By Keath Low
Updated October 28, 2018
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Social relationships can create many challenges for an individual with ADD. Difficulties with paying attention to others, missing important verbal and nonverbal cues, impulsively reacting or saying things that may be hurtful, moodiness, quick temper, low tolerance for frustrations, forgetfulness, zoning out in conversations, oversensitivity to criticism, emotional over-reactions, problems following through with commitments — these are just some of the issues that make dating and maintaining positive relationships hard for an individual with ADD.
Tackling all these issues at once can feel quite overwhelming, but finding the right partner is a good first step. Though the ADD behaviors that may get you in trouble are yours to address and manage, with a good partner, this task becomes a little easier. Positive connections with others are vitally important to our well-being. When you surround yourself with people who appreciate and value you, life is much more fulfilling. A critical, negative or gloomy person will just bring you down. A person with a positive outlook and attitude is contagious.
In order for the relationship to thrive, you must also be compatible with this person. If you want to maintain the relationship over the long term, you must also address negative patterns that have gotten you in trouble in the past.
Finding the Right Partner
Beginning to date or re-entering the dating process after a divorce can be an exciting and thrilling time, but it can also be filled with uncertainty, anxiety and even rejection. How do you know if this new person is a good match for you? How do you know if it is love or just the excitement of a new partner? When you are feeling vulnerable and rusty about the dating scene, how do you open yourself up to potential heartbreak and emotional pain?
Make a List
Start by sitting down in a quiet place and making a list of the qualities you value in a mate. After you have brainstormed about the list, prioritize each, from most important to least important. Are you looking for someone who will provide excitement and high activity, or do you prefer a stable and low-key person to balance out your energy level? Is it important to you that this person connects with your family members? What values do you want this person to have? What interests?
What are your relationship goals? Are you looking for fun and lighthearted companionship, or are you seeking a long-term relationship and life partner?
If you are currently dating someone, make a list of the qualities you like about this person. What initially attracted you to this person? Are there things about this person that bother you? Can you accept these qualities, or do you feel a nagging suspicion that as the relationship progresses, you may be less inclined to be accepting of them? If this person also has ADD, are they involved in treatment and actively getting help in managing their own ADD symptoms? How do you feel around this person — happy and relaxed or insecure and rather tense? Can you be yourself around this person? If you are looking for a life partner, is this someone with whom you want to spend the rest of your life?
Enlist the Help of a Trusted Friend
Sometimes it helps to sit down with a trusted and supportive friend or family member to help you think through this process. It is not unusual for an individual with ADD to become so consumed with a new relationship that all objective thought flies out the door. When you’re right in the middle of a situation, your own perception may get skewed. You may also miss important clues or warning signs about the relationship that an outside party, who has your best interest at heart, is better able to point out to you.
Review Your Relationship History
Think through your past relationships, both the negative ones and the positive ones. What patterns are present? Do you tend to go full force into a relationship that fizzles out when the excitement of the “honeymoon” period dies down? Do you have a pattern of choosing the wrong partner, because you don’t absorb all the social cues and warning signs others may see from the start? Do you have difficulty unwinding and connecting intimately? Do your impulsive reactions or inattention to the relationship get you in trouble and push your partner away? Do you end up sabotaging the relationship, provoking fights or arguments? Do you tend to stay in a bad relationship too long just hoping that person will change?
Develop Positive Strategies
Once you have identified past relationship problems, work on coming up with solutions. Areas that are often most difficult for individuals with ADD tend to center around deficits in self-control — distractibility and inattention within the relationship that may be perceived by a partner as uncaring, problems in regulating emotions and inhibiting behaviors that may lead to hurt or irritated feelings. Medication is often very effective in reducing the severity of these symptoms. Additionally, strategies, such as self-talk, role-playing and practicing positive interactions, becoming more aware of emotional triggers and taking time out to decompress, etc., can help in forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
Education about ADD is also important. When you and your partner understand how ADD affects your relationship, the plan for addressing issues becomes much clearer. If you are feeling stuck or unsure about what to do, don’t hesitate to get help from others, especially from healthcare professionals experienced in treating ADD.
Good Old Honest Communication
Good, open, honest communication is essential in any relationship. Be friends first. Continue to assess the progress in your relationship. Sit down together on a regular basis and talk about how the relationship is going. Constructively and in a sensitive way address any problems. Be solution focused, not blameful. Try not to personalize negative feedback, instead talk together about how things may be done differently so both of you feel happy. If you tend to talk a lot, try talking less and listening more when you are together. Maintain eye contact while your partner is speaking. Show an interest, and let him or her know you care. Plan activities together that you both enjoy. Laugh warmly together. Take it slow. Don’t rush the relationship. The strongest connections are built on good, honest trust and respect that can only be gained over time.