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Summary: The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa Orlov

The ADHD Effect on Marriage (2010) sheds light on the way that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects individuals and impacts established relationships. By providing insight into typical behavioral tendencies, it offers couples a framework in which to move beyond unhelpful patterns and re-establish a loving relationship.

Introduction: Restore the love and joy in your relationship by understanding how ADHD influences behavioral patterns.

When ADHD’s presence in a relationship is denied, ignored or misunderstood, everyone in the household suffers. As each partner struggles to have their point of view respected, resentment, loneliness and anger creep in. Before long, what was once a happy, loving home has morphed into one filled with sadness and distance.

If this resonates with you, re-establishing a fulfilling relationship with your partner might seem completely unrealistic – whether or not you’re the one with ADHD. But it can be done with commitment, curiosity, and compassion.

Understanding that ADHD is a different way of being – one that requires empathy, not fixing – is the starting point. Reflecting on how and when ADHD shows up in your relationship is the next. Once you’ve done this, you’re in a position to begin your six-step journey to rebuilding your relationship. If you and your partner follow this framework, your relationship will transform into one where you can thrive – both as individuals and as a couple. Ready to start your journey to a happier life? Let’s begin!

Step one: Start with empathy

As humans, the lens through which we view the world is so second nature that we often believe everyone in our lives shares our perspective. In reality, however, our points of view are highly individual. So, something obvious to you might be a complete mystery to your beloved.

That’s why making empathy a habit is the first crucial step in rebuilding your relationship with your partner – irrespective of who has ADHD. The partner with ADHD might not realize the impact their behaviors have on their relationship. And the other partner won’t necessarily understand how differently they process information, or how their partner struggles every day with things that seem effortless to others.

People with ADHD often feel different, ashamed, unlovable, and afraid of failure. Every day, they must navigate through the world with a constantly buzzing mind that prevents them from distinguishing what’s important to focus on and what isn’t a priority. Being relentlessly barraged by so much information is overwhelming, and can easily lead to panic.

At the same time, their partner often feels neglected or unappreciated because the partner with ADHD doesn’t help with household chores, complete projects they initiate, or is chronically late and forgetful. Their frustration and resentment build, as the partner without ADHD takes on more and more household responsibilities. Soon, they feel like a parent, not a partner.

But people can better manage their habits and behaviors when they feel safe and loved – no matter how their brain operates. That’s why every couple must begin with empathy.

One way to cultivate empathy in your relationship is through letter writing. If you have ADHD, write a letter to your partner explaining what it’s like to live with your mile-a-minute brain. Stay focused on your experiences and feelings, not your marriage or relationship. This will offer your partner a glimpse of what you deal with every day, explaining that your behaviors aren’t the result of laziness or self-interest. Use your letter as a way to start a conversation where both of you can be curious about the other’s perspective in an open, non-judgmental way.

Step two: Stop unhelpful behavioral patterns in their tracks

The ADHD brain functions in a very consistent and predictable way. That means that certain behavioral patterns will inevitably arise in the context of a romantic relationship. For instance, a “parent-child” dynamic might develop, in which the partner without ADHD takes over practical responsibilities but then feels resentful. Or they constantly nag their partner, which only creates distance, irritation, and conflict.

Regardless of the behavioral patterns that have emerged in your relationship, anger will undoubtedly have taken up residence under your roof. As each adult falls into the mode of trying to get along by giving in to their spouse’s behavior, the couple gets stuck in a holding pattern of unhappiness.

Often the person with ADHD thinks that if they just try harder, things will improve. But this strategy doesn’t work, because trying harder doesn’t address the underlying cause of tension – the unmanaged ADHD traits that influence relationship dynamics. And as a result, the person with ADHD feels ashamed of failing to meet their partner’s expectations.

On the other side of the relationship, the person without ADHD tries hard to adjust to their partner’s unreliable, chaotic tendencies. They saddle themselves with more responsibilities and do their best to let go of grievances. But this leaves them feeling exhausted, resentful, and hopeless.

Trying harder doesn’t create change. If you want to salvage your relationship, you need to do something radically different.

Start by choosing to “reset” your relationship. Today will be a fresh start, with you both setting out on this adventure to a happier life together.

Then, recognize that ADHD symptoms – like difficulty identifying whether information is important or not, poor short-term memory, and low impulse control – can lead to arguments. Practice recognizing when these symptoms typically create conflict, like when your partner with ADHD forgets to buy the bread you’ve asked them to pick up on the way home.

Acknowledge that every adult can choose how they react to a situation, and decide to behave in a way that reflects their best and evolving self. That way, you can both step away from anger and shame, and work together to come up with a solution to change the outcome next time, like putting a reminder to buy bread in the partner’s calendar, so that they’re not relying on their short-term memory.

Step three: Consider treatment plans for both partners

When ADHD is part of a romantic relationship, it’s crucial to remember that the adult with ADHD is the only person who has the right to decide whether or not to seek treatment.

If you have ADHD, seeking treatment is something you shouldn’t feel ashamed of. You aren’t a “broken” person – you have a medical condition that means you don’t get the same dopamine kick that other people do when they’re completing attention-based activities.

If a person with ADHD decides to pursue treatment, it sends a message to their partner that they want to explore methods that will help them manage certain ADHD behavioral traits. But successful treatment isn’t as simple as popping a pill. Both partners need to recognize that finding the right treatment plan will be an experiment and a journey – one that requires time, active participation, and reflection.

The partner without ADHD should also consider seeking treatment. This strategy is more likely to help the couple rebuild their relationship because the person without ADHD will play an important role in their partner’s treatment plan. As mentioned earlier, people’s habits are more likely to change when they feel safe, so creating a supportive home environment is just as important as medication. If a safe home environment is missing, other forms of treatment will have very limited benefits, and the couple will be less likely to rebuild their relationship.

It’s helpful for the person without ADHD to enlist the support of a therapist or counselor. The professional will be able to guide this person in how best to support their partner’s treatment journey. They’ll also address the common impacts of living with someone who has ADHD, like depression, chronic stress, and fear.

If you’re experiencing these conditions, you’ll need support to get your health back on track too – both for your own sake and to help transform your relationship. Working with a therapist who is an ADHD specialist will help you both move in a new direction, equipped with an understanding of ADHD patterns and responses. That way, you and your partner can travel the road back to a healthy happy relationship, both as individuals and as a couple.

Step four: Foster connection

Picture your relationship as a cloth made of individual threads. In a relationship where connection is consistent and meaningful, the threads will be plentiful and strong. But if connection is lacking, your cloth will be frayed from sparse and weak threads.

Connection is crucial if you want to rebuild any relationship – whether or not ADHD is present. But actively pursuing connection is even more important when someone has ADHD, because each member of the couple will see the world in very different ways. These differences can easily lead to misinterpretations, tension, and hurt. So, unless differences are acknowledged and explored in an open and non-judgmental way, the relationship will inevitably fall into tatters.

One method couples can adopt to support communication and connection is learning conversations. This mirroring exercise facilitates sharing ideas and needs with each other without any suggestion of problem-solving. Rather, it’s about understanding why a particular activity or scenario is difficult or painful.

To demonstrate how this method works, let’s explore it through an imaginary couple – Alex and Beth. Say Beth feels upset by something Alex said to her – a common habit of people with low impulse control.

Beth starts by asking Alex if they can have a learning conversation about something that’s bothering her. She then shares in about 100 words what’s weighing on her, like “I often feel hurt by things you blurt out at me.” When she’s finished, Alex then repeats in his own words what he thinks he’s heard, without adding any of his own thoughts. Beth then confirms if he’s heard right. If not, they’ll try again.

Then, Alex will briefly respond to Beth’s concern. For instance, he might tell her that he’s only joking, and that he often worries afterward that she’s taken what he’s said the wrong way but that she shouldn’t be concerned because he doesn’t mean it. Beth then mirrors what Alex has said, followed by her response to this – perhaps that she still feels hurt, even if Alex doesn’t mean what he says. By opening up the conversation in this way, each partner begins to understand how their behavior impacts the other person. Typically, they’ll then identify for themselves how they could try to moderate their behavior to avoid hurt and conflict next time.

This technique is particularly useful if you and your partner are faced with an ongoing issue that you can’t seem to resolve. It will offer you both a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives, which you can combine with empathy to determine a mutually beneficial solution.

Step five: Identify and set meaningful personal boundaries

It’s common for people in relationships to impose on each other’s boundaries from time to time. But in relationships impacted by ADHD behaviors, this is a common occurrence. For instance, a person with ADHD might not take due care when using their partner’s property, or might assume that their partner will do nearly all the household chores. A person without ADHD might interfere with their partner’s personal or work life, or might try to control or change their partner. Soon these behaviors become the new normal, leaving each person depleted and unhappy.

Regardless of who has ADHD in your relationship, the best way to break this cycle is to direct your focus onto yourself and set personal boundaries. These are values or behaviors that are absolutely essential if you want to be your truest self.

Personal boundaries help you find the line between moderating who you are to support a relationship, and compromising yourself to the point that you behave in unhealthy ways. To find that line, you need to know which boundaries are most important to you and which ones have enough flexibility, so that you can bend without breaking.

To identify your boundaries, reflect on a time when you felt truly happy because you were living authentically. What mattered most to you then? What typical behaviors or outlooks did you have at that time?

Then, consider where your personal boundaries are at the moment. What’s different now? Are some boundaries missing? If you could adopt them, what would they be?

Next, ask your partner what drew them to you initially. What qualities made them fall for you? What do they cherish in you? Which of those characteristics do you feel proud of? This will help you reconnect with who you are beyond any unhelpful behavioral patterns that have developed.

Finally, think about how you’d like things to feel in the future. Have a look through any notes you’ve made and identify what’s absolutely crucial for you to live fully, like having time for creativity, or living in a calm space. This will give you clues about what your personal boundaries are.

Keep in mind that boundaries aren’t a wish list, they’re values to guide your own behavior. It may take you time to hit on what’s really essential, so test out different scenarios until you find what lets you be your best self.

Step six: Reignite romance

When frustration and tension take root in a relationship, it’s easy to fall out of love with your partner, even if you still love them. You might long for the fun that was part of your early romance, or wish that you felt happy when your partner walked through the door – even if they managed to forget the bread yet again!

Feelings like these are natural when you’re both under the pressure of unmanaged ADHD patterns. That’s why reconnecting with a sense of fun will give you both some much-needed time out, and will help sustain you on your journey to a happier relationship.

But not all quality time together is created equal.

Research by social psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron suggests that in established relationships, simply spending time together isn’t enough to reignite warmth. What couples need is new, exciting activities that provide just the right amount of challenge – like going on a bike trip or taking a course together.

To capitalize on this and inject some fun into your relationship, do something silly together, like going to an amusement park, or having a silly string fight. Spontaneity is a gift that ADHD brings, one that often draws people to those with ADHD in the first place. Make space for that spontaneity in your relationship by factoring in time together that isn’t overly planned.

People with ADHD are often highly creative, so you can tap into this as well. Enroll in a dance class, an animation course, a culinary workshop – whatever takes your fancy. While you’re there, embrace the opportunity to make some new friends too.

Whatever you end up doing, make sure you do it regularly. After all, rebuilding your relationship by having fun together is something you should prioritize over menial tasks. Take lots of photos together while you’re out and about, and cover your fridge with them. That way, you’ll have a constant reminder that you’re both on a journey towards a happier, healthier life together.


Changing how you relate to ADHD transforms the impact it has on your romantic relationship. And choosing to undertake the journey to a better relationship with your partner means accepting that ADHD plays a role in both of your behavioral patterns. You can take responsibility for your actions and emotions, replacing unhelpful behaviors with empathy, patience, and compassion – regardless of who in your relationship has ADHD. By respecting each other’s differences and learning how to draw on your combined strengths, you can build a new relationship that’s deeply connected, meaningful, and loving.

About the Author

Melissa Orlov


Psychology, Health, Nutrition, Sex, Relationships


“The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps” by Melissa Orlov is a comprehensive and insightful guidebook that addresses the challenges faced by couples where one partner has ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). With her expertise and personal experience as someone in a relationship affected by ADHD, Melissa Orlov offers practical advice, valuable insights, and effective strategies for understanding and improving relationships impacted by ADHD.

In “The ADHD Effect on Marriage,” Melissa Orlov explores the unique dynamics that arise when one partner has ADHD, and how these dynamics can impact the overall health and happiness of the relationship. The book focuses on six essential steps that couples can take to understand ADHD’s effects and rebuild their relationship stronger than ever.

Step 1: Recognizing ADHD’s Impact: Orlov emphasizes the importance of recognizing and understanding how ADHD affects both partners and the relationship dynamics. She provides clear explanations of the typical challenges and patterns that emerge, helping couples gain insight into their specific situation.

Step 2: Identifying and Treating ADHD: This step delves into the process of identifying ADHD in the partner and seeking appropriate treatment options. Orlov provides guidance on finding competent healthcare professionals and explains different treatment approaches such as medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments.

Step 3: Restoring Connection: To rebuild a relationship impacted by ADHD, restoring connection is crucial. Orlov offers practical strategies to improve communication, deepen emotional connection, and rebuild trust. She also addresses the emotional toll ADHD can have on the non-ADHD partner and provides guidance on self-care.

Step 4: Reducing Frustration: In this step, Orlov tackles the common issue of frustration that arises from the challenges associated with ADHD. She provides techniques to manage frustration, develop effective coping mechanisms, and promote empathy and understanding between partners.

Step 5: Rebuilding Trust: Trust is often eroded in relationships affected by ADHD. Orlov explores the reasons behind trust issues and provides strategies to rebuild trust. She emphasizes the importance of consistency, open communication, and setting realistic expectations.

Step 6: Creating ADHD-Informed Collaborative Solutions: The final step focuses on developing collaborative solutions that address the specific challenges presented by ADHD. Orlov provides guidance on effective problem-solving techniques, the importance of shared responsibility, and establishing routines and structures that support both partners.

“The ADHD Effect on Marriage” is an invaluable resource for couples navigating the complexities of ADHD within their relationship. Melissa Orlov’s expertise in the subject matter shines through as she combines research, personal anecdotes, and practical advice to provide a holistic understanding of the impact of ADHD on marriages.

One of the book’s strengths is its empathetic approach. Orlov acknowledges the struggles faced by both partners and provides validation and understanding to those impacted by ADHD. Her writing style is accessible, compassionate, and non-judgmental, making it easy for readers to relate to the experiences shared.

The book’s organization and structure are well thought out, with each step building upon the previous one. Orlov’s explanations are clear, concise, and supported by real-life examples, making it easy for couples to apply the strategies to their own relationship.

Furthermore, the inclusion of worksheets, checklists, and exercises throughout the book enhances its practicality and makes it an interactive resource for couples. These resources allow readers to actively engage with the material, reflect on their own experiences, and implement the suggested strategies effectively.

While the book primarily focuses on the impact of ADHD on marriages, it also provides valuable insights for individuals with ADHD who want to better understand themselves and their relationships.

In conclusion, “The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps” is an essential guidebook for couples facing the challenges of ADHD within their relationship. Melissa Orlov’s expertise, practical advice, and compassionate approach make this book a valuable resource for understanding, navigating, and rebuilding relationships impacted by ADHD. Whether you are the partner with ADHD or the non-ADHD partner, this book offers guidance, support, and hope for creating a stronger and more fulfilling relationship.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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