Dear Therapist:

My daughter was recently redt a shidduch to someone who has ADHD. I initially thought that since that is something that pertains mostly to school work etc. that it would not be so relevant to marriage. You hear stories about people with ADHD being really successful. However, people are telling me that this can actually be the source of serious marital problems if it is at a serious level and has not properly been addressed. Do you agree with this assessment? How can something like this negatively affect a marriage and what would the signs be that it is under control or not? 



Your question could be asked of pretty much any disorder. In fact, it could be asked with regard to almost any issue or concern.

We tend to think of emotional issues from the same perspective as that from which we consider physical ailments. However, with regard to emotion we all exist on spectrums. To a lesser extent, we can view physical problems as existing on spectrums as well. For instance, no one’s heart is absolutely perfect. Therefore, we all have heart “issues.” Of course, someone who has cardiomyopathy with congestive heart failure is typically in worse shape than someone who has a minor heart murmur.

We are generally capable of easily categorizing physical problems based on their severity. This is largely due to both the medical knowledge that exists and public education about physical illness. When it comes to emotional issues, however, these two factors are less evident. There is generally less clear information on mental health issues. Part of the reason for this lies in the complicated nature of the human mind. Not only have we only scratched the surface of understanding the human brain, but each symptom can be indicative of numerous problems. This, in turn, is due to the fact that we all exist on numerous spectrums. We are all on the depression spectrum, the anxiety spectrum, the OCD spectrum, the autism spectrum, and the ADHD spectrum, among many others.

Can ADHD be a source of marital problems? Of course it can…as can any issue. It’s not about the diagnosis; it’s about the symptoms. But it’s not just about the symptoms themselves; it’s about how these are experienced by the person and those around them. Many people have symptoms without a diagnosis. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in better shape with regard to that particular issue (for instance ADHD). More to the point, this doesn’t mean that they are in better shape altogether.

There are so many facets to the human mind that it is impossible to catalogue even a fraction of them. I couldn’t begin to advise you about a person based solely on one such facet—their ADHD diagnosis. To illustrate the point, imagine one person with a severe case of ADHD who has very good self-esteem, and is therefore happy, open, kind, and giving. Then consider another person who has a very minor case of ADHD (or even someone who has an imaginary problem), but he feels terrible about this. His self-esteem is very low, and he is easily triggered by his perception of others’ judgement. Which one of these guys would you rather have as a son-in-law?

In this example, I included only one possible personality factor. There are so many others that could play into how an ADHD diagnosis might affect a person. More importantly, all of these factors play into how every factor affects a person. We all have issues, insecurities, and triggers. I didn’t even mention external factors like the personality of the person’s spouse and family and ways in which they might trigger one another.

I cannot give you a very direct answer to your question. However, I would recommend that you find out what you can about this person’s diagnosis. The focus, however, should be on two aspects. How do his symptoms affect him and those around him? But more importantly, who is he as a person? Remember that ADHD may be a diagnosis that he was given, but this does not define him. He is a person with countless characteristics, only one of which is perhaps a short attention span or forgetfulness. This also doesn’t take into account his acknowledgment of, and work on, his issues, or the degree to which he has learned to deal with them.

In short, this is a person we are talking about, not a walking diagnosis. If you can demystify and normalize the ADHD, you will be much more likely to see him as a whole person, rather than someone tainted by ADHD. Remember that we are all “tainted” in many ways. Of course, if this person’s personality is negatively affected by ADHD symptoms, this is something to consider—as with every other negative personality aspect.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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