Improving Relationships While Managing Anger and ADHD

Couple dealing with angry emotions
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Individuals with ADHD tend to show their emotions easily. They often have a hard time managing their feelings, especially when it comes to difficult emotions like anger. When a person has trouble monitoring his mood and regulating his feelings, he can become frustrated quite quickly, be short-tempered, snappy, and unpredictable.

Difficulty regulating emotions combined with problems in impulse control can result in some major blow-ups. This can create a lot of stress and hurt feelings in relationships since the partner/spouse of the ADHD individual is often the one who bears the brunt of these outbursts. Many partners feel that they are walking on eggshells in the relationship because they don't know when the next eruption will occur.

Tips for Getting Control Over Your Anger

  1. The first step is to acknowledge that anger is an issue for you. Take responsibility for owning this problem. If you have fallen into the pattern of blaming your partner or others for your anger, make a conscious effort to stop doing this. Instead, sit down together with your partner when you are both in a good mood and open frame of mind and talk. Address the issue in a non-judgmental, solution-focused manner.
  2. Once you acknowledge that you've made mistakes, you're likely to feel that you've caused pain to your partner. Communicate your feelings to your partner. Say you’re sorry and accept forgiveness. Move forward together with the plan to improve the relationship.
  3. Become more aware of times you communicate with sarcasm. Sarcasm is an angry and belittling way to interact with others. Understand that biting comments are harmful and make a deliberate effort to express your feelings in a more appropriate way. Talk openly with your partner about this. If your partner has been on the receiving end of your sarcasm, he or she will likely have much to say on this issue. If sarcasm slips into your conversations, have your partner point it out right away. Apologize and continue to work on eliminating sarcastic comments.
  4. Make a list of triggers that tend to set off feelings of anger. Becoming more aware of these triggers will help you to intervene and put the brakes on earlier before your emotions are so strong that you reach the point of no return. Be aware of the environmental factors that can impede your self-control, such as fatigue, hunger, stimulation overload, etc.
  5. It is also important to become more aware of the physical signs of your anger. Do you tend to clench your jaw as anger begins to bubble? Do you feel your heart beating faster? Does your breathing become more shallow and quick? Does your face begin to get hot? Do your ears burn? What are the bodily signals that anger is escalating? When you feel these reactions in your body, they will signal to you that it is time to step away and decompress.
  6. Stop and take a deep breath…or actually take several slow, deep breaths. Breathe deeply from your abdomen (not your chest) and then breathe all the way out until your lungs are empty. Learn and practice additional relaxation techniques like meditation and slowly counting to ten that will help you to regain control over your feelings before they become unmanageable.
  7. Learn to recognize feelings that may be underlying your anger. Sometimes when we react in anger, there are actually other more vulnerable emotions that we are feeling like embarrassment, pain, frustration, disappointment, or sadness. Expressing anger may feel safer than processing these more difficult emotions, but if we do not address these other feelings they continue to be bottled up and unresolved.
  8. Sometimes stimulants can contribute to irritability. If you are concerned this may be an issue for you, consult with your doctor.
  9. Last but certainly not least, make sure that both you and your partner are involved in treatment for your ADHD, including couples therapy or family therapy if other members are involved. When you are both aware of the ways ADHD can affect your relationship, you are more apt to follow through with all recommended treatment approaches. You are also more likely to develop and implement successful strategies for coping, communicating and relating to each other.
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  • Michael T. Bell. You, Your Relationship & Your ADD. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 2002.

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.