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A few years ago, I participated in an Ask the Expert Chat on "ADHD and Relationships", sponsored by the National Resource Center on ADHD. In this free forum, the public is invited to ask questions of a top ADHD expert in a live online chat. This text-based Q&A is later stored in the CHADD Ask the Expert archive (you can view the topics at that link but access is limited to CHADD members). Participants had so many questions, we had no room for the overflow, so I am sharing them here.
Question: When beginning a new relationship, at what point do you suggest disclosing that you have ADHD and what is a good way to do it?
Well, I wouldn’t mention it on the first date! Or perhaps even the third or fifth.
I’d give the person time to get to know you first, so you can avoid the risk of letting that person’s possible misconceptions about ADHD filter perceptions of you.
Then again, if despite your best efforts, you still have a tendency to “blurt” or “mishear” or some other common ADHD-related trait, it might be good to provide a little education first, so the person won’t misinterpret your behavior as, for example, rude or uncaring. Even then, though, you don’t have to say “I do this because I have ADHD.” Because, again, you don’t know the person’s level of understanding of ADHD. Instead, you can say something like this: “Sometimes I have trouble arriving places on time. I just want you to know that if I’m ever late to meet you, it’s not because I don’t care. I’m working on strategies, but sometimes I slip.”
Over time, as you two get to know each other and you decide that you would like to expand the relationship, you can explain that you have ADHD and what that means in your particular case (because there is nothing "cookie-cutter" about ADHD). Give a quick summary of how ADHD affects you and the steps you have taken to deal with any challenges. You might offer a short article or other information source if the person seems interested in learning more. I would also point out the areas in which you have strengths, just to balance the picture.
Congratulations for learning about Adult ADHD before you enter your next relationship. That can make all the difference in the world.
Question: Are divorces more common in marriages with someone with ADHD than not? If so, why?
Unfortunately, that is true: Untreated ADHD is associated with a higher divorce rate as well as a higher rate of broken relationships. Does that mean that every person with untreated/unrecognized ADHD is bound to fail in relationships? Of course not. There's simply a higher risk factor in general.
No one has studied the “why” behind this higher divorce rate. But it’s safe to say it happens for the same reasons that untreated ADHD is associated with higher rates of bankruptcy, traffic citations and accidents, unplanned pregnancy, incarceration, and job loss: that is, ADHD symptoms themselves.
Being distractible, impulsive, and/or inattentive can inhibit an adult’s ability to act in a mature and responsible manner – for example, to think of consequences, plan ahead, take others’ needs into consideration, and show cooperation. Being easily bored and always chasing stimulation (especially when it comes to romance) also leads a person to abandon promising relationships in search of the new and novel. If one isn't aware of one's ADHD-related challenges in all these areas, there can be a tendency to always blame the other person.
I hope that helps to explain the phenomenon, at least in part. The good news is that, in most cases, adults with ADHD can and do defy these statistics in large numbers. For some, it must be said, relationship success starts with an accurate diagnosis and solid strategies.
I'd love to know how you would answer these questions. Please share your comments below.