How Do You Cope With An ADHD Spouse?

Many people don't understand the implications of having ADHD. Here are some important points to consider when you are married to a person with ADHD.

What is ADD/ADHD?

ADD/ADHD is a fairly recently recognised disorder yet the first definition was published about 100 years ago by Dr. G. Still in London.

ADHD and difficulty with social relationships

Many people with ADD/ADHD have difficulty in understanding how others think and feel. This may lead to naive, or socially inappropriate behaviour. They often try hard to be sociable and do not dislike human contact. However, they still find it hard to understand non-verbal signals, including facial expressions.

ADHD and difficulty with communication

People with ADD/ADHD may speak very fluently but they may not take any notice of the reaction of people listening to them, continuing to talk about one topic regardless of the listeners interest or lack of it. Their voice and facial expression may be flat or unusual and they may have odd gestures or eye contact. In many cases they may take jokes or expressions literally and have difficulty in understanding sarcasm.

ADHD and lack of imagination

People with ADD/ADHD often find it difficult to think in abstract ways. They may have restricted interests, narrow, unsociable and unusual hobbies, and sometimes have an obsessive insistence on routines.

Many people with ADD/ADHD have difficulty planning and coping with change and, despite average or above average intelligence, there may be a notable lack of common sense. Everybody is different, and every person with ADD/ADHD has his/her own particular difficulties and strengths, but social problems, unusual verbal and non-verbal expression and narrow interests are the common features of ADD/ADHD.

Some people with ADD/ADHD may only receive a diagnosis in adulthood, and others may remain undiagnosed. Some individuals will manage very well, while others need a lot of support.

People with ADD/ADHD seem to have difficulty understanding what those around them think and feel. Because of this, they often behave inappropriately in social situations, or do things that may appear to be unkind or callous. The wife of one man with ADD/ADHD described his condition as causing "extreme emotional indifference" which was neither voluntary nor deliberate.


Many ordinary people have little eccentricities, certain obsessions, or a tendency to be shy in large social gatherings. ADD/ADHD is not simply normal eccentricity. People with ADD/ADHD usually do not want to be different, but do not know how to fit in better with those around them. The pattern of difficulties appears to start early in life, and people with ADD/ADHD have persistent social and communication problems from early childhood onwards. It is not just a bad phase. This means that an individual with previously close good friendships and normal everyday communication is unlikely to have ADD/ADHD. Knowing about childhood adjustment is important in diagnosing ADD/ADHD, because other disorders may resemble the condition.

How common is ADD/ADHD?

As ADD/ADHD has only fairly recently been recognised there are not yet good figures to estimate the prevalence rate. However studies suggest that approximatly 5% of school children will have the condition and of these 70% are likely to carry symptoms into adulthood. No doubt there are many cases which have never reached clinical attention. What causes ADD/ADHD?

ADD/ADHD, like autism, appears to be caused by some biological difference in how the brain develops. In many cases this may have a genetic cause; autism and ADD/ADHD often run in the same families. Indeed, it is not unusual for parents of children with autism to feel that they recognise certain features of the disorder (eg social difficulties) in other relatives. If you are concerned about possible genetic risks, you should ask your GP for information on genetic counselling. At present there is no cure for ADD/ADHD, although the help and support of family and friends can make a big difference.

ADD/ADHD in the family

Living with a person with ADD/ADHD can be very difficult because of the very subtle nature of the disability. There is no physical sign of the disorder, and it can be hard to explain to friends and family that the peculiar behaviour is not deliberate.

What can you do for yourself?

Because ADD/ADHD can be seen as a disorder of insight into thoughts and feelings, it may be very difficult to engage your partner in the sorts of discussions that marriage counsellors or family therapists use. Indeed, such therapists may not have heard of ADD/ADHD and may need information from you in order to avoid misunderstandings. You may like to think about other approaches instead - perhaps it will be more useful to talk to a counsellor on your own, to have a chance to think through your feelings and decide possible coping strategies.

In brief, the following three steps have been useful for some partners:

  1. Contact with others in the same position, for understanding listening, support and advice.
  2. Counselling for yourself and your family.
  3. Consider whether diagnosis would help.

What can you do for your partner?

As well as your partner having difficulty understanding your needs for emotional closeness and communication, it may also be hard for you to understand your partner's needs. He or she may be interested in things that seem very boring to you, or may find apparently normal social situations very stressful. Try and remember that he/she may not be able to read all the social cues which you understand without even trying. So getting very emotional (even when you have every right!) may not be the best way to get through - while a calmer, reasoned discussion (even writing things down) may work better. Avoiding personal criticism can help; one partner suggests a more impersonal approach, e.g. instead of saying "You shouldn't do that", saying "People don't do that in social settings".

It may be hard for your partner to change from routine, and he/she may need plenty of notice when such disruptions will occur.

If your partner acknowledges his/her social difficulties, it may be useful for him/her to see someone who knows about ADD/ADHD and could offer practical advice, or social skills pointers, rather than more insight-centred talking therapy.

For more help, information and support check out ADDChoices


THE MAIN COMPLAINT seems to be that the ADDer regularly fails to complete projects/chores at home.

Don't take this behavior personally. The ADDer is not lazy or insensitive to your requests. Most adults with ADD/ADHD spend an enormous amount of energy maintaining focus at work. Upon arriving home, there is little get-up-and-go left to focus. It takes an enormous amount energy to maintain attention, avoid impulsiveness and stifle hyperactivity at work. Adults with ADD/ADHD really do need to "recuperate" after wrestling with the trials and tribulations of "staying on task" at work all day.

  • Do chores with your spouse rather than delegating chores
  • Maintain daily routines especially for repetitious tasks


Have the ADD/ADHD spouse make out a schedule such as:

  • Laundry done every Tuesday and Saturday
  • Grocery shopping Wednesdays right after work
  • Pay bills on the 1st and 15th of every month
  • Walk the dog by 5:30 daily


YOU MUST REALIZE THAT: ADDers tend to agree with you, and then neglect to follow through. This can be intensely irritating! Strive to depersonalize your reaction to such forgetfulness. You must understand that the ADDer will agree without paying attention to the discussion. He/she can be so wrapped up in their own thoughts that your voice doesn't register in the brain! Really! They will later claim "You never said that!".

If you are irritated by some action not being done consider this strategy:

Make your request. If the action is not taken, either do it yourself or pay to have it done.

You need to know that nagging, coercing, whining, intimidation, threatening, yelling, throwing a fit etc. are all strategies that will not work!


The non-ADD spouses frequently blame themselves for not "helping the ADDer enough". Don't blame yourself for being unable to micro-manage your spouse. It may seem like an honorable goal but, in the long run you are not doing yourself or your spouse any favors. It is not your fault your spouse neglects paying bills, calling their parents, picking up the kids, and so forth. It is not within your power to change your spouse. ADD/ADHD adults must change themselves.


Many adult ADDers are in denial. Be ready to impart information to your spouse occasionally. Some partners have designed clandestine ways to educate their spouse by strategically placing articles, books and pamphlets on ADD for children around the house. They approach the education of the adult through discussing the ADD nephew, daughter, neighbour.


  • Compliment your spouse often. You can mold behavior (somewhat) through positive comments.
  • Ignore behaviors that aren't worth the hassle.
  • Take a deep breath and relax.
  • Use a soft tone of voice and gentle gestures.
  • Use humor to diffuse difficult situations.
  • Realize your spouse needs/tries/wants to be in control because their thoughts are out of control. You don't have to "lay down and roll over" constantly but realize that at times an argument is due to an ADD/ADHD thing - and doesn't have anything to do with the subject YOU are arguing about.

Say this to yourself often:

It's an ADD/ADHD thing!


Having an ADD/ADHD spouse can be difficult, exciting, stressful, unpredictable, fun, infuriating, invigorating, etc.... just like other marriages. The difference is, it is extremely difficult to have the attention of someone with AN ATTENTION DIFFICULTY. You must figure out how to deal with your spouse's inattentiveness, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Focus on your mate's talents, accomplishments and positive attributes -- after all, you married this person!


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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 21). How Do You Cope With An ADHD Spouse?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Last Updated: February 12, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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