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ADHD's Effects on Romantic Relationships
One of the great many parts of my life I wish I could do over again.
There have been many times since my diagnosis that I feel like life has led me into a movie theatre and handed me a big bag of popcorn (“you’ll need this, kid”) and sat me down to watch the highlight reel of my life, pointing to the screen every five minutes and saying, “Oh yeah. That? Yeah. That’s your ADHD.”
To which I would nod observantly while wiping popcorn butter on my jeans because we all know I wouldn’t remember to grab napkins.
This applies exceptionally well to my love life. And there’s a lot to cover on that big screen. And most of it isn’t good.
On Monday, October 3rd, I went to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed, at age 48, with ADHD. On Thursday, October 6th, I took Concentra for the first time. On Saturday, October 8th, I left for a week-long solo vacation in Napa Valley. On Monday, October 10th, I met my boyfriend.
I had to have a CTJ (come to Jesus) meeting with myself. If I was ever going to have an actual healthy relationship, I was going to need to get a handle on understanding how ADHD affected my relationships because that highlight reel sucks.
I sat down and took inventory, and this has served me as a “Danger Zone” list while allowing myself to understand it’s also the “it wasn’t your fault, you didn’t know” list.
Issue #1 - All of the feelings, all of a sudden
I have always been a “fall hard and fast” kind of girl. I would meet someone new and immediately become enamored with them.
I honestly thought this was what normal people did. What I couldn’t understand was why the person I was dating wasn’t reciprocating. I mean, he’s not doing the enamored thing. Don’t we all do the enamored thing? No, Vanessa. We don’t. You are special.
The ADHD connection: I have a hard time regulating my emotions. I feel everything very deeply and intensely. So, “kind of” liking someone is just not something I can do. I am either all in or completely single. The “talking phase” is a hellscape for me.
This also means that when the relationship would inevitably fall apart, I would be devastated well beyond what was normal.
Issue #2 - Often non-existent self-esteem
My life highlight reel involves a lot of self-sabotage I had no idea was self-sabotage. If I had a dollar for every time I drove a boyfriend crazy with my insecurity because my self-esteem just never decided to participate in the relationship, I could have paid for a lot more therapy to get over it.
The ADHD connection: So many of us with ADHD have had to live our lives feeling less than. We may have been bullied, put down, or misunderstood. While this is happening, we don’t even understand ourselves. All we know is that we’re just horrible at being human beings. Our self-worth tanks. So we either tell ourselves that we’re not worthy of the love someone gives us, or we don’t trust the person who does love us because… how could they possibly?!?!
Issue #3 - Pleasing everyone but myself
I was about 25 when I started dating my first husband. We married two years later. I was the wife who made a tablecloth with matching napkins at Christmas because, certainly, that is how you gain the approval of everyone.
Making tablecloths did not bring me joy. I wanted other people to be happy. My ability to pretzel myself into who I thought I had to be was unparalleled. The commonality in every relationship is my ability to abandon everything that I am in the name of other people’s happiness.
The ADHD connection: This was my mask. Abandon myself. Who I was did not seem to make people happy. The mask made people happy, though. I truly felt that the path to my own happiness was people being pleased with me.
This works until you wake up at age 43 and look in the mirror, and have no idea who is staring back at you.
Issue #4: Hello, codependency!
My second husband has ADHD. It took me a minute to realize why no one noticed I had it too. We were together for nine years. I did one hell of a job trying to manage his ADHD. He didn’t have to do it. I had it all covered. Any deficiency he had, I made up for it. It took me nine years to run out of gas. Then we divorced.
The ADHD connection: Many people with ADHD suffer from codependency. Either we feel the next to fix other people because we feel that will finally make us valuable to someone. Or, we attract people who want to fix us because we make easy pet projects.
My boyfriend is learning patiently about my ADHD. Some days are better than others. It take a shit ton of work to avoid all of these issues and the dozen or so more that exist that I didn’t even get into.
We all deserve patience. What we deserve more than that is the knowledge that loving ourselves means honoring who we are and being true to that. Otherwise, we’re just asking for love for someone who isn’t even us. That means the real us is still out in the cold.
So, in the name of St. Valentine’s Day, I ask you to focus on yourself for a minute. Let yourself in from the cold. You’ve been out there a while.
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