The following is my interview with friend and highly respected sex and relationship therapist, Dr. Stephen Snyder, MD. You can read the article on his site here.
After posting two articles on ADHD and Marriage in response to a recent NY Times article, I received several responses asking specifically about women with ADHD. I decided to consult my favorite Women’s ADHD guru in New York City, Dr Laura Muggli.
Laura, we hear a lot lately about ADHD and relationships, but it’s mostly about men with ADHD. What about when it’s the woman who has ADHD?
Women feel more pressure to hide their ADHD from potential mates.
More than men?
Absolutely. Because the social role expectations are so different. An absent-minded, inattentive man is not so far removed from society’s expectations of men in general. Men are almost supposed to be inattentive.
But women, they’re supposed to be detail-oriented, and to be great at paying attention. A woman with ADHD often feels it’s something she needs to hide, in order to satisfy the world’s expectations of her as a woman.
So you’re saying that the difference between men and women with ADHD has to do with the culture’s expectations of maleness and femaleness?
That’s a big part of it. People tend to be less forgiving of disorganized women. Women are supposed to keep the world running smoothly.
A man who’s late to pick his kids up from school is “just being a typical man.” But a woman who does the same thing is “a bad mother.”
Do girls experience this same double-standard growing up?
Absolutely. As a child, when you perceive that the world is not going to accept you, you go into hiding. This is not unique to ADHD. It happens to homosexuals almost universally. And it happens in various ways to women in general. But it’s a big factor in women with ADHD.
So women with ADHD need to come out of the closet?
Yes, but it’s scary. So much of our self-image comes from the validating reactions of people around us. If you’re in hiding, you can’t get any real validation. “I like you,” gets heard as, “I like your mask.” You don’t know whether the liking will continue once you come out of hiding.
Are there any INTRINSIC differences between male and female ADHD?”
Girls are often inattentive, rather than hyperactive. They tend to be the quiet girls, daydreaming in the class room. It’s often overlooked. Many become really good at pretending to pay attention, when they are really tuning out.
Any special recommendations you’d make for women with ADHD in relationships?
Find people who can accept you — ADHD and all. Learn to accept yourself, and you’ll attract friends and romantic partners who are more accepting. That’s how it works.
Any good books on women and relationships and ADHD?
Women with ADD, by Sari Solden, is great at explaining the gender differences — and what a woman can to do to manage her life and accept herself. Add Understanding Girls with ADHD and Understanding Women with ADHD, by Kathleen Nadeau, and you’ll learn a lot.
One last question: Do you think Maria von Trapp had ADHD?
Whether or not she did, I think it’s great for girls with ADHD to watch The Sound of Music with that in mind. She starts the movie feeling pretty bad about herself (“How do you solve a problem like Maria?”), but she finds her own way. And most importantly, she doesn’t ever hide who she really is.