• Dr. Bill Walker


Having an adult friend or family member with ADHD can be frustrating. 

Learn how to be a blessing and support instead of a drag.  Here are some practical steps to doing so!


Chances are you know someone diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.  These letters stand for Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.   The term Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) has been discontinued for several years now and merged into the term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder include:[1]

  • the inability to focus; trouble listening to instructions

  • hard time organizing things, i.e., disorganization

  • restlessness.

  • difficulty remembering details, or completing tasks, (which can affect their relationships at home, school, and work.)

People who have ADHD may exhibit different symptoms, and they may experience them at different levels of severity, ranging from mild to significant impairment.  Therefore, be very careful about making judgments of people with this problem - as everyone experiences ADHD in their own unique way.

Adults Have ADHD Too!

Though ADHD is most commonly associated with children adults also struggle with it.

An estimated 8 million adults are diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S. alone.[1]

Compared to children adults with ADHD tend to be ignored by society.  This means there is less information available to educate family, friends and coworkers on how to best support and deal with adults with ADHD.

ADHD symptoms in adults can cause significant problems in their relationships with spouses, family, coworkers and friends.  The purpose of this article is to offer some suggestions for how the people in the ADHD person’s life can best cope with and support the person with ADHD.

Things to Remember If You Love a Person with ADD [2]

  • 1. They listen but often have trouble absorbing what is being said

  • A person with ADHD can look at you, hear your words, watch your lips move, but after the first five words their mind is on a journey. They can still hear you speak, but their thoughts are elsewhere. They are thinking about how your lips are moving or how your hair is out of place.

  • 2. They can have difficulty staying on task

  • Instead of keeping the focus on what’s in front of them, people with ADHD are staring at the colors in the painting on the wall. Like walking through a labyrinth, they start moving in one direction, but keep changing directions to find the way out.

  • 3. They can become anxious easily

  • As deep thinkers, they are sensitive to whatever is going on around them. Being in a noisy restaurant can sound like they are standing in the front row at a rock  concert. A depressing news snippet can set them into end-of-the-world mode.

  • 4. They may have difficulty concentrating when they are emotional

  • If there is something worrisome going on, or if they are upset, a person with ADHD may not be able to focus on anything else. This makes concentration on work, conversation, and social situations very difficult.

  • 5. They can have difficulty stopping a task when they are in the zone

  • It can be easy for people with ADHD to become over-focused on a task.  They may have no desire to disengage from this activity even if more pressing matters need attending to.  This often results in great frustration for the other adults in their life.

  • 6. They can find it difficult to regulate their emotions

  • For a person with ADHD, controlling their emotions can be a challenge.  As June Silny writes, "At times, their emotions are flying wild, out of proportion and cannot be contained. The tangled wires in their brilliant brains make thought and feelings difficult to process. They need extra time to get their systems up and running properly". [2]

  • 7. They may have verbal outbursts

  • Their intense emotions can be difficult to regulate.  The person with ADHD sometimes will impulsively say whatever they think - often regretting their words later.  

  • 8.  They can be impatient and fidgety

  • Annoyed easily, wanting things to happen immediately, and constantly playing with their phones, twirling their hair, or bouncing their leg up and down; a person with ADHD needs constant motion. It’s a calming Zen activity for them.

  • 9. They can be disorganized

Piles often are their favorite method of organizing. Once a task is complete, papers related to it are placed in a pile, where they stay until the piles grow too high. That’s when the person with ADHD becomes overwhelmed, frustrated, and cleans up. People with ADHD have to be careful to not become hoarders. It’s often hard for a person with ADHD to keep things in order because their brain doesn’t function in an orderly manner.

10. They may avoid tasks

Making decisions or completing tasks on time is a struggle. Not because they are lazy or irresponsible, but because their minds are full of options and possibilities. Deciding on a decision can, therefore, be problematic.  Due to over-thinking it can be easier to avoid making a decision at all.

11. They can have trouble remembering simple tasks

Another paradoxical trait of ADHD is memory. People with ADHD can’t remember to pick up their clothes at the cleaners, milk at the grocery store, or appointments. On the other hand; they remember every comment, quote, and phone number they heard during the day. No matter how many post-its or calendar reminders they set; their distracted mind is always elsewhere. Visible items are easier to remember. That’s why they can have fifteen windows open on their desktop.


The following suggestions were adapted from the article:[3]

This is the most helpful and practical article I have found on the web.  If you have a person with ADHD in your life consider bookmarking or printing this article and keeping it where you will see it regularly.

I.  Have Empathy for One Another 

Empathy is the ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual's emotional state.[4]

Empathy is a 2-way street.  In relationships where 1 person has ADHD both partners need to make the effort to understand what it is like for one another. 

The best way to put yourself in your partner’s shoes is to ask and then simply listen. Find a time to sit down and talk when you’re not already upset. Let your partner describe how he or she feels without interruption from you to explain or defend yourself. When your partner is finished, repeat back the main points you’ve heard him or her say, and ask if you understood correctly.

You may want to write the points down so you can reflect on them later. When your partner is finished, it’s your turn. Ask him or her to do the same for you and really listen with fresh ears and an open mind.[3] 

Since Empathy requires understanding how the other person feels the following information should be of great help:

How the Partner with ADHD Often Feels:

**Different. The brain is often racing, and people with ADHD experience the world in a way that others don't easily understand or related to.

**Overwhelmed, secretly or overtly. Keeping daily life under control takes much more work than others realize.

**Subordinate to their spouses. Their partners spend a good deal of time correcting them or running the show. The corrections make they feel incompetent, and often contribute to a parent-child dynamic. Men can describe these interactions as making them feel emasculated.

**Shamed. They often hide a large amount of shame, sometimes compensating with bluster or retreat.

**Unloved and unwanted. Constant reminders from spouses, bosses, and others that they should "change" reinforce that they are unloved as they are.

**Afraid to fail again. As their relationships worsen, the potential of punishment for failure increases. But ADHD inconsistency means this partner will fail at some point. Anticipating failure results in reluctance to try.

**Longing to be accepted. One of the strongest emotional desires of those with ADHD is to be loved as they are, in spite of imperfections.

How the Partner without ADHD Often Feels:

**Unwanted or unloved. The lack of attention is interpreted as lack of interest rather than distraction. One of the most common dreams is to be "cherished," and to receive the attention from one's spouse that this implies.

**Angry and emotionally blocked. Anger and resentment permeate many interactions with the ADHD spouse. Sometimes this anger is expressed as disconnection. In an effort to control angry interactions, some non-ADHD spouses try to block their feelings by bottling them up inside.

**Incredibly stressed out. Non-ADHD spouses often carry the vast proportion of the family responsibilities and can never let their guard down. Life could fall apart at any time because of the ADHD spouse's inconsistency.

**Ignored and offended. To a non-ADHD spouse, it doesn't make sense that the ADHD spouse doesn't act on the non-ADHD partner's experience and advice more often when it's "clear" what needs to be done.

**Exhausted and depleted. The non-ADHD spouse carries too many responsibilities and no amount of effort seems to fix the relationship.

**Frustrated. A non-ADHD spouse might feel as if the same issues keep coming back over and over again (a sort of boomerang effect).[3]


When your partner or friend has ADHD it can be tempting for you to act like a parent which forces them to act like a child.  Resist this temptation.  The more an adult is treated like a child the easier it becomes for them to act like a child. 

*Tips for the non-ADHD partner:  [5]

  • You can’t control your spouse, but you can control your own actions. Put an immediate stop to verbal attacks and nagging. Neither gets results.

  • Encourage your partner when he or she makes progress and acknowledge achievements and efforts.

  • Stop trying to “parent” your partner. It is destructive to your relationship and demotivating to your spouse.

*Tips for the partner with ADHD:

  • Acknowledge the fact that your ADHD symptoms are interfering with your relationship. It’s not just a case of your partner being unreasonable.

  • Explore treatment options. As you learn to manage your symptoms and become more reliable, your partner will ease off.

  • Find ways to spoil your spouse. If your partner feels cared for by you—even in small ways—he or she will feel less like your parent.


Suggestions For Clear Communication

**Don’t bottle up your emotions. Fess up to your feelings, no matter how ugly. Get them out in the open where you can work through them as a couple.  Make sure you do this with love and respect for your partner.

**You’re not a mind reader. Don’t make assumptions about your partner’s motivations. Avoid the “if my spouse really loved me…” trap. If your partner does something that upsets you, address it directly rather than silently stewing.

**Watch what you say and how you say it. Avoid critical words and questions that put your partner on the defensive (“Why can’t you ever do what you said you would?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?”).

**Find the humor in the situation. Learn to laugh over the inevitable miscommunications and misunderstandings. Laughter relieves tension and brings you closer together.

Improving your communication skills when you have ADHD symptoms can greatly reduce relationship stress.  he following tips can help you have more satisfying conversations with your partner and other people.

(1)  Communicate face to face whenever possible. Nonverbal cues such as eye contact, tone of voice, and gestures communicate much more than words alone. To understand the emotion behind the words, you need to communicate with your partner in person, rather than via phone, text, or email.

(2)  Listen actively and don’t interrupt. While the other person is talking, make an effort to maintain eye contact. If you find your mind wandering, mentally repeat their words so you follow the conversation. Make an effort to avoid interrupting.

(3)  Ask questions. Instead of launching into whatever is on your mind—or the many things on your mind—ask the other person question. It will let him or her know you’re paying attention.

(4)  Request a repeat. If your attention wanders, tell the other person so as soon as you realize it and ask him or her to repeat what was just said. If you let the conversation go too long when your mind is elsewhere, it will only get tougher to re-connect.