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Managing ADHD Impulsivity in a Relationship

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In my experience, spontaneity is certainly a positive attribute that can help keep the spark alive in a relationship. But it’s sometimes important to keep it under wraps so that nobody gets hurt.

Here are some of the ways I navigate the world of ADHD spontaneity when I’m in a romantic relationship.

Impulsive emotions

People with ADHD tend to have more intense emotional responses, from sadness and anger to fear and worry. We might get frustrated faster and have a harder time calming down than other people.

This can unfortunately lead us to lash out and say things we don’t mean when we’re in an argument. I find this is hard to keep under control because of how quickly emotions can become overwhelming.

The first and most important tip is to be aware of your emotions. Understand how you behave in an argument. Do you get overly offensive? Do you get overly defensive? A bit of both?

Try to keep mental track of your emotions when you’re in the heat of things. That way you can think back later about what might have been an overreaction and what was logical.

Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help if you’re comfortable doing so. Getting feedback can be very helpful.

Try to communicate how you’re feeling more often if lashing out is an issue in your relationship. Give your partner a chance to fully respond and actively listen.

I also always recommend deep breathing in an argument. We tend to breathe more quickly when we’re angry and in fight-or-flight mode. Mindful breathing can help us to control our emotions and feel more relaxed so we have a clearer and more logical perspective.

Focus on consciously slowing down your breathing. Maybe think about a soothing word or place. Going for a walk can have a similarly calming effect.

Impulsive interrupting

We’ve all done it. Your partner is in the middle of telling you a story about their dog. You suddenly remember a fun dog fact you read about last week. You blurt it out right in the middle of their story. Now your partner feels disrespected. You argue.

Interrupting is a hallmark symptom of ADHD. I find it’s one of the trickiest ones to manage.

We really aren’t trying to be rude. The impulsivity of our ADHD just makes us excited to share things, and we have a hard time holding back.

Active listening is often critical in a relationship. Your partner will only take so many interruptions before a discussion turns into a fight.

I’ve found that the best way to stop interrupting is to practice active listening:

  • Remind yourself to not interrupt when your partner is speaking. Constantly remind yourself to not blurt out, no matter what.
  • Control or avoid distractions to keep your mind from wandering.
  • Get engaged in the story by frequently asking questions. This does wonders for my listening abilities. It’s the polar opposite of interrupting!

It’s a common belief that people with ADHD can’t stay focused on anything. I find it’s actually harder to focus on things that don’t interest me. So getting involved helps me stay laser focused.

Impulsive spending

This one deserves an entire article. People with ADHD are sometimes prone to impulsive spending. That can be a problem in a romantic relationship.

When you’ve been with someone for a long time, you may eventually want a joint bank account. Impulse purchases can become a major source of fights and tension.

The best way to address this is to have an honest conversation with your partner to get on the same page.

My partner and I have agreed on a certain amount of spontaneous purchases every month. If I spend more, that amount is deducted from the next month. Or, I have to put the same amount of money I spent into our savings. Find a system that works for you!

Other impulsive behaviors

Some other miscellaneous impulsive behaviors I’ve noticed in relationships include:

  • rushing into romance
  • impulsive cheating
  • reckless actions

Every person is different. My most important advice is to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. See things from their point of view. We tend to get wrapped up in our own minds. It’s important to sometimes stop and think about someone else’s experience.

ADHD doesn’t have to ruin things!

The spontaneity traits that often come with ADHD make us very exciting and romantic partners. But impulsiveness can be a double-edged sword in the early days of dating and in long-term relationships. It keeps the relationship interesting, but it can also lead to bad choices and hurt feelings.

My advice? When in doubt, deep breathing and meditation are hugely helpful. Write down your feelings and thoughts. Most importantly, communicate authentically with your partner.

For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.

NPS-US-NP-00619 APRIL 2020

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