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”? These findings from the ADHD Partner Survey detail how respondents (the partners of adults with ADHD) did finally see the light. I’d love to learn your path to discovery—please leave a comment below.
But First, One Reason We Don’t “See ADHD”
Before we get to the survey results, I want to highlight an all-too-common phenomenon. We think we know ADHD because we’ve known one person with ADHD. That narrow understanding means we risk missing the bigger picture.
As I repeat to participants of online training (Solving Your Adult ADHD Puzzle):
People with ADHD are not clones. They are individuals experiencing various aspects of this highly variable syndrome. Then there is the rest of personality to consider.
We see it happen in families, where one child’s “obviously ADHD” becomes the standard by which their siblings are considered. Yet, if their ADHD-related challenges manifest differently—or to a milder but still significant degree? ADHD might be on no one’s radar.
We see similar in adult relationships. Consider Carrie’s experience:
In 2008-09 I did major reading on ADHD. I even contacted Gina because I was dating someone who met so many of the criteria. When I gently told him what I suspected, of course he felt offended and angry at me for awhile. I broke up with him because his life was chaotic. A few years later he comes to me and says I believe you were right about ADHD. I have had it all my life.
Then in 2012 I met my husband who I did not suspect had ADHD. But right after our marriage, life became chaotic, he’d lose things, was easily distracted and talked constantly. He often made plans without me, changed those plans unilaterally, had to have all control, and the list goes on. I followed the typical partner role, just totally confused about the chaos, trying to keep the peace. But he had a quick temper and a loose tongue that would quickly cut me to pieces emotionally. I divorced him after 6 years of lingering, chronic pain and depression. As soon as he was out of the house I was back to my own self in a month. It was like waking from a nightmare.
After my divorce, one of his family members told me they suspected he had adult ADHD. Suddenly I remembered the list of behaviors of ADHD and he was so classic. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Undiagnosed ADHD had caused our divorce. Just blew me away that I could have so much knowledge about ADHD and be so unaware for 6 years. I just assumed he was verbally abusive and a control freak.
We have both suffered so much and it makes me sad I didn’t see it in the beginning. He has a daughter and grandson with ADHD. We still love each other and we are considering reconciling, but I don’t know how to tell him about ADHD.
How Did You Learn Your Partner has ADHD?
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 your partner saw for depression or anxiety suggest the possibility? Or maybe it was your couple therapist?
There’s always the classic method: A child is diagnosed. Upon learning the symptoms, the parent says, “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!
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. But remember: prevalence doesn’t mean diagnosed. It’s just an estimate of how common ADHD really is.
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. COVID fast-tracked the need for finally pursuing that evaluation.
Shen I conducted the survey, however, in 2004-06, there were no websites on Adult ADHD. That’s right. None! This ADHD Roller Coaster blog was among the first of four blogs on Adult ADHD, in 2008. Three others were personal accounts from newly diagnosed adults with ADHD, all no longer publishing.
How Did You Learn Your Partner Has Adult 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. This underscores the frequent importance of the partner or other loved one taking the lead in learning.
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. Following are selected comments from ADHD Partner Survey respondents to this question: How did you learn your partner has ADHD?
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 Remain in the Dark:
• 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 on Late-diagnosis ADHD:
• 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 Discoveries:
• 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 IN A COMMENT BELOW.
An earlier version of this post appeared Apr 27, 2016
What do you wish you’d known earlier about ADHD?
What traits attracted you to your ADHD Partner?
48 thoughts on “How Did You Learn Your Partner Might Have ADHD?”
The day my husband proposed, he drove us into the city and was all over the road, running a red light. I was thinking, “I need to break up with this guy, he’s going to kill me one day with his driving”.
I did accept his proposal, but within a year of marriage, things were so bad we started seeing a couple’s therapist who suggested that my husband likely has ADHD. Despite his seeing a therapist for years on his own in an effort to be a better dad, he sadly had never been diagnosed.
I had assumed his symptoms, especially his short temper and cruel, quick tongue, were related to his being a diabetic (he tends to have extremely low blood sugars to the point of going into seizures). Once formally diagnosed, medication for ADHD made a huge difference in his confidence, work performance, driving and his ability to pause before speaking.
That’s not where the story ends. Though better, nighttime can often still be a nightmare with harsh words. After about 8 years of marriage, contemplating divorce, he “accused” me of having worse ADHD than him.
“Impossible”, I thought, “I have always been super focused, drawing as a kid, studying in college and working long hours as an accountant”. But to keep the peace, I saw his doctor and was diagnosed as having ADHD. I never knew that hyper-focus was a symptom. I wish I had been aware sooner, my life could have been so much more balanced had I known before age 48.
We still struggle in our marriage, but awareness of our ADHD helps.
Thank you for sharing your story. It’s the sheer variety of stories that, I hope, can really impress upon the public….”no cookie cutters!”
People with ADHD are individuals, all experiencing variable manifestations of this highly complex syndrome. With all the rest of personality to consider.
I’m glad you have some answers!
FYi – nighttime being a nightmare…..I teach why this happens — and what to do about it — in course 2 of Solving Your Adult ADHD Puzzle. All about the “Physical” aspects: medication, sleep, nutrition, and exercise. I bet life could get a lot better for both of you with a little more optimizing of treatment. Sadly, most prescribers just don’t get it.
Most physicians, too, don’t get the connection between poorly managed ADHD and chronic conditions such as diabetes.
I often hear that people don’t want to be labeled ADHD, or don’t believe they have it. My husband began looking into the possibility around age 50 when one of his sons suggested the possibility. A psychologist confirmed his suspicions and when she commented that the diagnosis is likely unwelcome, he strongly disagreed. He now knew why he did not deal with life in the same way other people did.
Thanks for your comment. Good for your husband!
In my long experience, the only people negatively calling ADHD a “label” are:
—Mental-health practitioners who fail to understand ADHD—or, for that matter, any other brain-based condition
—Folks with likely ADHD who are so sensitive to criticism they see even the suggestion of an ADHD evaluation with a criticism, a diminishment of their unique individuality — a label.
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.
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.
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.
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,
What did you end up doing? Are you still with this person?
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.
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.
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.
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,
in 2008-09 I did major reading on ADHD and even contacted Gina because I was dating someone who met so many of the criteria. I gently told him what I suspected and of course, he felt offended and angry at me for awhile. I broke up with him because his life was chaotic. A few years later he comes to me and says I believe you were right about ADHD. I have had it all my life.
Then in 2012 I met my husband who I did NOT suspect had ADHD. But right after our marriage, life became chaotic, he’d lose things, was easily distracted and talked constantly. He often made plans without me, changed those plans unilaterally, had to have all control, and the list goes on. I followed the typical partner role, just totally confused about the chaos, trying to keep the peace but he had a quick temper and a loose tongue that would quickly cut me to pieces emotionally. I divorced him after 6 years of long time sickness, chronic pain and depression. As soon as he was out of the house I was back to my own self in a month. It was like waking from a nightmare.
After my divorce, one of his family members told me they suspected he had adult ADHD. Suddenly I remembered the list of behaviors of ADHD and he was so classic. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Undiagnosed ADHD had caused our divorce. Just blew me away that I could have so much knowledge about ADHD and be so unaware for 6 years. I just assumed he was verbally abusive and a control freak. We have both suffered so much and it makes me sad I didn’t see it in the beginning. He has a daughter and grandson with ADHD. We still love each other and we are considering reconciling, but I don’t know how to tell him he needs to be diagnosed.
I appreciate your experience.
It happens a lot with parents, too: That is, one child has “obvious” ADHD and the other, by comparison, does not. Except that’s not the case.
Both children have it but they are individuals experiencing a highly variable syndrome—so ADHD looks different for each of them.
As for telling your perhaps-soon-to-be-ex, I suggest not starting with: “I think I figured out the cause for all your bad behavior: ADHD!” 🙂
Maybe re-read my first book’s chapters on denial, for suggestions about how to broach the topic.
In general, I’d present it as “good news” — an explanation for challenges that he has noticed in his life (perhaps with work, etc). Not necessarily that “ADHD is the cause of all our problems.” 🙂
Getting back with ADHD is like saying you’ve decided to give the plague another try,
Best of of luck with that.
Thank you, Gina
I found out that my husband had ADHD when two of our three birth children were diagnosed before they were five years old. Our third birthchild realized she had signs of it when she was a junior in high school. I previously had two birth children with my first husband who passed away. Those two children, now adults, never had any signs of ADHD.
You would think that the doctors would have done some deductive reasoning to find out that the donating DNA was my *new* husband since I was the birth mother to all five. However, when I could juggle all the ADHD running rampant I became depressed. Therefore, they blamed the tire ADHD issues on me. I was treated instead of my undiagnosed husband who CLEARLY had it.
He lied, spent all our money, owed back taxes, hyper focused on guns and spent all our retirement without me knowing it. We are currently, after 35 years, are getting divorced. Was is worth it? NOT FOR A SINGLE SECOND!
I’m so sorry that happened to you, as with too many others.
ADHD is the “Elephant in the Room” of our culture, of doctor’s offices, etc.
I wish you all the best in this new phase of life. I know it will be happier than the last 35 yeas. At least, I’ve heard that from others.
Q: What About You?
How did you make the connection to partner’s ADHD?
A: How/when I noticed my husband has it: It was about the time of our 2nd-3rd date when we had been dating. I noticed the things he’d say, the way he treated others, and the way he’d behave. After the date he dropped me off. Later I thought to google the behaviors, so I did. Google gave me ADD & ADHD and other red flag behaviors. I didn’t want to believe all them as was becoming into this guy. The longer our relationship lasted, the more the *2nd date google searches, as we call it* started to show.
Family and friends no longer supported our marriage due to his behaviors. It wasn’t until the ADD coach taught us about ADD & ADHD behaviors did we notice he has no control over his behaviors, as they said the ADD & ADHD brain take total control over those who suffer it.
We had also been advised to search the web.
Everything all started to make sense in the behaviors, what causes me to behave & respond the way I do/did, the dysfunction and chaos in all areas of life and home life. But I made a vow when we married. *poor or rich, sickness or health* and the vow I shall keep.
I’ll scarifies my hippieness for his and to keep my marriage oath. We also learned that ADD & ADHD also is attached with autism syndrome.
Weather we have a spouse working at NASA due to smartness and kid free behaviors! But when my spouse walks through that front door after arriving home; the kid comes out, the ADD comes out, the ADHD comes out, the obvious signs of autism comes out. we learned from ADD coach: Autism and ADD is linked. Autism and ADHD is linked.
Thanks for your comment. Yes, sometimes the “signs” are seen early but we don’t know what to make of them.
I hope that you will revise your perspective about ADHD being something that your husband “has no control over” and therefore you must sacrifice your happiness.
That is absolutely wrong. Yes, symptoms are neurobiological in nature, but there are also bad habits that come from living years without diagnosis or treatment. Medication can mitigate many ADHD symptoms. In fact, ADHD is considered a highly treatable condition.
There are some excellent ADHD coaches, and then there are some that should not be in this line of work; their information is inaccurate and harmful. I urge caution in where you find your information.
I saw my marriage vows as meaning I owed it to my husband to help him become healthier, not to let dysfunction bring me down, him down, and end my life prematurely. 🙂
As for the autism and ADHD, no, sorry, there is no link, though I know that is a popular myth online. It is true, however, that the incidence of ADHD in people who have ASD is high. But that does not go in the other direction — that is, most people with ADHD do NOT have ASD, too.
Clear and accurate information is necessary to find our way out of chaos, confusion, and dysfunction.
You will find that in my books and on this blog.
When our daughter was in 10th grade, she was exhibiting some behaviors that I thought would be helped if we sought out family therapy. During those sessions with our daughter, which my husband also attended, the therapist told us that she thought our daughter had an attention deficit. The therapist later told us that a parent usually is dealing with the same issues, and the light bulb went on. It was like an epiphany. My husband has undiagnosed and rampant ADD that has been enabled and in fact encouraged his whole life. Now, as we look at the dissolution of our marriage and family, he refuses to do anything about it. Says he is functioning, even though it is and has been toxic to everyone else in the family. He is choosing to lean into his ADD, embrace it, even, as he has decided to leave our marriage. He is very much in denial about his ADD and how it negatively affects his life, as well as how it has negatively affected our family over the last 23 years. He says he isn’t able to envision moving forward in our marriage, can’t see any scenario where he addresses his issues and gets better. Thinks I want to “reprogram” him. I’m so sorry that he has chosen to embrace ADD and will keep denying how much trouble it brings him. As for me, I am mourning the loss of the most important relationship in my life. I wish I had known.
What a shame. I’m sorry you didn’t know, either, and thanks for your comment.
Unfortunately, “denial” is not uncommon with untreated/poorly managed ADHD. Neither is narcissism.
I usually advise that the partners get educated and supported before ever approaching a spouse who would likely incline in that direction. (Many adults with ADHD are grateful for the suggestion and embrace it, but many others do NOT.) It is very instinctive for some to oppose, reflexively. Especially if they feel they have to figure it all out. That is, find a professional to evaluate, find therapist/prescriber, etc. So they just say no.
Unfortunately, there are many narcissistic hustlers peddling the “ADHD gift” line to an extreme that scorns legitimate treatment. Many of them have self-proclaimed ADHD and so they claim to have special knowledge. I find these people dangerous and dangerously omnipresent online. Unfortunately also, many ADHD coaches use this tactic to market themselves and then have only pandering and narcissistic supply to offer their clients.
To help you understand him better…even if the marriage cannot be saved, you will always co-parent, right?…I encourage you to read my first book. Including the chapters on denial.
I hope you are moving on to a happier life.
Is there a form that my spouse can fill out on what she sees that males her think I have Adhd. Like the ones parents do for their kids.
Sorry for delay. I’ve been on the road and then sick.
I’d say the best thing is the diagnostic criteria. Here is a chart based on the DSM-IV criteria:
You might want to ask your partner to jot down details as she reads each trait — examples that she perceives you struggling with.
I encourage you to do the same, independently, and compare notes.
I would have liked to read further the experiences of the couples beyond diagnostic…
I meet many conditions on ADHD, and started medication two years ago to help my focus. Living with a spouse also affected with a mental and personality disorder, it was a serious shock last week when she started stating an inevitable outcome for our relationship: divorce. I would love to read the articles and online information she claims to have discovered, I would like to find and pursue professional help if available, but she is very secretive about it, along with her life online.
I now started meeting with a therapist regularly to help with fear of abandonment issues.
I haven’t finished reading your book, , but I keep challenging her final statement: did my condition and I really drive her to this? And what is is about online information that would lead a spouse to divorce with ever seeking to help? How would I know if I distort facts (someone suggested this to be part of the list).
I would hate to wake up one day and realize there was something I could have done different, but wasn’t aware of it, or wasn’t given the opportunity to.
Does that make any sense?
What you describe—one partner having late-diagnosis ADHD and the other having a personality disorder (and some other unstated mental condition)—can create an immense amount of difficulty in teasing out all the factors.
Perhaps your ADHD-related challenges exacerbated her struggles, or vice-versa. Or both.
I’m not sure what you mean about the online articles that would cause someone to seek divorce. Pretty much all the basics about adult ADHD’s potential impact on relationships is covered in my book. So, keep reading that.
Sometimes, the partner of the adult with poorly managed or unrecognized ADHD will read my book and suddenly understand what has been happening throughout the course of their relationship. They stop accepting blame delivered by their ADHD partner, and suddenly see that the problems weren’t all their fault. It can make a person very, very angry.
Sometimes this time is short-lived. Then, they move past those emotions and onto working with the ADHD partner on diagnosis, treatment, and collaborative strategies. Sometimes, the angry is too deep — and the ADHD partner’s self-awareness too superficial.
Check out this two-part post, from the blog I used to write for CHADD (the non-profit for ADHD). I think you might find it very illuminating.
I hope this helps.
Thank you Gina, both my wife and I have childhood trauma, and although I thought I could indeed help toward her restoration, and she mine, we have hit a wall.
Her conditions include DID, PTSD, and a long list of intolerances and sensitivities to the environment, and people. We moved about 20 times in 10 years trying to find a liveable non-toxic rental, and finally built a house from scratch to control the building material used.
Shopping for groceries is a nightmare, it takes us 3 to 6 hours, and multiple different stores. We’ve stopped shopping together. Her conditions complicates all things having to do with cleanliness (used to be extreme, now we try not to be in the same room), extending to our pets (two cats). Yet, like one of the examples you used in the article you suggested, she need visual clues. So, our common spaces are a permanent mess.
I will pass over any intimacy comment, except to say it has been too often anti-climactic, and humiliating to me. And I’m not a slob.
So yes, we both have conditions that trigger the other person. But I know I can have blind spots, and openly admits when I’m wrong, or even slightly wrong, hoping she will also be able to do her own self-searching. It hasn’t worked that way. Despite insisting (for years) we meet a third-party to help reflect our communication styles and content, it hasn’t happened.
Moreover, she has been canceling every appointment made lately to meet with a therapist for herself. Her goal was to please me: so that someone else could articulate to me what she’s trying to say, what are the reasons she is basing her wanting to terminate the relationship. because from where I stand, love can bear a lot, and work toward the betterment of the other even if it’s not easy, or always rewarding. Seemingly we don’t share that opinion.
Maybe she is doing me a big favor by acting this way, but it’s been a pattern early on: her opinion of people and evaluation of life goes through the grid of being victimized, deprived of opportunities, having hopes differed, living in a toxic world, etc.
In your book you state that in some cases ADHD could make the spouse physically sick. But she has been this way for most of our 16 years of marriage. I am very broken over the pain she has endured as a direct result of my ADHD conditions, that is something I have told her on several occasions.
However I put a ‘but’ in there: but just as I have tried to work with her to help her find tools and ways to conquer the debilitating dynamics of her conditions for her own sake, and the sake of our relationship and future (those that seemed obviously disruptive), I was expecting to be loved this way too.
I don’t know that there exists a better way to show love to your spouse than really coming alongside and help them through conquering what is stealing their life and joy. Without lording it over them.
In the end, I am struggling with identity issues, insecurity, anger (not rage), fear of abandonment and a terrible inability to properly balance the information to make sense of the equation. But maybe that’s ADHD talk…
Heading to my new therapist today, 2nd session.
Thank you Gina,
What you describe sounds exceedingly difficult for anyone, and perhaps excruciatingly so for a person with ADHD.
Chemical sensitivities at the level you describe, for example, suggests some profound immune-system, gut-brain issues. From your description, she is not working so much on resolving those issues as contriving her environment to address them. I’ve never seen that to work. Especially when it comes to another person.
I hope you can consider taking a break from the relationship—getting some space to see how you feel and can re-assess.
Our college-aged son was being evaluated for ADHD, ultimately being given the diagnosis of Inattentive ADD. At the end of the evaluation, the three of us were sitting together, my husband and me with our son between us. We were each given a copy of our son’s responses.
When asked for our impressions, my husband said, “They look normal to me.”, at which point I said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”. It was then that I ralized that my husband also had ADHD.
Haha! Good one, Marilyn!
My husband’s older cousin who was a retired educator told me that my husband had showed signs of ADHD since he was a small child. Boy, did that clear up some of his puzzling behaviors that I just could not understand! It took a long, long time for me to actually figure out what was going on with him and the way his brain sometimes worked (to his disadvantage and to mine).
Mine was “diagnosed” by a lay person over the phone!
I got to talking with a customer about SSI and mentioned my husband was on it. She asked why and I said the counselors say it’s depression, but I know that’s not right. We discussed the issues he had and she said “It’s ADHD”. Gave me some reference materials and a doctor’s name. All her family had it.
I got a book and it described him to a tee except for hyper issues. Turns out he is inattentive. I’d never heard of that before.
At first he was hesitant to go on meds. He thought he wouldn’t be himself any more, but they have done wonders along with an anxiety med.
He’s still on SSI. He still has problems, but he’s not raging and putting holes in the walls anymore. And yes, it has made it better for me knowing that he wasn’t doing those awful things on purpose and is working toward improving. All I can ask is that he try.
Considering that he’d been in counseling for over a decade when I married him 16 years ago, why couldn’t he be diagnosed correctly?
Wow, Penny. Counseling for 16 years and ADHD entirely missed.
And people wonder why I urge extreme caution in choosing a therapist, and to get educated by ADHD first. Shew.
I was diagnosed with ADD (inattentive type) by a super smart diagnostician psychiatrist. It was a shock to find out in my late 50s that this neurological disorder was the root cause of so many of my problems.
My long term partner went with me to a CHADD meeting for adults with ADHD.. At some point around then he said he was like the poster child for ADHD…
I wonder how many of our issues stem from us both having ADHD…We both are sloppy messy hoarders, super creative, interested and interesting, either one of us might go on a quick errand and come back many hours later forgetting why we had gone out to begin with… We both have a difficult time with time..,subscribing to the theory that there are really only two times: Now and Not Now..
Both of us have an early secret use of street stimulants… mine was to take to cross tops at about 1/2 hour before I actually had to get up. His was secret use of meth and cocaine (snorting).
We no longer live together though I still love him and he says he loves me. In retrospect it was his lack of attention to ME that made me suffer. It seemed and still seems like he down not give me a second thought. And I’m constantly waiting to bask in the glow of his very infrequent attention.
I feel that if he really loved me and wanted me he would call me every day and want to see me. This is not the case.
I knew when we met 30 years ago that the only way I would get to see him as much as once a day was to move in together.
I have fallen for other men who act like they adore me, care about me, call if I’m gone for too long. B does not seem to notice if I’ve been out of town for a week!
I want so much to believe that his lack of attention and caring for me is due to ADHD and that he really loves and adores me as I do him. I feel like one of his cast off gadgets gathering dust in the corner. Is there any help for us?
Thanks for your comment. It perfectly illustrates my observation that dual-ADHD couples can experience the same challenges as “ADHD and non-ADHD” couples.
You ask the question asked by many partners of adults with ADHD: Does the person truly love me but ADHD symptoms get in the way, or is that wishful thinking?
As I used to remind my husband, “love” is a verb. And, at some point, it doesn’t matter what a person says or perhaps truly feels “deep down.” The time comes for actions. 🙂
In many ways, loving a person over the long-term seems a “higher-order” brain process. Through thick and thin, it involves all the Executive Functions (planning, organizing actions toward a goal over time, initiating, remembering the past to inform the present and future, etc.). For whatever reason, some people have less access to such capacity.
For some adults with late-diagnosis ADHD, medication might help them to tap into such capacity. They become less impulse-driven and can better think longer-term and bigger-picture. For others, behavioral patterns were set a long time ago. Unless something drastic happens to get their attention, little change will happen. Then, too, there is the rest of personality to consider.
Maybe you two could talk about checking out legitimate treatment and see how it goes?
My husband was diagnosed after I saw the recent Dr. Phil show w/Dr. Hollowell. A young wife was crying and saying how she was so exhausted and stressed from having to take care of everything…every word she spoke I have spoken over the years (to therapists, my mom, friends). I immediately researched the disorder and found that it described every last one of his behaviors. Sadly, we have taken him to a number of different therapists, counselors and psychiatrists over the years….obviously none of whom recognized a disorder.
His sister is severely ADD and his mother and uncle exhibit major characteristics but remain undiagnosed. What prevented me from making the connection is 1)none of the professionals we’ve seen mentioned it and 2)his mother has always told me how punctual, responsible, great in school, etc. he was as a child and so I believed it must be something else
My husband laughed hysterically when I told him this about his mom recently…he says he was none of those things as a child…she’s just being a mom and remembering it the way she wants to.
What it’s meant to us is that we’re still fighting…the childishness, the stress caused, the chaos, the extremely expensive mistakes, the negative behaviors….but we’re not fighting in the dark anymore.
My husband’s nephew was diagnosed with ADD and his sister told me she was sure that my husband was AADD. We had been to marriage counselors repeatedly and I was at my wit’s end with trying to cope. My adolescent daughter was creating strategies to avoid confrontations between her dad and myself; she was behaving in a more mature manner than he was. I had talked repeatedly with my sister-in-law about my difficulties in coping.
My husband hasn’t felt that medications have helpful; though I keep hoping for some miracle pill. Most of the time, I know how to cope, but he still makes indredibly ridiculous decisions which cause great difficulties.
I often feel that I’m “in a handbasket headed for hell!”
My husband and I had been in counseling with a therapist after 19 years of marriage. The therapist told me he suspected something and asked to see my husband for a few sessions by himself. After a few sessions he tested my husband and found him to be ADD. We then tested our 18 year old son too who struggled in school but with no teacher ever telling us to have him tested for ADD. Since there was no hyperactivity it was hard to recognize as ADD. We have had many struggles and now I can say that most of them can be atributed to ADD. I have had my frustrations because of how the relationship is affected and I have had to educated myself about this disability, actually much more than my husband is willing to educate himself. He is currently on medication, but that too was a struggle for him to admit that he needed to take medication for a disability.
My boyfriend was diagnosed and received treatment in his early teens, but by the time I met him he was no longer in treatment. He told me that he had ADHD, but I thought that just meant he would have a difficult time sitting still…and that obviously wasn’t a problem for him since he could sit at the computer for hours at a time playing video games! It wasn’t until our relationship was nearly destroyed and we made a last-ditch effort to save it by going to see a counselor that I learned (through the counselor) that ADHD was to blame for the majority of his problematic behaviors. We’re still trying to find a medication regimen that works well for him, but every little bit helps, and just knowing that a behavior is related to ADHD helps us to find ways to cope with the behavior. We still struggle in our relationship, but we’ve made a lot of progress and see that there’s hope for a future without so much “drama.”
I began suspecting my husband had ADHD after doing some research and reading some books on it. Some of the stories of his childhood struggles (tics, not being able to stay seated in school, riding a borrowed bike to the movies and then walking home, forgetting he had ridden one to the movies, etc.) and struggles in our marriage, finally could be explained in the context of ADHD. It never dawned on four different marriage counselors that this could be the root cause of our problems. What an eye opener! My husband has subsequently been diagnosed with ADHD, and we will explore treatment in the light of this new understanding.
My partner realizes that there is most likely an ADHD diagnosis that should be made but I feel he is not ready to take accountabily and accept all the years of undiagnosis means and who that makes him in the long run.
My partner always told me that he felt different than everyone else growing up. He is an extremely charming and genuine person but there were always little “quirks” that would come up and turn into major incidences that did not seem real and would be hard to explain to anyone looking in from the outside that seemed to think what could possibly be your problem? You seem to have it all.
But you can not explain when things go topsy turvy and you don’t have an answer. You can’t tell the extremes that everything goes to because this is not how you were raised to be and you think you are a much stronger person than what is happening to you right now . Fights appear out of thin air while you are looking like a cartoon character shaking your head and going Whaaaat???! Who is this person that I love??? and how could my judgment be soo off? And then he goes back to being “normal”. Not just normal but all your dreams come true. I wanted to find the bottom of what was going on, I wanted to have a family with this person and I could not understand our dynamic even when he said that I was the person that he would want to have kids with too.
Oh—I forgot the how-diagnosis-has-made-a-difference part! Our lives are far less chaotic and I am no longer constantly feeling hurt by my husband’s behaviors, because now I know that they’re not intentional. He’s learned new social skills and is now successfully self-employed, and our sons are flourishing in school.
Our oldest son was diagnosed with severe AD/HD when he was in kindergarten and almost 5 years old. Our lives had been hell before that, and I did all sorts of research on the Internet and finally read Driven to Distraction. Aha! I knew that our son had AD/HD. I then began that to suspect that my happy-go-lucky, born-anew-every-day husband, who often would zone out in the middle of our conversations, had AD/HD too. Our son’s therapist evaluated my husband, and yep, I was right. She eventually diagnosed severe AD/HD in my father-in-law and, years later, mild AD/HD in our youngest son. I’m the only one in our house without AD/HD.
Are you still there? Can you update us or contact me?
What type of response do you want from Katherine? That is a very old comment.
I happen to know Katherine and know that she and her family are doing well.