‘Parent’-‘Child’ Traps in Adult ADHD Relationships

Cheryl Y Leong
2 min readJun 29, 2020

When the bills have piled up, the keys are nowhere to be found and promises are not fulfilled the relationship can tense up quickly. The non-ADHD partner can feel resentful of “always” having to caretake without gratitude. It can feel as if it’s all about the ADHD person’s needs and their own needs get neglected.

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

The non-ADHD partner can start behaving in parental ways…
1. Rescuing/ fixing and taking over.
2. Criticizing, judging and reprimanding

The ADHD partner can…
1. Feel child-like, infantilized, judged, controlled, or suffocated.
2. Start to rely on and take their partner for granted.

It, unfortunately, can end up looking like an unsustainable parent-child relationship where one is caretaking and controlling while the other is dependant and suffocated. Resentment can build up pretty quickly on both ends.

How do we break out of a parent-child trap?

Tips for the ADHD partner:

#1 Take the time to ask your partner how they feel & validate them.
Recognize that brains are different and the differences mean that it has an effect on your partner and yourself. In your partner’s world, they could be witnessing chaos, scattered ideas, and broken promises. Your behaviors could be triggering anxiety for your partner. They are rescuing and caretaking to help contain the chaos.

#2 Set boundaries.
Be clear about what you want and don’t want your partner to do or say. Let them know you do not want their help or that you don’t appreciate the judgment.

#3 Make an effort to fulfill your partner’s needs, wants, and dreams.
ADHD can mean times of overwhelm or extreme hyper focus and can take up a lot of space in the relationship. Shifting the balance and paying attention to what your partner needs can help you break out of the parent-child dynamic.

Tips for the non-ADHD partner:

#1 Set boundaries.
Be clear about what you want to do to help. Avoid crossing your own limits and feeling like you “have” to help. Say “no” when you need to. Help only when it’s appreciated and only when you truly want to.

#2 Avoid criticism, controlling behavior, and contempt.
Talk instead about how an unfulfilled promise or a messy kitchen makes you feel and what you need/want to see happen.

#3 Be assertive.
Your needs are important TOO! Talk about your needs and ask for them to be met in a positive way.

Finding ways to equalize the relationship, respecting that you are both adults that can make choices is key. You were attracted to each other’s differences in the first place so love the other for who they are. Trying to make the other more like yourself is a fruitless project to take on.