ADHD and Relationships: When Opposites Attract
This month, many of the experts here at HealthCentral are writing about love, sex and relationships and how different medical conditions may impact these areas of your life. Check out our special Valentine's Day area - new posts will be added every week!
There is a theory that we are attracted to our opposites; that we seek out those who complement us, fill in our weaknesses. While there is no scientific evidence to support this theory, there is evidence all around us that relationships built around opposite traits can, and do, survive and thrive: the disorganized who marry the organized, the messy who create a home with the neat freak, the outgoing person who finds love with a shy introvert. For adults with ADHD, do these types of differences create more problems in a relationship, or can they create a loving, long-term relationship with someone who isn't ADHD and doesn't understand how the symptoms of ADHD interfere with daily life?
Although there isn't much research on whether opposites attract, one study did find that similarities in personality did contribute to marital happiness and satisfaction. The study indicated that we are first attracted to those who share our attitudes and values, who have a similar education level, are approximately the same age, share our religious and political beliefs and are similar in intelligence level. Similarities in personality traits (such as being caring, generous or open) help couples resolve differences and deal with daily issues such as completing tasks or overcoming problems.
We are all a unique combination of different traits and certainly it is impossible to find someone who is truly like us or truly opposite. With each person we will probably share some traits, attitudes and beliefs as well as have some differences. Relationships are often a balancing act, appreciating our differences and finding ways to bridge any gaps while working together in areas we are similar. For example:
- The couple where one is outgoing, enjoying and seeking out every social opportunity while the partner prefers to spend time at home, relaxing with a glass of wine and a good book.
- The disorganized individual who has piles of clutter around the house and the partner who believes that everything should be in its proper place.
- The "do it now" type of person who is married to the chronic procrastinator.
You get the idea, there are thousands of combinations where couples seem to be polar opposites, but if you look closer, there are probably numerous ways they are similar as well. It may be their view of one another, the ability to look past the differences and their approach to solving problems that keep them together. If you are in a relationship where your "opposites" are taking over, where disagreements over how to accomplish your goals come along more frequently than your agreements or if you find yourself frequently irritated about the "weaknesses" you feel your partner has, the following tips may help:
Remember, every trait has a purpose and can be both good and bad. For example, you may be partners with someone who is introverted, and there may be times you are frustrated because he or she never wants to go anywhere and you have a need to go out each evening, but your partner might also be even-tempered, a peace-maker and a great listener. These traits may be just what you need to help ground you. We often focus on the negative, rather than remembering what about this specific trait we found attractive in the beginning of our relationship.
Think about what each person brings to the relationship. For example, you may be an impulsive spender, never budgeting your income and often running short at the end of the month, stopping you from reaching any financial goals. Your partner may be a budget-conscious person who helps keep you on track, focusing on long-term financial goals. Together you each contribute to your relationship. You may teach your partner to relax a little, spend a little and enjoy life more than he would without you. On the other hand, you may learn that it is good to focus on goals and work diligently toward them, allowing you to see the future in a different light. Focusing on what each person brings to the relationship rather than what they lack can help you appreciate differences.
Appreciate your separateness. There is no reason you can't, as an outgoing person, make plans to go out with your friends and allow your partner to enjoy his solitude at home. Every couple needs time together and time alone. Accepting that you can both pursue your own wants and needs and this doesn't reflect on your relationship can go a long way to creating a "happy home." Appreciate and enjoy your together time but make sure each person has time to do what he or she wants as well. Of course, once in a while it would be great if you offered to rent a movie and spend a quiet evening at home and if your partner puts down his book and joins you at the local nightclub.
Focus on solutions rather than problems. From the studies on relationships explained earlier, it is the approach to problem-solving that may make the difference between a happy and satisfying relationship and one that is unfulfilling. Treat one another with caring, accept their differences and respect each other's right to enjoy life on their own terms. Doing this may help make your relationship stronger and more satisfying for both of you.
For more information on ADHD in relationships:
"Do Opposites Attract r Do Birds of a Feather Flock Together?" 2005, Feb 13, ScienceDaily
"Love by Numbers," 2008, June 20, Dr. Luisa Dilner, The Guardian