ADHD spouse burnout: How to support your spouse and yourself

ADHD spouse burnout: How to support your spouse and yourself

Reviewed by:
Divya Khosla, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
March 17, 2024
In this article

Part of being in a committed relationship is accepting and loving your partner for who they are—flaws and charms alike. But every partner comes with their own particular challenges, and being in a relationship with someone who has ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is unique in many ways.  

In fact, research has shown that marriages where one partner has ADHD can be more likely to end in divorce. If you’re in an ADHD-affected relationship, you might understand why: Your partner’s ADHD symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity can get in the way of them being a reliable and independent teammate for you. This can lead to frustration, stress, and possibly even burnout.

But don’t worry. Plenty of ADHD-affected couples have happy and healthy relationships. An ADHD diagnosis is not a death knell for your marriage. You just need the right tools to take care of your spouse and, especially, yourself. In this article, we’ll discuss the unique challenges of ADHD in relationships and offer 10 tips for how to cope with and support your ADHD spouse.


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Understanding ADHD in relationships

Early on in a relationship, some of the characteristics of ADHD can make for an intensely romantic partner. One of the surprising symptoms of ADHD is hyperfocus: being completely absorbed in something and tuning everything else out. Hyperfocus is the flipside of distractibility, the more stereotypical symptom of ADHD, and both come from difficulty managing attention.  

When you started dating your ADHD partner, they might have become hyperfocused on you, showering you with romantic gestures, gifts, and attention. Plus, the impulsivity associated with ADHD might have made your partner spontaneous and meant that the relationship progressed rather quickly. People sometimes call this the “honeymoon phase” of an ADHD relationship.  

However, things might have started to feel different once this honeymoon phase was over and the day-to-day logistics of maintaining a joint life and household came into play.

Their Impulsive behavior and unpredictable emotional response (due to emotional dysregulation) may result in communication issues and less intimacy. Individuals with ADHD who are married may exhibit a lower tolerance for frustration, which could be attributed to a limited ability to self-monitor and a lack of self-awareness regarding how their ADHD-related behaviors impact their partner. As a result, they may encounter difficulties in resolving conflicts and displaying empathy.

Many of the challenges of ADHD come from the way ADHD affects what clinicians call “executive function.” This is the set of mental skills that includes planning, decision-making, goal setting, and organization.

People with ADHD tend to struggle with all of these things, leading to forgetfulness, distractibility, inattentiveness, impulsiveness, mood swings, disorganization, and restlessness. This can cause relationship problems, and stress for the non-ADHD partner.

Related article: What to know about ADHD & fatigue

What does ADHD spouse burnout feel like?  

If you’re in an ADHD-affected relationship, you might end up experiencing ADHD spouse burnout.

Because of their executive-functioning challenges, people with ADHD can forget to do chores, neglect to follow through on things they said they would do, and seem like they’re not paying attention to their spouse’s needs. Other ADHD symptoms like restlessness and impulsiveness can amplify this behavior. In response, as the non-ADHD spouse, you might end up taking on much more than half of your relationship’s shared responsibilities or even try to organize their life and personal responsibilities for them.

This can lead to a situation where you’re micromanaging your partner, or even doing what’s called “excessive caretaking,” where you get obsessively invested in managing your ADHD partner’s life. A vicious cycle might be created: because you take on so much on behalf of your partner, they begin to exhibit learned helplessness, a state where they begin to believe that they aren’t capable of these tasks, which means more and more responsibilities fall to you.

These effects might be exacerbated if the relationship is a heterosexual one and the male partner has ADHD. That’s partly because the caretaking responsibilities will pile up on top of already-unequal gender roles.  

All of this adds up to the possibility of burnout. Some of the emotions associated with ADHD spouse burnout include:

  • Feeling neglected
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Stress
  • Feeling overworked  

These feelings are completely natural, but they are not inevitable in an ADHD relationship.

Related article: What exacatly is "ADHD paralysis?"

4 Coping tips for the non-ADHD spouse  

It’s important to support your ADHD spouse—but it’s harder to do that if you’re neglecting your own needs. If you’re feeling burned out by your ADHD relationship, here are 4 psychiatrist-backed strategies for coping and self-care:

  • Exercise: Studies have consistently shown that exercise physical wellness activities is an excellent way to deal with feelings of stress and burnout.
  • Mindfulness practices: Integrating some mindfulness practices, such as mediation, breathwork, or yoga, into your daily routine can help you manage the stress that comes from living with an ADHD spouse.
  • Sleep: If you’re feeling burned out, prioritizing getting enough sleep will help. Sleep impacts everything from mood and judgment to overall health. In fact, even just an extra 60 to 90 minutes of sleep a night has been shown to have a positive effect on people’s mood and health.  
  • A support network: Talking to other people about challenges in your romantic relationships can be scary, but confiding in others will make you feel less alone. Family and friends are good sources of support.  

6 Tips to support your ADHD spouse

Whether you’re already feeling ADHD spouse burnout or just want to prevent it from happening in the future, here are six things you and your partner can do to make your relationship work better for both of you.  

Make sure your spouse is properly diagnosed  

Most research on ADHD is about children with the condition. As a result, adult ADHD is unfortunately underdiagnosed and therefore undertreated. If it seems like your partner may have undiagnosed ADHD, they can get started by taking Talkiatry’s quick assessment. Then they will be matched with one of our psychiatrists who can make sure they get the right treatment, including any ADHD medication.

Get outside help for yourself, too

You might consider finding a support group for people with ADHD spouses, where you can talk to other people dealing with similar issues. If you’re constantly feeling stressed by your relationship, it could also be helpful to see a therapist, or talk to one of Talkiatry’s clinicians if you think the burnout is leading to depression or anxiety, and affecting your mental health.  

Ask for what you need (and keep in mind you may have to keep asking)  

Your ADHD spouse’s forgetfulness and inattention aren’t because they don’t love or care about you. One way you can help support them in being a good partner for you is to communicate about your needs explicitly and repeatedly.  

If you need your partner to spend time with you when they get home from work—tell them that. If you want them to take out the recycling or complete other household tasks—communicate it. It might also be helpful to summarize any conversations about needs and expectations by text or email afterward, to combat the forgetfulness of the brain of someone with ADHD.  

Reconsider the division of labor

Check in with your spouse about how you’re splitting up household responsibilities. You can even have a conversation to identify your strengths, and then assign household chores based on that. You can even make a chore chart and place it where your ADHD spouse will regularly see it, so that they are regularly reminded of what they should be doing. Finally, keep in mind that “fair” doesn’t have to mean that responsibilities are split 50/50. Instead, try to prioritize both of you doing as much as you can, but not any more than that.

Resist the pull toward excessive caretaking

Because excessive caretaking can lead to learned helplessness and resentment, it’s important to try to work against that instinct. For example, just because it will take you two seconds to compose the email your spouse needs to write to their boss, that doesn’t mean you should do it for them. Let your spouse be responsible for their own tasks, even if the result is that they’re not happening on your timeline. But you can still support your spouse by reminding them of their responsibilities or helping them brainstorm strategies that will make it easier for them to meet their own expectations.

Set boundaries

Make an effort to sit down by yourself and examine what you want—and don’t want—from your relationship. Here are some things to consider:  

  • What makes you feel loved?  
  • What makes you feel neglected?  
  • How do I want to be treated?  
  • What are things I would like to stop doing?  
  • What are things I want to do more of?  

These are hard questions to answer, and this project might take a little while so don’t give up. Once you’ve identified healthy boundaries and expectations, share them with your partner. The two of you can work together to come up with strategies to make sure that your needs are being met, and that you’re not setting yourself on the path to burnout.  

4 Tips for both partners to prevent spouse burnout

  • Strive for structure: Establishing consistent routines can be beneficial for both partners. Consider implementing block scheduling, using a planner or to-do lists to organize tasks and responsibilities, and setting alarms as reminders. Creating structure can help minimize stress and promote a sense of stability.
  • Develop grounding and coping skills: Finding coping techniques to stay grounded can be helpful for both partners. This may involve practicing mindfulness exercises, engaging in physical activities together, or exploring relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. These grounding skills can assist in managing stress and fostering a sense of calm.
  • Try couple's therapy: Seeking professional help through couple's therapy can provide a supportive and constructive environment for both partners to address challenges and improve their relationship. A trained therapist can offer guidance, teach effective communication strategies, and help navigate the unique dynamics of living with ADHD.
  • Practice effective communication: Communication is key in any relationship, and it becomes even more important when one partner has ADHD. Validating each other's emotions, actively listening to how your partner feels, and expressing needs through assertive communication can foster understanding and connection. Additionally, learning how to provide constructive feedback in a respectful and non-judgmental manner can help address issues in a productive way.

Remember, every relationship is unique, and it's important to tailor these tips to your specific circumstances. Open and ongoing communication between both partners is crucial in finding strategies that work best for your relationship and promoting overall well-being.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Dr. Divya Khosla, MD, is a board certified Adult Psychiatrist and board eligible Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She received her undergraduate degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and her medical degree from Ross University, completing all of her clinicals in Maryland, D.C., and NYC. She completed her adult psychiatry residency at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Then she returned to the east coast, where she completed her child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, New York.

Dr. Khosla has participated in a variety of innovative academic clinical research, and has presented research at annual national meetings of the American Psychiatric Association. Her robust clinical experience with varying demographics at different clinical sites around the country has allowed her to treat patients in an evidence-based way, tailoring treatment to an individual’s specific needs.

Although Dr. Khosla’s practice focuses on medication management, she also implements supportive therapy and motivational interviewing in sessions to allow for a more comprehensive approach to treatment. Her clinical interests include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and ADHD.

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