How ADHD Gets Between You and Your Romantic Partner

Loving couple siting on sofa at home

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Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention-deficit disorder (ADD) affect all aspects of life for those who have either condition, according to Kate Kelly, founder of ADDed Dimensions Coaching and author of You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! and The ADDed Dimension. She notes that ADHD can even have a significant impact on relationships.

Kelly identifies four major areas of difficulty, any of which can get between you and your partner. The key is knowledge: Once you're aware of the challenges, you can address them. Do any of these issues sound familiar?

Difficulty Being Present and Staying Present

“Perhaps the biggest problem is the ADHD partner who seems to be here today and gone tomorrow,” explains Kelly. “ADHD symptoms are erratic. The person with ADHD may be extremely distractible in the morning, for example, and relatively focused an hour or two later.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the ADHD partner who seems to be here today and gone tomorrow.

"This can be very difficult for a partner. Their loved one is loving and connected with them in one moment, and gone ‘somewhere else’ in the next. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the disconnects.”

Touchy Touchability

Kelly notes that many people with ADHD also have problems with sensory integration. “In short, this means that the mechanisms that filter sensory input are faulty. Lights may be too bright, sounds too loud, and touch may feel irritating or annoying,” explains Kelly. “As you might imagine, this can create difficulties between partners when the ADHD person resists being touched.”

Recent research hints at difficulty differentiating between the self and others when it comes to tactile stimulation—the sense of touch—in people with ADHD. This ability to separate the two is key in social situations and could be one of the reasons for this sensitivity.

Forgetting Things

ADHD interferes with memory. Kelly acknowledges that the process of remembering is rather complicated but identifies the main problem with ADHD and memory: getting info into the memory banks in the first place. “The first stage of memory is attending to the piece of information to be remembered,” says Kelly. “If your attention is weak, that bit of information may never make it into the brain.”

This can affect relationships in a few ways. For example, a person with ADHD can have problems remembering significant dates, tasks, and other info that might be important to the other person.

The first stage of memory is attending to the piece of information to be remembered. If your attention is weak, that bit of information may never make it into the brain.

A Short Fuse

It's not uncommon for someone with ADHD to have a quick temper. “Many people with ADHD have a short fuse,” explains Kelly. “Their temper is activated quickly and easily. The partner of the person with ADHD is often bewildered, as the angry outburst seems to come out of nowhere.”

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is hypersexuality a symptom of ADHD?

    Not everyone with ADHD has a higher than average sex drive; in fact, some actually have a lower libido than others. However, hypersexuality does feature in the condition.

  • How can I boost intimacy in an ADHD marriage?

    If you have ADHD, keeping up with meds, eliminating distractions in intimate situations, and reassuring your partner of your commitment can help. If your partner has ADHD, communication, education about the disorder, and healthy boundaries are among the strategies that can help you foster closeness.

  • Where can I find ADHD couples therapy near me?

    For starters, ask friends and family for recommendations, search online for directories of therapists who specialize in ADHD, ask your family doctor for a referral, or consult others in support groups or at your local chapter of the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI).

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Boehme R, Frost Karlsson M, Heilig M, Olausson H, Capusan AJ. Sharpened self-other distinction in attention deficit hyperactivity disorderNeuroimage Clin. 2020;27:102317. doi:10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102317

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association; 2013. doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596

Additional Reading
  • Kate Kelly, MSN, ACT. “Re: Request for Expert Quotes.” Email to Keath Low. 25 Jan. 08.

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.