How To Be A Better Partner When You Have ADHD, Without Changing Who You Are

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Woman with many thoughts running through her head, partner not feeling heard sitting next to her

When you're in a mixed-ADHD status relationship — where one partner has ADHD and the other does not — communication can be a significant obstacle to intimacy. This happens not only for the person who has ADHD but also for the partner who may feel they are never being heard.

Over the past 13 years of counseling couples in which one partner had ADHD, I have heard numerous complaints, but the biggest and most common are that neither partner feels heard or understood. Often, the non-ADHD spouse feels un-cared for or even disrespected because their ADHD partner may seem to zone out. The ADHD partner feels misunderstood and mischaracterized.

By the time they come to see me, many of these couples are feeling hopeless, exhausted, frustrated, beat up, misunderstood, and angry. 

RELATED: 14 Unique ADHD Superpowers — And How To Make The Most Of Them

Couple arguing, mad, sadness because misunderstanding

Photo: Luisa Bayona via Shutterstock

The most critical areas for moving communication forward if you are not the one with ADHD.

1. Get your partner's attention.

Make sure to tell your partner there is something important you want to discuss. Find a time when they can devote time to the conversation. Don't try to fit it in while your partner runs out the door for an appointment or has limited time.

Let your partner know you need some time to discuss something with them, ask them if they would mind giving you their attention for a few minutes, or perhaps you can gesture to them in a way that lets them know you want to talk.



2. Write down communication with your partner.

You may want to write a letter or email to your partner so they have time to read, process, and consider how they want to respond without any pressure. I would only do this in certain situations that are straightforward and do not involve possible misinterpretation.

Most communication is non-verbal, so remember that when you write, the other person is not hearing voice inflection or seeing your body language. This can lead to miscommunication, so be careful when and how you use written communication.

RELATED: How To Be a Better Partner When You've Got ADHD

How to be a better partner when you've got ADHD.

1. Try using ADHD medication.

Although medication is not for everyone, we do know that for about 80% of those with ADHD, medication is the single most important treatment in mitigating ADHD symptoms, especially in the area of distractibility. For some more than others, medication can mean a huge difference in one's presence in a conversation, as well as one's life in general.

(If your partner is diagnosed with ADHD and is not on medication, this is a worthwhile consideration to discuss. If your partner is already on medication, it would be a good idea to ensure that when you want to discuss something serious, the medication is still effective and has not worn off (like at the end of the day).

2. Consider your partner's communication as important.

Remember your partner has probably experienced months or years of feeling hurt or frustrated because you have a long history of not giving them your attention when wanting to talk. They may have felt you were not interested in what they had to say or you did not value them as a partner. For this reason, you must value their communication



3. Make the effort to recognize how important it is to pay attention when your partner is speaking.

This may mean you need to set aside some activity you may be involved in at the moment or set aside some alone time for them so there won't be any distractions.

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4. Listen to understand.

Wait until they are finished with what they are saying before you respond. Listen to understand first rather than position yourself as being wrong or right. If you need time to process what is said, then ask for it. But make sure that you come back to your partner with a response. Don't just leave them dangling.

5. Use a notepad to jot down thoughts.

Rather than interrupt your partner when they're speaking, you might want to jot down a word or two to remind you of something you do not wish to forget when responding. But be careful not to lose the gist of the conversation while writing a note to yourself. Or ask your partner if they would give you a moment to take notes so you can turn your full attention to the conversation without being distracted.

6. Mirror back.

Before you respond to your partner, understand the meaning of what they have said. A good way to do this would be to mirror back to your partner what you believe they said. "if I understand you correctly, you are saying that ___."

If you are unsure of the meaning of what they are saying, now is the time to get clarification. Then mirror back again. Once your partner agrees your understanding is correct, you can respond to what they said since you made sure you understood the meaning of the communication accurately. If you do this consistently, it will become automatic and enhance your communication skills in any situation.

The good news is you can learn good listening skills if you have the willingness and desire.

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Leslie Rouder, LCSW, is a holistic therapist who has been working with women in individual and group counseling sessions for more than two decades. She specializes in working with individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder to help her counseling clients solve their immediate problems and build their inner resources for finding greater meaning and fulfillment.