My Undiagnosed ADHD Made Relationships Extremely Difficult
When I was undiagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and I'd gotten into arguments with romantic partners, I regularly found myself unable to form a coherent sentence. I wanted to say so many things, but trying to transfer those thoughts from my head to my mouth left me feeling like I'd eaten a too-large spoonful of mashed potatoes and was now being asked to sing the national anthem live on television. My body would tense with anxiety. My mind would be a chaotic whirlwind of TV static, and when I opened my mouth, all that came out was a long, irritating beep letting everyone know the channel was not accessible.
I'd misremember details in the heat of the moment or forget things entirely, which only made my partners angrier and me increasingly anxious. All perspectives of moments that weren't the present one faded away, and I felt like I had to fix the issue right then and there, or we would never resolve it. I couldn't reason — I could only comprehend my emotions.
ADHD Affects Your Emotions in Relationships
As identified by Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), emotional dysregulation is a common symptom of ADHD in adults, but it's not talked about as often as some of the more "obvious" ones, such as hyperactivity and inattentiveness.1 Essentially, emotional dysregulation means that those of us with ADHD don't have brains that properly manage our emotions, causing us to experience our feelings in a disproportionately intense way. This could mean that we're overexcited for, say, a big concert we're attending, or it could mean that we have extra difficulty following a confusing situation. Whatever the emotion is — good or bad — we feel it more intensely.
So, when we're in a fight with a romantic partner, many of us experience several strong emotions very intensely, like a flood of feelings so overwhelming we might drown. We might be hurt, scared, angry, upset, defensive, offended, jealous, or any combination of those and more. These feelings are so intense, though, that they essentially turn our brains and mouths to mush. It's a sensory overload on a mental scale, and it often makes the conversation purely one-sided, stacked against us.
How can we possibly convey an articulate point when we can't even form a basic thought?
When an ex and I got into fights about, for example, my jealousy over her relationship with someone else, I regularly forgot the minute details of our previous conversations. I also did a bad job of hiding my jealousy, and no matter how many conversations we had about the situation, I couldn't help feeling like we didn't make any progress. It boiled down to her assuring me I had no reason to worry, but nothing changed, and the lack of change did everything but reassure me that I had nothing to worry about. So, when jealousy crept in, there was nothing I could do about it.
After the fourth argument about this, she was, understandably, frustrated.
How to Handle Emotional Dysregulation from ADHD in a Relationship
Obviously, relationships are more nuanced than just one fight or one situation, and I know now, looking back, that in many of our arguments, I wasn't wrong for feeling how I felt. The difficulty is that, in the moment, it's hard for us to tell. Because many of us have difficulty remembering details or keeping calm in high-stress situations, it's easy to blame ourselves and feel like, yes, they're right, we are the problem.
That obviously isn't always true, though, and it's important that we acknowledge that. In my experience, these are techniques that have worked for me in having those difficult conversations without losing track of them:
- Take time to think things over. When you separate yourself from the argument and gather your thoughts, you can more coherently put them together.
- Write things down. It may seem strange to "take notes" during an argument, but it will help you remember what's going on.
- Explain to your partner that you're in a heightened state and need space. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a highly misunderstood condition, so being open and communicative about what's happening in your head can make a huge difference.
- Know that it's okay if you need to convey your feelings over text. Sometimes, it's easier to be coherent this way, and that doesn't mean you care less.
Emotional dysregulation was a symptom I had no idea about before my diagnosis, and if I'd known about it years ago, things might have gone differently with some of my relationships. Hopefully, this advice was helpful, and if you've felt the way I have in arguments, hopefully, you found some solace in knowing you're not alone.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), "Emotions Feel Like Too Much? It Could Be a Symptom of ADHD." Accessed February 1, 2022.
Harvey, A. (2022, February 1). My Undiagnosed ADHD Made Relationships Extremely Difficult, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2022/2/my-undiagnosed-adhd-made-relationships-extremely-difficult