Understanding your partner is one of the most important parts of having a healthy, fulfilling relationship. But without ADHD resources available, ADHD-impacted relationships are challenged every single day and the unfortunate reality is this often leads couples to separate or divorce.
Today’s episode is the continuation of our conversation with Melissa Orlov on how awareness and self-acceptance of ADHD can help save relationships and marriages. After establishing ADHDmarriage.com in 2007, Melissa has helped couples learn to thrive in ADHD-impacted relationships. Today, Melissa dives into hyperfocused courtship, looking at guilt and how the pressures of having ADHD can affect a couple and how defining and acknowledging ADHD symptoms can help guide the ADHD partner through rough patches.
Tune in now to learn more about ADHD, dating, and divorce from Melissa Orlov!
- ADHD, marriage, and divorce
- What is hyperfocus courtship?
- Pressures felt by women with ADHD
- ADHD women and the biological clock
Lindsay Gensel (00:01):
Hello and welcome back to Refocused. There’s so much on the agenda for you today as we head into part two of our four-part conversation with the wonderful Melissa Orlov. And yes, I said part two. So if you are joining us for the first time, hello, I am Lindsay. There’s so much that comes before this. Please do yourself a favor, press pause and go back, even if it’s just to last week for episode 65, ADHD and Relationships with Melissa Orlov. You don’t want to miss it.
Are you loving something specific on the show right now? Lots of light bulbs going off. Same, during every single interview. It would actually be such a big help to my team if you would share those moments with us. One, it’s so nice to know what our listeners are connecting with when we plan interviews and episode topics. And two, it makes us feel nice, and it’s actually what started the conversation between Phil, our coordinating producer and myself many months ago, and now we work together, which is just so ADHD, isn’t it? Full disclosure, there aren’t any producer roles open right now, but we would still love to hear from you. You can email us [email protected], and we’re also on Social, @RefocusedPod.
Support for Refocused comes from the team ADHD online, a telemedicine mental healthcare company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan that provides affordable and accessible ADHD assessments and treatment plans, including medication management and teletherapy. Available right now on ADHDonline.com, Michelle Seitzer dives right into it with what I’ve learned as the spouse of someone with ADHD, offering eight tips for all of our neurotypical partners out there. Check out Michelle’s wisdom through the link in our bio.
Welcome back to Refocused. My name is Lindsay Guentzel. I am the host and one of the producers of this little show we’ve been doing since May of 2022, and I am so excited because throughout the month of February we are diving into the topic of ADHD and relationships. And here’s where I tell you that if you’re new here, and this is the first episode of Refocused that you’ve listened to, while I am so happy you are here, I need you to do me a favor. I need you to press pause and go back. I do think you should go back to the very beginning, but for the time being you must, and I mean you must, at least go back one episode, back to February 6th, and listen to my first episode with Melissa Orlov. She’s the founder of ADHDmarriage.com. She’s also a marriage consultant and the author of two award-winning books on how ADHD impacts couples, and that February 6th episode kicks off our conversations about relationships this month, and she is sharing her expertise with us throughout the entire month, and I am so excited and so grateful to have her in studio with me today. So thank you, Melissa, for continuing the conversation.
Melissa Orlov (02:55):
It’s a conversation I love to have.
Lindsay Gensel (02:57):
Well, and there’s so much to get to, so I’m so excited to continue our dive into ADHD and its impact on relationships. I feel like this is the time. We did the introduction, we can roll up our sleeves, we dive in, and I’m going to kind of take a step back for a second. So let’s pretend I know nothing about ADHD and I come to you. How do you explain what it is?
Melissa Orlov (03:22):
Are you coming to me as part of a couple?
Lindsay Gensel (03:23):
Melissa Orlov (03:25):
Okay. So I think that one of the interesting things about people back into ADHD in a couple of different ways. One is if they have a child with ADHD and they look at those symptoms and they go, “Oh, look at that. Now I get it. This is me too.” That’s one. I don’t diagnose people, first of all. So I try to provide information, and the kinds of things that I would clue people into is, are you trying really hard in your relationship? Both of you know that you should be able to do it and you just can’t, and things keep happening over and over and over again. You talk about wanting to follow through on things, for example, and then they just don’t seem to get followed through on. Or you’ve worked with a therapist who says, “Okay, now we’re going to set a plan and you’re going to do, you partner A are going to go do X, Y, and Z in the following timeframe,” and then it just doesn’t happen. And it doesn’t happen, and you don’t really know why it doesn’t happen.
Those are an indicator that ADHD may be present. Emotional volatility, like a quick anger or quick irritability, or a lot of escape, one partner feeling distracted. There are clues that you can look for that would suggest, hey, maybe you should get an evaluation for ADHD and see if that might be what’s going on. And then if it is, there are bazillions of things you can do to start to address it.”
Lindsay Gensel (04:40):
You mentioned kids and seeing symptoms in children. And most ADHD diagnosis, and I guess I shouldn’t even say most, that I know that that’s true. I just know from my own experience I was missed growing up and there were kids that were diagnosed in school, and it’s like everyone’s looking for what’s happening in the classroom and behaviors get picked up on because that’s what teachers and staff are looking for. And so I’m wondering, now that we know about the genetic connection between ADHD, do you have more people coming to you who have children who have ADHD?
Melissa Orlov (05:10):
Yes, though I wasn’t one of them. My daughter was diagnosed in third grade. She started to really start to manage it in about fifth grade, because things got harder for her. And it wasn’t for several, a number of years until I said to her therapist, “Is there any possibility that my husband has this?” And she’s like, “Well yeah, of course.” It’s like, “Well why didn’t anybody tell me?” So it’s one of those things that I try to get out there.
But it’s not surprising that you didn’t get diagnosed, by the way, because girls are often missed. The girls are more likely, when they’re younger, to have the distractable version of ADHD, and those symptoms are a lot less obvious than the kid that’s popping in and out of their seat and is beating up people on playground or whatever they’re doing, and just very high energy and has the hyperactive side. Those are typically more often boys.
Lindsay Gensel (05:57):
And I’m curious, with these missed signals for women, what do you see then for adult women who have these later in life diagnoses, which we’re seeing an influx of right now because of the pandemic? How are we showing up in relationships?
Melissa Orlov (06:13):
Well, I think it’s interesting. Undiagnosed adults in general show up in a way that’s pretty confusing in the relationship. So the first thing that often happens is the hyper-focused courtship, where the extra dopamine that you get-
Lindsay Gensel (06:28):
Can you say those words one more time? Hyper-focused/
Melissa Orlov (06:31):
Lindsay Gensel (06:32):
Yes. Okay. That explains so much.
Melissa Orlov (06:35):
And 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, or just feel like everything’s fitting perfectly. But that’s actually a part of infatuation, chemically in the brain, is about a lot of extra dopamine. And for people who have ADHD, gets them really focused and really intent. They’re fun, they’re energetic, they have lots of great ideas, they’re really attentive, and you think, “Wow, this is amazing.”
Unfortunately for everybody, whether you have ADHD or not, that extra dopamine wears off somewhere between 20 and 28 months into the relationship. That’s just chemically how it works. For people who have ADHD, that means you go back to these lower levels of dopamine. So ADHD is about, in part. Extra low levels of dopamine. The person without ADHD goes back to regular dopamine levels and they do their normal thing. The person with ADHD now shows up as a person with ADHD for the first time in the relationship. It’s intensely confusing. You’re just like, “Wait, you used to be really attentive and now you’re ignoring me,” because you’re so distracted, but you don’t know that.
Anyway, I digress, but I think we were talking about something different, which was diagnosis of kids. Is that right?
Lindsay Gensel (07:52):
Yes. Well, we were talking about women and how it shows up and.
Melissa Orlov (07:55):
Lindsay Gensel (07:56):
And then you said hyper-focused. Say it one more time. Say it.
Melissa Orlov (07:59):
Lindsay Gensel (08:00):
Yes. Okay. Again, explains so much.
Melissa Orlov (08:03):
Yeah, and I’m sorry. So I got off track there. So that shows up, male, female, whatever. My observation of women who have ADHD is once they find out they have the ADH it does a lot to help them figure out, “Okay, how do I address this?” But they face a whole lot of extra pressure, or different pressures I should say, than men with ADHD face./ A lot more women are responsible for managing things around the household. This is just statistically, again, ADHD or not ADHD, this is how our society works. And those things tend to be boring, they tend to be never ending, they tend to not have a particular structure to them. And all of those things are not strengths for people who have ADHD. And there are these expectations that it’s going to be easy, and that they’ll remember to go pick people up at the right time and all of that.
And so there’s this huge pressure on women with ADHD who are sometimes doing both jobs, often doing both a job and it’s a lot to juggle, and they often really struggle. My observation is that women address it and try to really work hard at it, much faster than many men do. That’s a generalization because there’s also a group of women who say, “Yeah, no, I’m going to go off and play tennis. Thanks.” We’ll see you later. I’m not really going to take care of those kids or do that other stuff. But I see a lot of engaging even before they know about the ADHD with the struggles that they have.
And like many adults with ADHD, there’s a lot of shame involved. And one of the horrible statistics that I’ve heard not too long ago, there’s a research study that was done on critiquing and ADHD, and that children who have ADHD experience 20,000 additional critiques by the age of 12 than people who don’t. And so people with ADHD grow up with a well of embarrassment, shame, “I’m not sure I’m good enough,” all of these feelings inside of them that they have to deal with. They carry them around all the time. They deal with them every day. And so that plays a role for women with ADHD.
There are some experts in that particular field, Sari Solden is one of them, Kathleen Nado is another one, where they try to really hone in on the special issues that women face who have ADHD.
Lindsay Gensel (10:24):
I have to laugh when you say these things, because it’s one of those things where I can feel myself start to get emotional. I think when you’ve gone through life and you don’t know what it is and you don’t know why the way you feel is happening, and it’s so overwhelming, and then to have somebody just explain it and explain why things happen, and why you feel the way you do, and it’s like, oh, you just kind of have to laugh. Otherwise it’s so sad.
Melissa Orlov (10:45):
Yeah, it is. And I also have to say, so while we’re talking about women with ADHD, one of the things that breaks my heart is when I’m working with a couple and the husband who works outside the home, these are heterosexual couples, but comes home to a woman who is taking care of four or five kids, and the house is kind of messy and there’s a tongue going on, and says, “What have you been doing all day? Why isn’t dinner on the table?” And I’m sorry, I’m supposed to say very neutral, but I really want to throttle the guy at that point. I’m just like, “Really? Do you have any idea how hard it is to take care of children?” And you have to make that efficient and get dinner on the table at six or whatever it is. You have to be quite organized. And that does not fit well with the ADHD stuff.
On the other hand, many positive things as well. But that particular one is one of my pet peeves, when I hear that one. And it does come out with some regularity, and I find myself saying, “Look, the hardest thing you could ever do is help take care of kids at home and manage kids and help them grow up to be healthy individuals,” particularly since several of them are going to have ADHD and they may be emotionally dysregulated or have school issues or whatever. It’s just a huge challenge. Please don’t dis your partner this way.
Lindsay Gensel (12:00):
Words matter, and the way things are phrased and understanding and empathy are huge parts of, one, just being a good human being.
But while we’re on this, I want to touch on women and this idea of the biological clock. And so I’m coming from personal experience here. I was diagnosed right before I turned 35. I have always been so career focused. That is where my ADHD just comes out. There’s so much that I want to do. Even to this day, it doesn’t matter what tier I make it too. I’m always looking ahead. I’m always looking for that next shiny object. And I think for a lot of women, you mentioned it, if we go by stereotypical cultural norms, societal norms, the woman is the one who stays home, the woman is the one who does the majority of the child taking care of … How many hours a day does a mother breastfeed a newborn? So that sort of thing in my head gets very overwhelming. Am I willing to give up my goals and my dreams to be a parent? And I’m curious what you’ve seen working with women who have been diagnosed with ADHD, and how that fits into it. Because I don’t think it’s necessarily that I don’t want to be a mom, but I also know that I’m up against this clock that I really have no control over, and it’s kind of like, okay, excuse my language, but it’s you got to figure out if you want to do it or not.
Melissa Orlov (13:19):
Yeah. And I think there’s an added element, not just the biological clock, but I think there’s also this question of, “Wow, I’m kind of disorganized. Am I going to actually be able to manage this?”
Lindsay Gensel (13:29):
Melissa Orlov (13:30):
And I have to tell you, it’s actually a really good question to ask. And it’s not that I’m trying to discourage people from having kids. Just the opposite. My kids are wonderful and amazing, and I’m so glad I have them, but it’s a very real question. Couples almost always really start to struggle after they’ve introduced the first kid into the relationship, unless they have really planned for it. And maybe that’s a topic for a new book, I don’t know. But the number of tasks that are boring and hard to keep track of and never ending, and the 24/7 nature of having a newborn in the house, plus lack of sleep, which makes ADHD symptoms much more severe, really hit couples like a two by four to the head. They have no idea that it was going to be that hard, and it puts a lot of strain on the relationship. So it’s not just about careers, it’s also about people wondering, should I actually be doing this or struggling with it once they do.
And there are things that can be done to make that a lot better. First of all, prepare for it. Figure out how to get the structures in place that allow you to do boring things, even when it’s hard to do it, and allow you to stay coordinated around what needs to happen in the household, like a weekly meeting or something like that, which isn’t about delegation, but which is about coordination and equal status between the partners.
And also, there’s a lot of research that talks about what creates the healthiest families, which includes the female or woman inviting the man in to be a full participant in the care-taking. And with breastfeeding and other kinds of things, that actually takes intentionality. And so preparing along those lines can really help diminish some of the issues that couples would face. So there’s that.
But then there’s also just the, “Hey, I’m really into this. I really like it. I’m going to follow what feels good in my life,” and then there’s that issue. Many of the younger couples that I know have a conversation around, the women in particular, “I’m not sure if I want to have kids. I’m not sure whether that’s part of what is going to make my life lit up.”
Lindsay Gensel (15:35):
I think with a lot of things with ADHD, I have one day where I’m like, “Oh gosh, yes kids.” And then you go to the grocery store the next day and you see a mom having four kids and they’re all melting down and you’re like, “Nah, I’m good.” It’s very much like the ADHD brain. And now that I’ve gotten my consulting here out of the way, I’ll go back to the script and go back to the path that I thought we were going to go down, and then of course I went on the ADHD-
Melissa Orlov (16:01):
I think I took you sideways anyway.
Lindsay Gensel (16:04):
Sometimes it’s so nice to hear that you’re not alone in that. And I think you can go back to your childhood as a woman, how early a baby doll got thrust into your hands, and that was just kind of the thought process. We were always just told that that was what life had in store for us. And then you kind of realize that it can not be in the plans, and everyone’s lives are different, and whether you’re choosing to not be a parent for whatever reason, you just have to be the one who’s making that decision.
Melissa Orlov (16:30):
Yeah, I’m happy to say I think our society is moving in a direction where people get to make more of their own choices and it’s not just predetermined, “Hey, you’re going to be in a heterosexual relationship. Hey, you’re going to have kids,” all those things. We’re actually able to look who we are and pick more of what we want. So that I think is a wonderful thing. And it is hard. When you have kids, your life changes, period. Nobody who’s had kids would say anything else, and there are wonderful things about it. And then there are sometimes when you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, what did I do?” No matter how much you love your kids.
Lindsay Gensel (17:03):
Well, I want to touch on the ADHD effect. It’s something that you define in your book, and I’m curious. So it’s essentially exploring what happens in a marriage when one partner has ADHD and the other does not. And so what does that look like, and how do you start that conversation with a couple?
Melissa Orlov (17:21):
So most of the people who find me, find me because they’re in a state of great struggle, so they’re really looking for any help they can possibly get. And I have to say, there was a point in time when one of the top search terms for finding my website was, “Why does my wife hate me?” Which is horrible, but it’s also sort of descriptive how people get to this place. Happily, it’s no longer the one in the top part.
But first of all, usually at least for me, there’s a partner who’s really struggling more, and is just out seeking answers. And so finding the information is a relief. People say to me, “I read your book and it made me cry.” Okay, 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, “Okay, there’s a little glimmer of hope out there. Maybe if I pursue this. And that’s what it is. 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. And as I said, there are these patterns.
If people say, “How do I convince my partner that this is an issue?” And I say, “Go to the patterns chapter of the ADHD effect on marriage. Pick a couple patterns. One that is general to your relationship and seems really familiar, one that reflects poorly on you, because we’re all human, and read them out loud, a couple of paragraphs to your partner. “Hey, listen to this. This sounds so familiar.” And a lot of times that’s all it takes. It’s just a, “Oh.” This sort of a-ha. “Huh, that’s really interesting.” And then after that, get delving into the stories, really helps convey, “Hey, there’s something going on here.”
Lindsay Gensel (19:09):
I’m curious and I’m asking, so I’ll use my partner and as an example. He’ll love that I’m just throwing him into this. So he’s the neurotypical, very organized, very A to Z. I am the exact opposite. I will get to Z, but how I got there is yet to be determined by anyone. Yes. If I’ve done the task once before, it’s not necessarily going to happen the same way the second time. Drives him crazy.
When we fight or we have issues, and we are in couples therapy … Therapy is a gift. I am so relieved that I opened myself up to it. Having that person to go to who is impartial has just been … It’s a privilege to have the time and the resources to go, and I totally understand that. But I’m wondering, so you’ve got me, who is the ADHD person, and then you’ve got my partner, John, who is the neurotypical. And I’m wondering when you see a couple, is it typically the ADHD person who is seeking out help? Is it typically the non-ADHD person? Because I have to imagine, I look back at our relationship and when things were tough, or things were hard and I wanted to run, my frustration was that he wanted me to be somebody that I couldn’t be. And on the same side, his frustration is that I couldn’t be somebody that he needed me to be. I imagine it goes both ways, but I’m curious what you see when couples come in, if there’s something that jumps out.
Melissa Orlov (20:35):
Yeah, I think either partner might be looking, it’s the one who’s the most distressed and the most tuned into the distress. And there may be a gender factor. Lots of times women who are kind of like, “I’m kind of relationship oriented. I think I want to work on my relationship and actually do something to try to fix it,” the women will approach, particularly non-ADHD women who are completely mystified about what’s going on. Particularly if they don’t know for sure that ADHD is out there. I also see a fair number of ADHD partners who are at a point where they’re about to get separated or something, so the hammer has come down and they’re completely panicked.
Lindsay Gensel (21:14):
Grasping at straws?
Melissa Orlov (21:15):
Well yeah, or just panicked. What can I do? What can I do? It’s the deadline version of relationships. And so they’re out looking for things and saying, “It may be too late, but what can I do? Give me some advice?”
Lindsay Gensel (21:28):
They’re pulling a college all-nighter to save their relationship?
Melissa Orlov (21:30):
Exactly. I see both of those with some regularity and all variations.
Beyond that, I also see a surprising number actually now of younger couples who’ve been aware of the ADHD, who are struggling a little bit, and who want to get advice or counseling before they get married, or very early on in their relationship. I started another series of support groups recently, and I have one support group where three of the people out of nine, so a third of them, are either not yet married, or married under three years. So as more information gets out, people are doing this earlier and earlier. Which is great, because once you’ve been doing these patterns for 30 years, really hard to break the habits and the fears. The anxiety of, “Oh yeah, it’s always going to be this way, or this is the way it’s always been,” and make changes.
Lindsay Gensel (22:19):
It feels like something somebody who has ADHD could also dive into before they’re even dating someone. But that’s my next question, is because I look back and I’m going to ask you to say it again, and it’s not because I like hearing it-
Melissa Orlov (22:32):
The hyper-focused courtship?
Lindsay Gensel (22:33):
Melissa Orlov (22:33):
Lindsay Gensel (22:34):
The hyper-focus courtship, it literally explains every single one of my relationships, including the one I’m in now, and I just so happened to find somebody who was honest and kind. We had to have a very difficult conversation very early on in our relationship as I was love bombing him from left, where he said, “I really am enjoying spending time with you, but you like me right now more than I like you. And that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to get there, but I just need to be honest with you.” And he said it probably in a nicer way than that. I cried and slept on the couch. It was very dramatic. But I have to tell you, that was the first time I’d been told that by anyone. That he was honest.
Melissa Orlov (23:11):
Yeah, his transparency was great.I remember actually when my ex and I were first dating. I had dated people once a week, twice a week, whatever. And then he came on the scene and he was like four or five times a week, I’m going, “Wait, time out, time out. This is way too much.” He quickly won me over because the attention was so gratifying and so exciting, and he was all in almost immediately.
A funny story. He had a list on his refrigerator of women that he had met. In a two week period he had lunch and dinner every day of the week to try to meet people. I’m actually his second wife, so he was recovering from his first wife leaving him. And then when he met me, then he just ripped it up, and that was. He was all in. That’s that hyper-focus, and it’s pretty intense, but it’s also lovely.
Lindsay Gensel (24:02):
But I can imagine that the hyper-focused courtship leads to people getting into unhealthy relationships.
Melissa Orlov (24:06):
It leads to people getting into relationships too fast. They get in before that dopamine wears off. It’s very common to have people get married within a year, or a year and a half of meeting that person. And you’re smiling, so I don’t know what your timeframe was.
Lindsay Gensel (24:22):
Not married. But there was one weekend when the Twins were playing the Yankees, and there was a very cute boy from Canada, and my friends were very concerned that I was going to have a shotgun wedding. And honestly, there were points where I was like, “Why not?” Real grateful that didn’t happen.
Melissa Orlov (24:36):
Yes, exactly. The hyper-focused courtship tends to wear off abruptly. I was sort of remember, there was one week very soon after we returned from our honeymoon, where suddenly everything was different. And I’m just looking around the room going, “Wait, what? Wait, was this just now that I’m married, you don’t care?” There were all these gender things that came into it as well. And people sometimes say, “Oh, they put a lot of stuff out there, and then once they got you and reeled you in, they didn’t care anymore.” That’s not what’s happening. Not at all. This is not intentional. But anyway, it’s very abrupt. So I don’t know if I answered your question or not, or if I went off on a tangent, but …
Lindsay Gensel (25:13):
Well no, and you mentioned people get into relationships too fast. And how do we slow that down? Somebody who has ADHD, who’s out there, who’s dating, who’s feeling that hyper-focus courtship, who’s loving that feeling, because we know we get the dopamine rush from other places. It doesn’t have to be a relationship. It can be food, it can be shopping. Our relationships with whatever the dopamine rush is, is what’s holding us back.
Melissa Orlov (25:43):
So this is another cry for awareness. If you know this is a thing as it’s happening, then you can address it differently, and you can talk with your partner about it. And the partner who may not have ADHD can say, “Okay, as great as this feels, I get that this could be an issue. Let’s slow things down. Let’s not get really partnered up for a couple of years. Just make sure that everything’s going to be copacetic.” So you could do that. If you don’t know about it, you’re not going to slow it down because it’s great and everything feels wonderful. So it’s really an awareness issue. We could move into talking about dating.
Lindsay Gensel (26:20):
Yeah, let’s do that. Let’s move into ADHD and dating. So one quick thing I want to ask about is high stakes and relationships, and divorce rates. And I’m wondering, do we even know enough right now about where things stand with divorce rates in ADHD and how it fits in there? What was the statistic that you said about how many adults are undiagnosed?
Melissa Orlov (26:43):
About 80% of adults with ADHD don’t know they have it.
Lindsay Gensel (26:46):
And so how does that play out? So let’s say you’re with your partner, you are starting a divorce, maybe you then find out you have ADHD. It just feels like a lot to take on.
Melissa Orlov (26:54):
Yes, it is. So the statistics, the research, there’s not a ton of research in this area. Interestingly, and divorce rates are based upon what cohort you’re in. Highly educated people have one divorce rate. People who knew each other from high school and got married really young have a different divorce rate. So it sort of depends upon what cohort you’re in terms of what your rate of divorce is. The research that exists that I have seen suggests that the divorce rate is actually no different for couples with ADHD in the early stages, but as they stay together, there’s an increasing rate of marital problems and divorce, so that by the time you’re hitting your 50s, you’re more likely to be divorced than average. And that there are often multiple relationships with people who’ve had ADHD. So it’s an issue. And then you had the rest of the question, which was …
Lindsay Gensel (27:43):
I don’t even remember at this point.
Melissa Orlov (27:46):
I’m going to have to start taking notes here when you ask me a question so I can go back to it.
Lindsay Gensel (27:49):
Well, how does retirement play into that?
Melissa Orlov (27:51):
So retirement is a different thing, because the people, the cohort that are in retirement right now are the least likely to know that they have ADHD, because it wasn’t being diagnosed back when they were in school. And so they’ve had those symptoms for their entire life, and they’ve been stomping around in the relationship. And the relationship has probably got a lot of bad patterns in it, or may well have a lot of bad patterns in it. The rate of relationships where there’s diagnosable dysfunction by the time you hit middle age is about 60% of relationships with ADHD. So it’s high.
So the other thing that happens is if you’re a woman with ADHD, when you go through menopause and the estrogen levels drop, estrogen is directly related to the production of dopamine. So women, unfortunately get worse symptoms as they age.
Lindsay Gensel (28:39):
Woo! Yes. [inaudible 00:28:40].
Melissa Orlov (28:40):
Aren’t you looking forward to that?
Lindsay Gensel (28:41):
Melissa Orlov (28:43):
So that plays a role, and it’s confusing. And people don’t know, well, is this just regular aging? And if they don’t know about the ADHD, it could be kind of scary. So there are different ways to address that.
Sometimes you run into issues where somebody retires and doesn’t know what to do with themselves because they haven’t … That’s not just about ADHD, but I hear sometimes terror of, “My partner’s really disorganized, they’re all over the place, and now they’re going to be home all the time.” And then I hear the opposite. I just heard this the other day actually, which is, “Finally my partner has the time to be able to do what they want to do and also be able to contribute around the house more.” And so now my partner’s cooking, now my partner’s doing the shopping and stuff. Really happy to be doing it and has the time to do it, and it doesn’t matter if it takes twice as long for the partner to do it because there’s no time constraints. So it really depends on the couple in terms of how it manifests.
Lindsay Gensel (29:39):
And we haven’t touched really on same sex couples. And obviously my partner and I fall into the heterosexual category, and so there’s all of these societal norms that are pushed at us that we’ve been dealing with since birth. And so how does a same sex couple navigate the ADHD effect when they’re figuring out their own path and who’s taking on what, because they didn’t have it set for them?
Melissa Orlov (30:05):
It’s interesting that you ask that. And I think the couples that I’ve worked with who are same gender couples, one of the benefits that the women have, and I don’t think this is specific to ADHD, is they tend to have better communication skills with each other. So both partners often have quite good communication skills, and so they’re able to talk more openly to work through their issues, which is a real plus. As far as the ADHD symptoms go, you still run into the same kinds of patterns if you have a ADHD and non-ADHD partner. But there tends to be less of the societal inequalities of expectations that somehow in a heterosexual couple, the woman is going to have to do X and the man is going to have to do Y. There’s a lot more conversation around what’s fair, what’s not fair, how do they want to be together, what kinds of negotiations can they do?
With the gay couples that I have seen, there are other issues that come into the gay society and how gay couples function and et cetera. Again, you still see the same kinds of issues around more organized, less organized, what’s fair, but again, not assumptions of the heterosexual world about assumed inequality. You don’t have that. You might have one partner, for example, who’s much more into being a free spirit, and the other partner who’s much more into being organized or staying on top of things or whatever. That’s a similar pattern to what you see in a heterosexual couple. But there’s a gay twist to it in terms of how do you deal with it, again, without heterosexual social expectations.
Lindsay Gensel (31:38):
Let’s talk really quick about dating, because whether you are dating in your teens or your 20s, or you are divorced and getting back out there, and you have this ADHD diagnosis and you know what you’re bringing to the table, how does that change who comes into the relationship? And I say who because I know there’s Lindsay, before I was diagnosed and now there’s Lindsay after I was diagnosed. And they’re two very different people, and at the same time, very similar. And I hope, knock on wood, that I don’t ever have to go back into the dating pool, because online dating just sounds … I just feel for people. Talk about an issue for people with ADHD, and then you give somebody a database of basically window shopping.
Melissa Orlov (32:24):
Lindsay Gensel (32:25):
I got to imagine that, it’s sometimes probably brutal.
Melissa Orlov (32:29):
It is. It’s like candy. And it can be hyper-focused into it. Dating is also an area of great rejection. So when you are in the online dating communities in particular, there’s a lot of rejection. Even if it’s swiping, there’s a huge amount of rejection, and that is really triggering for people who have ADHD. So it’s a real area of landmines for people.
And there’s another part also, which is the timeliness expectations around online dating. You’re supposed to respond within a certain number of hours, you’re supposed to respond in a certain way, you have to remember. There’s a lot of organizational stuff that goes on. When my daughter was dating, she’s like, “I hate online dating mom. I hate it because I’m expected to respond within a certain amount of time, and I’m doing other stuff.” That’s just one issue. So it’s really hard.
And then there’s the impulsivity that comes with ADHD, where you impulsively jump into a relationship, which might or might not be well considered. It’s hard to get to know somebody. And just like on social media in general, are putting their best foot forward. I like to laugh about online dating because I’m doing some of it myself now. The stories are so similar. How do you tell them apart? These people are not similar. It’s an interesting place to be for dating.
Lindsay Gensel (33:44):
Yeah. How do you actually communicate who you are as a human on a website? I don’t ever want to be there.
Melissa Orlov (33:52):
And there’s this other question that I get a lot, which is, “When do I tell a partner that I’ve started to date about the ADHD?”
Lindsay Gensel (34:00):
Oh, gosh. I didn’t even think about that. But I’m also just such an open book that I just come to the table, it’s tattooed across my forehead.
Melissa Orlov (34:07):
Yeah. Well, I think this is actually a bigger issue for older people who are dating. Because younger people are more attuned, just sort of picking it up and not really thinking about it that much. And my response to that is when it’s appropriate within that relationship. You certainly don’t have to say, “Hey, I’ve got ADD.” But on the other hand, at some point it is relevant because there are things that you have that are strong and things that you have that are not as strong in who you are, like everybody, but some of these are related to symptoms and maybe that’s useful.
A hilarious story actually … Now I may embarrass him, but a family member came to me … Now a family member came to me and said, “So I’m starting to date this person in the family who has ADHD, and so I thought I’d go out and look it up and see what happens, and I came across you.”
Lindsay Gensel (34:55):
That is awesome.
Melissa Orlov (34:56):
It was awesome. And I just said, “Well, okay, you have a resource. But I promise not to butt in.” And there is information out there now. There wasn’t before.
Lindsay Gensel (35:06):
Melissa Orlov (35:08):
It was really a funny moment.
Lindsay Gensel (35:09):
You’re like, “So what did you think?”
Melissa Orlov (35:10):
No, no, I didn’t say that. I feel badly because I’m kind of everywhere, and didn’t want to feel like that was scary.
Lindsay Gensel (35:17):
I feel like a movie’s been made about this before. I think that there’s got to be a movie out there already with this plot line.
Melissa Orlov (35:23):
Or there could be.
Lindsay Gensel (35:24):
Yeah. Just hasn’t been done yet.
Well, I am so excited to continue our conversations. If you are just tuning in, this is Refocused. I have Melissa Orlov. She’s joining us for the entire month of February. We’ve got two episodes under our belt. The next episode next week, we are going to dive into emotions, and I’m really excited to touch on rejection sensitive dysphoria. You touched on rejection a little bit with dating, but I’m really curious to talk about how it can manifest in a relationship, especially with somebody with ADHD. It’s something that when I learned the four letters, ADHD, learning those four, game changer in my life. When I learned what RSD, rejection sensitive dysphoria was, it really put so much into perspective. And so I’m so excited to dive into that.
That’ll be coming up next week on Refocused. You can listen to this podcast wherever you are listening now. Make sure you subscribe and you’ll get notified when episode three with Melissa Orlov is ready for you to listen to. And you can check out all of the wonderful things that we have going on by going online, @LindsayGuentzel and @RefocusedPod.
And a quick recap, although I’m sure by now you already know and love the work that Melissa is doing. She is the founder of ADHDmarriage.com. If you have not checked out her website yet, I highly, highly recommend going over there, and I specifically want to point you to the couples seminars that she does. They happen about two to three times a year. They’re live via Zoom, and they also are available in the self-study version. So you can head over to her website. Again, that’s ADHDmarriage.com, and you can check that out. It has been a lifeline for couples who have been impacted by ADHD.
And what I think is so important, and what she has touched on in these last two episodes is that they’re great for people in relationships wherever you are. As you mentioned, you’ve got people who are dating, people who are in the first couple of years of marriage, and people who have probably been married for a very, very long time. And growth is wonderful, and it’s so important. So make sure that you go and check that out. That is ADHDmarriage.com.
Refocused is a collaboration between me, Lindsay Guentzel, and ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental healthcare company that provides affordable and accessible ADHD assessments and treatment plans, including medication management and teletherapy.
Now, this is my favorite time of the show. It’s the time I get to thank the wonderful people who make Refocused happen week after week, and now more than ever am I so grateful for the wonderful team I have surrounding me. Honestly, I have hit the jackpot. I say it every week. I mean it a little bit more right now in this moment. So much gratitude to the talented folks behind today’s episode. Coordinating producer, Phil Rodaman. Sarah Platinidis. Research for today’s episode from our writer, Sarah Gelbard. Social Media production from Al Chaplin. As always, and I’ve said it already, even more right now in this moment, so much thanks to Keith Boswell, Claudia Gotti, Melanie Mile, Suzanne Spruet, and the entire team at ADHD Online for all of their ongoing support.
Fairbeat Productions is the team behind today’s edit, and a big shout out to the team at PS Creative in Phoenix for handling all of our production needs on site. Our show art was created by Sissy Ye of Berlin Gray, and our music was created by Louie Inglis, a singer-songwriter from Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. Links to all of the partners we work with are available in the show notes. To connect with the show or with me, you can find us online, @RefocusedPod as well as @LindsayGuentzel. And you can email the show directly, [email protected]. That’s [email protected].
And finally, stay tuned for part three of my conversation with Melissa Orlov, where she explains what it means to have a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes. That’s next week on episode 67 of Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel.