Motivational and inspirational writer, Bryan Hutchinson is the author of several books about life with ADHD including the highly acclaimed, best selling "One Boy′s Struggle: A Memoir" and the author of the hilarious eBook that went viral "10 Things I Hate about ADHD"

The Harshness and Disasters of ADHD Relationships

Not all relationships with an ADDer are harsh and not all relationships are doomed to failure. However, there seems to me to be a relating factor in most the messages I read across the internet by other ADDers. It goes like this – the relationship starts off great and then after a while the sparks and fireworks tend to wear off and the ADDer becomes bored. We say things like the other person didn’t help me, motivate me, validate me and the number 1 complaint is that he or she did not excite me anymore.

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t a relationship about two people? Isn’t there more involved than just the other person pleasing us all the time, doing what we need and want? Yes, relationships do change after a couple years as two people get relaxed around each other, that is natural, and yet difficult for some ADDers to transition into.

No, I am not going to write about every detail concerning relationships with ADDers and non-ADDers, not in this article anyway, and it would take up your whole day or longer to read everything I have to write about on this subject. Instead I am going to write this:

What have you done for your partner lately? How have you gone out of your way to please him or her? How have you motivated, validated and supported him or her? When you answer these questions, silently in your own mind, or in the comments below, keep in mind that I am talking about taking the other persons wants, needs and desires into consideration. This is important, because, too often we become focused on ourselves so much that we extend our longings to be the other person’s longings too and let’s face it, we think of ourselves too much as it is and not everyone has the same wants, needs and desires that we do. It’s a common mistake to go out and buy something we like and give it to someone else thinking they would like it too. Yeah, see, I thought so, but all is not lost, we can correct this.

Make a concerted effort to get to know your partner, what they like to eat, drink and snack on. Find out what makes them happy and what makes them smile at certain moments. Ask questions. ADDers love to ask questions, some of us have forgotten how to ask questions because we were shot down as kids for asking too many questions, but we are inquisitive types by nature (I am going to expand on this in a future article). The important thing to realize here is that we are selfish and doing the above relieves some of that. No, don’t get me wrong, we give until we bleed, but we tend to be selfish in understanding others and their motivations. Not all ADDers have this problem and yet a significant amount of us do -  I think we are in the majority.

The next time we have a complaint about our partner not motivating us, cultivating us or validating us, we should take a moment and ask ourselves what we have done for him or her lately. Sometimes because we are so active in our minds and we have all these things gathered up there that we want to do, we fail to realize that we are not meeting the other person’s needs. Sure, we think we are and would say so, if asked, but truly, honestly – are we? The thing is, you or me, we cannot answer that question, it is for the other person to answer. If we answer that question for the other person, then what is it we are doing? Being selfish, self centered and you get where I am going with this – right?

This article is not meant to be a critical beat down. It is intended to be an eye opener to another possibility. Perhaps we get bored with our partner(s) because the reality is that we drain them so much that after a while they become tired of meeting our every wish, or being everything we need them to be. The answer is not simply to thank them constantly. That’s draining too. Yes, still thank them, but give them some good reasons to thank you too.

Just some thoughts from someone who knows this all too well. Doomed relationships can be corrected if we just take the time and consideration to think about the other person before we get bored and it’s too late. And yes, there does come a time when it is too late. Sorry won’t cut it for long. Been there and have done that. Maybe you have too?


Arlene August 29, 2008 at 3:58 am

This is 99% of what the non-ADD spouse BEGS for. And 99% of the rest of the world looks for. What a great insight you have provided!
Thank you…and I wish that it would have been taken to heart before the signature on the dreaded line.

Bryan August 29, 2008 at 4:55 am

Thanks Jac – I agree with you, that there are many other problems we must deal with in relationships other than boredom. This is just one particular issue I notice is talked a lot about on the net. The ‘too intelligent and too intimidating is not that uncommon either, some describe it you as being out of their league or class? I will write about this very soon, but not everyone is exactly the same, my thoughts are only an overview to expand thoughts and considerations about situations.

Thanks for your comment!


Bryan August 29, 2008 at 5:01 am

Hi Arlene, your welcome and thank you. If we learn from the past, we can improve the future… right. That is what I believe.


Gina Pera August 29, 2008 at 4:14 pm

That’s one powerful post, Bryan.

A lack of reciprocity and empathy is indeed a big problem in many relationships affected by ADHD.

There’s also the “high insatiabiity” factor that accompanies “low dopamine.” In other words, there can be a tendency to be rarely satisfied–or only in short bursts. It can take a lot of “reward” to register on the radar screen. If you don’t know this about yourself, you think that other people simply aren’t “doing it” for you. You don’t know that you have a too-high pleasure threshhold.

Moreover, given the famous ADHD “now and not now” sense of time, historical perspective can get lost in the mists, resulting in a “What have you done for me lately?” attitude.

The biggest problem, IMHO, comes when people with ADHD don’t know their own neurobiology and how it contributes to insatiability and low empathy or reciprocity. The biology itself can make for a very limited perspective–like going through life with blinders on, thinking everyone else has the problem. This is the nature of “denial.:”

As for empathy, some people with ADHD are absolutely convinced they have the empathy of a Mother Teresa, but some of their loved ones argue that yes, there’s something that superficially looks like empathy–for yet another stray dog, for the neighbor down the street whose house needs painting, and for everyone else but family members at home. That’s not true empathy.

Empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is difficult for many people with ADHD, because they often aren’t able to even empathize with themselves! They don’t empathize with their futures selves, for example, and the health or financial consequences of current actions.

Compounding this: Insatiability often leads pwADHD (people with ADHD) to keep trying to achieve more, higher, faster–often becoming workaholics, developing sports injuries, or taking too-risky financial bets–because they’re seldom really happy with their successes. At the same time, our rather narcissistic culture praises most the person who achieves, achieves, achieves. So, the draw is clearly there.

Anyway, my point is that the same characteristics that can dog a person with ADHD can dog his/her relationships. And it all just compounds and swirls.

Again, though, ADHD is a very complex situation. It’s a constellation of neurobehaviors, and you don’t need all of them to qualify, just a few. Add personality, family background, etc. and you get a real mosaic. No one-size-fits-all platitudes work with ADHD, IMHO.

David October 11, 2012 at 11:35 am

Hi to all:

Your overviews on the subject is clarifying, and you describe what I believed to be personality characteristics in my (now “ex”) partner. I have tried to figure out what led to her late behaviour, as I couldn’t make her understand my involvement in her activities couldn’t be as intense and continous many times (I was helping her setting up a bussiness for the last 5 years, and it became a real nightmare in the end, despite my efforts to support her dream. It worked fine, but demand never relaxed at all). The feeling of devaluation still hurts although I know I did more than many would have done, as others also see.

Of course, I’m afraid I could have done more to understand her before, but it wasn’t until a couple of close common friends mentioned it after a sudden and sharp breakup. I never thought thas this affection could modulate someone’s behaviour in such a way, neither I had a clue about her being under such influence.

Now I think it’s late for me to spend more energy on it, as she has completely cut any contact but the mere practical calls for picking up stuff. I reckon most of the friends that detect extreme attitudes are as uninformed as I was regarding it, and its treatment, but I don’t think I have any chance of letting her know, and she probably wouldn’t even consider it as anything but an attempt to get her back, which wouldn’t be the case.

Your honesty and descriptive text and comments have helped me understanding, as there’s little I can do but to accept the situation and carry on. Thanks to you all, you have made my experience a little easier.

SeattleNonADDSpouse March 7, 2009 at 12:07 am

Right on by both of you. Have lived it. Unfortunately, too late to not have my 20-year marriage melt down. However, you are helping us both to find a place of understanding for each other rather than bitterness and hate. Now – how do we help the ADD kids not yet in relationships get it?

Bryan March 8, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Hi Seattle,

I hope things do indeed get better. With kids I think it may help if, when they reach an age that they understand they are different, that we educate them as to why they are different. Explaining in the most basic form what ADHD is and how it manifests. I believe understanding is key to improving. Relationships are difficult to understand with or without ADHD; however, if we can get the message across as to the ‘why’ child reacts or doesn’t react, that could help avoid a lot of pain and suffering in their future…

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