A Lack of Intimacy : A Portrait of ADHD in Adult Relationships

“The child, as he develops, must learn step by step to understand himself better; with this he becomes more able to understand others, and eventually can relate to them in ways which are mutually satisfying and meaningful.”
-The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim (pg. 3).

When it comes to “mutually satisfying and meaningful” relationships, we are all wandered children searching for ways to connect.

For many teens and adults with ADHD, finding and maintaining such relationships, partnerships, and marriages is a struggle rife with frustration, impatience, and misunderstanding. The act of nurturing a stable and attentive connection can feel like a fight against your innermost impulses to voice what you think (instead of processing your emotions and their impact on another person), to seek novelty (even if it compromises your time and attention spent on your relationship), and to act out with impatience (when your loved one points out your actions and how the relationship is compromised by them). The ADHD’r often feels lectured, belittled, patronized, and confined by the necessary time and attention needed to foster a genuine relationship.

To the person who occupies the other half of the relationship, their attempts to reach out and fix the problems between you can feel like bouncing a basketball with too little air in it. No matter how hard you dribble, it never bounces back. Your attempts are continually sunk, left unanswered, and eventually, you feel like giving up all effort.

Something that I’ve always found intriguing is how ADHD in relationships can be misinterpreted as drug abuse, an overtake of caffeine, or a lack of intimacy. See Melanie and Douglas’ relationship described in Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell M.D. and John J. Ratey M.D.:

The time [Douglas] had left for Melanie wasn’t much, but it would have been enough, she felt, if he were really there during that time. Instead, at any moment, he could disappear, literally. In the time it took to turn one’s head, he’d be gone, gone off in pursuit of some new project, some new idea, some greater stimulation.

Melanie felt that Douglas had a problem with intimacy and was using alcohol to treat his malaise. Douglas felt that he just wanted some space and some freedom to be himself, to compose his music, drink his wine, cook his food, and think he thoughts. He acknowledged he could be difficult, but he said he was working on this. (pg. 105)
I wanted to bring up this topic not to condemn those ADHD’rs who have difficulty connecting with their partners, but to increase awareness about the problems that can arise in a relationship with an ADHD’r or relationships among ADHD’rs. Thoughout this blog I describe how heightened awareness of oneself can make for a more satisfying life. It can also foster more gratifying relationships. If you recognize any of these symptoms in your current relationships, you’re already taking a step to puzzling out your difficulties.

The complications that arise in adult relationships with an ADHD’r who is undiagnosed or untreated, is also another reason why early detection and treatment (hopefully in childhood!) is so important. The sooner that you find out about your unique differences, the sooner that you can understand and manage them, and come to maintain fulfilling relationships.

This post by CBS.com offers a great guide for the 11 Warning Signs Your Partner May Have ADHD: http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-204_162-10004409.html?tag=page

Signs include:
  1. You Treat Each Other Like Parent and Child.
  2. Conversations Don't Flow Smoothly
  3. Your Child Has ADHD
  4. You Fight Incessantly Over Chores
  5. Your Financial Situation Is Unstable
  6. You've Grown Apart
  7. You Can't Stop the Blame Game
  8. Nag, Nag, Nag
  9. You're Walking on Eggshells
  10. Sex? What Sex?
  11. We Didn't Agree to That!
If you recognize any or all of these symptoms in your relationship, you should consider counseling. Bringing a psychologically educated intermediary into the mix, can help you reason out strategies that will improve your relationship and ease the combative nature that can arise from living for a prolonged period of time with such problems.

As someone with ADHD, what have your relationships been like with others? Or do you recognize any of the above symptoms in your current partner? Comment below or send me an email at WriteToJulianna.  


  1. I have found that the link you reference:

    Does not seem to work...

  2. Thanks for letting me know! The "%20" should be left off the end of that link. Could you please let me know where that reference appears so that I can fix it?

  3. If ONLY my ADHD/ (ODD?) S/O would get diagnosed... :( We're both 55!

    I was never with anyone like this before - it's horrible.

    Any time I read about ADHD roller coaster behaviors - it's him to a tee. Every ADHD symptom ~ sabotaging forgetfulness, forgets (?) important conversations; hypersensitivity (taste, smell, bright lights); misunderstanding words or phrases in conversation - as if he's deaf, but he isn't; a need for constant stimulation: every hour booked with either work or hobby, double-booking his time, resulting in more problems; falling into bed after 2am 3am 4am ... chronically - with the TV on or wearing headphones playing music....; extremely defensive...; left college 1 class short of a BA - never had a major anyway - would ONLY take classes he liked / no structure at all....; long history of recruiting enablers (I refused) ...; history of stimulant and alcohol abuse...; apparent ADHD family members (drama!)... ;
    the impulsive, frustration-sourced blow-ups (he can NOT tolerate frustration...), his defensiveness, paranoia... the way he flips out on a dime... breaks every agreement when convenient ("well it wasn't written in stone...")

    Semi-monthly extreme, inappropriate reactions to frustrations (usually enacted on me); Then he says even he can't stand how he talks to me when he melts down, even as he hears himself saying/doing awful things to me -- and after his meltdowns - he feels fine, even great! And I'm a stressed-out, resentful mess :(

    After 4 years of this roller coaster (I left out the good parts here), I finally asked him to leave. After threatening me with this so many times, now he's dragging his feet!

    I'm fine with not-nagging, letting go of the small stuff, understanding ADHD, etc - but I can NOT be the ONLY one pulling the weight in this relationship, with an apparent ADHD'er who refuses to get checked out. He says he's afraid to lose me - I bet! He had it great with me - but he won't deal with his evil ADHD twin in our midst. It's just too much - especially the disrespect.

    1. Dear anonymous. Are you still in this relationship or choose to survive? Your situation sounds identical to mine - ~same ages, length of relationship, all of it - your story mirrors mine and I don't know what to do.

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