What is living with someone with ADHD like for spouses, children or siblings? Learn about the ways in which ADHD impacts a person’s relationships with others.

What is living with someone with ADHD like? ADHD stands for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD can be diagnosed in children and adults, though it is more commonly diagnosed in children. Depending on the severity of ADHD and if it can successfully be managed by medication, a diagnosis can be quite challenging. ADHD can impact relationships with spouses, partners, siblings, children and others.

Living with ADHD comes with a certain set of difficulties, including not being able to pay attention for long periods, impulsivity, procrastination and being hyper. Such difficulties may strain relationships with loved ones, particularly if there are severe communication roadblocks. It is important to realize that maintaining healthy relationships can be difficult for everyone, not just individuals with ADHD.

How ADHD Can Affect Your Marriage

Living with a spouse with ADHD may be frustrating for both parties. Anytime a relationship dynamic is not equally balanced, it can result in serious problems. From a clinical perspective, a person with ADHD may not be able to carry their full weight in the marriage. For example, day-to-day details like managing finances, doing chores and providing for one another may fall more on the individual who does not have an ADHD diagnosis. The person without ADHD may build resentment that they are receiving the short end of the stick. What can individuals do in this case without ruining the marriage or long-term partnership?

Some tips for creating a healthy marriage include:

  • Practice being empathetic
  • Study ADHD and learn from other individuals who have been diagnosed
  • See a couple’s therapist
  • Take responsibility for one’s self and one’s actions
  • Be objective
  • Set clear personal boundaries and rules
  • Practice open communication
  • Be accepting of a lover’s shortcomings
  • Identify problems and why they have arisen

Maintaining a marriage and ADHD is possible between individuals who are willing to make improvements and acknowledge their shortcomings. It may be difficult at times to remain as objective as possible, but also advantageous. It is important to be able to separate one’s partner from their diagnosis.

Parenting a Child With ADHD

What about parenting a child with ADHD? Just as spouses must practice open communication, this holds true between a parent and their children. Importantly, parents must establish fair, reasonable boundaries and rules for their children regardless of an ADHD diagnosis. Often, children function better with a bit of structure in their lives. Maintaining a semblance of structure can be difficult if rules have not been established from the very beginning. Many parents may wonder how to discipline a child with ADHD, especially if much of their behavior is not their fault.

Some tips on how to deal with a child with ADHD include:

  • Accept a child’s imperfections
  • Realize that their behavior is not usually intentional
  • Make compromises
  • Find constructive activities to do together, like playing sports
  • Ask for help or see a family counselor
  • Have a built-in routine
  • Encourage organization everywhere from the kitchen to the bathroom to a child’s bedroom
  • Keep schedules light and not overwhelming for a child
  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and yoga

Having a Sibling With ADHD

Besides the difficulties seen in relationships with either a spouse or child with ADHD, what about siblings of children with ADHD? There is no question that children with ADHD may require more guidance or time from parents than siblings without a diagnosis. A lot of times, children are more intuitive and aware than they seem on the surface. Perhaps they do not know their sibling has an official ADHD diagnosis but they can “feel” that there is a difference between themselves and their siblings.

Some siblings may not fully comprehend what it means to have ADHD, especially if they are younger. It is important for parents, guardians, family members and loved ones to not forget about the needs of the child without ADHD. Just as spouses can feel resentment, so can children whose needs are not being met due to a sibling with a difficult mental health condition.

Tips for maintaining relationships with siblings that don’t have ADHD:

  • Schedule time alone with the sibling
  • Show love and attention
  • If the household is a two-parent household, make sure one parent can stay back with the sibling if the ADHD sibling is having difficulties
  • Do not depend on the sibling without ADHD to discipline or take care of the sibling with ADHD
  • Have “equal” rules and consequences
  • Do not bend the rules for the sibling with ADHD
  • See a family therapist

Understanding the Role of ADHD in Relationships

How ADHD affects relationships can be viewed as positive or negative. Sometimes, getting an outside perspective (e.g., a therapist) can be mutually beneficial for an individual with ADHD and their family members whether those are spouses, children or siblings. ADHD can alter the family dynamic in a very negative way if simple routines or established boundaries are ignored or defied. Importantly, there are many tips for living with someone with ADHD. Not all suggestions will work for every family. Families may try some tips that will ultimately fail. Nevertheless, family relationships are always a work in progress. Nobody is perfect. As long as all parties are willing to self-reflect, be non-judgemental and improve upon their shortcomings, then relationships involving someone with ADHD can thrive.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

King, Kerry; Alexander, Daleen; Seabi, Joseph. “Siblings’ Perceptions of Their ADHD-Di[…]on the Family System.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, September 13, 2016. Accessed September 25, 2019.

Silny, June. “Six Secrets to a Happy ADHD Relationship.” Attention Deficit Disorder Association, May 27, 2015. Accessed September 25, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.