This is from the book I co-wrote, TRANSFORMING ADHD (I’m allowed to post some of the book). I hope you find it of use. It’s less glamorous-looking than I’d like, but if you knew my schedule, you’d understand. Besides, it’s all about the content, right?
Okay, I just came back from hearing Fiona Kenshole, my dream agent, speak, and she referred to this 2015 New York Times article about 36 questions to ask to “fall in love” that inspired this book. She got me when she said the article was based on a study.
My heart fell when I discovered the study came out over 20 freakin’ years ago. Why had I never heard of it? Well, better late than never.
Turns out these questions are worth a try. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley gives you the instructions here.
I’m going to try them. If you do, I’d love to know what happens.
I know relationships from both a work and personal perspective. What I want to share as a level-2 certified PACT therapist (https://thepactinstitute.com/dividedpage/what-is-pact/) applies to intimate relationships with or without the influence of ADHD. PACT stands for Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (fancy, I know).
When a couple enters into troubled territory, its members can turn to each other for solace and connection, right? Even when the trouble is each feels hurt and misunderstood by the other.
Right? Yes, some couples can. The secure functioning ones. The ones who understand that their relationship depends on this.
Many couples, however, do the opposite. They turn away. Each member feels too hurt, misunderstood, blamed, and afraid. Afraid of more of hurt, more of the same. Too caught up with thoughts of how the other one should know. Should know what I’m feeling, what I want. My hurt and mind. So the members turn away from each other and toward others and other interests to meet his/her own needs. One goes out with friends. The other delves into a creative venture. One joins a club. The other travels alone. Again and again looking outside the relationship for more and more. Each, little by little, turning away, and forgetting how to turn toward, each other. Until…it’s over.
If this is your relationship and you want to turn it around before you and your lover/partner/spouse kill it, try turning toward. Start by doing this physically. Get face-to-face, eye-to-eye with your partner, close enough to see each other’s pupils. Hold for a few minutes. Keep your faces soft and friendly. It may sound simple but can be really hard for couples to do. So no judgments. Of yourself or your partner. Approach it playfully. Then rinse, wash, repeat, as Stan Tatkin, the developer of PACT, likes to say.
My hope is that, for each member, this may be a start to turning toward, and getting to know, the person you once loved fiercely and may find yourself loving fiercely again.
In my last post about ADHD and Relationships, I mentioned The ADHD Effect on Marriage. The author, Melissa Orlov, wrote the book after her husband with ADHD was unfaithful to her, and she began to examine the dynamics of their relationship. Their relationship survived. But, as Ms. Orlov points out, many others die. She writes, “Research suggests that rates of marital dysfunction and divorce are about twice as high for people with ADHD as they are for people without it” (here).
And there are no books or research (that I can find) on the ADHD effect on divorce. So how might ADHD come into play during a divorce? I hope there will be more research on this, but what I can say is that it makes sense to expect that the ADHD will show up. The impulsivity, procrastination/lack of follow-through, aversion to low-interest/boring/tedious tasks, disorganization, etc. that the ADHD label describes will be present through a divorce just as through a marriage.
This likely will look different ways. Impulsivity may show up as an unexpected announcement by the spouse with ADHD that s/he is leaving and wants a divorce (as one with ADHD might at work say, “I quit!” without having thought it all through). Aversion to tedious tasks along with procrastination may show up as unfinished divorce paperwork and missed deadlines. Disorganization may appear through lost paperwork or reliance on the spouse or others for reminders of events, etc. I hope you get the idea.
Just as ADHD affects marriage (see ADHD and Relationships link at the top), it affects the end of a marriage, too. Maybe, one day, we’ll know more about how, so that both parties involved know what to expect.
We know intimate relationships are hard.
When you have ADHD, they’re even harder.
Research suggests discontent and disloyalty among the reasons, but, hold off on nodding knowingly. The discontent and disloyalty may be on a different side than you imagine.
Research suggests that it’s the partner with ADHD who’s likely to be unhappy. Again, the one with ADHD (the opposite of what many might guess).
One study found that adults with ADHD had more negative perceptions of their relationships and families than their non-ADHD spouses did. These perceptions were also more negative than members of couples where neither had ADHD (see here).
Research also indicates that ADHD’s associated with a higher rate of infidelity. One study delved into this a little and found that “relational alternatives” were of “greater interest” when adults’ inattentive symptoms were high (see here). (This same study found that when either inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were high, adults showed “less constructive responses” to a partner’s “bad behavior.”)
There’s more, but the picture painted is that relationships are harder. Namely, harder to sustain (versus start).
So does this mean couple therapy early on? Probably a good idea.
But choose carefully.
Some couple therapies depend on out-of-session assignments, and this could be a set up for failure.
Fights might become about who does the homework and how much of it.
Some couple therapies, however, focus on experiencing useful ways of relating during the session. When my group members ask me about couple therapy, this is the kind that I suggest. One of these is Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT).
There’s no research-tested ADHD-specific couple therapy of which I am aware. Instead, there are therapists who understand ADHD and offer couple therapy/counseling.
One of these is Melissa Orlov, the author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage. Her book describes common patterns of relating between partners when only one has ADHD, and she offers couple counseling through her website (here).
Whatever you choose, I wish you happiness.
A short supply of self-restraint and other characteristics of ADHD can hurt relationships. Social skills training is one of the interventions used to prevent relationship damage and increase relationship repair. But does it work?
The results of a fresh-off-the-presses study on social skills training support Russell Barkley’s argument (Understanding ADHD) that skills presented and practiced away from real-life situations at the moment of trouble (e.g., as one is about to curse someone out) may be of little value.
Social skills training had “limited efficacy” according to Canadian researchers reviewing social skills training for kids and teens with ADHD (study here). Nonetheless, they identified “two promising” ways to increase its usefulness. First, offer “increased reinforcement and reminders of appropriate social behavior at the point of performance to youth with ADHD (e.g., in vivo, in real life peer situations as opposed to in the clinic).” Second, encourage “peers to be more socially accepting and inclusive of youth with ADHD.”
In other words, go to the youths’ environments to work on what’s happening there (looking at both their actions and the actions of others toward them).
Maybe some day, we’ll send kids to mental health clinics less often and start going to them, where the action is. And where science suggests we need to be.