The ADHD Effect on Marriage

In Grief & Loss, Lifestyle, Relationships, Sex, Suggested Readings by Kelsey Nimmo

It all suddenly made sense. The whole thing about how romantic and attentive he was when we first started dating and now, six years in, he seems like a totally different person.

What happened to his lengthy romantic poems sent via text? Flowers and basil plants left on my doorstep? Playful notes asking me out on dates?

These days, I’m excited to get a text asking about my day. What happened to our romance?

If you can relate to this and you aren’t sure what happened either, try reading The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa Orlov. We always knew my partner had ADHD and we’ve joked about it countless times. But reading this made it not quite so funny. It highlighted the consequences of ADHD for our relationship, our romance, and our conflicts.

I highly recommend this book if:

  • You or your partner have ADHD
  • The ADHD partner was over-the-top romantic when you first started dating and neither of you know why that disappeared
  • The relationship tends to fall into a parent-child dynamic sometimes
  • The non-ADHD partner feels overwhelmed with taking on the majority of the household chores – including lots of nagging with little follow-through
  • There exists a “pursue-and-escape” dynamic between the two of you
  • You are losing faith in your partner – and maybe yourself
  • Sex is becoming “strained or nonexistent”

Whew! What a list. Orlov goes through these “surprising symptoms” of ADHD and explores them in detail, including advice for how to understand and manage them.

The most impactful part for us had to do with the “hyperfocus courtship.” If you’re wanting to read more, read what Orlov has to say herself – she’s quite brilliant. But here’s the mind-blowing parts that I took from it:

  1. Early dating is extremely stimulating. The newness and excitement of “courting” creates a system of continuous reinforcement. This means that romantic gestures give the ADHD partner huge hits of endorphins. Essentially, the romance may have less to do with loving their partner and more to do with the stimulation of excitement.
  2. These endorphins are self-medicating because they keep the ADHD partner engaged and attentive. The newness is intoxicating. When the newness fades away, so do the endorphins. And without the endorphins, attention dwindles.
  3. The non-ADHD partner knows none of this. They think the romance is all about them so when it stops, they think the love stops. But it wasn’t about the love in the first place – it was about the reinforcement of excitement. The “thrill.”
  4. The non-ADHD partner then might think this was all a farce. It feels like a bait-and-switch. But the truth is that BOTH partners feel the bait-and-switch. The non-ADHD partner wonders where the romance and attention went while the ADHD partner wonders where the excitement went. Both will mourn the loss.

My partner and I were in shock after reading this. He had spent years feeling guilty that he couldn’t go back to being that romantic fella who stole my heart. And I was over here feeling ignored and forgotten.

Orlov tells us to recognize that this is a symptom of ADHD and it’s not indicative of laziness or loss of love. She tells us to mourn this early exciting courtship – and then she tells us to get on with our lives and create more excitement.

After reading this, my partner and I actively create more thrill and excitement for our partnership and our family. It keeps us engaged, romantic, playful, and loving – in just the right amounts.

This book forever changed my relationship. It allowed me to release resentment and helped my partner release his misunderstood shame.

Having an ADHD partner can be invigorating, surprising, and energetic – when we keep their attention. So if you’re suffering from the loss of a hyperfocused courtship, read this book, find forgiveness through understanding, mourn the loss, and then let’s get on with it. Find more exciting things to stimulate your brains and your relationship.

For even more enthralling reading adventures, see my list of must-read books. There are probably some real thrilling ones on there to keep the attention of that ADHD partner.

Set up a counseling appointment with Kelsey.

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