Updated 17 May 2019

5 ways to help your partner cope with ADHD

ADHD in adults can have a severe impact on relationships.

We normally associate ADHD with young children. The condition is however also prevalent in adults, and not only affects their daily activities and career, but also their relationships.

Fidgeting, a lack of concentration, inability to finish a task, a short attention span and impulsive behaviour – these were once thought of as something only occurring in young children and teenagers. But according to research published in the South African Medical Journal, up to 65% of children with ADHD will carry on displaying ADHD symptoms into adulthood. 

Nowadays there is a bigger awareness of the prevalence of adult ADHD, and with more research being done medical professionals now realise how profoundly ADHD can impact the lives of adults. 

A big challenge is when a partner misinterprets ADHD symptoms. Symptoms in adults differ from those in children, making diagnosis harder. A person might not even know that their spouse suffers from ADHD. According to a Health24 article, ADHD is often misdiagnosed in both children and adults, making it difficult to determine the cause of your partner's troublesome behaviour.

If your spouse is diagnosed with ADHD, there are some practical tips on how to cope, according to Dr Renata Schoeman, our ADHD-expert and registered psychiatrist.

1. Do adequate research 

If your partner suffers from ADHD, educate yourself properly. Understand the symptoms and the cause, as well as when certain behaviour patterns are likely to be triggered or aggravated.

dealing with ADHD in your spouse

2. Discuss a proper treatment plan 

ADHD is a disorder that requires proper treatment. Seek medical help or help from a counsellor and discuss the steps for treatment.

ADHD in couples

3. Empathise with your partner

While it can be hard to maintain a relationship when your spouse seems absent or distracted, remember that this is not about you, but in fact, symptoms of a disorder. A person with ADHD often experiences feelings of disappointment and frustration, which can be mistaken as being selfish. Take a step back and get a more objective view of the situation.

couples suffering from ADHD

4. Focus on the positives

Don’t focus too much on relationship problems connected with your partner’s ADHD. Focus on their wonderful qualities, things that make you laugh, the good times and why you became a couple in the first place.

ADHD in couples

5. Don't tolerate excuses

While changes in behavioural patterns are inevitable in ADHD sufferers, your partner should take responsibility for the situation. Empathy is important, but your partner also needs to take action.

woman chatting to doctor

All images supplied by iStock


Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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