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. 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.

    1. Hi Carrie,

      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.” 🙂

      Good luck!


    2. Oh brother,

      Getting back with ADHD is like saying you’ve decided to give the plague another try,

      Best of of luck with that.

  2. 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!

    1. Hi Resigned,

      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.


  3. 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.

    1. Hi Cristi,
      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.


  4. 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.

    1. Hi Susan,

      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.


  5. 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.

    1. Hi Tanya,

      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.

      Good luck!

  6. Andre Lefebvre

    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?

    1. Hi Andre,

      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.

    2. Andre Lefebvre

      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,


    3. Hi Andre,

      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.

      good luck,

  7. 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.

  8. 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).

  9. 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?

    1. 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.


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