Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Q & A: When to Disclose – And More

Dear readers - I hope you like this blog's new, cleaner design!

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?

Hi Rebeca,

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?

Hi Nina,

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.


  1. First off, the new design is great; a visual breeze.

    Second off, that schedule for revealing ADD is tricky. On the one hand, it makes sense not to reveal my Kryptonite on the first date. But Kryptonite is everywhere. It's in the drinking water, the air I breathe, the food I eat. It's in everything I do. (by the way, Kryptonite implies that I'm wearing a red and blue suit under my clothes, but that's definitely not true. There are many varieties of Kryptonite. Mine is the one that exists independent of super powers.)

    I'm probably wrong about this, but my inclination is to mention the ADD upfront. If the person has misconceptions -- if ADD is something to fear or mock -- then there's a fifty percent chance (made-up statistic) that he or she will always have those misconceptions. I'd rather date someone who already has a reasonably well-informed understanding of ADD; or someone who shows an immediate desire to learn. I have many flaws and quirks, and none of them can be hidden for long. I'd rather leave the closet door open. If it doesn't send a person running, I'm/we're that much further along in the relationship.

    Disclaimer: I'm 51, and I've only dated two women (married both)(not simultaneously), so my advice is the sort always served with a truckload of road salt.

  2. On the first question: My wife told me on our first date. She did it so nonchalantly that I thought very little of it, since I was coaching kids in baseball at the time and knew how to deal with it. Hey, they're just "distracted" sometimes, right? Who isn't?

    How wrong was I not to learn more about ADD from her and from independent sources! Only now, after several years of marriage difficulties, am I beginning to understand that these problems are rooted deeply in her ADD and in my lack of understanding of it.

    So I would just say, she was courteous and courageous enough to disclose her ADD from the start; I was insufficiently aware of the implications it was bound to have on our relationship, and didn't know what I didn't know. I so wish that we hadn't each assumed that I did.

    Incidentally, had I understood or learned about the implications of ADD on relationships and intimacy before we got married, I would not have made a different decision. Once we were married, however, I wouldn't have come so close to losing her, either.

    On the second question: Another eye opener; really explains a lot. Still so much to learn.... Thanks for this great resource!

  3. I wish I'd known about you earlier, Gina. Managed to run across your blog this morning when I happened to remember to research something that I had made a mental note to research roughly 6 years ago.

    Specifically, the article from August 4th, 2009. Boredom. Caused a lot of issues.

    If you haven't guessed, I have severe ADHD.

    So there is this question I have been dying to have answered. Rebeca asked it, but your answer, unfortunately, was not helpful.

    My ADHD manages to 'leak out' even when on medication. I'm on 54mg of Concerta (name brand, not the generic that doesn't work, I know, I tried) right now and still having trouble concentrating on this particular question, largely due to the fact that I have many other questions, some about relationships, others that are probably better off discussed elsewhere.

    I have been through extensive therapy as well. I learned a lot, and am much better than I used to be. But even when on medication, the 'blurting' and 'mishearing' and tendency to ramble and switch topics on the fly for no apparent reason (to a farmer, anyway) happens quite regularly. While there is a significant difference between the normal me and the medication me (that personality change led me to spend several years off of Concerta with intervals where I'd go back on, and I've only recently restarted... again...), it is still quite obvious that I'm "differen't". The medication also causes problems, and I sometimes start to sound like Ben Stein in conversation.

    Relationships, regardless, are extremely difficult for me. I don't like holding back the fact that I have ADHD because of how much it affects my life. I don't like coming forward about it because of how misunderstood it is. The solution you suggested would, unfortunately, likely cause me more problems than it would solve. It wouldn't be just "sometimes I'm late but I'm working on it and it doesn't mean I don't care" (actually, strangely, that's one part of ADHD I've managed to dodge, somehow), it would be

    "Sorry, I sometimes blurt things out before thinking, but I'm working on it. Sorry, sometimes I talk too much and don't listen enough, but I'm working on it. Sorry, sometimes the smallest thing could remind me about a completely different topic and change my focus in the middle of a conversation, but I'm working on it. Sorry, but I keep mishearing what you're saying even though I can hear a pin drop fifty feet away, but I'm working on it. Sorry, I didn't mean for it to look like I was checking out that girl's breasts, she just had an interesting design on her shirt that caught my attention, I'm working on it."

    All those things have happened in less than 20 minutes while on a date. While on medication.

    Needless to say, I don't get that many second dates, and I've only had one serious relationship, and that only lasted any length of time because we used each other as crutches for our issues, and we were quite terrible for each other.

    Am I stuck between a rock and a crazy place? What makes this more difficult is that I have terrible social skills, beyond just ADHD. They are bad enough that it led one psychologist to suggest I have Aspergers... the same psychologist who gave me my ADHD diagnosis, figure that one out... (I don't go to her anymore).

    And it actually gets worse, as I have other mental health issues including 2 sleeping disorders, but we should probably just stick with the ADHD issues surrounding relationships.

    1. Hi Justin,

      I'm sorry you are dealing with so much that gets in the way of happy relationships for you.

      You say there is more but you want to "just stick with the ADHD issues surrounding relationships."

      From my perspective, when ADHD symptoms are severe enough to adversely affect relationships, they're severe enough to pervasively sabotage other aspects of life, too.

      For this reason, I have NEVER presented myself as a "relationships expert" or "marriage expert." Relationships are based on individuals; no two are alike. The psychological theories around relationships have been proven wrong time and again. Sometimes much damage is done in the pursuit of following "relationship rules."

      Yes, there are some basics that help most relationships -- empathy, reciprocity, sometimes shared values and goals, etc. But beyond that, no one knows for sure.

      That's why I have ALWAYS focused on understanding the many possible manifestations of ADHD that can create problems for the individual and the couple -- and knowing how to resolve problems around ADHD (including education for both partners).

      So, you say you have not just one but TWO sleeping disorders. That is huge and a giant clue that your treatment is not all it could be.

      You say you are taking Concerta 56 mg. But really that is not evidence that it's working or that it's even the right medication/dosage for you. Or that any comorbidities (including sleep!) have been addressed.

      This is why my work and my book are focused on evidence-based treatment strategies -- following a logical protocol in getting the meds right, learning how to "unpack" old counterproductive coping strategies (developed over the years when one's ADHD went unrecognized and one muddled through as best as possible).

      For you, Justin, I would encourage you to start with the basics of your ADHD+ treatment.

      Work on sleep strategies.

      Try a different medication (perhaps Vyvanse, which is in a different stimulant class, might work better for you).

      If you're not already getting exercise and following a healthful diet, start taking steps to improve.

      From this stronger foundation of health and symptom mitigation, your relationships have a better chance of thriving.

      I hope this helps.


  4. “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.”

    This looks like it would do well for my 20 year marriage (not just for the newly dating). I suppose I should be using this strategy for all the other traits that bother my spouse.

    1. You know, I think acknowledgement is always helpful. Then your partner doesn't feel like you are simply dismissing problematic behavior or its effect on your partner.

  5. I agree that disclosing your ADD or ADHD should be something that you do after you've established a connection with someone, and at the point when you're hoping that the relationship will continue. When I met my husband, I was deathly afraid of telling him, for some reason. I think there's a lot of shame surrounding adult ADHD. When I finally did tell him, he couldn't have been more supportive. I'm trying to learn not to be so ashamed of my ADHD, and found some wonderful advice at http://onlineceucredit.com/edu/social-work-ceus-lb. It's a great resource for any adult with ADHD.

  6. Hey Gina, thanks for the blog post.

    I believe in disclosing ADD within the first few dates. ADDers do not like to wait, and their potential partner needs to be accepting and understanding of ADD. Why spend time with someone, who can't give you what you need?

    There are many people out there who do not believe the disorder exists, will tell you you're not trying hard enough, etc. Finding out sooner than later can prevent heartache on both sides.

    I've spoken about my ex, and I'll speak about her again, respectfully. Even if we knew I had ADD prior to our separation, I don't think she would have been able to live with it. It just wasn't in her nature to understand and be non-judgmental. No one can be 100% this or that so I speak in generalities.



    1. I appreciate your perspective, Dylan. Just as there is no "cookie cutter" to ADHD, there's no pat formula for self-disclosure.

      I do wonder about the ex, though. Seems like the issue wasn't so much her understanding ADHD as her having her own issues? I wonder how much your unrecognized ADHD played a role in not seeing (at least initially) these issues?

      Which brings me to another point: Being a smart "dating consumer" is a two-way street.

      That is, folks with ADHD also do well to "pay attention" to a potential mate, listening closely to their opinions/perspectives/reactions and remembering their promises and actions.

      In other words, the goal isn't just finding someone who accepts/understands one's ADHD but who meets other criteria as well. :-)

  7. I think it would be a mistake to even start a new relationship if you know what your symptoms are, but not having a strategy in dealing with those symptoms. For example, if you have trouble remembering phone numbers,ask the person you are interested in if they have the same problem. If they say: "Yep me too!" then tell them what your strategy is to deal with it, for yourself. Don't act as if you are ashamed of yourself for this commom problem that many non-ADHDers have. Eventualy you can discuss other symptoms you are dealing with.

    Telling someone right away about your own BIG problems is no way to start a relationship. And if someone starts telling you about they're own BIG problems or starts pointing out yours right away....run.

    You may be surprized how many little things you have in common with non-ADHDers as your relationship becomes more intimate. Or you may realize they won't be able to deal with your ADHD symptoms before you become intimate with them. So start slow and you will know when the right time is to disclose that you have ADHD. Otherwise it is none of they're business to know...if you see they can't handle it. (I may be wrong about everything I just opined on). Good Luck!

    1. Scott, this makes a lot of sense to me. And kind of dovetails with my response above to Dylan.

      Even as the person with ADHD might have trouble remembering phone numbers, the love interest might have even bigger trouble! Which you might never know if all you think about is your own numbers troubles. lol!

  8. I don't actually disagree with your advice Gina, it is good for people with ADHD to sometimes address potentially sensitive issues with a little subtlety...however, you know I can't resist a good comedic twist:

    My husband asked me out because in the first conversation I ever had with him, in a public place, at a networking event, I made a joke about my ADHD medication. I mean yes, he thought I was good-lookin'. But he had also never met another adult with ADHD before (at least one that would admit to it) and he was excited to be able to talk to me more.

    So for us...that strategy worked...alright I can't say it's a strategy...BUT...he did know what he was getting up front!

    1. lol! Great story, Katy! And very much you!

      And this is what I always say....there is no cookie-cutter anything to ADHD. People with ADHD are individuals; what works for one isn't right for another.

  9. Scott, you are so correct...sometimes non-ADHDers have their own quirks...I actually have a coworker whose mate likely has ADHD...she gets frustrated with him...but honestly, from what I've seen, she's not that great at managing her own anxiety. It's no crime, certainly...but it's easy for both us AND people without ADHD to assume that the person with the label is the only one that deserves the criticism...or needs to work on some stuff...

    1. Very true!

      Then again, unless you live with the people in question, you really don't know the effect they are having on the people they live with. :-)

  10. Yes, that is true too...it is challenging as someone with ADHD though, to listen to someone complaining about their spouse with ADHD. I think the only reason it bothers me is that she clearly thinks there should be another outcome. And maybe there should be...it just might not look exactly like SHE thinks it should ;) It will take two of them to find solutions, if solutions are indeed what they might seek...and compromise from both will most likely be necessary...of course that's easy for me to say, I decided to marry someone who was just more comfortable with me the way I am, lol. That was pretty uncompromising, really.

    1. Hard to say, Katy. I should say, hard for me to say; I've never met the lady in question!

      But, just in general, until one knows that one's partner has ADHD, and knows what it means, it can really throw one's brain into a tizzy.

      I see this all the time when new members join the online group for partners of adults with ADHD. Some are so wigged out that you can almost *feel* it through the e-mail.

      But as they receive support and education, they often start calming down. They become more focused on understanding, compromise, and solutions. Even their writing style changes (more paragraph breaks, fewer misspellings).

      It's the not knowing what you are dealing with - or your partner with ADHD refusing to acknowledge it - that can really put the whammy on sanity. :-)


  11. I have ADD, and I am 21 years married. My husband don't like it when I am absent (Dreamily) and he also don't like it when I in the middle of a conversation suddenly begin to talk about another topic. He can't believe I am thinking ten things at once. But ... he loves me! We laugh a lot. He is my great support!

    My daughter has ADHD. Here in the Netherlands, people are open and frank. A date, what is that? This is not so organized here. More spontaneous I think. If you go out with a boy from your school everyone knows automatically that you have ADHD because you will be guided by the care - team of the school :-)

    Gina, I love your site ( blog )

  12. Hi Roos -- I'm happy to hear that you and your husband are so happy together.

    I do wonder if the strong social safety-net in the Netherlands makes a big positive difference for people with ADHD and their families.


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