Do you remember the traits that attracted you to your ADHD partner — and vice-versa? That was a question in my ADHD Partner Survey. It is the most comprehensive research to date on ADHD and relationships. We’ll look at the responses in this post.
First, folklore persists regarding who is attracted to adults with ADHD for intimate relationships—and vice versa. Never mind that in the U.S. alone, adults with some degree of ADHD number from 10 to 30 million. In other words, they aren’t clones. Neither are their mates.
Nonetheless, at least two so-called truisms prevail about Adult ADHD and relationships:
- “Opposites Attract”: People with ADHD are attracted to “organized” and joyless workers bees who can keep the trains running for the both of them and who in turn are drawn to their free-spirited ADHD partner’s spontaneity and sense of fun.
- “Like Attracts Like”: People with ADHD are attracted to other people with ADHD because they inherently understand each other more than any “Muggle” could.
These two stereotypes are entirely contradictory. Yet, they echoed with equal certitude through the ADHD community while I was researching my first book—and still today. Sure, couples fitting both stereotypes turn up in my local and online discussion groups. Yet, between those two extremes lay the teeming variety of human individuals and their relationships.
As I like to say, “People with ADHD are just like all other humans, only more so.” And the same is true for relationships in which one or both partners have ADHD: They struggle with the same issues that challenge all couples, only more so.
Testing ADHD Trait Stereotypes
How to test these stereotypes? Constructing a question proved tricky when designing my ADHD Partner Survey. I settled on a rather loose fishing expedition. Original research must start somewhere.
I settled on two questions, using the same list of traits for each question (ADHD Partner and Other Partner):
- Which of your ADHD Partner’s traits attracted you? (Check ALL that apply and/or add any that aren’t listed.) – RED in the charts below
- Which of your traits do you suspect attracted your ADHD partner to you? (Check ALL that apply and/or add any that aren’t listed.) – BLUE in the charts below
The main limitation: Survey respondents did not include the ADHD partners, only the partners of adults with ADHD. (Some had ADHD themselves). The respondents answered based on what they had gleaned from their ADHD partner.
Let’s examine the two sets of responses, combined and sorted into two different charts, below.
Comparing the Traits — Yours and Your ADHD Partner’s
Please bear with me. It’s a little tricky to grasp at first. But by comparing the two sets of data side by side, we can see if a picture emerges. That is, are some collective “personality” traits more common to the ADHD partner (the adult with ADHD) or the other partner (the respondent)?
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1. Which Traits Attracted You To Your ADHD Partner?
For this first chart, I sorted responses from most common to least common to this question: “Which of your ADHD Partner’s traits attracted you?”
Red represents the respondent’s ADHD Partner’s traits, the ones that the survey respondent found most attractive. It looks like the four big draws are:
- Spontaneous; fun to be with: this trait is represented almost doubly in ADHD partners as in respondents but still quite present in the respondents
- Humorous; cheerful: just a little more represented in ADHD partners
- Interesting; imaginative, “different”: about a third more represented in ADHD partners
- Attractive; sexy: about equal, with respondents rating themselves just a bit more attractive and sexy than their own ADHD partners (yes, bias could be an issue here…as I said…”fishing expedition”).
On the downside, the three low vote-getters:
- Good money manager: huge disparity there between respondents and ADHD partners
- Healthy lifestyle: another large disparity
- Responsible; mature; responsible; organized: a whopping disparity
Where is the biggest overall disparity? The ADHD Partners were far more likely to attract with “big dreams” and “big promises.”
A Sample of Write-In Responses
Some ADHD Partner Survey respondents chose to write-in more details about this question (Which traits attracted you to your ADHD Partner?). Here’s a sampling:
- He is goal-oriented, although he can get side-tracked. I felt he would anchor me a little as I tended to drift from activity to activity.
- He had 4 kids. I wanted kids and maybe I thought that it would be like an instant family. I’d lost a baby a few years earlier (when I was married). Also, he really pursued me. Everything I did was wonderful. I was fascinating. That’s hard to ignore after a while. Once things started to change, I think I believed his version of reality, and I was being too sensitive. By the time I figured out the mess in the relationship, my step sons were a major part of my life. It looked to me as if they had no parenting and I didn’t feel like I could leave without abandoning them.
- Not really a trait, but he and his family convinced me that I was perfect for him, and I felt flattered yet trapped.
- He “needed” me and was so grateful for my affection, especially physical warmth. He was and is an extraordinarily humble and sweet person with a profound ability to love.
- He was good at snagging the free hors d’oeuvres at Happy Hours in the college bars. I had never had time or many man-friends to go to bars with, so I found his nurturing tendencies to consistently provide me with the free food endearing. Also, I saw that he loved me for who I was, even the quirky habits. His love was genuine; it was based on my essence and not my looks or achievements.
- She was tolerant of me.
- Compassionate (when I get his attention). Very sweet and loving (again, when he is paying attention).
- He strongly pursued me, swept me off my feet, showered me with gifts, etc.
2. Which of Your Traits Attracted Your ADHD Partner?
For this second chart, I sorted by this second question, sorted from highest to lowest: “Which of your traits do you suspect attracted your ADHD partner to you?”
Blue represents the respondent’s self-perceived traits. The four most-cited traits are:
- Loyal; truthful; sincere
- Warm; nurturing; unselfish
- Thoughtful; considerate
Almost all these traits are found in double the prevalence with the respondents as in the ADHD partners. So, yes, perhaps there is some truth to this mating polarity: the “responsible” types going for the “spontaneous” types.
But how do you account for people ADHD who are socially phobic, dramatically non-spontaneous, not particularly fun and certainly not happy-go-lucky? And what about the partners of adults with ADHD who are flexible, easy-going, the life of the party, and masters of efficiency?
A Sample of Write-In Responses:
Many respondents wrote in “intelligence” as the trait most attractive to their ADHD Partners. Here are more:
- Great singing voice. He really likes it when I sing around the house.
- Strong, shared spiritual practice and political perspectives
- I was interested in things that he had never run into before. My friends were different from the people he used to hang out with. We were mostly odd in an overly intellectual way – tended to be long discussions of esoteric topics… Also, I ate a wide variety of ethnic foods that he’d never run into before.
- I was very supportive of him and gave him a huge confidence boost. I was always there to pick him up and help him out of his situations, even though he did not reciprocate.
- I was a “doormat. Very shy and eager to please. Easy to control, so to speak.
- I was a father figure to her. Her father is an alcoholic.
- He told me later he thought I would do a good job of caring for his aging parents.
- He liked my intellect and being able to have a good conversation.
- We were friends for several years before becoming romantically tied. I think that I was so attractive to him because, by default, I was just simply “there.” He chose me, mainly, because I, unlike other women, simply failed to take a hike.
- Resourceful; wise; intense; brilliant.
- Knew where I was going in life; confident
- He needed someone to take care of him.
- I was from another country, so our differences were exciting to him/
- We shared an interest in music and in making things with our hands. And my business degree suited his plans.
- I was coming out of an abusive relationship with an alcoholic.
- From a stable background
People are complicated, ADHD or not. That’s why I’m a fan of viewing each person dealing with ADHD as individuals. Each experiences variable traits of a variable syndrome (not to mention the co-existing conditions, the rest of personality, socioeconomic background, etc.). Same for the partners.
Stereotypes also miss one big factor: the impact that untreated ADHD can have on both people in a relationship over time.
For example, to outside observers, some partners of adults with ADHD do seem rigid and controlling. But if you ask them, most say they didn’t start out that way. Rather, living with their ADHD partner’s untreated symptoms pretty much demanded they have enough control for the both of them! But that’s a topic for a future post.
Then there are the many adults with ADHD who’ve either never been part of a couple or haven’t been for long. This is a point of sadness and regret for many.
I hope you’ve found some food for thought here. Your comments always welcome!
Next in the ADHD Partner Survey Series:
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