Part 4 of a 4-Part Series
This is the fourth article in a series on Adult ADHD. The first article explored symptoms people may have with ADHD. The second article discussed the evaluation process and who should conduct the evaluations. The third article explored the importance of “executive function” and what can be done if it is not working well. In this final article in the series, I look at how ADHD affects adult relationships and at what steps one can take to overcome the problems that it causes.
The Impact of ADHD Across a Lifespan
ADHD is thought of as a developmental condition. At least sixty percent of those affected by ADHD in childhood will continue to have symptoms into adulthood. At the same time, symptoms do not appear later in life if they were not present in childhood. For those who have faced the challenges of ADHD since childhood, they have most likely experienced the frustration of parents and teachers. They have known the embarrassment and shame of being told that they are choosing to not try harder at their work, or are just looking for an excuse for their struggles. It is hardly surprising to learn that a teen or adult with ADHD experiences anxiety and/or depression. When ADHD goes undiagnosed and is untreated, life becomes very difficult.
The Changing Face of ADHD in Adults
Hyperactivity lessens in adulthood and may look more like fidgeting and feeling restless inside. Even though someone can force themselves to sit still, they may dislike doing so. This can result in problems at work or difficulty in enjoying recreational activities, such as reading or watching a movie. Restlessness makes adults more productive, and they may pour themselves into working longer hours or taking a second job. Adults with ADHD may do poorly at a repetitive, mundane job, and are often found working at active jobs or at jobs with a fast pace and constant variety. They may be constantly puttering around the house due to restlessness, and may gravitate toward active hobbies. (Tuckman, 2009)
Impulsivity may look less like the calling out in class that we may see in childhood. An adult with ADHD is more likely to impulsively speak out of turn or to confront the boss. This impulsivity can lead to them getting fired, overspending, and accumulating too much credit card debt, or having an unexpected pregnancy. (Tuckman, 2009)
The Impact of Adult ADHD on Relationships
Without intervention, the personal histories of adults with ADHD may include relationship and marriage problems, legal problems including traffic violations or worse (Barkley, Fischer, Smallish, and Fletcher, 2004; Barkley, Guevremont, Anastopoulos, DuPaul and Shelton, 1993), debt and money management problems, frequent job changes, disciplinary action or getting fired, substance use and abuse (Barkley et al., 1993; Wilens, Biederman, Wozniak, Gunawardene, Wong, and Monuteaux, 2003a), making impulsive decisions, having difficulty stopping activities or behavior when they should, and having difficulty keeping promises or commitments made to others. (Barkley, Murphy and Fischer, 2007) Due to the areas of the brain involved in ADHD, people with ADHD may have anxiety or temper-control problems. (Wasserstein, Wolf, Solanto, Marks, and Simkowitz, 2008)
An adult with ADHD may have a series of stormy relationships or marriage problems. They may be unreliable and inconsistent in fulfilling their good intentions. A person with ADHD often partners with a “Caregiver” type of personality. Either the person with ADHD sought someone who would help them organize their lives and help them with all of the complexities of adulthood, or their partner thought they were there to help and protect a very misunderstood individual. (Tuckman, 2009)
While this may initially be endearing, the dynamic involved in these relationships may cause many problems down the road. People tend to not to have too much overlap in their responsibilities when dating. But responsibilities become shared once they marry and live in the same home, and even more so once they have children. They are then faced with the added need for organization, planning, structure, problem solving, inhibition of impulsivity, and emotional regulation when tired, frustrated, angry, or upset. The non-ADHD person may feel the need to “pick up the slack,” but may begin to feel resentful and over-burdened over time. The non-ADHD person may slip into a “parent” role for the ADHD partner, while the ADHD partner may not try to keep up their end of things, thinking that “he/she will take care of it.” To complicate matters, the non-ADHD person may feel disrespect for the ADHD partner, with thoughts such as, “I have an extra child, not a spouse,” and “If I don’t nag, or do it myself, it won’t get done.” At the same time, the ADHD partner may feel controlled, thinking, “He/she is always reminding me / nagging / taking over.”
Christian Counseling for Adult ADHD
Despite the challenges that ADHD poses for adults and their partners, all is not lost. With a thorough and accurate evaluation and diagnosis, effective treatment for Adult ADHD can begin. This may include working with your medical doctor to prescribe medication to improve brain function, and working closely with a trained Christian psychologist to learn new strategies for managing the challenges of Adult ADHD.
Christian counseling can help to support couples dealing with ADHD. The goal is that no matter how things are divided, both partners need to feel that they are working together and are on the same team. At times the non-ADHD partner needs to step back and allow the ADHD person to work on issues, take responsibility, and sometimes even make mistakes. (Tuckman, 2009) Doing this in a loving, Christ-centered manner may be challenging, but can bring lasting change and improved relationships.
If you or a loved one are challenged with ADHD, there is a lot you can do about this. As a Christian psychologist, I will be happy to guide treatment planning, discuss life skills, and help you to develop strategies that will assist you to compensate for challenges related to ADHD. I also provide educational and career coaching, and support for improving communication and relationships impacted by ADHD.
For a complete listing of references for the information found in the articles of this four-part series, click here.
“Grow Up,” by olly 18, Image ID 7626816, DepositPhotos.com; “Businessman in office space with a toy airplane,” by monkeybusiness, ID 4766888, DepositPhotos.com; “Stress mother running late with kids” on Depositphotos, by: Haywiremedia, Image ID: 29731509