ADHD couplesIt’s been well established that in a mixed-ADHD relationship (where one partner has ADHD and the other does not), there are certain compromises that need to be made in order for the partnership to feel balanced. For example, someone without ADHD may dislike washing dishes, but they do it anyway;  someone with ADHD may dislike washing dishes and therefore never do them, ever. So the non-ADHD partner washes the dishes and the ADHD partner compensates by doing another chore. Every couple is different, but we all have to negotiate so we avoid the nagging/resentment cycle.

It’s important to manage your expectations and keep up a high level of communication within your relationship, but what about communicating outside the relationship, when the world looks at you as a couple?

Kelly has always considered herself to be a punctual person. Sometimes she’s even a few minutes early to appointments and engagements. But when she got together with Rob, who has ADHD, Rob started making them late. He’s never ready when he’s supposed to be. In fact, sometimes he’s still in the shower when Kelly has her car keys in her hand. They showed up at a friend’s birthday party 45 minutes late, they completely missed the cocktail hour at his cousin’s wedding, and they even lost  a hard-to-get dinner reservation for their anniversary by arriving almost a whole hour late. Their friends and family have started to get frustrated with them, and Kelly’s mom is even nagging her about their habitual lateness.

Kelly has two responsibilities in this situation. One, she needs to work with Rob on being more punctual, however she decides to do that. She could tell him the party is at 7:30 when it’s really at 8:00, lay out his clothes for him, take his phone away so he’s not distracted, etc. That’s up to the two of them to figure out. But Kelly (and Rob) also have the responsibility of managing others’ expectations of them as a couple.

Kelly started RSVPing to parties with a little note saying “Thanks for the invite. We can’t wait to see you! But expect us to be 20 minutes late. We’ll make it up to you with a nice bottle of wine!” She also asked her mother to start inviting them over 30 minutes before she actually wants them to arrive. By doing these little things, she’s adjusting people’s expectations without feeling like she has to apologize or feel guilty.

Jen and I, as a couple and now as a family, do two very important things: we make fewer commitments than other couples/families, and we are very upfront about our boundaries and limitations.

On a typical Saturday, our friends Kristen and Jeff do their grocery shopping, take the kids to the park, straighten up the house, go for a run, and then have friends over for dinner and board games. Jen and I, on the same Saturday, can take our daughter to the park and straighten up the house. We just can’t do as much in a day as other families, and that’s okay! Jen, who has ADHD, needs time to ease into her day, and she also has to manage her energy so she doesn’t burn out by late afternoon. And even though I do not have ADHD, I am not a person with boundless energy. I am simply not able to accomplish what some others can in a single day. I used to get really down on myself for it, but it wasn’t doing me any good. We’re much better off making fewer commitments.

Secondly, we are very honest about our limitations as a family. We make no qualms about telling visiting friends and family that they need to stay at a hotel. We are simply not the kind of family that can accommodate overnight guests. Each of us, including our 15-month-old, needs to do things on our own time at our own pace. We also need plenty of our own space to feel comfortable. Likewise, we do not stay overnight at other people’s homes. We would much rather spend the money on a hotel and have our own space and do things on our own schedule. Not everyone is like us, but we’ve figured out what our limitations are as a family, and we make them a priority.

These are just a few examples of managing others’ expectations as an ADHD couple or family. Your unique situation has its own challenges and limitations. Your job is to figure out what they are, and then figure out how to accommodate them! Communication with friends and family is the most important element.

Have you found helpful ways of managing others’ expectations of you and your partner? Please share your experiences and advice in the comments below!


Erin Korey About Erin Korey

Erin Korey is the Managing Partner and Chief Operations Officer of the ADD Management Group, LLC and


  1. Erin, I can definitely empathise and there is definitely a ring of truth to your comments about how the dishes get done in our household.
    During my relationship with my ADHD wife I’ve definitely had to manage my expectations. It does hurt sometimes when I wish we could be like your friends Kristen and Jeff, especially if I let my frustration show at my wife’s way of doing, or not doing things.
    You’re definitely right that communication is key and my wife and I have had some good heart to heart talks, especially after things have flaired up due to mismatched expectations.
    One way we’re working on things now is to have a very clear and very short list of things I’d like my wife to do around the home and even if she only does one thing on a list of 3 chores to be lavish in my praise and to encourage her to develop further life skills. We also make sure there’s a corresponding short list of shiny rewards such as taking the time for an art project or playing a game of bejeweled.
    We’re both still working at communicating what can be expected of us to my mother and others. 😛

    • Erin Korey Erin Korey says:

      Michael, thanks so much for sharing! It sounds like you and your wife have some great communication skills, for sure. That’s awesome. I love the idea of Bejeweled as a “shiny reward”. That’s a popular game around here, too. :) Keep us posted.

  2. I truly enjoyed reading your article, Erin! I have read up on so many books, blogs and forums about ADHD but, find that information about managing a mixed-ADHD relationship few and far between. I have forwarded your relevant articles to my non-ADHD partner, who greatly appreciates my efforts in educating myself from her perspective.

    For the most part of my life dealing with ADHD, I have learned to develop my own coping mechanisms i.e., using my sense of humor (I’m now known for it) or keeping a Post-It note at the front door of things to have on my person before stepping out. Being in a committed relationship has taught me to be more aware of emotions – mine and hers – and practise empathy and compassion. I wholeheartedly agree that effective communication with my partner builds our relationships stronger and deepens our respect for each other.

    • Erin Korey Erin Korey says:

      Shelly, thanks so much for saying that! I’m so glad you and your partner have found my posts helpful! I agree that having a sense of humor is critical. Almost as critical as Post-its! Looking forward to hearing more of your feedback on future posts. Thanks again!