How to navigate dating and romantic relationships with ADHD

ADHD can be particularly challenging at the beginning of a relationship. With dopamine on tap, it can be difficult to self-regulate and pace the level of intensity as the relationship progresses.


We have big emotions, and these can overwhelm us, especially in moments when there is a lot of uncertainty like the start of a new relationship.

Building awareness around the ways our ADHD might show up in dating and relationships allows us to navigate bumps in the road. So, what are the common challenges we might face and how best to approach them?

Challenge: Emotional dysregulation

Unfortunately, emotional dysregulation is part of the deal for us ADHD folks. We have an impaired ability to control our emotional responses. This can lead to extreme reactions to a situation. Emotions can affect us harder and faster than neurotypical people.

We are often riding the waves of our big emotions. When we start dating someone new, we are learning how to communicate with each other in a way that makes us feel connected and seen.

Communication mishaps can easily happen when we don’t know the person well enough to understand their communication style and vice versa. Without understanding, it’s easy to misinterpret signals, intentions, or tone. This can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings.

Approach: Building emotional regulation skills

There are several really helpful strategies to build emotional regulation - the thing they all have in common is creating space between the emotion and the response.

When we create space, we are able to react in more intentional ways that feel more aligned with our values and overall goals.

So, how do we create this space?

First, we start to identify our emotional triggers. These are our ‘patterns’. A great way to notice these patterns is to write a short note on the notes app on your phone each time you feel triggered.

We want to be looking at: What is the trigger? What is the feeling that arises in you? What must you be believing about yourself? This is really helpful data that allows us to put some distance between ourselves and the trigger.

Working with a coach or therapist on your triggers and beliefs will then help reduce the emotional intensity attached to them.

It also allows us to develop more effective communication in relationships to be able to get our authentic needs met. The more we understand ourselves, the easier it is to communicate our needs to others in a way that is productive to the relationship.

Other ways to create space between ourselves and our emotional reactions include meditating and exercising. Reconnecting to our body helps us release emotional charge.

Challenge: Hyper-focus on the relationship

Hyper-focus, especially in the context of romantic relationships, is rooted in the neurobiology of ADHD. ADHD affects the brain's reward and attention systems. We typically have lower levels of dopamine in our brain regions that affect impulse control and emotional regulation.

When we meet someone we are romantically interested in, our brains flood with dopamine. This can be extremely addictive, and we may find ourselves wanting more and more of it at the expense of getting to know our partner slowly and intentionally.

The intense focus on our partner can lead us to neglect our hobbies, self-care, and personal responsibilities.

During the hyper-focus phase, we tend to idealise our partner, placing them on a pedestal. Inevitably, reality makes its way in eventually, and our partner’s imperfections can lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

We might also find ourselves becoming overly dependent on our partner for emotional support and validation, placing undue strain on the relationship.

Approach: Rebalance focus

I know what you’re thinking - easier said than done.

It’s no mean feat to refocus your attention when the reward feels so good and so readily available.

This is when it really helps to get clear about what the longer-term goals are. For example, are you looking for a long-term relationship or just a fling? If the goal is a longer-term relationship, then rebalancing attention is a tough but worthwhile investment.

Make a list of daily and weekly tasks to ensure you are focusing on all areas of your life, and send it to a friend or share it with a coach or therapist for accountability.

This list may not feel in the slightest bit appealing. That’s completely normal, as the only thing that we instinctively may want to focus on is the relationship. But maintaining self-care and personal responsibilities that are separate from your partner helps preserve your sense of self and reduces the risk of dependency. Ultimately, a preserved sense of self not only helps us but also the relationship.

Challenge: Managing uncertainty and anxiety

Emotional dysregulation, common in ADHD can make it harder to manage stress and anxiety effectively. Throw in the unpredictable nature of new relationships, and this can heighten existing anxieties.

The overwhelming intensity of a new relationship can lead us to feel extremely vulnerable. This anxious feeling can have us looking for reassurance from our partner to relieve us from this anxiety.

The problem with this strategy is that it’s extremely temporary; it’s like whack-a-mole but with feelings and worries. Once one anxious thought is dealt with, the next one pops up. Before we know it, we can be looking for endless reassurance, which can be self-defeating when it comes to relationship building.

Approach: Team up with future me

Anxiety has us living in a constant state of fear and scarcity. We are so fearful of uncertainty that we seek to create it without thinking through whether future-me would thank us for current me’s reactions.

So, we want to get clear about what future me would like. When future-me looks back, how does it want me to have acted? What would future-me want current-me to have laid the groundwork for?

This vision into the future allows us to give our actions a longer tail. Yes, seeking reassurance to deal with uncertainty may soothe us momentarily, but is it going to create more challenges for future me and offer long-term solutions?

Getting used to not immediately ‘fixing’ the discomfort widens our capacity to withstand discomfort. Texting to check in with your partner when you haven’t heard from them for a few hours might ease momentary discomfort, but knowing we can withstand the discomfort of separation helps us build self-trust and our own personal boundaries.

Navigating the complexities of ADHD in romantic relationships requires a blend of self-awareness, communication, and intentional action. By recognising and addressing the unique challenges that come up, such as emotional dysregulation, hyper-focus, and managing anxiety, we can build healthier, more balanced connections.

This journey isn’t without its hurdles, but with commitment and self-compassion, we can build romantic relationships that are not only fulfilling but also much more resilient.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London NW11 & W1G
Written by Lisa Hannelore, ICF ACC - ADHD & Life Coach
London NW11 & W1G

Lisa is a life, career and ADHD coach helping clients build self-esteem to live boldly and purposefully.

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