How Did You Learn Your Partner Might Have ADHD?

your partner has ADHD


How did you learn your partner has ADHD? That was one of 64 questions in the ADHD Partner Survey. Put another way: What was your “lightbulb moment”? You’ll find the results below.

How about you? How did you learn that you or your loved one has ADHD? Was it by accident? You were reading an article and thought—wait a minute. That’s ADHD? Or did the professional whose help you sought for depression or anxiety or couple therapy suggest the possibility?

There’s always the classic method: Their child is diagnosed. Upon learning the symptoms, they say, “Wow, that sounds just like I used to be!” And the spouse says, “What do you mean, used to be?”

But there are endless other predictable and oddball ways the discovery comes to light.

The public mostly fails to understand: We can live with someone who has ADHD for years and not know it. And guess what, neither do they!  These findings from the ADHD Partner Survey detail how respondents  (the partners of adults with ADHD) did finally learn.

Only 1 in 10 U.S. Adults With ADHD Are Diagnosed

Only 1 in 10 U.S. adults thought to have ADHD are diagnosed. Wow, eh? That research is a few years old; the number could be greater now. Maybe as much as 3 or 4 adults out of 10 in the U.S.are diagnosed. For various statistics on prevalence in the U.S., visit the National Institute for Mental Health page on ADHD.

Meanwhile, the ways in which adults today continue to stumble upon the idea that they might have ADHD are myriad and random. The Internet has helped, though—enormously.  When I conducted the survey, in 2004-06, there were no websites on Adult ADHD. That’s right. None!

ADHD Roller Coaster (2008) was among the first of four blogs on Adult ADHD. Three others were personal accounts from newly diagnosed adults with ADHD.

Survey Says:

How Did You Learn Your Partner Has Adult ADHD?

how did you learn your partner might have ADHD


For most respondents, the media and/or their therapists connected their partner’s behavior to ADHD symptoms. And, therapists did this five times more often than the family doctor.

For a minority of respondents (partners of adults with ADHD), their ADHD partner told them of their childhood or adult diagnosis.   Only about 13 percent reported that their ADHD partner is the one who made the potential discovery.

Contrary to widely held myth, advertisements for ADHD medications did not send adults flocking to psychiatrists for a prescription.  But I believe they remain an important way to let the public know that ADHD exists. That’s how at least one survey respondent learned—and I know many others.

ADHD lightbulb moment

Professionals Shed Light

Our (fourth) couples therapist suggested he be tested, since in her experience, every time a partner said, “My spouse acts just like a teenager” the “teenager” usually had ADHD. Bingo! It didn’t hurt that he was 40 minutes late to our first joint appointment.

As a therapist, I work with schoolchildren, some with neurological problems. I always sensed something neurological was going on with my partner. Then her 20-year-old nephew received his diagnosis, with symptoms remarkably similar to hers.

Seeing our doctor for stress once again, I told him that no, it wasn’t from dealing with my son, who has autism; it was from dealing with my husband. The doctor casually said, “It’s probably because he has ADHD.” I talked about it with my husband’s cousin, who works with special needs kids. She confirmed my husband has a “classic case”! Ha! I wish someone had let me in on this little secret a long time ago.

After we’d been together for four years, my wife’s “refusal” to communicate plus her forgetfulness, disorganization, and poor judgment led me to think she should seek a professional evaluation. Fortunately, the psychologist recognized ADHD right away.

I was looking into helping our younger daughter and noticed that my husband met many ADHD criteria. But this is what truly opened my eyes: My therapist said I wasn’t the one with the problem, and suggested I stop taking antidepressants and instead encourage my husband to be evaluated.

• My girlfriend was taking a calculus course for the third time, the only thing stopping her from completing her degree. When she failed the course again, the department head suggested an ADHD evaluation.

Professionals Disappointing

We watched a TV show where a highly creative person described his life before and after medication. Joe said, “Hey, that’s me!” He received a diagnosis shortly afterward but never pursued treatment. The doc said it was Joe’s responsibility to follow up. I didn’t know back then that “poor follow up” is a common symptom in and of itself!

My husband asked our doctor about it years ago. The doctor said,  wrongly, “If you can read a book, you are not ADHD.” A therapist said my husband was passive-aggressive. I read an article with a behavior list resembling passive-aggression, but it was for ADHD.

Educational Perspectives

I am an elementary school teacher. Many of my students have ADHD, and it is obvious many of their parents do as well. Gradually, I made the connection to my husband’s behavior.

I was in graduate school studying psychology, and a fellow student told me my husband’s actions sounded like ADHD. I had just had a class that covered ADHD for children, but they never mentioned adults. The behaviors are often different, so it just didn’t connect in my mind.

His professor suggested it, based on how many right answers my boyfriend had crossed out on a test and changed to the wrong ones.

Completely Random

• My boyfriend was smart but couldn’t read aloud without stammering. He also missed details and ”distorted the facts.” I thought, dyslexia. It took years of research to figure out he probably had ADHD.

• My husband’s friend was diagnosed. When he described to us the behaviors, we realized that my husband had them, too. Then, his father was diagnosed.

• I suggested that my wife’s son might have it. Her ex-husband seemed to have it, too, it was less clear if she did. After “crashing and burning” a few years later, though, she was diagnosed. Her high intelligence meant she had always coping • strategies but, by age 45, she’d hit the wall.

• We saw a TV commercial for medication. My boyfriend said, “That’s exactly how my brain works”. His nephew has ADHD. He was much like him as a kid.  A screening quiz indicated he might have it. He scoffed: “They’re trying to sell medication!” My quiz score said I probably did not have ADHD. He made an appointment for an evaluation and was diagnosed.

• I’d read a book about Adult ADHD, to better understand some friends who have ADHD. Still, I didn’t notice symptoms in my partner for the first six months, because she was in “hyperfocus mode” all the way. It seems the novelty of the new relationship was so stimulating, it helped her brain function better. After living together full-time, though, it only took about three months to realize that she probably had ADHD. It took three years for her to agree to an evaluation, and sure enough, she has it.

• I knew something was wrong and desperately searched for answers on the web by “Googling” phrases like “Why do I hate my spouse?” Finally, I learned about ADHD. It fit.

What About You?

How did you and/or your partner make the connection to ADHD? And, has that made a difference in your lives?

Please share a comment below; there are no annoying codes to enter.
An earlier version of this post appeared Apr 27, 2016
—Gina Pera

Related Posts:

What do you wish you’d known earlier about ADHD?

What traits attracted you to your ADHD Partner?



43 thoughts on “How Did You Learn Your Partner Might Have ADHD?”

  1. You can’t explain how ADHD feels to a person who doesn’t have it. They will look at you, scratch their heads, roll their heads, and say- Really? You’re just lazy , and you don’t care. ADHD is frustrating and perplexing. The people with ADHD are frustrated because their loved ones, friends, and co-workers don’t believe ADHD is real. And the ones without ADHD are perplexed because they can’t figure out how someone can be so smart sometimes and act so dumb at other times.

    1. Hi Mak,

      That’s the long and short of it! 🙂

      And then there is the reverse——where the loved ones see and understand ADHD but the person who has ADHD refuses to accept the very idea of ADHD, much less that he or she has it.


  2. Hello All,

    I don’t participate often on the forums. But as this is impacting my life in areas that are most important to me I decided to share my experience.

    I have been in relationship for three years with my still boyfriend. I would call it a love on the first sight. I was charmed by his kind aura and talkativeness. He surprised me by his soft heart and many things seemed very easy with him, he was showing his interest and was well studied ( read smart and high intelligence). We stayed in touch and after having long distance relationship for a few months we got together.

    I have to say that seeing him in real after few months was a little surprising. Because I expected to feel a little differently. Due to a certain unstilnes and weird jokes I didn’t feel the way I thought. But as the days went that feeling almost disappeared as I was in love and wanted him to be my boyfriend.
    I started to see a small things that I understood as there is a high competition and I have to be strong. The moments when we met with some of his friends ( girls) and he would loose himself sometimes too much and I felt abandoned in a situation. Ignored by him. It then made me feel like the jealous one ( and though I think I have a tendency to be jealous – some bad experience in the past) still I thought it was not only my problem. Later I found out I would feel the same even when he was meeting a friend ( boys) he would loose himself in the moment while not realising I am there too. Still I would think this was my problem and I was too much attention seeking and not knowing how to take my spot light. ( Still as this might be true sometimes I felt there was still a little more behind it).

    I noticed that the communication style in his family is quite different from mine. The constant need for making some word jokes and debates as “what if debates” leading to absurdity, where I am loosing the interest soon in participating in the debate as I don’t have an energy for the brain stretching. It was just taking a lot of energy to keep up with the rollercoaster conclusions. I thought it was just my lower intelligence. ( Even though I thought my IQ is quite good enough in some family discussions I was lost) what didn’t help was the fact that my boyfriend is from different country and speaks other Language. And English language is not native for both. So many of these things I was explaining to myself as language and cultural difference.

    I noticed that his behaviour in restaurant for example was a little different and I thought it was because he is younger and does not have so much experience.

    I noticed he was trying hard to be liked and I was sensing some anxiety behind it. I thought it was a consequence of his bad experience from childhood when he was a little bullied by schoolmates as he said.

    Later I noticed his tendency to talk about some bad experience in the past and blaming other people. That someone was a b*tch or *sshole. I thought he just met some bad people.

    He was able to learn new things quickly and got into it all excited often it would stop after few weeks and he stopped the activity.

    Or he got really excited about something that was not so realistic or based in to current reality.

    When we were traveling he needed to have things planned and he didn’t feel at peace just walking and enjoying the views and random meetings and random nice moments. He had constant need to be preoccupied with something in his mind and talk about it. I was struggling to then feel at peace and just share the moment with him, because his mind wasn’t really there. Even though he was commenting on something that was born by the current moment he needed to be busy with the thoughts of it rather than to be happy where he is and fulfilled.

    He needed constant information. Soon I noticed his tendency to addictive things: phone, videogames and alcohol.
    I am myself sometimes too much on the phone but the difference was that he was really running away from something to these things – like phone. He also spent his teenage years playing videogames and forming friendships online. He had tendency to talk and chat online more than me. I would more talk a bit with a friend online just to plan a meeting in real life.
    He started to be really forgetful to the point that I felt like I have to think for him. I thought that’s how men are and that is just different male brain. I was really struck by the difference though. And started to understand why some women in relationship are talking to their man like to a kid sometimes.

    All these things started to make me feel not so safe. That was the primary subconscious feeling I had and it didn’t feel good as it is one of the woman’s need to feel safe. But I felt like he was creating more stress in my life than I had before. We had different sense of humour and I thought it’s just different personality type and culture and the language and the age difference. ( I am five years older)

    I started to feel that even though I really wanted this man to be the one, I was having hard time to imagine the future and the Family with him. I thought it was because of the problem where to live and the language barrier and the age and may be some immaturity.

    But I started to imagine more and more that he would forget kids somewhere or it would be mostly on me and I started to be more and more frustrated because I wanted not to feel it. I wanted to feel good and confident about our future. Sadly though he was not really talking about future and plans. I thought it was because he wasn’t sure about me and so was careful with this.
    I started to miss some more romance or him consciously planning a date and taking care of the situation and planning where we go. I thought it was because he didn’t know my city and was new to a country.

    I was aware of my needs in relationship and was explaining them to him. But he would say something like it’s not his style to do romantic gestures and he would get angry more often. He then labelled me as someone who nags all the time and is needy.
    He was more and more on his phone and his face while playing videogames was so weird sometimes really alerting that he was so much into it like the world around him didn’t exist.
    I was telling him something and in a minute he did not know. I thought it was because he was on his phone playing game and not paying attention to me.

    I started to be resentful and our sex life started to suffer as I had hard time to respect him for not respecting me and ignoring me all the time and for me taking care of many things in the house while he was playing on his phone.
    I was complaining and it started even more fights. We didn’t laugh very often compared to others.

    It has been only a few days I finally was able to put pieces together after three years of being in a relationship.
    These moments of lost temper of his when calling me a b*tch or assaulting other people like he lost his mind and was totally controlled by oversensitivy of his emotions and paranoia.

    I was trying to find a help on internet with my relationship troubles when I found an article about ADHD and I was so revealed when I felt like someone exactly named ho I feel!!! I felt understood after a long time. I felt like all the things in his behaviour started to make sense. I found out the cause. And it helped me not to take things so personally. My health was suffering and now I can breathe a little better with the new knowledge.

    I see what the future will bring.
    Wish me good decisions and I will be very happy if you comment.
    Thank you

    1. Dear Roomforall,

      I appreciate your sharing your detailed story here on the ADHD Roller Coaster.

      Sometimes people (e.g. therapists, friends, family) will say to us, “Well, you knew he was like this when you met him, started dating him, etc.”

      As if it’s your fault for picking a person with such problematic behavior. As if there is some deep, dark psychological motivation–lack of self-esteem, not enough attention from your father, yadda yadda yadda.

      It’s not your fault.

      As time went on, you saw one red flag after another. You just didn’t know what they signified. And then there was readily available “camouflage” to explain them in another context.

      For many years, I have opened my talks with sharing my similar story. I wasn’t stupid. I saw red flags — my then-boyfriend missing the freeway exist, “mis-hearing” and “mis-remembering”, spending money rather impulsively, etc. But there were obvious explanations for each of them. Rational explanations.

      It took a few years to figure it out — back when there was NOTHING on the Internet about Adult ADHD. Literally, nothing. Three books on Adult ADHD but none of them explaining most of what I was seeing.

      I am glad you listened to your inner warning alarms. That typically indicates a strong sense of self and self-confidence.

      I hope those qualities continue to serve you well as you make decisions about your future.

      ADHD is considered a highly treatable psychiatric diagnosis—a neurocognitive condition. But the longer someone goes without diagnosis and treatment, the more problematic ADHD-related behavior there is in one’s family, the behaviors and patterns can take a concerted effort to revise. If the person’s culture is not approving of psychiatric treatment (especially for a condition they do not recognize).

      So, please be aware that, even though medication (when it’s done well, which often takes a lot of guidance from us) can make a huge difference for many, that is only half the treatment process.

      The best outcomes seem to be when the person with ADHD is fully on board and recognizes the problems ADHD has created for him or her in life to that point.

      Best of luck and good decisions to you,


  3. I was researching on the internet looking for bi-polar information. I came across Gina’s site and a .
    light bulb came on!

    Thanks again Gina for all your dedication and hard work. You have touched many lives.

    1. Hi Jo Ann,

      You are most welcome! Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

      A post on ADHD-bipolar was among the first here. It’s become dated, though. I really need to write a new one……distinguishing ADHD from bipolar disorder and how they can co-exist.


  4. We learned when my ex went to a counselor in training who didn’t have the ability to formally diagnose or medicate him suggested it. Made the last year of being together really fun….. He didn’t have health insurance and was seeing her for the death of a family member. There should be some type of ethics violation to lay something like that on someone when you don’t have the legal authority to do anything about it…. A year later he still doesn’t have insurance or medication.

    1. Hi Glad,

      That has been the hardest part of my work for 20 years — trying to help people find access to competent professional care. Finding it and affording it.

      You know, at least that therapist in training provided a clue. An important clue, if he could ever follow up on it.

      Thanks for your comment,

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