“Too much fighting” was a top reason for leaving the relationship, according to ADHD Partner respondents who had either divorced or separated from or who had stopped dating a partner with (untreated) ADHD. I’ll post that survey data soon, but given my recent experience at the farmer’s market (“Knowing the Facts Makes You Gaslight-Proof”) and the partison rancor in this country, the topic of “fighting as self-medication” is on my mind.
So many factors contribute to the sometimes unrelenting arguments and conflict that happen in relationships affected by undiagnosed/untreated ADHD:
- “Denial” of ADHD symptoms (which often has both physiological and psychological underpinnings)
- A co-existing condition such as conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder, autistic-spectrum disorder, or even anxiety and Obsessive-compulsive Disorder.
Mostly, though, it’s ignorance around these factors that fuels the fighting on both sides. Here’s an excerpt on the subject from Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder.
Chapter 7: More Mystifying Twists and Turns (on the ADHD Roller Coaster)
Conflict as “Self-Medication”
For Kimberly, here’s the hardest thing to understand about her husband. It doesn’t matter how accommodating she is, how hard she tries to avoid doing things that would make him angry; as long as he wants to be angry, he will find a reason. Moreover, he wants to get angry a lot, and he will always find a way to make his anger her fault. Then when he finally succeeds in provoking her anger and she loses her temper, she’ll suffer more accusations from him about her anger-management problem. Kimberly ends up feeling ashamed yet defensive because, she says, “Most people have no idea how determined some people with ADHD can be at provoking others.”
This apparent desire to be angry, and to provoke an angry response in others, can result from the ADHD partner’s biologically based need for stimulation, according to psychiatrist Daniel Amen. “Being mad, upset, angry, negative, or even oppositional immediately stimulates the brain’s frontal lobes,” he explains. “These behaviors can produce increasing amounts of adrenaline in the body, stimulating not only heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension but also brain activity. And many people with ADHD might pick on others to get a rise out of them.” As Kimberly puts it: “My husband gets his adrenaline kick. But I just plain feel kicked.”
The chapter offers more examples, as well as tips to avoid being pulled into a “self-medicating” argument.
Bottom line: The more you understand these behaviors and stop “taking the bait,” the better you’ll be able to stop the “arguments” that have nothing to do with legitimate issues and everything to do with subconsciously seeking stimulation.