Both partners have responsiblities in managning emotional outbursts
Emotional dysregulation is a key feature of adult ADHD and it can strain a relationship. Learning to recognize the source of emotional outbursts can help one become a better partner and allow both partners to work together to improve the relationship.
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Emotional dysregulation is a core characteristic of adult ADHD and so it does play a very big role, particularly in family dynamics, both between parents and their biological children and also between partners. And it’s something that lots of times the ADHD partner actually assumes is quote unquote “the way everybody is” because they have had that emotional lability – or that emotionality – since they were little because it’s part of their ADHD. And so you’ll hear sometimes somebody saying, “You know what. That’s just who I am. I’ve always been easily triggered and you need to change what you’re doing.”
The reality of the situation is that it is coming from the ADHD core symptom group and that the person with the ADHD is responsible for better understanding what those triggers are and also presenting themselves to the rest of the world in a less emotional way. And there are lots of different ways to address that. If, for example, the triggers have to do with anxiety, then perhaps talking with a doctor. One opportunity is to is to talk with a counselor about that anxiety and try to reframe it. Typically, cognitive behavioral therapy is one way to do that. Another is to use medications to address anxiety, and ADHD medications, not specifically anxiety medications, is one option as well as anxiety medications. Or it might be that shame – feelings of shame – are very easily triggered. Again, working with a counselor might be one way to start to deal with that as well as putting into place some communication tools. One tool would be what’s called a verbal cue where you set up a cue that stops the escalation. When somebody starts to seem agitated, usually the ADHD partner, there’s a verbal cue that is used to change the direction of the conversation so that it doesn’t take off into a very negative space. So there are different ways to do this.
Now the other partner also has a role to play in terms of making the relationship feel safer, making that ADHD partner feel more valued, etc. but primarily it is the responsibility of the person with the ADHD to say, “Gee, I am presenting myself in a way which is causing distress to others, which is not acting in the way that I want to be. I don’t want to be perceived as a bully or somebody who’s very thin skinned or however it’s coming across. I don’t want to be this volatile.” and so [they] take care of that themselves.
About the Speaker
Melissa Orlov is the author of two award-winning books on how adult ADHD impacts couples: The ADHD Effect on Marriage and The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD (with Nancie Kohlenberger). She is a contributor to several others, including the first book for therapists on how to counsel couples impacted by ADHD. She currently blogs for Psychology Today, teaches seminars for couples, therapists and coaches, gives lectures internationally, and writes online at www.adhdmarriage.com where she advises many thousands of couples.