A couple at their couples therapy

Couples Therapy Led To My Boyfriend's ADHD Diagnosis & Changed Our Lives

by Alicia Valenski
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Tears pricked my eyes as I listened to my then-boyfriend (now husband) expressing his frustrations to our couples therapist. He had begun acting impulsively, lying compulsively, and was short-tempered and distant toward me. It was putting major stress on our relationship, which is how we ended up in couples therapy in the first place. He repeated how much he loved me and how confused he was by his behavior. That’s when our therapist leaned forward and asked a question that would transform the trajectory of our relationship: “Have you ever been tested for ADHD?”

I watched a quick storm of emotional responses pass across his face — surprise, defensiveness, uncertainty — before he shook his head no. I imagined we were both wondering the same thing: He had always been an excellent student and a great employee, so how could he have ADHD?

Our therapist walked us through her thought process: As a kid, he was involved in sports year-round, which served as an outlet for the excess energy often identified in children with Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ADHD is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood). This constant physical activity tired him out enough that he was able to sit still and focus in his classes. This continued through college, too — he was a long-distance runner on his school’s track team.

After we graduated and moved in together, he tore his ACL during a soccer game. This was the first time in our relationship (and in his life, really) he was immobilized by an injury, and we were both caught off guard by the physical and emotional toll it took on him. As our therapist explained, his new inactivity exposed some of his ADHD symptoms: He now lacked motivation, had trouble following through on tasks, and his impulsivity was off the charts.

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We stared at our therapist in a stunned silence. Her description was so accurate, it was almost scary. She was particularly right about how impulsive he’d been lately; he had begun acting without considering consequences in ways that also hurt me and our relationship.

At the time, this revelation rocked us. But looking back, we both see so clearly how symptomatic he really was.

Classic symptoms of ADHD are often easily recognizable: having difficulty paying attention or focusing, being easily distracted, hyper-fixating on things, losing things, having issues with time management and organizational skills, and an inability to plan for the future, according to licensed marriage and family therapist Amy Goss. But that’s not all. “There are some signs people are less likely to connect to ADHD, like irritability, sensitivity to sensory input, anxiety or excessive worry, sadness or moody periods, sleep problems, and struggles in social situations,” she tells Elite Daily.

“Because of [these] symptoms, adults with undiagnosed ADHD can have a lot of issues in romantic relationships,” Goss says. “This person will struggle with the initiation of (or completing of) household tasks and general house management. They likely have persistent issues with recognizing responsibilities, so typically they're seen by the non-ADHD partner as childlike or immature... which often leads them to take on a parent-like role, starting the cycle of chronic nagging.”

In our experience, that dynamic had taken hold over our relationship.

Our couples therapist recommended he make an appointment with an attention specialist to be tested for ADHD, which he did right away. His first visit involved two hours of computer-based testing and an hour-long verbal assessment with a doctor. He tested in the 99th percentile. The doctor’s preliminary diagnosis was accompanied by a treatment plan: 40 milligrams of Vyvanse to be taken first thing every morning.

This — and I cannot stress this enough — was life-changing for both of us.

Medication isn’t the only tool available to couples like us who are working through an ADHD diagnosis — it’s one of many treatment options, and it’s often part of a holistic plan. “My favorite book recommended to couples is ADHD & Us: A Couple's Guide to Loving and Living with Adult ADHD by Anita Robertson, LCSW,” Goss says. “This book involves both partners in the management of symptoms and provides a nice overview of how ADHD can present in adulthood.”

My husband and I had been together for four years at this point, and our fourth year had so far been a particularly tough one. It’s what led us to couples therapy in the first place. I had hoped the therapist would help us get back on track — back to when our conversations flowed effortlessly and made us feel more connected, rather than feeling distant or strained; when physical intimacy happened naturally (and often) as an expression of how much we cared for one another; and when we were on the same team, rather than arguing.

We had been happy. We both wanted to get back to that. I had no idea how much happier we could actually be.

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He returned to the doctor two weeks later for a follow-up assessment for side effects, treatment effectiveness, and dosage optimization. For the next year or so, he checked in every month. After that, it was every three months. Now, it’s every six months.

In the four years since his initial diagnosis, his dosage has evolved with his activity levels (particularly when he tore his ACL for a second time playing soccer). According to him, the medication makes him feel like his best self. It quiets all the extra noise in his head so he can focus on where he is, who he’s with, and what he’s doing; it lifts his mood and energy levels; and it motivates him to do things he knows are good for himself and for our relationship.

From my vantage point, he’s still the same funny, spontaneous, creative, brilliant guy he has always been. He’s the same incredible person I first fell in love with — his diagnosis and treatment plan haven’t changed his personality at all.

Our couples therapist explained to us that trust comes down to consistency over time. His diagnosis and medication allowed him to rebuild trust with small actions each day, like making coffee each morning and walking our dog every evening. He’s there for our little family now in ways he wasn’t before — and he’s able to be there for his own friends and family, too.

Over the past four years, I’ve also learned how to be there for him in new ways. I’ve educated myself about ADHD through dozens of articles, books, and podcasts. I’ve worked with my own therapist on communication strategies, particularly when it comes to the way we resolve arguments. I’ve developed a sense of patience and understanding around his behaviors that I’d never had before. Most importantly, I check in with him on a regular basis about how I can best support him.

Working with our therapist to learn why we are the way we are (and working with our doctors to determine our appropriate respective diagnoses and treatment plans) is the most incredible thing we’ve ever done for ourselves and for our relationship. I’m my best self on Lexapro; he’s his best self on Vyvanse — the way we’re both wired is nothing to be ashamed of.

In a way, I’m grateful for the struggles we endured that brought us both to couples therapy. Had we not, I’m not sure we’d be where we are today: married, medicated, and living happily ever after.