Fighting Fair With Your ADHD Partner

Relationships: Fighting Fair With Your ADHD Partner

Words carry so much meaning, and they should be chosen carefully.

"What did you do that for?"

I hated that question as a kid, and it still turns my stomach now. Whenever an adult said it to me, I cringed. I was getting yelled at, yet again. I didn't know how to answer—I wasn't acting out on purpose. I simply followed my impulses, like anyone, and I couldn't figure out why everything I did was so wrong. I felt so out of control, not to mention worried and humiliated. Imagine my total horror the first time a boyfriend said those accusing words to me as an adult. When conflicts devolve into sharp words and name-calling, even decades later, it's way too easy for me to flash back to the anguish and fear of my childhood.

Words carry so much meaning, and they should be chosen carefully, especially when directed at someone that you love. Even when emotions are running high, it is vitally important not to resort to cruel language. "Can't you be normal?" "What is going through your head?" "What's your problem?" "Can you stop being a freak?" All ADHD'ers have their own particular phrase that still makes them break out in a sweat. Even when they're just empty words, knee-jerk reactions to stress and frustration, they can pack a huge punch.

There are plenty of universal truths to acknowledge here: every kid gets into trouble at some point or another, no one is immune to humiliation, and of course nobody enjoys getting scolded. And yet, growing up as a misunderstood kid with ADHD is a particular kind of misery, and I have yet to meet an ADHD adult who doesn't have some trigger for PTSD-like flashbacks. Whether you have direct experience with what I'm talking about, or whether you simply agree that everyone should be treated with respect, please listen when I say that fights in ADHD relationships must be fair.

If you are cavalier with reprimanding words, name-calling, and an aggressive conflict-resolution style, get ready to watch your ADHD significant other shut down and walk out the door. We've all learned the signals by heart: cruel words and raised voices means that someone is punishing us for just being ourselves, again; we're in big trouble, again; it's time for a big reminder that we're different, not good enough, undeserving of love and respect, again, again, again. To escape from the inevitable pain, the person with ADHD will withdraw from the relationship, basically running and hiding.

No relationship is easy. There will be days when you're driven crazy by messiness, poor punctuality or impulsiveness. Hold on to your connection with this other person, and bring a feeling of calmness and respective even to those stressful moments. Your boyfriend or girlfriend with ADHD is probably one of the most amazing, attractive, captivating people you've ever met. He or she could be creative, energetic, talented, thoughtful, adventurous, artistic, athletic, and a million other great things. Just don't underestimate how thin his or her skin might be. If you're ready for a grownup relationship, show it by fighting like grownups.