A romantic relationship with someone with ADHD can be wonderful — and confusing, challenging and frustrating, says Melissa Orlov. And that wonder, confusion and frustration goes both ways — which means relationships that include at least one person with ADHD can be challenging to maintain.
Most often, that’s because the partners don’t understand the ADHD or each other, Orlov says.
Orlov is a marriage consultant and author of two books about ADHD and relationships — “The ADHD Effect on Marriage” and “The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD.” She is considered one of the world’s top experts on ADHD and adult relationships. She recently spoke in-depth with ADHD Online’s Refocused Podcast — about the roller-coaster emotions and relationship challenges that are part of ADHD. The Refocused Podcast conversations with Orlov will continue throughout February.
Here’s a sampling of what Orlov talked with Refocused’s Lindsay Guentzel about:
• People with ADHD tend to be exceptionally enthusiastic and attentive at the beginning of a relationship. Orlov says she knows this first-hand because her former husband had ADHD:
“It is so great to go through that. It is so much fun to be part of that courtship process. You are the center of the universe if your partner has ADHD. You just feel like everything fits perfectly. But that’s actually part of infatuation. Chemically, in the brain, it’s about a lot of extra dopamine. And for people who have ADHD, it gets them really focused and really intense. I mean, they just laser in on the person they’re with. They’re fun, they’re energetic and they have lots of great ideas. They’re really attentive. And you think, ‘Wow, this is amazing.”
• But then that attentiveness and infatuation wear off — sometimes in a big way, Orlov says:
“The hyperfocus courtship tends to wear off abruptly. I always remember … there was one week, very soon after we returned from our honeymoon when suddenly everything was different. And I’m just looking around the room going, huh? Wait, what? And there were all these gender things that came into it as well. …This is not intentional. But anyway, it’s very abrupt.”
• Those realities of infatuation and then seeming disinterest are only a couple of the challenges that ADHD couples have, Orlov says. They often don’t understand each other and don’t understand how certain behaviors are actually coming from ADHD. And they often may not even realize one partner has ADHD. All of that takes work to explore and navigate toward improvements in the relationship.
“So the very first part of my task with almost any couple is demonstrating to them that it’s not personal. It’s not actually that your partner is a jerk or whatever. This is actually about symptoms and expressions of symptoms. And then how you can respond in a healthy way and grow your relationship. So that’s the starting place.”
She adds: “It’s not just about, quote-unquote, fixing the ADHD partner. It’s also about looking at what those interactions are and what the responses are. So couples need to be much more nuanced in terms of understanding what’s ADHD and what’s not and how to respond when ADHD is present. There’s a huge educational component to it.”
• With work, ADHD couples can significantly improve their relationships, Orlov says:
“People say to me: ‘I read your book, and it made me cry.’ As much as I don’t like the idea of making people cry, they’re crying from relief. Because they see themselves in the pages and in the stories. And also in the potential solutions. They have been hopeless. And they suddenly go, ‘OK, there’s a little glimmer of hope out there. Maybe if I pursue this.’ So there’s this process of getting going and learning. And, as I said, the very first step is finding out as much as you can about ADHD and how it impacts relationships.”
You can listen to much more about what Orlov had to say in four upcoming episodes of the Refocused Podcast.