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When Your Child’s ADHD Affects Your Relationship

Reviewed by Patricia Quinn, MD

Building and sustaining a healthy relationship with your spouse or partner takes work. When you have a child with ADHD, balancing his or her needs with the attention your marriage deserves is critical if both are going to thrive.

“Anytime you have a child with a condition like ADHD that impacts his ability to socialize, to follow rules, to learn, and listen, it impacts your marriage,” says Los Angeles psychotherapist Jenn Berman, PhD. “As parents and as a couple, you need to listen, work together, and focus not only on your child, but each other as well.”

Accepting or Disagreeing

One of the first disagreements many parents have when faced with a child’s ADHD is whether their child actually has the condition. For some couples, that’s a big hurdle to overcome.

“Many times, I see two parents who are on different pages when it comes to whether their child has ADHD at all, or if they do agree to that, how it should be treated,” says Mark Wolraich, MD, a pediatrics professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

The goal is to come to terms with the diagnosis, and unite on one path forward in terms of treatment. Then, you can focus on helping your child, and each other.

For Better or for Worse

“Marriage is something you work on all the time,” says Terry Dickson, MD, director of the Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan, and an ADHD coach. “But having a child with ADHD adds extra stress to the whole family dynamic.”

 Dickson knows firsthand: He has ADHD, and so do his two children. His wife does not.

“When we got married, we both knew it was for life,” Dickson says. “But you need to know that having a child with ADHD will affect your marriage, and you both need to be equally committed to making it work.”

It’s not always easy.

Dickson recalls one study that found parents of a child with ADHD are nearly twice as likely to divorce by the time the child is 8 years old than parents of children without ADHD. Though it’s only one study, Dickson says, it highlights the extra pressure that having a child with ADHD can have on a relationship.  

That doesn’t mean ADHD drives all couples apart. It can actually bring some parents closer, as they work together to raise a happy, healthy child and keep their own relationship strong. A simple step in that direction is to approach your relationship as one of the most important tools you have to help your child with ADHD grow and thrive. Your relationship really is that important.

7 Relationship Tips

These tips can strengthen your relationship as well as help your child:

1. Create structure and routine. Create a structure and routine for your day, suggests Wolraich. This will not only help your child with ADHD, but will allow you to carve out time that works for you and your partner to connect.

2. Listen and hear. “Learn how to listen to each other,” Berman says. When your partner is talking, don’t be thinking about your response — really hear what they are saying. This will help you work through conflict, whether it’s about your child’s ADHD or something else.

3. Make house rules. “Create and agree on clear house rules with your partner,” Wolraich says. If you are on the same page as to how to raise your children, both with and without ADHD, you’ll minimize the risk of unnecessary relationship discord over parenting approaches.

4. Communicate. “You really need to communicate effectively with your partner about your relationship,” Berman says. “Parents with a child with ADHD tend to put the child’s needs first, which is understandable. But spend time on the needs of the relationship as well, and learn what those needs are through strong communication.”

5. Share the load. Try to keep your parenting balanced, so one person isn’t bearing a heavier load. “Two parents working together makes caring for a child with ADHD easier,” Wolraich says. Sharing the responsibility also reduces the risk of conflict and resentment in your relationship, he explains.

6. Keep adjusting. “You have to learn to adjust,” Dickson says. You have to learn to live with your child’s ADHD diagnosis and learn to work around it in ways that are right for your child, and for your partner.

7. Prioritize “us” time. Carve out time for you and your partner on a regular basis, away from the kids, just the two of you, recommends Berman. “Every relationship needs to be nurtured,” she says. “Especially if you have a child with ADHD, it’s so important that you focus on each other.”

heartWhat the ADHD Experts Say about Coaching for ADHD

We recommend that you hire an ADD coach to assist you in the process. Get yourself a coach to help you stay on track- Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo. Authors of You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!
Coaching, it turns out, is one of the most powerful and effective ways for people with ADHD to achieve success.- Thom Hartmann. Writer of 7 books on ADHD who has ADHD.
Coaching is the single most effective tool in ADD self-management.- Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. Author of several books on ADHD who has ADHD
Coaching intervention can make a real difference in how people with AD/HD negotiate their own particular deficits and cope with life on a daily basis- ADDA - Attention Deficit Disorder Association

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