ADHD anger has some unique features that can have a devastating impact on a relationship.
Angry outbursts may be a sign you are in an ADHD relationship.
You will see that I use the pronoun “he” in this blog. This does not mean that anger and ADHD are exclusive to men! Nothing is implied with this shortcut.
How Is ADHD Anger Different from ‘Regular’ Anger?
You will know ADHD anger is present in your marriage by its frequency and severity. It is unpredictable, explosive and often at a fevered pitch. Blame and shame are also at a higher level than in non-ADHD relationships.
You may be worried if this is your experience. There is a higher divorce rate among people with ADHD. But please relax. It is not ADHD itself that is the culprit. It is when the symptoms of ADHD are not treated. Treatment can make the difference between limping between frequent volatile outbursts, to increased intimacy and needs being met on both sides.
Everybody feels angry from time to time. It is a normal human emotion. With ADHD, however, anger can appear to be stuck in the “on” position more than it is “off”. Reactivity, triggers and no-holds-barred arguments leave everyone feeling exhausted and hurt. These are the flip sides of the behaviours you love about your spouse: charm, exuberance and joie de vivre. You were attracted to your partner for good reasons!
The inability to control emotions effectively is a brain-based weakness related to ADHD. Emotional dysregulation is the key feature of the disorder – more than inattention! It also explains low motivation for boring activities, the ability to work long hours at something that is interesting or lashing out at someone for the paper being delivered late.
What the Researchers Say
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), poor emotional control is not a diagnostic criterion for ADHD. However, the leading researchers in the field look for it when they are making a diagnosis.
If you think you or your partner may have ADHD, get a full evaluation. This is an excellent first step in creating a healthy loving home.
If you already know ADHD is a third party in your relationship, read on.
ADHD Anger No Longer a Mystery
So why exactly is the anger so pronounced in ADHD? Dr. Thomas Brown explains it this way, “Challenges with processing emotions start in the brain itself. Sometimes the working memory impairments of ADHD allow a momentary emotion to become too strong, flooding the brain with one intense emotion.”
When this flooding occurs, four common patterns surface:
I know I am right!
We all do it from time to time – believe our feelings are facts. For those with ADHD, this tendency can be a way of living. Feelings are so strong that it is easy to confuse feelings for facts. Acting on these feelings leads to blaming the non-ADHD spouse for betraying him when he was actually feeling loss in some other area of his life. If feelings of betrayal and abandonment are present, surely someone is to blame.
No, I can’t calm down!
The stop and start button is often sticky in adult ADHD. Slow to start and slow to stop. Once revved up, the spouse with ADHD may not be able to calm down. The key is to notice when the partner is becoming agitated before the tirade is full blown.
I am the one with the hurt feelings!
A great way to resolve conflict is to be able to see another point of view. Unfortunately, once aroused, someone with adult ADHD may not be able to see another perspective much less hear facts that are different from their own.
You are the reason I feel this way!
Accurately recognizing one’s role in a marriage is key to intimacy. For some with ADHD, the ability to see their part is missing. This makes it harder to find workable solutions because the other spouse is holding 100% of the responsibility for the relationship.
No, I don’t need to change!
Insisting on sticking with the same actions even though they are clearly not working is also a common ADHD behaviour. This resistance can be explained by a weakness in mental flexibility. This executive functioning skill helps you problem solve effectively by considering new options.
It may seem illogical but logic is not an effective antidote to inflexibility. Re-explaining the facts does not help. In fact, it can increase the resistance. For the partner who does not have ADHD, they can be left feeling out in left field and very much alone trying to find solutions for peace.
Will It Always Be this Way?
If you are recognizing these patterns in your relationship, don’t lose hope. There is so much reason for optimism. Relationship skills can be learned!
Next time, let’s talk about how to heal and become close again. For now and forever.