ERP 337: How ADHD Affects an Intimate Relationship — An Interview With Dr. Ari Tuckman

By Posted in - Podcast September 13th, 2022 0 Comments

When ADHD has not been identified, a person with ADHD is often doing the best they can to function. However, they will likely struggle with aspects of executive functioning skills in life. Being in a relationship with someone with ADHD can pose extra challenges in working together as a team, especially when it comes to domestic responsibilities, tasks, and decision making.

In this episode, Dr. Ari Tuckman provides some insight into how ADHD manifests differently in adult men and women, particularly how it affects a couple’s sex life. Additionally, he discusses approaches for resolving conflicts as well as tools and resources that both partners with ADHD and those without can utilize.

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, CST, is a psychologist, international speaker, and ADHD expert. He is the author of four books on ADHD, including his most recent book, ADHD After Dark: Better Sex Life, Better Relationship. He volunteers as the conference co-chair for CHADD, the national ADHD advocacy organization. He is in private practice in West Chester, PA.

In this Episode

8:11 How Dr. Tuckman became passionate about helping adults with ADHD.

11:52 How each person’s experience with ADHD differs.

14:17 ADHD in women vs. men.

18:12 How does ADHD manifest itself in romantic relationships?

22:41 How to make a relationship between people with ADHD work.

29:47 Dr. Tuckman’s approach to assisting people with ADHD.

36:03 ADHD and sexual intimacy: effects, tips, and recommendations.

49:04 Tools and resources.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are many tools and resources available for you or a loved one who has ADHD.
  • Consider getting ADHD medication.
  • Think of ways to encourage your partner to continue displaying this positive behavior.
  • Make sexual intimacy a priority. Plan the remainder of your day so that you have the time and energy to participate in satisfying sex.
  • If you want to have a good time at night, try to make both of your and your partner’s days good.
  • Don’t forget to have fun together.

Mentioned

ADHD After Dark: Better Sex Life, Better Relationship (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)

Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)

ADHD Coaches Organization

Sex needs a new metaphor. Here’s one … (*TED Talks)

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Dr. Ari Tuckman

Websites: adultadhdbook.com

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. Ari Tuckman, thank you so much for joining us today.

It is always a pleasure, well, frankly, anywhere, to talk about this, but it’s really cool to be here on this podcast with you. So, happy to be here.

Yes. I am aware that you have been writing books and being an expert on the topic of ADHD and ADD for quite some time. I know we’re going to target our conversation to relationship and a little bit about intimacy. I will make sure to have the link to your most recent book on today’s show. I’m curious as we get started here. For people who do not know you, are you open to sharing a little bit about what got you really specifically interested in this and your career and focusing on this topic?

Yeah. When I came out of grad school in the late 90s, I was trying to find my place in the world as any, you know, new grad does. I kind of stumbled into adult ADHD because it was kind of a bit of an underserved population. And truthfully, we’re not killing it now either. Twenty-five years later, we’re not awesome, but we’re a bit better. 

ADHD in kids probably was, you know, like doing okay, but obviously, a big part of adult life is relationships, right? You bring yourself in all ways to your relationships. If one person has ADHD that has an effect on their partner, as well, just as you know, whatever, having annoying parents or a job with crazy hours, or I don’t know, you just really have a thing against milk and coffee or something, I don’t know, whatever, right. So, all the things that we bring of ourselves for our relationship. 

More and more, I kind of got into that side of it is how does it affect relationships? There are a small number of people kind of writing and presenting on it, but not a ton of people. So again, it was just a kind of underserved area. And then, I got into how ADHD impacts a couple’s sex life, which was completely ignored. La-la-la. Why would anyone ever want to talk about that? Right? 

So yeah, I mean, it’s been really interesting. It’s been really sort of a cool way. It’s like a different lens to look at relationships. And it just sort of magnifies what’s already there in a kind of like all relationships, right? We all have to negotiate differences. We all have to figure out how we bring our best to the stresses and demands of life. So, I don’t know. It’s been a fun journey.

Well, thank you for sharing that. It sounds like you really saw a need. You were able to really provide and do deeper work to be able to expand what’s being offered for people who do experience ADHD or ADD. It’s much needed, for sure. 

Yeah. Yeah.

I think that awareness around just the functioning and how it impacts people is growing. So, I’m grateful that you have so much to offer and that people are probably more able to be responsive to what you have to offer.

Yeah. One thing I would say in terms of all your listeners. If you have a genetic relative, who’s been diagnosed, which is probably one of your kids, like, I’m going to bet a few bucks, more than a few bucks. Probably either you or your partner probably also has it, right? Because there’s a lot of genetics. You don’t usually have to look that far through the family tree before you start to find some other folks. 

Now, grandma and grandpa were never diagnosed. Right? That’s because it just wasn’t a thing. But you’re like, “Oh, there are family stories.” You know, blah-blah-blah. She was three hours late to Thanksgiving at that time. And you know, he kept her to have all these ideas, but he never finishes things or whatever. 

So, if you have a kid, especially with ADHD, you should be taking a look at yourself or your spouse just to kind of consider if this is a thing that’s a part of your life or relationship.

Yes, thank you for acknowledging that there is a large hereditary genetic component. I would also add, and I wonder if you’re in a similar vantage point, that ADHD can look different in different people where we might have a heightened sense of the person that’s not following through or dropping the ball. And there are maybe other people that are CEOs and executives and have this brilliant way of thinking outside the box, but maybe don’t do as well with those tasks and structured organizational things or even perhaps a grandparent that’s been very accident prone, right? Like, there could be some certain things that might not look, that’s classic, would you agree?

And that is definitely true. Often, people think of the stereotype. It’s Dennis the Menace. It’s Calvin and Hobbes. Or my friend Chris, who grew up behind me. Right? Very typical, right? We all know who the hyperactive kid is. But then there is this sort of more inattentive type of ADHD, which is sometimes called ADD, right? They’re not so loud and obvious. They’re distracted, but they’re not necessarily disruptive. They’re forgetful, big procrastinators, lose track of time, run late, forget things, and are disorganized. 

You can work harder to hide it, especially if you’re female. Because we know there are different expectations based on your gender and situation. So, there are a lot of females in the world, girls and women, who have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which are probably true, but the sort of what’s behind it never really got picked up. And if you’re working really hard to feel like you’re barely hanging on your life, if you feel like you’re doing a crummy job on what you need to be doing, if only people knew. 

I don’t want to be too simplistic, but like, those are pretty good reasons to be anxious and depressed. Do you know what I mean? So, it’s sort of the analogy I use. It’s like painting the water stains on the ceiling but never fixing the roof first. They keep getting treated for anxiety and depression with antidepressants, with therapy, which is great, you know, no problem, except it’s not getting to the real root cause. I think it can create a situation where they’re working too hard, and they don’t feel like they have enough to show for it.

And it also, perhaps, is part of what you were talking about a moment ago around the progression of the field. If there hasn’t been the language or hasn’t been identified, oftentimes people are internalizing, or this is where the shame might come up or the sense of insecurity of, I’m not able to function like everybody else, and maybe something’s wrong with me or perhaps I learned to cope in other ways. And yet there’s this deep-seated feeling of inadequacy or shame. Do you want to speak to that at all?

That is absolutely true. There’s this whole kind of masking that some people, more so females than males, will sort of engaging in a feeling like if they only knew, feeling like they’re not a good enough friend because they never write the thank you notes and they barely remember to text people on their birthday, which is an expectation that some people have for other people, right? 

Or, you know, like their kids. They keep forgetting to sign the permission slip or all the other stuff of life, which then potentially for talking about relationships, also affects their partner. I mean, just to be really simplistic. If you forgot to load the dishwasher, it’s more likely that your partner lives with you or your roommate, but in this case, right, like they’re going to be the one who has to load the dishwasher. And when they love you with all their heart, and it’s the awesome honeymoon, they’re happy to do it. “Honey, I’ve got it.” Right? 

And then, when you’ve been together 10 or 20 years, like, “Dude, I’ve loaded the dishwasher enough. Enough already. Come on, man. Step up.” Right? So, that’s where you get then the relationship impact. And if we’re going to sort of like intersect gender on that, if you’re a guy with ADHD and you are in a heterosexual couple, it’s much more likely that your female partner is going to step up and fill in the gap. She’s going to get burned out. She’s going to be frustrated. You’re going to feel like it doesn’t matter what you do, it won’t be enough, but she’ll step in. 

Whereas when it’s the woman who has ADHD in a heterosexual couple, the guy will sort of step in, but not as much. She’s going to hold more of the burden, and she’s going to kill herself trying to get it done and just be exhausted by it. But still, there’s that tension between the couple, right? She would like more help. He would like her to step up and get the job done better. Right? So, it’s kind of like nobody really loves this regardless of gender or which partner has ADHD or whatever. Neither partner loves it.

I appreciate you acknowledging the gender norms and how that relates to home life and domestic and perhaps even child rearing and how those tend to be a little bit more just traditionally female. I also really liked what you’re saying about the masking because that might be something that couples contend with is there’s this initial stage of the romance, and it’s fueled by neural chemicals that might allow someone with ADHD or ADD to be functioning on a much higher level, and then it’s this huge surprise, especially if the person who does have those ADHD or ADD symptoms might not even have self-diagnosed or even been diagnosed. Is that what happens?

No, that’s definitely true. In those first, really passionate months, when you are at the point of hyperfocus, it’s pretty awesome. Right? The problem is reality has this annoying habit of intruding on our fantasies. At a certain point, somebody has to vacuum. Somebody has to remember to pay the electric bill. Somebody has to; I don’t know, plan Thanksgiving dinner or something. Right? 

At that point, then, and just all the other demands of life, the partner is no longer that big laser lock hyperfocus subject. So, yeah, it can become this thing of like, like, “Wait, what happened?” You know, you kind of bait and switch me there. It used to be one way. Now, it’s become something else.

Yes. Okay. And you’re mentioning dynamics in the way of relationships. I’d love to pivot towards that because I’m aware the big ones are the parent-child dynamic. And you’re saying in relationships of couples that aren’t experiencing ADHD or ADD symptoms that there’s still someone that might function at a higher level or be picking up or feeling more of the burden of domestic work or the socializing and the family coordinating and those type of things. And you’re saying it really exasperates. So, we’d love to hear from you if you’re open to sharing some of these dynamics and which dynamics are particularly exasperated by ADHD or ADD.

Free stock photo of adhd, adult, affection Stock Photo

“ADHD doesn’t invent new struggles. It just exacerbates universal ones.”

Yeah. I kind of hit upon this saying as I was sort of thinking and talking about this, and it’s that ADHD doesn’t invent new struggles. It just exacerbates universal ones. Every couple has to negotiate different preferences for how things should be, different ways of doing things, and just different priorities. So, that’s normal for everybody. 

The sort of ADHD angle on that is folks with ADHD tend not to feel the pressure of the deadline until the deadline is a whole lot closer. But if you’re the non-ADHD partner, and you feel it first, you are more often going to be the one who activates and then does something about it or is the one who’s mentally tracking. 

“Hey, it’s getting close to when we have to sign the kids up for summer camp.” despite the fact that there’s snow on the ground. Who’s even thinking about summer camp now? Right? You know that Memorial Day weekend, you’re like, “Wait a second. On Tuesday, you got to get those kids into a camp. Let’s figure it out.” 

So, the non-ADHD partner is kind of mentally tracking and physically doing a lot more of this because they’re the one who feels it first, which then sets up this thing of then they are, as you said, that parent-child dynamic, right? They become the parent who always kind of harassing and reminding the teenager, “Come on. Do this. Do that. What about the other thing? You said you’re going to find us a couple of camps to look at. Whatever happened with that?” 

And it’s not like the partner with ADHD doesn’t care. It’s not like they’re sort of oppositional or passive-aggressive, like when they say, okay, yeah, I’ll do that. They probably mean it, but ADH should just be a disorder of execution. It’s a disorder of doing the right things at the right times. So, saying, “Yes, honey, I will indeed take care of that.” doesn’t automatically mean that it does. I mean, none of us are perfect. So again, it’s just making the universal a bit more so. 

When you really get into it, it becomes this kind of, as you said, the parent-child dynamic, which kind of sucks for everybody, right? Nobody enjoys it. And by the way, nobody’s having sex with someone in a parent-child dynamic. So, you lose the goodwill that comes from those kinds of fun sexual and non-sexual connections. 

Part of it, then, is to get the person with ADHD to step up a bit more. Maybe that means adding a bit of medication. Maybe that means better systems. But some of it also equally is for the non-ADHD partner to kind of step back a bit more to recognize, you know what, this isn’t mine. That one’s yours. I’m going to let you figure it out. Or I would like it this way, but I recognize this is not a hill to die on. I’m going to let that one go. This is the thing that really matters. So, that one I’m going to take a stand on. And you recognize that sometimes a quick reminder is better than doing it yourself. So, if you give a nice reminder, if your partner takes it nicely, if it’s more likely to get done, everybody wins. Let’s move on.

Yes, thank you for acknowledging just how painful and problematic it can be for both people in the dynamic and that there are things that can be done. And it sounds as though for the non-ADHD partner. I think sometimes people get into this principle, and they want to drive a point home, or there’s just more evidence to support their position, right? And then it just really puts people in a pitted, polarized place, and it can be highly conflictual. And, as you said, it’s often not personal. The intent is there, the love is there, and managing some of these executions. Skill sets are difficult for somebody that has ADHD. And so, is there a way to work together?

Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing. The partner with ADHD means well, right? They want to actually do it. They want to be that partner that the other person can rely on and count on or whatever. But I think in defense of the non-ADHD partner, right, they have a right to have a few things their way. Right? They have a right not to be anxious about stuff not getting done. That’s legit. It’s just a question of how we get there. 

The catchphrase I’ve come to is that it’s a difference between working with and working for. Teammates work with each other. Employees work for bosses, right? You don’t want to be the boss in the relationship. Really. I mean, we liked the idea a little bit, but not really. So, working with means each partner has the ability to say, “Hey, here’s the thing. I would like this to be done.” Equally, though, the other partner has the ability to say, “Uhm, yeah, all right, I can do that.” Or “Well, I mean, I guess I can do it, but I’m going to do it this other way instead.” Or also, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not actually interested in doing that.” Right? 

But that’s different than, “I guess, okay, I’ll do it.” And then it doesn’t happen. Right? So, speak your piece. Don’t sign on to a false agreement, and actually have the conversation at the moment. And then, the requesting partner has a choice. Is this a thing I want to take a stand on and kind of make a thing of, or is this not really worth it? Or I’m going to let this go, or I’m going to do this some other way or whatever, right? But that’s the working with, and that’s what we all in our relationships have to do.

I couldn’t agree with you more. And I also recognize for some, that takes a level of awareness and discernment in the moment of where someone is. Right? 

Tons. This is so easy to say. 

So easy to say.

You should floss every day. You should eat a lot of kale. You should wake up at six in the morning and go run. Done. 

Go to bed at 10. Right? 

Free Couple Sitting on Grass Field in Front of Body of Water Stock Photo

“ADHD is not a disorder of knowing what to do. It’s a disorder of doing what you know. In fact, people with ADHD know far better what to do because they’ve been told far more often what to do.”

Yeah, exactly. Right. You’re not waking up at six if you don’t go to bed at 10. So, yeah. The saying is easy. And there’s actually this sort of famous saying that ADHD is not a disorder of knowing what to do. It’s a disorder of doing what you know. So, knowing is the easy part, like lots of things in life. Losing weight is really easy to know what to do. Right? It’s the doing of it that’s hard. 

But this sort of, like, an add-on that I have to that famous saying is that, in fact, people with ADHD know far better what to do because they’ve been told far more often what to do. They know it. Trust me. They’ve heard it before, right? As much as they hate hearing it again, the non-ADHD partner hates saying it again. The problem is when they’re caught in that parent-child dynamic, neither one of them knows how to get out of it, so they do more of the stuff that they’ve been doing, which never actually works. But that is like we’re left with what we’re left with in those kinds of stuck situations. 

Oh, my goodness. And I’m also interested in hearing from you about what gets in the way. So even if there is that self-awareness or knowing what to do and what the right thing to do is that there could be fear involved with perhaps letting your partner down or saying no that could be scary or wanting to leave because they disappoint you so often. Like, I feel like I can say yes. And what do you see that contends with the difficulty of giving a partner a no, I can’t do that, or scaling it back a bit?

Yeah. I mean, that’s hard for all of us, right? Conflict is hard. But I think, especially for these couples, the person with ADHD might feel that they’ve let people down too many times, right? They’ve used up all their free passes. They got no more chips to play. So, they don’t feel like they can. Or they sort of kind of in the moment. They’re like, “Sure, I can do that.” without actually stopping to think of like, “Well, can I actually do that? What else do I have going on? Is that really a thing that’s going to happen?” 

And while we’re at it, is that actually a thing I want to do? Let’s take a moment and reflect upon that as well. And then on the other side of it for the non-ADHD partner, they feel like, I don’t get enough of what I want in this relationship. I do so much around here. I should be able to just ask for what I want, and you do it because you sort of owe me. Not a crazy notion, right? They’re not narcissists, right? There’s some history. 

That led to it.

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, it’s easy to kind of get stuck in that. And for the person, in this case with ADHD, to say,” Look, honey. I’m not interested in doing that. That’s really not how I want this to be done.” It’s hard. And it’s hard for their partner to take it and to take it well because you can’t punish good behavior and get more of it. Right? You can’t react badly when your partner asserts himself in a respectful way and think that they’re going to do it again.

Right, exactly. Even if it has been discussed that I’d rather you say no versus you say yes and let me down. But then at the moment, right, so the expressions and the nonverbals, right, that that is positively affirmed when the non-ADHD partner is not getting what they want feels like this is totally warranted for me to ask and for you to do it.

I don’t know. He can be really kind of gut-level and quick. I had a couple this morning. The guy has ADHD. He kind of did this thing for his wife. And mostly, she said it was good. Right? I asked, like, out of 100, what grade would you give him? She said 87. B+ man. That’s pretty good. It’s not dean’s list, but good enough, right? 

The problem was because of his history. When she said, and there’s this other thing of it that maybe you know, I felt a little awkward, I would have preferred it to be different like that. That’s all he heard, right? So, he came out of this not feeling like she was appreciative, but she was. Right? We all run everything through our own lenses based on our history. So, it can be hard to take in accurately what our partner is doing or saying. Again, that’s universal. 

It is. 

Just a twist on this particular couple, but like we all can do that.

Absolutely. I mean, we are very much wired to have that negative bias. Look for the thing that’s threatening so we can mitigate it for sure. And so, when we’re looking at these dynamics, I’m wondering what do you help people with because if a couple is running a deficit, they’re approaching these conversations, the ADHD partners, like I don’t have a lot of room to bargain. I’m not in a good position to even say no. Kind of like how you laid out, but then you’re also saying, even when there is growth, or there is progression, that it’s hard to even feel that that can be acknowledged and built upon because there is some aspect of it that didn’t go well that then probably triggers all the not good enough, shame, or whatever.

Yeah. If I got a new couple, especially if ADHD is kind of new on the scene, by which I mean, then having the word ADHD like it’s been there the whole time. They just maybe had other names for it. Or maybe it’s a thing where ADHD was diagnosed long ago, but they just never really did that much about it, right? And that’s also a thing that happens. 

I mean, obviously, depending, but often my first thing is, let’s really figure out the ADHD part of this because it helps explain some things, perhaps in a better way, perhaps in a less feel bad about it personal way. And also, there’s a lot that we can do to help manage ADHD to help both of you guys manage ADHD. I will say, for those who need it, I’m a big proponent of medication for ADHD. 

Medication that we have really worked quite well in terms of what it’s supposed to do. It’s pretty manageable in terms of the side effects. It is not addictive. Untreated ADHD is a significant risk factor for substance abuse. Folks with ADHD who are on stimulant medication are less likely to abuse substances. So, I think it’s worth considering medication because we know very clearly the risks and side effects and dangers of untreated ADHD. So, compared to that, the medication works very well and is safe. 

If you’re going to take medication, you want to really know that it’s working, which also means does your partner know what’s working? Are your coworkers getting all the benefits from nine to five, and then it’s worn off by the time you hit the driveway? Right? If so, maybe you need to talk to the prescriber about a short-acting extender dose. You probably want to take it on the weekends unless you have butlers and maids who can take care of everything for you. You probably want to take it on the weekends as well. But not that it changes every problem in life, man does it kick start a bit of momentum, and help both partners feel a bit more motivated and feel like, “You know what? We can do something with this.”

I imagine it can offer with that goodwill that you’re describing that both people see the benefit and the improvement. That then that gives, like you say, that kickstart but also gives them something to work with that allows them to turn probably more towards these relational dynamics.

Yeah. Yeah, it sorts of levels the playing field. Now, they got all the problems every other couple does. Right?

They’ve been exasperated by ADHD. 

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, yeah. I mean, it helps the person with ADHD be a bit more consistent, a bit more reliable, a bit more efficient. They’re becoming a better partner in their way. And then for the non-ADHD partner, hopefully, then they can see, “You know what? I don’t have to manage every aspect of this.” I can start to let some things go. I can work on being less angry. I can be more direct in asking for what I want because I have more faith, and I’m going to get not only decent responses to the moment but also actually, what I’m asking for is more likely to happen. 

They both have something to deal with in this sort of the second phase, so to speak. But they both have some benefits from it. I mean, you know this. Both people have something to do with a couple. If you’re just waiting for your partner to change, it’s kind of like waiting for a sunny day. Oh, man, I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow. I’m not going to pin my happiness on the weather that I can’t control. Right? So, whatever your partner is doing, there’s something you’re also doing. What can you do to bring more of that better behavior out of your partner?

And then, hopefully, they can turn a corner and feel the alliance that their partner is for them, or there’s goodwill that they can work with and have a positive cycle. I love that. You mentioned that it’s going to go well. Is there anything you want to say about perhaps the ADHD partner having more reactivity or dysregulation, feeling inadequate or shame? Just the dynamic.

Yeah. No, I mean, that’s definitely a thing that can happen. I mean, sure. We all have lots of reasons why we could be triggered whatever our personal whatever is, but yeah. I mean, part of ADHD can be that kind of emotional impulsivity, right? Like that kind of quick reaction at the moment. 

When your partner brings up something troubling, the reaction is probably going to be more negative. But you know, there is also the positive. People with ADHD can also be kind of reactive in a fun way. My friends with ADHD are great. They’re really fun to be with. So, you get a bit of both of them. Again, that is where some of the medication is. It can add just a little bit of a pause, a little bit of a moment to sort of temper that response to consider the situation, to remember your partner’s perspective, and then give a better response. Because otherwise, it just happened so quickly that they’re just immediately off to the races, and then their partner’s reacting to them. And then it’s all our lost kind of thing

I know. And then, even the guilt or feeling badly about how one reacted, and it’s just this whole snowball. And so, if there is some footing to get some foundation to work from that, that space gives a lot of room to just even make different moves and getting support and like someone like yourself, or therapeutic support can really help. 

Okay, let’s turn to sex because a lot of people don’t talk about what that looks like when ADHD is impacting relationships. Where would you like to start around this? I mean, I can just tell, even just from the day-to-day functioning, that an ADHD person is more prone to not have the best sleep hygiene, meaning they get caught up in whatever activity they’re doing or maybe not as available. Where do we start with the topic?

You’re absolutely right. ADHD affects a lot of aspects of time management and just efficiency and effectiveness. I did this big online survey. It’s sort of in preparation for writing the book. That was one of the things that came out, this sort of cluster of reasons why people didn’t have a better sex life. That was one of them, right? A bunch of stuff related to that. 

The other reason that nobody who’s been listening will be surprised to hear is being mad at your partner doesn’t make you want to have sex, at least with your partner. If you want to have a good time at night, you should probably be good about what happens during the day. And if you’re smart, the next day, you will bring that warm glow and positive feelings, so you’re more likely to have sex again at some point in the near future. 

To have good sex with your partner requires good behavior, but also, hopefully, that good sex. I don’t know. It adds a bit of bounce, right, a bit of resilience. So, all the annoying, stupid things of life don’t kind of trip you up or drag you down or push you apart.

No kidding. Yes. So, the day-to-day time management affects the availability of intimacy, also the interactions that we’ve just been talking about. And the couple like each other, feeling like they’re responding well to each other is huge for that sense of opening to intimacy. It reminds me there’s a John Gottman quote, and I can’t remember it exactly, but he was like, every positive thing in the day is like foreplay.

It is. 

It is. 

It is. It totally is. I mean, the thing about it is the difference between the couples who are doing well and the couples who aren’t. It’s not night and day, really. Life is always a little bit messy. Nobody’s going to be perfect. Some of these differences will always remain. But it’s like that threshold, right? If you’re doing better than this, right? If there’s less than whatever amount of those annoyances, and you’re feeling good and connected in a bunch of ways, things are great. 

It’s sustainable. Yes! 

Yeah. Yeah. Whereas if you’re 10 or 20% worse, then it all goes to hell, right? It’s not like an 80% difference. It’s like a 20% difference. Do you know what I mean? We’re more willing to give that benefit of the doubt to what our partner is doing. We’re more likely to ask nicely. We’re more likely to respond nicely. And ideally, also kind of preemptively say, “Here’s the thing they were like. I’m going to do that thing.” So, that generosity is rewarded. Just like lack of generosity is also met in kind.

No kidding. I love that. That’s such a great frame for us to contemplate that while we might feel like it’s all or nothing, it’s this 80%. It could really literally be this 20% difference maker that can feel entirely different. I mean, that could even be more inspiring and motivating to take some action, right? All that much. I mean, yes, it does take significant investment effort and work. However, it’s not like the goal is like ten years, 20 years down the road, or down the line. 

Yeah, no, that’s absolutely true, right? Because if you feel like it’s got to be amazing and perfect, like, don’t even try, you’re not going to get there. And especially when a couple is struggling, it’s really easy to feel a kind of pessimistic about it. But it feels like, you know, we got to do 20% better. You know, I don’t know. I think I could pull that off.

No kidding. It makes it so much more doable. Okay, so what else do you recommend? What do you suggest? How do you work with your couples around helping them overcome some of these blocks or difficulties with sexuality and intimacy?

I mean, I think it’s about recognizing that sexual connection but also broadening it out to just having fun together is an important part of relationships, right? We got to be good business partners as a couple and do all the boring, responsible things of adult life. But that’s not what you want. You don’t want a good roommate. You want an actual partner that you enjoy, that you have fun with, that you can be open and explore and try things with, right? So, that totally applies to your sex life and also, hopefully, some other places as well. 

Free Women Hugging in Bed Stock Photo

“You don’t want a good roommate. You want an actual partner that you enjoy, that you have fun with, that you can be open and explore and try things with. That totally applies to your sex life and also, hopefully, some other places as well.”

So, it’s that ability to kind of, and I don’t know, I feel like you can get there with each other. That means accepting the fact that life won’t always be perfect. You can’t wait ”til all the laundry is done before you have sex, or you’ll never have sex, or it just ain’t going to happen. But also, I think, especially for many couples, but especially for the couples where the guy has ADHD, and a woman doesn’t, is that there’s often this desire discrepancy, right? Somebody wants sex more often than the other person does. 

So, how do you reconcile that? What do you do by yourself? What do you do for each other, with each other? Can you be generous to your partner in this way when they’re more up for it than you are? What does it take to earn that generosity? How do you reward that generosity in other ways? How do you earn it and reward it? Right? It’s that ability to be that good partner, and kind of, I don’t know, give your partner what it is that they need, even when it’s different than what you need. And also being able to ask for what you need.

Yes. Would you like to share an example around that so people can kind of understand a little bit more?

Yeah. For example, you know, I mean, this sort of cliche about sex is it’s the thing we all think about, right? It’s like, you fool around a bit, and then eventually, it gets intercourse. And that’s like, the real thing, right? And then everything else is kind of the lead-up to it. It’s kind of like Alvor Anakee’s sex is pizza and, you know, TED talk. You should look it up if you don’t know it. 

Intercourse is awesome. We’re not going to criticize, but it’s not the only awesome thing. Right? There are plenty of other awesome things. Having some flexibility, having some options if you want them. But you know, in particular, when one person is more interested than the other, the less interested person may not be up for the full production, right? It’s just like, “I’m just not feeling it. Not interested.” But hopefully, it is not like all or nothing. Full production or nothing at all, right? 

It’s like, “Well, what else could we do? Could I do something to get you off? Can you get yourself off? And I’m going to lie here with you?” And, you know, like, what, in between, like, all the gradations. What can we do so we both feel okay about what just happened?

Exactly. I love that. And there’s, again, honor and regard for one another, that perhaps this can be talked about or even negotiated, in a way. I mean, it sounds so unsexy to talk about negotiating, but when you’re really saying, like, people are in different moods or different spaces, and you add hormones, you add stress. To be in sync at the exact same time is to expect sometimes, and so that there can be dialogue that can help it feel like a win-win or workable and that there’s a larger frame that you’re referencing that it doesn’t have to be, like, perfect every single time.

Yeah, so here’s the example I use. There is this garden center near where I live. Really nice stuff, but kind of obscene price, like really nice stuff. My wife could move in there. She freaking loves it. For me, it’s okay. Like, you know, whatever. It’s fine. I can be generous. I can go to the garden center. I can pretend to be interested in what she’s telling me and, you know, whatever. It’s fine. 

It’s kind of like the same thing, right? If I was sort of dragging my feet and huffing and puffing about having to be there, that’s not a good scene. She should be kind of unhappy about that. But it’s kind of like the same thing. If your partner is interested in doing something and you sort of are kind of crummy about it, that’s not fun for either person, right? 

We should be able to be generous to each other in a bunch of different ways in that nothing earns generosity like generosity, right? So, you know, it’s a thing like we’re on the same team, we’re working together. I want you to be happy. You want me to be happy. Even if we want to be happy, it isn’t the same.

Yes. And it doesn’t stop there. Right? When I talk about, or you’re mentioning, this broader perspective, like how much pleasure we can get from our partner being happy or satiated or experiencing something that they wanted, that we might not have anticipated the benefit of that, but how that feels so good. And then this positive cycle that you’re referring to?

Yeah, exactly.

What do you say about is more like scheduling, sex, or even the ADHD partner may be wanting to be a little bit more spontaneous or be a stereotype? But I’m just curious, like, as far as prioritizing all the moving parts, is there anything else you want to say about how to support lovemaking and sexual intimacy?

I mean, I think it is to make it a priority. Don’t make it the last thing that happens, by which I mean the worst thing. It’s like, “Oh, I’m exhausted. I’m half falling asleep. But honey, I’m there for you. Here, let’s do this.” All right? So, kind of whether it’s actually scheduled, which can be helpful, some people don’t love it. Fine. But if nothing else, at least being intentional about it, you know, saying like, this is a thing that’s important. 

We both want this to be a thing that happens with some regularity, whatever that frequency is, for us. What do we get to do to make it happen, right? And that both means kind of prioritizing the time and trying to organize the rest of your day, so you actually have the time and the energy to show up for it in a good way. But also preserving the good feeling. 

Again, you can’t be a jerk all day and expect your partner to want to jump into bed with you. So, what is each person’s part in making this more likely to be a positive experience? Just like if you’re going to go out to dinner, right? Whether it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday, you want your partner to show up in a good mood and ready to have some fun, just as they should expect you to as well.

And hopefully, comb their hair and take a shower, and have some awareness around how to show up in a way that they’re available.

Yeah, exactly. Right? That is a reasonable expectation, you know? Now granted, not every dinner is going to be like dinner in Paris or something. But like, wherever you are, grabbing a hotdog at the truck stop, I guess, right, like, try to make it a decent experience.

No kidding. Great. I know we’re winding down in it. I also am curious if someone has ADHD, is there anything that you see around how their individual experience their own sexuality, like anything you want to mention around that?

Yeah. One of the things that came out of the survey that I did, which I didn’t predict, but it’s totally not surprising when I saw it, is that the folks with ADHD taking gender out of it, tended to be more sexually eager than the non-ADHD folks were, which, again, not actually that surprising, because like folks with ADHD tend to, let’s just say be more influenced by this sort of distractions and temptations around them. And, like, what’s more distracting and tempting than sex, right? So, it’s one of those things where it’s kind of like, it’s a double-edged sword, that if this becomes yet another source of discontent and difference in disconnection between us, it’s going to make a bad situation worse. On the other hand, somebody’s got to keep the fires burning.

Right. Bringing the novelty, the creativity, and the play. Yes.

Yes, exactly. Right. So, that is a strength of that partner, perhaps. I think it’s like a lot of stuff. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s what do you do with it?

Great. Well, wonderful. What would you like to invite people to connect with or get to learn more about what you have to share?

What I would say is if you think you have ADHD, or your partner, or your kid, or whoever, or if you know for a fact that you do, there is so much that we know about ADHD. Do not reinvent the wheel. Do not do this the hard way. I’ve got a bunch of stuff on my website, which is www.AdultADHDBook.com 

I would also encourage people to go to www.chad.org. That’s the national ADHD Advocacy Organisation. Also, the Big Chad, as well as ADDA, the ADD Association, and the ADHD Coaches Organization, every November put together a big conference. I’m actually a co-chair of the conference, although it is an unpaid position. Every year we put together this big conference. This year, 2022, it’s going to be in Dallas from November 17th to 19th

Awesome! We’re finally getting back together again in person. I cannot wait. As well as, there’ll be a virtual video option. But like, wherever you get your information, get it. Do not figure this out yourself, right? Life definitely gets better with a little bit of the right knowledge.

Free Man and Woman Kneeling on Bed Beside Window Stock Photo

“If you think you have ADHD, or your partner, or your kid, or whoever, or if you know for a fact that you do, there is so much that we know about ADHD. Do not reinvent the wheel. Do not do this the hard way. Life definitely gets better with a little bit of the right knowledge.”

No kidding. It sounds like you’ve written several books, and your latest book reminds us of what that is. 

It’s called ADHD After Dark: Better Sex Life, Better Relationship. I should also point out that a friend of mine who’s a professor at Penn had a grad student who saw the title ADHD After Dark and then borrowed it, and then brought it back the next day and said, “I thought it was about sleep.” Poor grad student who’s never getting any sex.

No kidding. No kidding. That’s great. I’m sure your books are on your website. Is that right?

They are, as well as some samples. We got a bunch of recordings and other stuff. So, yeah.

Perfect. Well, Dr. Ari Tuckman, thank you so much. I can just tell what a wealth of knowledge and how much you bring to the area, and just what a resource you are. So, thank you for spending your time with us here today.

Thanks for having me.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching