— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD can make relationships difficult, by causing issues like love-bombing and having a hyperfixation on one person.
- Love-bombing is a manipulative behavior when one person gives the other too much attention, gifts, and compliments, with the intention to control them later.
- Hyperfixation is intense and prolonged focus on a single activity or object. It can be a helpful distraction from stressful issues, but it can also make one avoid important things.
The non-ADHD partner may need to be more open, understanding, and willing to work together to overcome these problems and build a good relationship.
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The Unromantic Side of ADHD
ADHD is a common, chronic neurobehavioral condition that often appears in childhood. Over 8% of American children ages 2 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to this study.
- People with ADHD are usually distracted, impulsive, and hyperactive, which is why they often have trouble making their romantic partner feel heard and understood.
- It is difficult for them to communicate their fears, secrets, and vulnerabilities with openness, or to express and accept intimacy.
- Their forgetfulness, lack of organization, and poor time management can lead to missed dates, broken promises, and their partner’s frustration.
- The ADHD partner’s struggles with emotional regulation can lead them to make impulsive or risky decisions that can negatively impact their romantic relationship.
Let’s explore what happens when their unique brain traits, like hyperfocus and a high need for dopamine rush, come into play in a relationship.
ADHD Love-Bombing & Hyperfixation
- Hyperfocus: ADHD people can intensely focus on a particular activity and stay engaged in it for hours and days. When they direct this focus on a person, they can become hyperfixated on that person, sometimes to the point of neglecting other aspects of life.
- Love-bombing is an overwhelming display of affection, frequent communication, and grand romantic gestures, especially in the early stages of a relationship. Those with ADHD can show unusually intense expressions of love in romantic situations, which can look like “love-bombing.”
People with ADHD can feel love and attachment, but they often need to feel these emotions intensely, and this causes issues.
This need for emotional highs, fueled by their poor impulse control, can result in unconventional romantic displays of affection in relationships, such as love-bombing.
The good thing about ADHD love-bombing is that, despite their over-the-top gestures towards their partner, they would rather not control their love interest.
The ADHD love-bomber’s methods can have both positive and negative effects on their relationships. Although initially flattering when it brings excitement and a unique intensity to a relationship, it can become overwhelming and build unrealistic expectations and strains.
I can say from my clinical experience that an ADHD’ers love-bombing and hyperfixation indicate a deep desire for connection, but this behavior is driven by their typical neurological trait rather than an intent to manipulate.
ADHD Need For Dopamine Rush
- Dopamine rush: Dopamine is a “feel-good” hormone released in our brains as a reward for doing a pleasurable act — like shopping, eating good food, chatting with friends, having sex, or scrolling social media. For those with ADHD, this dopamine rush can be highly addictive, driving them to repeat the activities that trigger its release.
People with ADHD often have lower base levels of dopamine, so they tend to look for new and stimulating things to raise their dopamine levels. The ADHD love-bomber’s continuous pursuit of novelty and excitement can have both positive and negative effects on their relationships.
Imagine Sarah, who has ADHD, starts dating Alex.
Sarah’s thrill-seeking nature leads her to plan unique and thrilling dates. They go on surprise weekend getaways, try out new activities like rock climbing, and take gourmet cooking classes together.
Alex finds this spontaneity and adventure exhilarating. Sarah’s ability to make every moment feel special and new keeps the relationship vibrant and full of life, making Alex feel deeply cherished and excited about their future together.
However, over time, Sarah’s need for constant novelty starts to create issues. She begins to expect every day to be equally thrilling and gets easily bored with routine aspects of the relationship.
When their life together settles into more predictable patterns, Sarah feels restless and dissatisfied.
This puts pressure on Alex to keep up with her need for constant excitement, leading to unrealistic expectations. Alex starts feeling inadequate and stressed, unable to constantly provide new and exhilarating experiences.
The relationship, once full of excitement, now feels strained under the weight of these unmet expectations.
Hyperfixation by those with ADHD can lead to an all-consuming focus on a specific person or activity. Although this can be beneficial in certain contexts, it frequently results in placing undue pressure on a partner, complicating the dynamics of the relationship.
Dr. Ellen B. Littman, a clinical psychologist specialized in treating those with neurodiverse brains for over 30 years, emphasizes the importance of balance for people with ADHD in relationships:
“People with ADHD crave novelty and stimulation to remain engaged, but they must also cultivate skills to manage their impulses and communicate effectively with their partners, ensuring healthier and more sustainable relationships.”
How To Handle ADHD Love-Bombing & Hyperfixation
Those with attention deficit disorder often have difficulty balancing their romantic relationships with their own unique challenges.
Their struggles to communicate, stay organized, manage time and memory, and control their impulsivity and distractibility, can frustrate their efforts to express love normally. The resulting resentments in both can strain the relationship.
These are helpful tips to handle ADHD love-bombing and hyperfixation:
1. Understand & Improve Communication Challenges
People with ADHD find it difficult to communicate with openness and clarity. They hesitate to let their guard down and keep their weaknesses and expect the other person to understand the unsaid.
This breeds a ground for misunderstandings and conflicts.
To solve this, both partners need to handle every communication with patience, compassion, and psychological safety.
A sense of safety around the ADHD partner’s vulnerability, and a willingness to resolve the issues together, are critical for reducing conflicts and improving relationship dynamics.
They would benefit from learning how to be active listeners and express their thoughts clearly.
2. Tackle Organization and Time Management Issues
People with ADHD commonly struggle with executive functioning skills, like organization and time management.
They often have difficulty keeping track of appointments, completing tasks on time, and managing their schedule, all of which can cause stress and frustration for themselves and their partner.
This is the biggest issue for many couples with one partner having ADHD. The best solution for most of them is to collaborate on this challenge.
They should work together to build a work discipline, learn to use tools to organize and schedule, and even seek professional help to overcome executive functioning obstacles.
3. Manage Impulsivity and Forgetfulness
ADHD can also lead to impulsivity and forgetfulness, which can cause problems in a romantic relationship.
They may act on impulse without considering the consequences, such as buying a ticket for a weekend trip without informing their partner.
Some of the worst conflicts in these relationships result from forgetting crucial dates, like anniversaries and birthdays.
The non-ADHD partner needs to work with them to understand their memory issues and impulse triggers, instead of blaming them.
And develop coping strategies to manage their ADHD symptoms, thereby maintaining harmony in the relationship.
4. Deal With Distractibility & Distractions
People with ADHD are easily sidetracked by distractions, making it difficult for them to focus on their partner’s or the relationship’s demands.
On the other hand, they might also hyperfocus on certain activities or interests. These pursuits may fall too far outside the relationship, making them neglect the vital aspects of the relationship.
Mindfulness practice can be an effective way to manage easy distractibility and maintain a healthy focus on their relationship.
5. Emphasize Compassion, Commitment, and Mental Stimulation
The foundation of a successful relationship with someone with ADHD lies in compassion, commitment, and an understanding of their need for mental stimulation. Let’s break them down:
- Compassion: Having compassion means recognizing that their behaviors — like forgetfulness or distractibility — are not intentional, but part of their condition. A compassionate approach involves understanding and empathizing with the challenges of ADHD, showing patience, active listening, and supportive actions, to foster a nurturing and two-way relationship.
- Commitment: Commitment in an ADHD relationship means a long-term dedication to work through difficulties, participate in therapies, and support each other in managing ADHD symptoms. It keeps them both going strong through tough times. Commitment adds to the relationship’s longevity and health.
- Mental Stimulation: Mental stimulation is key for individuals with ADHD, who thrive on novelty and engagement. Partners can support this by introducing new activities, encouraging interests, and being open to spontaneity. This keeps the relationship exciting and helps manage ADHD symptoms, balancing engagement with stability.
The good news is that most ADHD people understand the impact of ADHD symptoms on their partners, and are open to taking steps and willing to seek therapy to nourish the relationship.
My advice to the ADHD person in a relationship: ADHD is not an excuse, it’s an explanation—it explains why you may behave in certain ways, but it’s never an excuse to behave poorly.
Positive Side of ADHD In Love Relationships
While it poses certain difficulties, ADHD can bring unique strengths and qualities to a relationship, particularly when partners focus on the positive and collaborate to navigate challenges.
- Creativity and Spontaneity: People with ADHD often bring a creative and spontaneous energy to relationships. Their unique worldview can be refreshing and inspiring for their partners.
- Compassion and Empathy: Those with ADHD may exhibit heightened empathy and compassion. They are often attuned to their partner’s emotions and needs, and willing to navigate through relationship challenges together.
- Sense of Adventure: A natural sense of adventure in people with ADHD can add excitement and novelty to a relationship, keeping it vibrant and dynamic.
- High Energy and Enthusiasm: The characteristic high energy and enthusiasm of individuals with ADHD can translate into a passionate and exciting relationship experience.
- Openness to Exploration: Their willingness to try new things, including exploring their sexuality, can lead to a fulfilling and adventurous partnership.
- Mindfulness of Impulsivity: While ADHD can lead to impulsivity, being aware and practicing healthy coping mechanisms is crucial. Open and honest communication is essential to balance this trait in a relationship.
- Success with Proper Support: With appropriate treatment and support, individuals with ADHD can thrive in their relationships, finding lasting love and success.
Dr. Ned Hallowell, a renowned ADHD expert, asserts, “ADHD can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how it’s managed.” He says ADHD is not a predetermined path to failure but a condition that, when properly approached and treated, can lead to success and joy in life and relationships.
Treatment and Coping Strategies
ADHD is a lifelong condition, but with the right treatment and coping strategies, its challenges can be managed effectively.
Medication and Therapy
- Medication: Common medications like Adderall and Ritalin can significantly improve focus, executive functioning, and impulse control in individuals with ADHD.
- Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly beneficial for those with ADHD, helping them develop coping skills, better emotional regulation, and the ability to understand the demands of the relationship.
Strategies for Improved ADHD Relationships
- Active Listening: Active listening skills can help people with ADHD understand their partner’s point of view and help them respond thoughtfully, fostering deeper communication.
- Compassionate Communication: Communicating with compassion can prevent and resolve misunderstandings, and strengthen emotional bonding.
- Emotional Regulation Techniques: Awareness and detachment techniques, like mindfulness and deep breathing, can help manage emotions effectively. The couple can practice together, reducing their frustrations and resentments, and maintaining a healthy relationship dynamic.
- Overcoming Distraction: Tackling ADHD distraction is key to maintaining intimacy and overall relationship satisfaction. Strategies like organizing daily schedules, prioritizing tasks, and breaking larger tasks into smaller steps can significantly help individuals with ADHD stay focused and attentive in their relationships.
- Engaging in Stimulating Activities: Choosing activities that are both stimulating and enjoyable can have a positive impact on the ADHD person. These activities help counteract depressive feelings and enhance overall happiness and engagement in the relationship.
ADHD can complicate romantic relationships, but with the right strategies like safely allowing each other’s vulnerabilities, these relationships can be lasting and fulfilling.
One person with ADHD puts it this way, “We may not be easy, but we’re worth it.”
That captures the essence of steering ADHD in relationships—a challenging yet deeply rewarding journey.
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- How to Take Control of Your Adult ADHD
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