During sex, partners don’t only connect physically; they can connect emotionally and spiritually, too. During this kind of intimacy, couples are able to be fully present, focusing on their partners—without the distractions of phones, jobs, and expanding to-do lists.
Which is vital. After all, satisfying sex contributes to a satisfying relationship—and even a satisfying life, according to Ari Tuckman, PsyD, CST, a psychologist, certified sex therapist, and speaker specializing in ADHD, relationships, and sexuality.
Sex also provides us with a pleasurable break from daily mundane tasks—like chores, bills—and complex matters—like parenting, he said.
But for many couples where one partner has ADHD, the challenges of the disorder can hamper sex—and their relationship. Interestingly, the challenges that hamper sex don’t really have anything to do with sex. In fact, what can impair sexual intimacy has more to do with what happens in every other area of your life.
That is, ADHD can affect how partners get along and run their household, especially if ADHD is poorly managed—which is what affects sex.
For example, Tuckman described a common dynamic that arises in couples with ADHD: The partner with ADHD struggles to follow through on a task, and gets defensive when their partner points it out. After a while, the partner without ADHD becomes increasingly controlling about how tasks should be done and angry when their partner doesn’t meet these expectations. Consequently, the partner with ADHD “feels criticized and like they can’t get it right.”
While there’s truth to each perspective, Tuckman said, when this dynamic escalates, “it can become a total sex killer.”
What can you do?
Tuckman, author of the must-read new book ADHD After Dark, shared these suggestions.
Learn about ADHD and manage it as a team. Tuckman stressed the importance of both partners gaining a deeper understanding of ADHD and managing it together, regardless of which partner has it. “Relationships are a team sport, so both partners need to be involved, just as we have to be involved in lots of other ways with our partners.”
Tuckman conducted a survey of over 3,000 individuals in which one partner has ADHD and the other one doesn’t. (This survey forms the foundation of his book.) He found that respondents who felt their partner put in the most effort managing ADHD (irrespective of which partner has it) had more sex than people who felt their partner put in the least effort.
As Tuckman writes in ADHD After Dark, “Effort is an aphrodisiac.”
Here’s an example of how a couple can work as a team: A partner who has ADHD has a hard time leaving work on time, which makes them late to family dinner. Instead of letting this spark anger, resentment, and defensiveness, each partner reflects on whether dinner needs to be at a specific time (maybe you’ve got hangry toddlers!) and then have a joint discussion about how best to handle this from now on.
Maybe you decide to wait for your spouse. Maybe you sit with the kids while they eat, and you eat as a couple later in the evening. Maybe your spouse sets up systems to get home on time.
Also, it’s important to get on the same page about treatment goals, Tuckman said. In other words, what are your expectations for what treatment will do? What would you like to see happen? This is another helpful joint discussion.
Plus, the spouse who doesn’t have ADHD can attend a therapy session to talk about how things are going, he said.
Negotiate the specifics. Similar to the above, Tuckman encouraged both partners to consider what’s important to them—and what’s less important—and negotiate how your household will run.
“Likely, the non-ADHD partner will need to back off and let some things go, while the partner with ADHD may need to put in some extra effort to follow through with what they agreed to.”
It’s also helpful, he said, for non-ADHD partners to give reminders and for partners with ADHD to take them without getting defensive. This is another topic for couples to discuss: How can I remind you in a way that feels good and not like I’m criticizing you?
Prioritize time together. “Your relationship shouldn’t be last on the list,” Tuckman said. “If your relationship is important to you, then your sex life should be important, too—and if your sex life is important to you, then your relationship should be, too.”
Carve out time to be intimate—yes, schedule it—because it likely won’t just happen. This can mean both being especially productive during the day and letting go of unfinished tasks at night. Because, as Tuckman said, “if we wait for everything to be addressed before having fun, we would never get there.”
Also, knowing that you’ll be having fun later is a great motivator to complete mundane tasks and resist distractions, he said. And it’s a great opportunity to be playful and flirty—like telling your spouse, “Put down the phone or that will be the only thing you touch tonight,” Tuckman added.
And, of course, physical intimacy isn’t limited to nighttime. Depending on your schedule, you might try early mornings or even your lunchbreak.
Remember ADHD isn’t the whole story. “ADHD doesn’t create new struggles; it just exacerbates the universal struggles that any couple needs to deal with,” Tuckman said. He emphasized trying to minimize the effect ADHD has on your life and remembering it goes beyond ADHD.
In ADHD After Dark, he encourages readers not to use ADHD as a “scapegoat,” because it’s just one part of what’s happening. And when we hyper-focus on one part, we ignore other very important areas that require our attention.
Tuckman noted that “both partners…have things they can do differently that will improve the relationship. The happiest couples are the ones who feel like they can work well together and that both partners are doing their share to make things better.”
And that kind of teamwork can make for great sex and a great relationship.