ADD and the Significant Other

Divorce rates for those with ADD are nearly double that of the general population. Here are some tips to keep you from being another statistic.


If you suffer from ADD or ADHD you’re not alone. Not only there are plenty of adults who share the same affliction but there are also those around you who deal with fallout from your ADD. And by “you” I mean “us.” I was diagnosed with ADD in college and it has impacted my life in many ways.

The comments from last week’s overview of adult ADD were overwhelmingly positive and a number of people asked how to cope with a spouse or significant other who suffers from the hidden disability.

I asked my significant other, who I call my Muse, to add her two cents since she not only has ADD herself but has to deal with me and my un-medicated state. She offers a perspective that I hope will be helpful to you.

Several years ago I had a stroke and when you add that to my severe case of ADD it puts me in a unique situation. Currently I’m not on medication because my insurance limits whom I can see for mental health care, and the one psychiatrist that I can see believes that adult ADD isn’t real. I know it is because I see and feel a huge difference between the medicated J.R. and the un-medicated one. My friends and my Muse notice the difference as well.

If you have a significant other with ADD I feel your pain because we can be hard to deal with. In my case I forget things all the time and when I forget things I get frustrated. When I become frustrated I lose my focus even more and the cycle repeats itself.

The symptoms of ADD can put a huge strain on a marriage or relationship and I firmly believe that a major reason these marriages and relationships fail is because the significant other doesn’t know enough about the disease and therefore doesn’t know how to deal with the ADDer. I’m not throwing blame at anyone and am simply making an observation.

Every little mistake I make or any of my many shortcomings are magnified in my brain and I can’t understand why my Muse sticks around, especially when she’s three thousand miles away.

Someone suffering from ADD may be doing everything they can to cope but it’s not always enough and that inevitably gets taken out on those around them. It’s almost as if we are in a glass box and we’re shouting for help but no one hears us. To the significant other we are angry and mean but in reality we are crying out for help in the only way we know how.

What can you as a significant other do to help the situation? I’m going to let my Muse share her thoughts.


While in a relationship with someone who has ADD, I find you need a lot of patience and understanding. Giving your partner support and letting them know you are trying to understand what they are going through is important. It can be tough to understand, especially at first, but it can be done.

There will be days/moments when things will be testy. Maybe your partner is having a bad day and is taking it out on you. ADD sometimes makes you more agitated than normal and every little thing is a trigger. Finding ways to cope with this together will help that. Have the ADDer come up with a way to express to you that they are agitated and then also tell you what you can do to help them relax when they feel the agitation beginning to come on.


The person affected with ADD may come across as too focused on one thing while shutting out everything (and everyone) else. The reality is that they are focusing intently because if they don’t it seems as if the project or task may never be completed. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you because the truth is that we generally care a lot but have a hard time showing it.

In my case I often turn the filter on my mouth off and this is a common ADD problem. When I was doing talk radio the lack of a filter made for a very entertaining show but it impacts my personal life in a big way.

I’m sure over the years I’ve caused a hundred people to be happy when I left their presence. I’m sure I’ve been called lots of colorful names once I was gone and generally it’s with cause. The thing is that I sometimes know I’m being unreasonable but unless properly medicated it can be nearly impossible to stop. I liken it to plugging a leaky dam with a cork—it will hold for a moment or two but when it gives it gives in a big way.

Another symptom of ADD that rubs most significant others the wrong way is forgetfulness. To most outsiders it seems as if the ADDer doesn’t care but we do. We desperately want to remember and fit in but our forgetfulness often ostracizes us in a big way.

Looking back on my life I see how I pushed away people that I was involved with. I didn’t want to but generally didn’t realize it until too late. As we realize that a breakup is imminent we tend to try hard to fix things but it ends up being too little too late.

Those with ADD may be intense in the early stages of a relationship but will eventually burn out. The significant other will see that as us falling out of love or they will see the intensity as creepy and will push us away.

If you as a significant other see your relationship heading in that direction the best thing you can do is talk with the ADDer and let them know your concerns. I suggest doing it in a calm and non-confrontational way because as you probably know we can take the slightest thing as an insult and go off.

Self-esteem is something I struggle with a lot and is something that those with ADD live with on a daily basis. We are often labeled as stupid and lazy but we aren’t. We try as hard if not harder than “regular” people but it often goes unnoticed. Performance reviews at work are often less than stellar and our personal relationships are strained because we feel like no matter how hard we try it’s never enough.

We often ask a lot of questions and that can come off as disrespectful or a lack of trust but that’s not why we ask. We ask because our brains are wired differently and we’re simply trying to understand why you want us to do things the way you do. It’s not that we don’t care because we care a lot and the questions are our way of figuring out how we can be the best partner possible.

There’s one last thing I want to cover in this piece and for that I’m turning once again to my Muse.


When you have ADD there are times that no matter what you do, you just cannot get organized. As the significant other one of the biggest things you can do is to help your partner come up with a system and help them stick with it. If you live together use that system with them and if not do what you can to help the ADDer stay on track without being naggy.

Good habits help a lot, though they can be hard to stick to at first. It may not sound like much but organization will help in many ways. It gives the ADDer a calmer environment and that keeps things less stressful.

Being able to find car keys, bills and your favorite shoes won’t necessarily stop arguments altogether, but it will certainly lessen them. When it comes to the important things like paying bills, help the person with ADD to get organized.


Modern technology is great because everything can be right there on a smartphone or tablet. The key is in not losing the phone or tablet and making sure that alerts and reminders are set. I make it a habit to put anything and everything on my calendar and set alerts, often times so many that it can become annoying. Still, I would rather have too many reminders than too few.

Communication is an important part of any relationship but even more so for someone with ADD. Both you and the ADDer have to be on the same page and they have to know that you’re in their corner and that you’re not coming at them from across the cage when the bell rings.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are support groups for significant others and family members of those with ADD and there are counselors and therapists who specialize in families or couples with ADD or depression. As you probably know ADD and depression can go hand in hand.

The best thing you can do is to be there for your partner and let them know you care and that you truly want to help. Learning more about ADD and their specific symptoms will also help tremendously and that’s where support groups come in.

I also highly recommend the book You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! The authors are both women with ADD and the book is filled with real life applications and examples and is very easy to understand.

I would love to hear your stories of success as well as to hear any concerns or problems you may be having. They give me (and others) hope and also allows me to tailor future posts to the needs of the readers.

Be sure to come back next Wednesday when we talk about ADD and the workplace.


Photo of man with sign courtesy of Shutterstock.

About J.R. Reed

J.R is a full-time single dad attempting to raise a 14-year-old daughter without providing too many stories to relay to her future therapist. He is also the creator of the popular blog, Sex and the SIngle Dad. A former radio talk show host and color commentator, he’s also an off-the-hook cook, a bit of an argyle-loving dork and has a word in Urban Dictionary. J.R. has a serious guacamole addiction and a torta dealer named Danny.


  1. Hey Thank you. I have not read lot about ADD and marriage. I think there are areas i can fix.

  2. I’m an adult (Well, early twenties) woman with ADD (inattentive type), and I can relate to so much of this – especially forgetfulness and organization. Sometimes it works with my depression in such a way that I beat myself up over and over again for missing things. (And it doesn’t help that my parents are super punctual and they cannot understand why I’m not.)

    Sometimes I feel like it’s impossible for me to motivate myself. I’m not sure that’s something for all ADDults, but the best thing my boyfriend does for me is simply be my personal cheerleader. He also helps me remember to do things, and he’s the best thing in my life. And yes, one big problem with ADD is the intense attention that quickly fades (I tend to think of it more as an “Attention dispersal disorder” – overfocusing on some things, not focusing enough on others) – I worry that like how I go through phases with everything else in my life, so it’ll happen with my boyfriend – but I think he’s staying. 🙂 He’s a keeper who loves me for me, in all my messy, forgetful, space-cadetness.

    • J.R. Reed says:

      For what it’s worth I’m 46 and have dealt with my family not understanding for my whole life. I too beat myself up over every stupid thing and I hate it. Right now the depression is overwhelming because I’m not on my medicine. Please know you’re not alone and I’m happy that you have a boyfriend who seems to understand you. Check back next Wednesday for ADD and the Workplace.

  3. It wasn’t until my son was diagnosed with ADD (the inattentive kind) that I started to realize maybe his dad shares some of those same characteristics: forgets his keys and ID badge all the time (and is convinced someone must have stolen them!), doesn’t listen to anything I say to him (but will listen to his drinking buddy…arrgghh!), etc.

    Yelling doesn’t really help…post-it notes sometimes are effective…but yes, I agree….technology is a true blessing! Anything I text him on his iPhone gets immediately addressed! (It works with my son, too….Natch! I just text my son when I want him to come up for air from the basement where he loves to play Mine Craft endlessly!)…iPhone has saved my vocal cords!

    • J.R. Reed says:


      As funny as it sounds I occasionally put a post it note ON my phone. A couple of my other tricks include always putting my keys in the same place and if there is something I need to take with me, putting it next to the keys. I also tape notes to my steering wheel so I don’t forget to go somewhere or grab something I need. I’m glad technology works for you as well.

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