2900 Camino Diablo, Suite 100, ​Walnut Creek, CA 94597​
(925) 212-4994

Ellen Walters MFT

Adult ADHD in Relationships ~


Many well-intentioned couples struggle in various aspects of their relationship, including home management, roles, communication, logistics, intimacy and parenting. Although these are areas in which many couples bump heads, if one or both partners has ADHD, the problems can feel overwhelming, and unchanging. Often, promises to change and hopeful beliefs fail, putting strain on the bonds of connection and comfort for which couples yearn.

Although there can be:

  • Creativity and thinking outside the box,
  • Spontaneity, risk taking and an energetic lifestyle,
  • Multitasking and an ability to see the big picture,
  • A wonderful and quirky sense of humor,
  • Compassion, good intentions and romance,

there can also be:

  • Disorganization and missing important details,
  • Hypersensitivity, impatience and flashes of anger, 
  • Trouble getting started, and staying focused on the task at hand,
  • Broken promises due to lateness, forgetfulness, and distractions.

With couples, I reinforce the concept that ADHD is simply a difference, not an easy one to have, but a difference nonetheless. I teach the concept of “same-same, only different”. Their partner’s suggested way to improve may not work for the person with ADHD, but that doesn’t make the person with ADHD “bad” and the other “good”. I am continually conscious of the dynamic of “power over”, and the familiar place of shame to which one with ADHD can so easily return. I emphasize “could” over “should” in the self-reflection involved in decision making, as well as in the words of those addressing others.

In couples where ADHD is present, intimacy issues may be part of their concerns. It may not be a comfortable thing to be in a sexual relationship with someone you’ve come to perceive as your parent, or child. Resentments may have developed. Perhaps boredom and resulting passivity and avoidance contribute to their intimacy problems.

I believe that there are three aspects of a healthy sexual relationship: emotional intimacy, sensual intimacy, and sexual intimacy. I am quite comfortable with assessing, discussing, normalizing and strategizing about the difficulties in these areas. I use a number of assessment tools and approaches I’ve accumulated or developed over the years to help couples reconnect.

Though there may be many rifts to mend in these relationships, most begin with a limited understanding of what ADHD looks like in adults. This can include a lack of awareness of how the character of ADHD can impact relationships, and making it “personal” rather than seeing the problem as an action that has been shaped by the ADHD.

I use my professional and personal experiences with ADHD to help my clients create strategies to develop perspective, solve problems and communicate in more effective and productive ways. I enjoy working with clients to refine these practical strategies as they cultivate more ease and confidence in the negotiation of their lives.