ADHD, Marriage, and the New York Times

At long last, ADHD and its marital consequences have reached The New York Times.

Tara Parker-Pope’s July 20 column concerns the long-overdue recognition of the pivotal role that an individual’s having ADHD can have on a romantic partnership. The high incidence of marital distress and even divorce in such relationships.

What’s remarkable is that the mental health field didn’t recognize this fact decades ago.

Why not?   Well, adult ADHD itself wasn’t recognized. It was there, of course. But because we  didn’t know to look for it, we didn’t see it.

Sure, we knew there were people who didn’t seem to live up to their potential in a career or a relationship.  But we thought it was due to neurotic conflict, or character weakness, or lack of effort

How our field has changed in the last decade or so.  Less and less often do we hear about how an indidividual might be able to change, if only they would put more effort into it.   Increasingly, we’re aware that what looks like laziness or lack of will, may in fact be a vulnerability of an individual’s attentional and motivational endowment.

Or as Yale ADHD expert Dr Thomas Brown has stated, “ADHD looks like a willpower problem, but it’s not.”

In the New York Times article, Parker-Pope quotes extensively from Massachusetts writer and ADHD specialist Melissa Orlov — who reports that despite years of working in the ADHD field, she did not initially recognize her own husband’s  ADHD and the effects it was having on their marriage.

In my own work as a sex therapist, relationship therapist, and psychiatrist in New York City, once I began to ask about symptoms of ADHD, I was surprised by the number of people of all ages who turned out to have it.

The effect of ADHD on love and sexuality starts with the most obvious: losing desire for an inattentive partner because you’re so angry at them.   And extends to the most intricate of stories involving one or both people feeling criticized, unappreciated, or  unloved – often going back generations.

ADHD is just one example of how something so important in human experience can be hidden in plain sight. Invisible until you know to look for it.

In future posts, I’ll be looking at other aspects of sexuality and relationships that are hidden in plain sight.

Stay tuned, and don’t forget to subscribe.

stephen snyder md author photo Stephen Snyder, MD

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