In this post, we delve into the write-in responses to this ADHD Partner Survey question: As your relationship continued, did your ADHD partner’s positive traits continue—or continue to be attractive? Predictably, the answers run the gamut.
Some ADHD Partner Survey respondents report being initially drawn to their ADHD partner’s spontaneity or go-with-the-flow attitude. With time, however, they discovered that their partner had no choice but to be spontaneous. Planning was impossible!
Yet, in other cases, the ADHD partner’s ability to make their mate laugh has held them together during the rough times—from that first date through to their 25th anniversary, or longer.
My mantra? There is nothing “cookie cutter” about adults with ADHD, their partners (some of whom also have ADHD!), or their relationships. But there are some predictable patterns when ADHD goes unrecognized or misunderstood until well into the relationship. The better we understand these patterns, the better folks can prevent unnecessary heartache.
A Brief Review:
Previous posts from the ADHD Partner Survey include:
1. What Traits Attracted You To Each Other? —I first compared the traits that attracted ADHD Partner Survey respondents to their mates, and vice versa.
2. Where’s That Person You Fell in Love With?—Next, I examined the degree to which those positive traits continued into the relationship (or continued to be viewed as positive traits). For review, here is the chart from that post. As you can see, about half the partners said, “Yes, those traits stayed the same.” The other half said, “Nope.” The rest were unsure or the relationship was still young. (See chart below.)
3. In this post, we review the respondents’ write-in text responses. I’ve loosely grouped the comments into sub-headings.
(Remember: Most respondents didn’t know about Adult ADHD, and their partners were not diagnosed, until years into the relationship.)
Attraction Still Going Strong
- My husband is “quirky” and very witty. A lot of fun to be around. He is not afraid to try anything. I have always admired that in him.
- My partner is one of the most brilliant and creative people I have ever known. He is also one of the most compassionate people with a world perspective which is refreshing and gives hope.
- He’s a great guy. After moving in with him, though, I realized something was seriously wrong. There were hints during our long distance relationship. He’d space out on things, forget things, etc. But, he was so in love with me that he concentrated on “getting me” and, for the most part, he is still the man of my dreams. That doesn’t mean his ADHD traits aren’t a severe challenge. They are.
- He is still the kindest, most generous, sweetest, most affectionate person I know—very gentle and loving.
- I love how optimistic and positive he is. He is always full of energy, which has not changed.
- We fortunately have grown together for the most part.
- My husband still is funny, spontaneous and very good looking. I tell him that his sense of humor has saved his bacon any number of times.
It Wasn’t Spontaneity! It Was An Inability to Plan!
- I still love his creativity and spontaneity. But it seems to go hand in hand with irresponsibility or inability to see past today. He has incredible musical ability but has no discipline to do anything with it so he’s stuck in dead-end jobs going nowhere and he’s taking me with him.
- What I found “spontaneous” and “fun” in the early stages became “irresponsible” and “escapist.” The creative side of him was attractive, but the enormous ego that came with it, along with his need to voice how much more valuable his contributions are (dreamers vs. “bean counters”) left me cold after awhile.
- His spontaneity became wearisome. We’d make plans to do something, for instance, go to a party, and he’d decide to take a nap. What is a desirable trait in a date, isn’t necessarily desirable in a partner, especially with children. I crave someone reliable, who keeps his promises, and for whom I do not have to act as a walking calendar.
- I liked my partner’s spontaneity initially, but over time this turned more to being reckless and often aggressive. As for the positive aspects of being spontaneous (e.g. “Let’s go out or get away for the weekend”), those got to be few and far between.
- “Spontaneous” became “impulsive.” “Different” and “interesting” behavior became “risk-taking behavior.” “Imaginative” became “getting involved in yet another unfinished project.”
- The “fun to be around” ended up being a constant thing to the exclusion of all else (that is, work, chores, etc.).
- The spontaneity became a problem as children came along. The need to be present and scheduled is a constant struggle.
Generous—To A Fault
One ADHD Partner Survey respondent wrote:
Many of the traits that attracted me to my husband became problems in our marriage.
For example, buying me expensive flowers or gifts for no special occasion while we were dating was ok, but when we had to share a household budget we fought about his loose spending habits. Always buying drinks for his friends, etc.
Also, I enjoyed his humor while we were dating, but after we were married his humor often became embarrassing; he just didn’t know when to give it a rest, and he’d make too many jokes at others’ expense. In truth, I think his “life of the party” persona was a defense: he couldn’t keep up with the various conversations, so he had to monopolize everyone’s attention.
Bait and Switch!
For many respondents, the feeling was that their ADHD partner seemed to be one way at first—but soon became the complete opposite.
- After the wedding ring went on, all the attention, ski trips, sex, and other goodies went right out the window
- The problem was that the “responsible, mature, reliable” woman who “made a good living” was a mirage…she only appeared that way because of the structure forced on her by the Army. After she left, the truth came out; she was practically helpless and content to let me do everything.
- I don’t know if things changed or I just woke up, but many of the traits that initially attracted me—maturity, stability, etc—turned out to be illusions. My partner comes off as an easygoing guy with a heart of gold, but living with him is like being on the roller coaster to hell.
- Those “child-like” qualities that attracted me ended up being really childish behavior. She is incapable of compromise, must always have things her way, cannot have a conversation about things that bother her without letting them build up and explode, cannot accept people for who they are (they are either good or bad, no middle ground), thinks that any slight is a direct affront to her, reacts to her emotions rather than reality.
- Within the intense structure and accommodations of undergraduate school, she was sheltered from herself and her ADHD. As soon as she started grad school (right after we married), she hyperfocused on that, and I became simply a finished task on her “to do” list. I was alone a lot…with her bills. She’d run up significant credit card debt in college, and so I was stuck with those debts, too.
Big Dreams, Big Promises, Big Disappointments
- The big ideas/big dreams trait, in particular, is now driving me crazy because it is now so unbelievable that it is annoying.
- I was so drawn in by my partner’s “lust for life.” He liked to take risks (mainly financial). He had all these big dreams, could articulate them so well – what a salesman! — and before I knew that it was all talk, it sounded fun! Now I know better. Ninety percent of the time all his talk is just that. Anything substantial that’s happened, I made it happen.
- Some of the traits still exist, such as spontaneity, imagination, super confidence, but these are not really attractive anymore, as they lack supporting substance (i.e. the big dreams and promises never happen).
Having Children Changed Everything
- Things changed dramatically with the addition of two small children. He is still reliable and responsible, but the other areas that attracted me to him are hidden or gone and are replaced with the inability to adapt to the chaos of small children and their demands. I know he can’t handle the chaos, but I feel lonely without those other traits of thoughtfulness, nurturing, etc. that he used to give to me.
- I still love him, and some of what we are experiencing is that our marriage is almost 25 years old and we have a lot of family pressures due to ADHD in our children. Most of the traits that my husband had as a young man are still there. They are just harder to locate sometimes because the world has defeated him on several occasions. He is an artistic soul in a workplace with increasing restrictions. And our grown children both have issues so we can all be kind of dysfunctional at times.
- We were mostly very happy during the first several years. Things went kablooey when we had children. He couldn’t cope with the added responsibility. I was breastfeeding and running the business and the household. One day, I beeped him on the intercom to change diapers. “You don’t know how disruptive it is for me to have to change the diapers!” sez he. I offered to let him breast-feed, instead.
- It’s been many years together. We have changed. He is still all those things but not with me. He is very disconnected from me and has been since we’ve had children and that started 22 years ago. He still has a very compassionate heart, which is what I fell in love with, but not towards me. Just to gaze at me reminds him of all that he “doesn’t live up to” – real or imagined. It’s like I am the focal point for his entire life’s failures. He’ll still give his lunch to a homeless person or buy them a meal. He’s great with strangers and the downtrodden. But once you register on his “punk’d” radar, the grudge is solidified and his heart is stone towards you.
Unrecognized ADHD Overwhelmed Positive Qualities
- Partner has worsened over the years (we live together several years before getting married and have been married 23 years). He went from being somewhat fun-loving but unreliable (e.g., always late, not taking direction at work) to being completely unemployed, taking no responsibility, breaking commitments consistently, and being often unpleasant.
- Those good qualities I fell in love with are still present. I just didn’t know there was another side to her – the poor impulse control, rages, externalizing her problems on me, low tolerance of frustration, etc.
- His depression from untreated ADHD eventually caused him to be almost non-functional.
The Hyperfocus Went Elsewhere
- After 11 years of being together, over 9 years of marriage, my wife revealed to me that the “spark” just wasn’t there and probably never had been. This threw me for a loop. We’d had a very active sex life in the early days and she pursued me quite aggressively. Now she has no memory of ever feeling “in love” with me but admits she might have forgotten such feelings or thoughts.
- At first, my partner was extremely attentive to me and the relationship. He was thoughtful, a good listener, eager to be part of a couple. He was unlike any other man I’d met before, and I thought I’d “hit pay dirt” with him. But then, over time, as “real life” things came up—money, jobs, day-to-day issues of personal boundaries—he retreated into spending most of his time on the computer.
- He was very “unusual.” Later that wasn’t such a positive thing, plus all of the “unusual” troubles that he caused over the years—money problems, his temper, and so on—took away from his remaining pleasant qualities. Now that he’s taking medication, he’s better. Not 100% but at least better then he was.
I welcome your comments on this topic!