By Leslie Rouder, LCSW, CHt.

Identifying the problem areas in ones’ relationship is relatively easy, but the difficult part is ferreting out effective mechanisms to bridge the communication gap that often occurs when one’s partner has ADD.  Knowledge, patience, and empathy go a long way in working on these issues.   Since both partners need to work together to find solutions and new ways of thinking about their relationship conflicts, the following 8 guidelines are broken down into “the ADD partner’s part” and the “non-ADD partner’s part”. 

ADD Partner’s part

  • Accepting how one’s ADD has negatively impacted the relationship.  In order to take responsibility for your part in the relationship problems, it is vital to openly acknowledge the impact that having ADD has had on the relationship.
  • Learn how to respond to one’s partner’s negative feedback non-defensively.   This may take some work since you probably have a lifelong pattern of defending yourself against outside criticism that has continued to plague your current relationship with your partner.  This is where a good coach or counselor can help guide you to learn non-defensive communication skills.
  • Face the problematic issues without denying or minimizing them.  Learn how to hear your partners concerns without defending against them by renouncing or rejecting their validity.  This means developing effective and empathic listening skills.
  • Accept responsibility for your part. Own your part in what may have occurred and honor your partner’s feelings.  Your partner needs to know that they have been heard and that you respect their feelings.  

Non ADD Partner

  • Meet your partner half way, but don’t “enable” through co-dependency.  Learn how to participate in behaviors that are empowering to both you and your partner without participating in co-dependent behaviors.   Remember that anytime you do for your partner something they need to be doing for themselves, you are participating in a co-dependent process.
  • Learn not to blame.  State what is going on for you without blaming or judging your partner.   Use “I” statements and take responsibility for your own feelings.
  • Understand which behaviors are neurologically based in your partner’s ADD.  Educate yourself about ADD and recognize that a particular behavior (although upsetting) may not be about you.  Don’t assume that your partner’s behavior is malicious, selfish or even intentional.
  • Strive for kindness and patience.  Remember that your partner has probably lived his/her entire life feeling inadequate and criticized.  Therefore, your negative words may trigger some hyper- sensitivity to criticism.   While your partner is learning how to deal with his/her ADD issues, be patient while holding him/her accountable for their choices and actions.   

If you and your partner have tried it on your own and are unable to resolve your issues, do seek professional counseling.  Counseling can be vital in providing the kinds of guidance and coaching necessary to becoming conscious of old patterns of behavior, defense mechanisms, and attitudes that often stand in the way of healthy communication.   It should be noted that any couple’s therapy that does not adequately identify or acknowledge how ADD is impacting the relationship can do more harm than good by exacerbating the problems, instead of relieving them.  It should also be noted that not all counselors are well versed in ADD, since training in this area is not a licensing requirement for therapists.  Therefore, should you decide to work with a couple’s counselor, be sure to do your homework and seek out a qualified clinician who has specialized training and is well versed in the area of ADD before moving forward.