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Melissa Orlov

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Feeling Lonely in Your Relationship? It Could be ADHD

Posted: 11/16/11 09:38 PM ET

Imagine this: During courtship, you were the center of your partner's universe. He (or she) lavished attention on you, sent you notes, brought you special gifts. That makes today -- when your partner has little time for you -- all the more confusing. In fact, it feels as if everything -- work, the computer and games, hobbies, the pets, the kids -- get more attention than you do. You've tried talking with your partner about it, tried nagging, perhaps even purchased some sexy new lingerie or a great sex toy. Still, your partner's not paying much (or perhaps any) attention. You're confused, lonely and feel awful. You may even be just plain mad.

Sound familiar? If so, your relationship may be suffering from the impact of adult ADHD. You don't have to have a diagnosis for this to be the case -- in fact, more than half of adults with ADHD are undiagnosed, so don't know they have it. But the symptoms are there, nonetheless. In this case, the symptom is "distraction," which is the most common symptom of adult ADHD.

Other signs that your partner may have ADHD include:

• You have a child with ADHD (it's highly heritable)
• Your partner can be described as "consistently inconsistent"
• You feel as if you have another child, rather than a partner
• You constantly feel you must nag in order to get him or her to follow up on tasks previously agreed to

Yes, your spouse does love you, but because he or she is too distracted to pay attention to you, it sure doesn't feel like love, and that's a very real problem. If you don't fix it, there's no way you can have a healthy relationship. What do you do? Here are some specific steps you can take to start to turn this situation around:

1. Name it correctly. Educate yourself to understand if ADHD may be present. If so, you have a different problem than you thought -- namely, a spouse whose brain chemicals are such that he has difficulty paying attention (right now) even though he cares. Identifying the real issue is the first step to addressing it.

2. Set up times to pay undivided attention to each other. That means scheduling dates and scheduling sex. Sounds unromantic, but getting that "attention time" is critically important. Don't worry if you have to be the "organized scheduler" for now. Because of your partner's natural distraction, it may help to schedule this "attention time" away from your home or other responsibilities.

3. Encourage your partner to seek treatment. Without applying so much pressure that the result is defensiveness, suggest that this might be worth exploring. The topic of ADHD is often sensitive when first brought up, but education and ,eventually, an evaluation are worth pursuing. Neither commits your partner to a specific course of action, such as taking medications, but they do open up the opportunity for much greater clarity for you both, as well as a host of treatments proven to be effective for lessening distraction for those with ADHD. But remember -- it's your partner's body and health. Encourage, but don't demand, for insisting upon treatment may well backfire and make your partner refuse ("you're not in control of me!")

4. Don't take it personally. It will take time for both of you to make the changes you need to feel more connected. Remember that your partner's distraction is not a reflection of how he or she feels about you, but rather the result of ADHD. Balance acceptance of that with a constructive pursuit of your own needs. You do, after all, deserve to be paid attention to!

Giving and getting attention is at the heart of a healthy marriage, which is one reason why the distraction found in adult ADHD can be so destructive to a relationship. So don't continue in your lonely state -- if it seems your partner might have ADHD, urge him or her to get an evaluation. If ADHD is diagnosed, get educated about the very predictable and specific patterns ADHD introduces into your relationship. Distraction and other ADHD symptoms can be managed very effectively. You and your partner can once again thrive in a loving, attentive relationship.