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What challenges to communication are caused by ADHD?

Distraction is a big strain

Other symptoms, such as inattention and forgetfulness, can make the partner without ADHD feel unloved. Working on symptom management together can improve communication and strengthen a relationship. Award winning author Meslissa Orlov tackles the notions of pain, confusion, and exhaustion in communication betwen partners when one has ADHD. She shares tools to understanding the patterns of the problems.

Transcription follows this 4:08 minute video

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Lightly Edited Transcription

ADHD Awareness Month
Reframing ADHD
Discovering New Perspectives

So, it’s interesting. A lot of people think about communication – fixing communication – as the end goal and certainly you have to fix communication and make communicatio strong. But actually, the patterns that are underneath because of, say, misinterpretation of symptoms or whatever, are part of the reason that communication is struggling so much. So improving how you communicate is useful and there are many tools to do that. And I can give you a couple, but understanding those patterns is also really important and I’ll give you one example.

So there’s this symptom that shows up, the response, the symptom, the response to the response. One example of that is the symptom is distractibility, chronic distractibility which comes with ADHD. And if you don’t know that that’s a symptom of ADHD, or that the ADHD is there, the other partner interprets that distractibility as “My partner’s not paying any attention to me and therefore doesn’t love me.” And so the communication that happens around that interpretation can be varied, but it’s often, “Gee, please pay more attention to me” or “Don’t you love me? Why don’t you love me?” And that’s confusing to the ADHD partner who might feel a lot of love, but just be distracted. And so then that conversation tends to become negative as the distraction continues, and the questions continue, and then you’re fighting over being angry at each other or feeling abandoned or lonely, and so again, the communication goes south. The fix to that is actually to understand that pattern is happening, understand that symptom, and then stop right after the symptom shows up.

So, for example, rather than pursuing your partner and saying, “Gee, why am I feeling so lonely?” or “You don’t love me anymore” or being accusatory, or angry, or confused, or whatever, you say to your partner, “Gee, you seem very distracted this week and I’m starting to feel as if we need to spend some time together. Let’s go out for a date.” So that communication is different. It’s not because you learned better communication skills – it’s because you learned that the ADHD symptom was there and how to productively respond to it because, of course, you want to go out for that date. The outcome of that interaction is a very positive one, that you get reconnected and things feel much better to both partners.

So there are many things that you can do. That’s one example of sort of the underlying patterns impacting how you communicate around and how you interpret things, but there are other things that you can do to improve communication around emotional outbursts or whatever. Verbal cues is one option, and other kinds of structured conversations and things to manage again the emotionality of ADHD.

About the Speaker

Melissa Orlov

Melissa Orlov is the author of two award-winning books on how adult ADHD impacts couples: The ADHD Effect on Marriage and The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD (with Nancie Kohlenberger). She is a contributor to several others, including the first book for therapists on how to counsel couples impacted by ADHD. She currently blogs for Psychology Today, teaches seminars for couples, therapists and coaches, gives lectures internationally, and writes online at www.adhdmarriage.com where she advises many thousands of couples.