Explaining ADHD is always challenging. You never know how someone will respond. You’ll hear an array of reactions: “It doesn’t actually exist!” or “OMG I totally have it too. I’m SO silly!”
Having “the talk” with your significant other about ADHD can be a strange experience. Your partner likely won’t think that much of it. But it can be a big deal to those of us with ADHD!
I received a late ADHD diagnosis in my early 20s. I was in a serious relationship at the time. I needed to learn how to properly communicate the condition to my partner beyond, “I probably have ADHD.”
Every case of ADHD is different, and no two relationships are the same. But here are a few simple tips based on my own personal experiences that may help you to communicate ADHD to your partner.
Dispel myths quickly
I’ve heard and seen a ton of misinformation about ADHD. Perceptions can be quite skewed. Some people swear ADHD is caused by vaccines. Others say ADHD isn’t real and is an excuse for laziness. All of this makes the condition sound much worse than it actually is.
I always address misconceptions as quickly as possible when I open up about having ADHD.
I feel it out depending on the person. Sometimes I simply say, “I have ADHD” and wait for a response. I may follow up with a comical, “Any questions, comments, or concerns may be vocalized now.”
I might even use a quip like:
- Yes, I have actual ADHD. Not just the “I’m so distractible!” type.
- No, I’m not like “Dug from Up.”
- No, I won’t go on a rampage if I’m off my meds.
You may need to explain what ADHD is.
It’s a common neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause you to be overly active or make it so you have a hard time paying attention or controlling impulsive behaviors. The causes are unknown, but it’s likely linked to genetics.
ADHD might lead you to daydream, forget things, fidget, talk too much, or make careless mistakes.
Use relatable examples
This is one of my favorite tips. A little creativity can help other people relate to you on terms they understand.
You might incorporate a metaphor from your partner’s career. If you’re dating a computer programmer, you might try, “It’s like my computer system needs more RAM.”
Or identify a movie character your partner likes who might have ADHD. Some favorites are Luna Lovegood from “Harry Potter” and Barney from “How I Met Your Mother.”
You can also find hundreds of quotes from people with ADHD online. Use one of these to explain ADHD or as inspiration for your own description.
I personally like to say, “It’s like having 50 tabs open on my browser at the same time.”
Be honest about the good and the bad
There are a myriad of fun ways ADHD can make relationships more interesting. But it often poses challenges as well.
Ignoring these challenges doesn’t make them go away. You need to be honest about how ADHD might affect your relationship if you think a person could be a long-term partner.
Tackle these issues openly and honestly. Ask your partner to be patient if you’re prone to forgetfulness. Make sure they know it’s not their fault and you’re not trying to be rude if you’re prone to zoning out.
Create an accountability plan
Follow up by telling your partner that you’ll mitigate these issues as much as possible. ADHD doesn’t have to be a relationship deal-breaker. You can significantly diminish the negatives and enhance the positives with a little bit of work!
Space out when your partner tells stories? Tell them to periodically check in with questions. (“You remember who my cousin John is, right?”) Actively engaging me in a story works wonders to keep me tuned in.
Prone to having random tangential thoughts pop into your head when someone’s talking? Ask your partner to pause so you can quickly write down a thought and come back to it later.
Forgetful? Set important events, like anniversaries and birthdays, in your calendar with as many reminders as it takes. I like to use Gmail’s “schedule send” feature to set up email reminders a few weeks before anniversaries or birthdays so I remember to make reservations or buy gifts.
Often late? Ask your partner for a 30-minute time buffer. (They’ll tell you to arrive at 7:30 p.m. for an 8 p.m. reservation.) That way you’ll actually be on time if you’re up to 30 minutes “late.”
Offer explanations, not excuses
You had the conversation with your partner. You talked about the good and the bad. You made an action plan. Great work!
Here’s one last thing to remember: You’re still going to make mistakes. And that’s OK.
ADHD is a lifelong condition. We can do things to keep it at bay. But it still sticks with us.
Don’t blame your ADHD when you falter and make mistakes in your relationship. Own it, apologize, and move on. The right person will be patient and understanding and love you regardless.
For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.