How to Improve Communication With Your ADHD Partner

September 29th, 2013

By Leslie Rouder, LCSW

The great Carl Jung once said that “Loneliness doesn’t come from having no one around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that are important to you.”  Although this is a universal truth,  in the case of those who have ADHD, communication can certainly be a bigger obstacle to intimacy than to those who do not.  Not only for the person who has ADHD, but for the partner who may feel that they are never being heard.


Over the past 13 years of counseling couples in which one partner had ADHD, I have heard numerous complaints. Many of the challenges are quite common amongst individuals whose partners have ADHD, but the single biggest complaint I hear over and over again is that, “My ADHD partner does not appear to be listening to me.” Good communication is probably the single most important element that constitutes a healthy thriving relationship.  When one partner in a relationship feels that they are not being heard (regardless of the reason) all kinds of resentment and anger can build.  Often the non-ADHD spouse feels uncared for, or even disrespected because their ADHD partner may seem to zone out, pay them “lip service” or not respond at all.  If they are aware of how their partner’s ADHD is affecting their ability to pay attention (and most of them are) they may be able to objectify it and even understand it, but at the end of the day, they are still not able to resolve the problem.  Many of these couples have been through the diagnosis stage, the education stage and the medication stage, and still the same problems around communication persists.  By the time they come to see me, many of these couples are feeling hopeless, exhausted, frustrated, beat up, misunderstood and angry.  They just want solutions that will make it better or they want out.


Although re-learning old behavior patterns can be difficult, I am here to say that when both partners are willing to make changes and see it as a priority, communication can greatly improve.  To this effort, I have outlined the most important areas to consider in moving communication forward.

  • The use of ADHD Medication

Although medication is not for everyone, we do know that for about 80% of those with ADHD, medication is the single most important treatment in mitigating ADHD symptoms, especially in the area of distractibility.  For some, more than others, medication can mean a huge difference in one’s ability to be present in a conversation, as well as one’s life in general.   If your partner has been diagnosed with ADHD and is not on medication, this would be a worthwhile consideration.  If your partner is already on medication, it would be a good idea to be sure that when you want  to discuss something that is of a serious nature, that the medication is still effective and has not worn off (like at the end of the day)

  • Get your partners attention. 

Make sure to tell your partner that there is something important that you wish to discuss and find a time when he or she can devote time to the conversation.   Don’t try to fit it in while your partner is running out the door for an appointment or has limited time.  But an interesting fact that you should know is that 89% of men will assume that something is wrong if you say, “We need to talk”, as apposed to 61% of women.  So be aware that this language may induce some form of anxiety or defensiveness before you even start the conversation.  So perhaps you can let your partner know that you need some time to discuss something with in such a way that they don’t instantly feel that there is a problem.  Ask them if they would mind giving you their attention for a few minutes, or perhaps  you can  gesture to them is some way that lets them know that you wish to talk and “they are not in trouble”.    Unless of course, they are. (only kidding :))

  • Write your communication to your partner.

In some cases, you may want to write a letter or e mail to your partner so that they have time to read it, process it and consider how they want to respond without any pressure.  I would only do this in certain circumstances that are fairly straight forward and do not involve a lot of possible misinterpretation.  Most communication is non-verbal in nature, so remember that when you write, the other person is not hearing voice inflection or seeing your body language.  This can lead to miscommunication.  So be careful when and how you choose to use written communication.

For the ADHD Partner

Remember that your partner has probably experienced months or years of feeling hurt or frustrated because you have a long history of not giving them your attention when wanting to talk.  He or she may have felt that you were not interested in what they had to say or that you do not value them as a partner.  For this reason, you must

  • Make the extra effort to recognize the importance of paying attention when your partner is speaking to you.  This may mean that you need to set aside some activity that you may be involved in at the moment or even set aside some alone time for her/him so that there won’t be any distractions.  
  • Listen to understand.  Wait until he or she is completely finished with what they are saying before you respond.  Listen to understand first, rather than to take a position of being wrong or right.  If you need some time to process what is being said, then ask for it.  But make sure that you come back to your partner with a response.  Don’t just leave them dangling.
  • Use a note pad to jot down thoughts.   Rather than interrupt your partner when speaking, you might want to jot down a word or 2 to remind you of something that you do not wish to forget when responding.  But be careful not to lose the gist of the conversation while writing a note to yourself.  Or ask your partner if he/ or she would give you a moment to take notes, so that you can turn your full attention to the conversation without being distracted.
  • Mirror back.  Before you respond to your partner, make sure you understand the meaning of what he or she has said.  A good way to do this would be to mirror back to your partner what you believe he/she has said.  So, “What I heard you say is ________.”   If you are unsure of the meaning of what he/she is saying now is the time to get clarification.  Then mirror back again.  Once your partner agrees that you understanding is correct,   you may then respond to what they are saying, having made sure that you understood the meaning of the communication accurately.  If you do this consistently, it will become automatic and greatly enhance your all round communication skills in any circumstance.   

  In conclusion, not feeling heard by your partner leads to a rather unhappy relationship.  Here are the main ideas you want to remember

  • State your intentions before the conversation to avoid defensiveness.
  • Listen to understand rather than respond.
  • Listen without interrupting.
  • Clarify your understanding of what your partner is saying (through mirroring).
  • Avoid being demeaning or confrontational.
  • And lastly, try using humor, love and/or empathy.

Leslie is a holistic therapist working in South Florida who specializes in working with adults with ADHD. If you would like more information about her work sign up for her free Newsletter at






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Romance, Love and ADHD

March 5th, 2013

It seems the more I listen to people in and out of my therapy practice, the more I realize that, for many of us, achieving a healthy love relationship is often fraught with much difficulty. Obviously, there are multitudes of reasons why people may have difficulty forming healthy long term relationships, and I should certainly know, having had my share of “roller-coaster rides”,  but having ADHD often adds to the difficulty in very distinct ways. This article explores some of those difficulties as they apply to romance, love and ADHD.

 Recently I had a conversation with a client who has a long history of unsuccessful romantic relationships. She’s a beautiful young woman who has had a variety of passionate relationships which, for some reason never “work out”. Over our past few sessions we have explored this pattern, only to discover that the men she most cared for were exciting, handsome, and dreamy, but somehow not very supportive or emotionally available. On the other hand, she had a variety of long term relationships with men who she referred to as her closest friends.  She told me that these men have been there for her for many years and were all extremely supportive and solid in her life.  In fact, her best friend, is a man she has known for the past 10 years. This man has provided her with a rich friendship that includes trust, shared values, affection, loyalty and great fun.  When I asked her why she had never dated him, she said that he was not her type. “So, what exactly is your type?” I asked.

It seems to me that many of us share this same dilemma.  Very often, the people we most attract and are attracted to are the ones that provide us the most drama.  There’s always that elusive quality or edge that makes the relationship fraught with intrigue.  Often there is a lot of arguing, tension, excitement, longing, passion, and pain, but not a lot of trust, respect, safety, and loyalty.

Certainly one does not have to have ADHD to fall into this same pattern, but here’s the part that seems to fit with the ADHD mind set.  People with ADHD thrive on stimulation and get bored easily.  If someone is rock-solid, trust worthy, safe, affectionate and loyal, without all the drama, this can feel boring to the ADHD mind, which is constantly seeking stimulation and excitement.  Being in a committed relationship in which we are sure of our partner’s loyalty and affection can feel boring to someone with ADHD, especially if we are not tuned in to the principles that constitute true love.  That’s because true love is not a feeling, so much as it is a decision. Love is what we choose to commit ourselves to.  It is an action, a verb, not a noun.  Feelings come and go all the time, but true love is about loyalty and commitment.  Not all that heady or stimulating, a lot of the time.

In addition to our need for stimulation, it seems that our culture is one in which the virtues of friendship, affection and loyalty are not held up to the same standards as passion, romance and excitement.  But in addition to our society’s seeming bias toward passionate romance, if one has ADHD, the inclination of falling into a pattern of seeking titillation at the expense of commitment, can certainly prevent one from ever finding true love. For romance, with all its stimulation has a completely different energy and set of values than love. One can certainly have occasional romance and passion within a loving relationship, however that is not its foundation, nor does one expect or demand that the passion be sustained on a continuous basis, since the ingredients of love are far less “spicy”.  And spicy is what our culture sells us.

The next question that my client asks is,”how do I take the chance of risking my friendship with my best friend, while seeking love?”   “I guess that really does take courage, now doesn’t it? ”  To stretch beyond our comfort zone and consciously choose love over drama, knowing that we may find it dull or boring (at times) is certainly something to consider. How do we transcend those periods of boredom to allow us to embrace a sense of peace, comfort, security, fulfillment and (alas) true love?  And what if we open that door to love, only to find that we cannot fully step through it?  How do we continue, if we can no longer continue? And have we lost our best friend in the process?

The great Tony Robbins once said, “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you’ve always gotten.” So, here’s my answer.  If something in our lives is a pattern that is not working for us, then perhaps we need to try doing it a different way. It takes a lot of courage to open a different door than we normally would. But it’s only through taking risks in our life, that we are provided opportunities to evolve and grow. Love is more than feelings, emotions, and physical attachments.  It is also about conscious choices, spiritual growth, and evolution.

Love is everywhere around us, and yet, for many of us, so difficult to access in any meaningful way.  It is for each of us to decide when and if, the risk is worth taking for the sake of love. To my client, who struggles with this dilemma, all bets are on her. I believe she will find her way through that door and if and when she does, I hope to celebrate her victory along side her.

Leslie is a holistic therapist working in South Florida. If you would like more information about her work or more help with ADHD,  sign up for her free newsletter at


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Warning: This One Mistake Could Ruin Your Marriage

November 1st, 2012

In my practice I see many couples with concerns around keeping the romance alive in their marriage.  If I were to determine the the single most detrimental thing one can do in damaging one’s relationship, it would be to not pay attention to one’s spouse.  I know that sounds too simple for many, but for those individuals with ADHD, the ability to maintain sustained attention on any person, place or thing can be extremely difficult.  And yet, without this ability, there can be no true romance.  It’s that simple. So, knowing this fact, how does one go about making sure that this difficulty does not become that fatal mistake that dooms your marriage.

Untreated ADHD is deadly to many relationships simply because the brain of someone with ADHD is wired in such a way that makes attention regulation extremely difficult.  Although medication is the most efficient way to jump start treatment, it is only one of many treatment modalities that is helpful in sustaining and building a relationship of mutual trust, friendship and intimacy.  When working with couples, the biggest complaint I often hear from the non-ADHD spouse is that they feel abandoned in the relationship.  Their spouse is not attentive to them and their constant distractibility creates the feeling of being unloved.  And since paying attention is the single most difficult thing for an ADHD adult to do, just making the effort to accomplish this behavior, means everything to the non-ADHD spouse.  In fact,  most non ADHD partners have told me that just seeing their partner trying, makes them feel loved and cherished, and feeling cherished, is the vital ingredient in developing and maintaining intimacy and romance.

So, in thinking of ways to enhance one’s ability to focus on one’s spouse, I came up with a list of suggestions.   While some of these might work well for you, do experiment and discover what works best for you and your partner.

  • Make a point of calling your spouse every day just to say hello and see how their day is going. ( And give them your undivided attention during the entire length of the call)
  • Send a “love text” every day.
  • Leave a note next to her or his pillow saying something sweet or wishing them a wonderful day.
  • Tackle some chore around the house that you know means a lot to them.
  • Surprise them with a gift.  Maybe their favorite meal, some flowers, or an item that you know they will love.
  • Make time to just cuddle or hold hands while watching a movie.
  • When in their company, make eye contact with them the entire time they are speaking to you and respond back to them so they know you have really heard what they have said to you.  This last one seems so easy, and yet…. it is the one thing that is often missing in many couple’s communication.
  • Since you may need a reminder to do some of those things you have in mind, consider ways to help with this by perhaps setting a daily alarm on your phone or write yourself little sticky notes that you place on your desk at work or around your home.  Find ways that work with your life style and comfort level using technology.   Seek professional coaching or work with a counselor who is well versed in the problems that are associate with having ADHD, if needed.

Don’t forget that in the end, the greatest gift is your undivided attention and willingness to be completely present to them.  So, consider ways to remind yourself when its time to call or do something important for them.  It’s ok if you need to set a daily alarm on your phone to remind you or to write yourself little sticky notes that you place on your desk at work.  Don’t allow your pride or shame to get in the way of your seeking professional help with ADHD therapist,  if needed.  Do whatever it takes to pay attention to your partner, and I can bet your romance will be greatly enhanced as your marriage continues to grow stronger.

Leslie is a holistic therapist working in South Florida. If you would like more information about her work or more help with ADHD, sign up for her free newsletter at




ADD in Marriage: How to Be Happily Married to Your ADD Spouse

April 3rd, 2012

By Leslie Rouder, LCSW

The challenges facing a person who is married to someone with untreated ADD can certainly be difficult to navigate, especially because these challenges may be completely hidden to the rest of the world.  No one seems to understand what you struggle with.  She or he is such a “great guy” and may appear totally “together” to everyone else.  So what’s wrong with you? Maybe you are even beginning to doubt yourself.  This article attempts to address some of the predictable patterns that one may experience being married to someone with ADD and why it creates such difficulty.

Being married to someone with untreated  ADD is often fraught with a predictable progressive pattern that goes from happy, to confused, to angry, and finally to hopeless. (Orlov, 2010) How does this happen and why is this so predictable in couples whose spouses have untreated ADD?

In an attempt to answer that question let’s look at some of the patterns that typically come up in these kinds of relationships;



The ADHD Effects on Marriage with Melissa Orlov | Guest Blog

March 1st, 2012

I have had the pleasure of knowing Melissa Orlov over the past few years and when asked recently to write a “six word biography,” She wrote “Failed marriage resuscitated.  Now helping others.”  Melissa has blended her personal experience of coming back from the brink of divorce with an ADHD spouse with knowledge about ADHD in adults, becoming one of the top experts in how ADHD impacts relationships.  She runs an active online community on the topic, consults with couples struggling to change their marriage dynamics, teaches seminars to couples as well as professional therapists and counselors on the topic, and has written an award-winning book, The ADHD Effect on Marriage.  You can find more information at

As mentioned in my last Newsletter,  I have been taking a 7 week class with Melissa entitled The ADHD Effect on Couples this past month and thought it would be great if she would be willing to do a guest interview for my blog on the subject .  She graciously accepted and the following is the result;  (more…)

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The 8 Biggest Relationship Problems That Lead to Feeling Unloved

February 3rd, 2012

By Leslie Rouder, LCSW

This past month, I have been enrolled in a 7 week therapist’s course given by Melissa Orlov on the ADHD effects on marriage.  Melissa, who is an expert on this subject, and who has written the book (by the same name) The ADHD Effects on Marriage, offers its’ readers one of the most comprehensive and clearly written books that I have read on this subject.  Melissa provides six steps on how to rebuild your relationship and learn how to enjoy the person you fell in love with. This book is a must read for any couple struggling with the effects of untreated ADHD in their relationship. (more…)


When Your Partner’s ADD is Driving you Crazy

February 3rd, 2012

By Leslie Rouder, LCSW

Many people are attracted to individuals with ADD for their zany sense of humor, imagination, creativity, charm and “out of the box” thinking.    But for many couples those attractive qualities can sometimes fade in the light of untreated ADD.  I receive hundreds of calls and e mails from frustrated partners of individuals with ADD (POADD’s) asking if I could please work with their partner in assisting with the various aspects of ADD that are affecting the quality of their lives and relationships.  Sadly, untreated ADD is a large factor in many divorces and break ups between couples.  The following is a list of some of the most common problems affecting these couples: 

Rage and/or uncontrollable anger: Many individuals with ADD have difficulty controlling their anger and (what’s more) can provoke their partner’s anger as well.   The POADD’s are often overwhelmed and exhausted with all the fighting and feel badly that they are unable to control their temper.

Financial Problems:  People with ADD often having problems with impulsive spending, problems keeping a job, and/or underemployment.  There is often a lot of debt and hoarding of items purchased on a whim that may be stashed away in closets, drawers, under the bed or in disarray around the home.  Online spending is also often a big problem as well.

Career Stagnation:  Due to their partner’s inability to hold a job, the POADD’s often do not feel that they can take risks in their professional lives due to the sense that theirs’ is the only stable source of income.  In addition, they often underperform at work due to (what feels like)  ongoing “crises” and stress caused by their home life. 

Sexual Problems: Very often I will hear complaints that the ADD partner will either lose interest in sex or will expect to have sex all the time.  Sometimes this occurs because Adder’s get bored easily or (paradoxically) sex may be used as a stimulant.  I often hear that the POADD’s loss of interest in sex with their partner is due to the feeling of having sex with their child (since they often take on the role of parent) and the partner with ADD  often loses interest in sex because he or she may feel like they are having sex with their parent. (Due to their partner having taken on the parental role in the relationship very often)

Traffic Violations:  People with ADD frequently have car accidents that cause worry about the Adder’s safety and/ or the safety of the passengers, who are very often their children.  They often have very high insurance rates and costly traffic violations, which put further financial strain on the couple.

Lack of Support and Self Esteem: POADD’s often tell me that they feel that the bulk of most decisions rest on their shoulders.  If they have children, they feel that they are the one single parent raising their children alone.  They do not feel supported by their partner.  Even if they were thinking of getting a divorce, they are too frightened for their children’s well being to ever leave, so they often feel locked in a hopeless partnership staying for the sake of providing stability for their children.

Health Problems:  POADD’s often develop illnesses that are caused by the effects of living in a stressful environment.  Sometimes these illnesses are chronic, such as chronic fatigue and sometimes they are manifested as frequent bouts with common viruses, such as colds. This further impairs their ability to function effectively in the world and can create further isolation.

Problems Getting Help:  Very often couples do not know where to turn for help.  They may speak to a family doctor, pastor or clinician that is not well versed in the area of ADD and miss the diagnosis, causing more damage to the relationship. It is not until the diagnosis is clearly understood and applied to the individual’s lives in a way that is integrated through that understanding that it is possible for healing to occur.

There is hope for those who seek out effective support systems. Couples can learn to communicate and find ways to bridge these gaps.  They can learn about effective ways to set boundaries, share responsibilities, develop talents and goals, strive for healthy intimacy and gain self esteem and confidence.  I encourage anyone who feels stuck to actively look for clinicians that specialize in working with individuals with ADD and their families.  Find support groups in your area that work with adults with ADD and or their partners.  If you need help finding support groups in your area you can contact your local CHADD chapter ( and ask for assistance. Never give up until you have all the answer. Positive change does happen with the proper information and support.

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8 Attitudes That Could Save Your Marriage

November 9th, 2011

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”. 


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