as you look for treatment options.
  5. Work on empathy. If your partner has ADHD, they often feel different, lonely, and overwhelmed. They’ve got this thing they wish they didn’t have, and this thing makes it very difficult to access the help needed to reduce the symptoms to make everyone’s life more manageable! They’re often ashamed that they can’t seem to do what others do with ease and might even feel unworthy of your love.


Get my 5 steps to developing empathy and create deep connection and ease in your relationships.


  1. Get professional help. Like any other physical or mental disorder, professionals should be involved in treatment and identifying helpful strategies. This diagnosis shouldn’t be dismissed or taken lightly. Contact these agencies for help in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia.
  2. Create more resources. Along with getting professional help (which is an additional resource), think of how to add other resources from outside the couple to help with the workload inside the home. This includes everything from cleaning people, gardeners to someone to help drive your kids to school. You and your partner are a shared battery, and draining you is draining the two of you. You want to have less on the plate, so the ADHD is more manageable, and you’re not left holding the bag all the time. Get rid of things that don’t need to happen (maybe your kid just can’t be in two sports). Again, this is a chronic issue that should be thought of in the family plan and resources. If your partner had cancer and couldn’t do certain things, you’d get outside help or let some things go. It’s time to make those choices.
  3. This is a lifelong, chronic issue. As I mentioned earlier, a big issue I see is that partners think this is a problem that can be solved, and then you can move on. That’s never going to happen. Yes, you can find better strategies that work. Yes, you can have less issues, but you’re not going to solve this, so it’s time to find other solutions (like creating more resources) that don’t rely on the only solution being your partner changing.
  4. It’s a we thing. Treat the ADHD as a we issue, not a them Even if your partner says that it’s their problem and they need to handle it, don’t allow that to be the story. Their ADHD absolutely affects you, and just as if they had cancer, you wouldn’t say, “Sure, it’s none of my business; you handle it.” The shame of your partner can’t get in the way of the ultimate vulnerability that’s needed to connect and move forward, together.
  5. Don’t make suggestions. Stop making suggestions of what your partner could or should do to better manage their ADHD. Again, you’re not their parent, and it’s not helpful! If it were, you wouldn’t need to keep offering suggestions. Remember not to SAC your relationship. Don’t offer suggestions, give advice or criticize. Instead of suggesting, ask supportive, collaborative questions to find out how to best help.
  6. Have a Couples Business Meeting once a week.


Learn the 5 ways a couple business meeting will make your relationship better.


  1. Stop trying to control your partner. You can’t control your partner. You can only control your own actions and reactions. Work on yourself and your own emotional management first and foremost. You’re not a victim in this partnership, so take responsibility for using these steps to move forward as a team.
Dr. Abby with her Book "Be Happily Married, Even If Your Partner Won't Do A Thing"


Create a happy, connected relationship, even if your partner won’t do a thing! Get my Amazon #1 best-selling book: Be Happily Married Even if Your Partner Won’t Do a Thing.

Relationships Made Easy with Dr. Abby Medcalf Podcast


I’ll teach you simple, actionable tools and strategies that you can use today to make your relationship the best it’s ever been.

Relationships Made Easy with Dr. Abby Medcalf Podcast


Get your weekly dose of inspiration to keep you on track!

Relationships Made Easy with Dr. Abby Medcalf Podcast


Build a connected, loving relationship with the FREE Communication Tool Kit for Couples.

Most Popular Posts



Has someone been gaslighting you? Gaslighting is a dangerous form of manipulation where someone acts in such a way that you start doubting your perceptions, your memory or your own judgment. You often walk away from the conversation feeling like the crazy one. Today,...



Wondering how to let things go that bother you? How do you stop going round and round in your head and stop overthinking? Maybe your partner hurt you or you’re worried about paying your bills or maybe you’re freaking out about COVID and the Delta variant and you...

Get your weekly dose of inspiration to keep you on track!

Subscribe today to get my weekly thoughts, best practices and funny stories (you won’t believe my life!). This weekly reminder will keep you motivated to stay on the path to creating connected, happy relationships (especially the one with yourself)!

Get your weekly love letter with all things Abby and life

Subscribe today to get my weekly thoughts, best practices and funny stories (you won’t believe my life!). This weekly reminder will keep you on the path to creating connected, happy relationships (especially the one with yourself)!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Get your weekly newsletter with all things Abby and life

Subscribe today to get my weekly thoughts, best practices and funny stories (you won’t believe my life!). This weekly reminder will keep you on the path to creating connected, happy relationships (especially the one with yourself)!

You have Successfully Subscribed!