Am I married to an alcoholic?

Alcoholism in relationships - am I married to an alcoholic?

Am I married to an alcoholic?

If you are the partner of someone who drinks alcohol excessively, you know from personal experience that it creates more problems than it soothes.

In a relationship with an alcohol dependent person, it is often very difficult to communicate your distress without being shut down or a fight ensuing, which can leave you feeling helpless as to what to do.

Thankfully, we have psychologists and therapists at the Hart Centre who specialise in both couples counselling and overcoming dependency/addictions in relationships, so seeing one of these specialists of ours can help you in the difficult task of bringing up your partner’s alcohol problem, and in addition can help in his/her recovery, and at the same time, help and support you manage your own emotions and get your needs met during this process, as well as help get your relationship back on track.

How common is alcohol dependency or alcoholism in relationships?

Alcohol has a significant role in the everyday Australian’s lives. We are surrounded by it everywhere: social settings, after work events, sport events and family gatherings.

Our recent pandemic dramatically increased alcohol consumption in Australia (Macaulay, RACQP, 2022). The increase in alcohol consumption in families show that parents increased their drinking by 29%, with as much as 14% drinking alcohol on a daily basis.

It was particularly middle-aged women with children and young adult males who have increased their alcohol intake.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (, 2022), show that nearly 26% of adult Australians exceeded the Guidelines for Australian Adult Alcohol intake in 2020-21. Australian born individuals were twice as likely to exceed the guidelines as those born overseas. Nearly 20% of people over 18 years consumed more than 10 standard drinks weekly.

How much alcohol is too much alcohol?

For anyone wanting an Internationally credited standardized test to decide whether you or your partner’s alcohol use has become a dependency, use this link to AUDIT – Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test


Why does alcohol turn from a soothing solution to a dependency problem?

For most people, drinking alcohol is a way to soothe and soften the stresses of life; an innocent, easy and socially acceptable way to self-medicate; a quick solution to ease the problems of the day.

But when a person crosses the line from using alcohol recreationally to getting a feeling that he/she cannot stop even if they want to, or they feel a need to hide their drinking, or find excuses to when it’s ok to have a drink, that is when it has become a dependency problem. concerned my partner is drinking too much

Alcohol dependency is often a family disease. Mostly, we can see the patterns of alcoholism stem back for many generations and it is often interlinked with abuse/neglect in childhood, but not always.

Drinking alcohol is so socially acceptable, that when an individual declines an offer of an alcoholic beverage, some people feel insulted or try to convince the person to have “just one drink”. Many people who actively choose not to drink may experience alienation and feelings of shame. They might notice less frequent invites; they might feel that they are socially isolated to a corner of the party if they do go, and feel the pressure to have an alcoholic drink just to be socially accepted. A person who already struggles with an alcohol dependency condition, might start avoiding social settings for this reason.

Alcohol dependency can be almost impossible to stop for the people involved, but there is help and resources for those who want to save an alcoholic marriage/relationship.

The underlying cause of alcohol dependency

The alcohol dependent is stuck in the initial perception that drinking is soothing his/her problems, and is, in fact, the solution to life’s problems.  He/she doesn’t notice the slip into dependency that others around them notice, partly because it can be gradual, but mostly because he/she is in more pain than they realise, and this is their way of calming or covering their pain, feelings of shame and unworthiness, often caused by trauma in their past. The more past trauma, usually the more we need to rely more heavily on things that will relieve it, albeit momentarily.

Alcohol dependency is a progressive condition

Many people think alcoholism equals drink-driving, starting the morning with a vodka, or drinking themselves to unconsciousness. But like with every addiction, it doesn’t start off that way. There are levels of dependence before the disease takes over, and there are different patterns of drinking that manifests differently. Some may only drink occasionally but have a problem stopping once they start, others need to end each day with a few drinks, which can escalate to more than a few.

Some might start off with beers or wine and escalate into heavier spirits as the disease progresses. Some might have co-morbid addictions such as gambling, drugs or sex addictions. The individual can quickly go from where they still have a choice to stop, to addict, where they feel uncapable to stop on their own.

It’s usually a problem for the partner well before it is for the drinker

Alcohol dependency becomes a problem when it takes over the daily life of an individual, where they are no longer functioning and it impacts their loved ones, both emotionally, but also where family or friends are expected to do things for the alcoholic.


8 signs that you have alcoholism in your relationship


1. Everything revolves around alcohol

One big sign from early in the relationship is that alcohol has a central role in any setting. From the first date to movie nights, after-beach sessions, football games, BBQ’s, camp trips, or even just after work, your partner seems like he/she always needs alcohol present, and often romanticise alcohol as a “need” or a reward they deserve after a long week.

2. Excuses and more excusesAlcoholism in family problem. Daughter aguring with her mother about drinking wine. Two people, woman and teenage girl quarrel in the kitchen. A depressed female is addicted to alcohol at home.

Once you start noticing this excessive need for an alcoholic beverage, you start questioning: “Do you really need a beer right now? Haven’t you had enough wine? Do you really need a whiskey for the road?” The answer you have heard so often echoing back: “One more wouldn’t hurt”, “I’ve only had a couple”, “Geez you’re a nag”, “I’m not even tipsy”, “What about yourself, you got blasted last weekend”. The excuses increase with time, and the partner with alcohol issues might even start hiding bottles, not telling you if they’ve been drinking, or telling you they had less than they did.

3. You feel cheated on – “I’m always second”

Living in an alcoholic marriage/relationship is lonely. When the alcoholic spouse reaches a point where drinking is no longer connected to socialising, they prefer to drink in solitude and might even avoid drinking in public altogether, you might feel that the person you fell in love with is unreachable. You constantly feel that you come second to the drink, and there is nothing you say or do that will stop their destructive behaviour. These feelings could be similar to those experienced when your partner is unfaithful. The alienation is unbearable. Sometimes you get glimpses of the person you once knew, only to see them soon again fall into their solitude.

4. You find yourself lying to friends and family

Outwards, life looks perfect: you have the home of your dreams: the cars, the jobs (yes, a lot of alcoholics manage to hide their problem for a very long time and manages to upkeep employment successfully), the beautiful kids, and even the holidays. You are not just lying to friends or family; you are also lying to yourself and your spouse. While problems pile up under the rug, you keep your head higher, smile harder and work more to show the world how fantastic your life is. Outwards, you might look like a super-couple, and you both hold up that façade at social gatherings. Deep down you know a lot of these things aren’t true, even how much you would like them to be. You become a compulsory liar, and the ultimate disguise for your partner’s drinking problem. You have fallen into the role as an enabler.

5. You feel like you do everything

Behind closed doors you are the-everything. You look after finances, plan holidays, kids’ activities, appointments, weekend happenings. On top of holding up a job you also cook, clean, do laundry, and everything revolving the kids. The lonely relationship continues down the rabbit hole. The life you hoped to build with the person of your dreams lives behind an empty shell.

6. Parenting your partner

Increasingly, you feel that you need to micromanage everyone around you. You feel that the world will end if you stop doing for your partner what he/she could do for themselves. Eventually, you can start to feel like you are your partner’s parent, not their spouse. The knit-picking can be unbearable, but you don’t know how to stop.

7. The Jekyll and Hyde syndrome

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was a story by Robert Louis Stevenson about Dr Jekyll, a successful scientist who was liked by everyone, extremely intelligent and well-respected in society. At night-time he would turn into a very dangerous and murderous criminal, Mr Hyde.

The reference to this story has been used by many people to explain a behaviour, often found in addicts and individuals with narcissistic behaviours or other personality disorders or tendencies.

The syndrome is likened in a behaviour where the individual seems to have two very distinct personalities, often an alter-ego, or a façade that they wish to display outwards to everyone they know, to hide their true shameful self.

Why do I feel like I’m going crazy?

As a partner to a “Jekyll and Hyde” person, you might feel increasingly confused and crazy. Your partner might say awful things to you under the influence of alcohol, or even be abusive (verbally, emotionally, or physically), be grandiose or gaslight you (change the truth of the past), to be loving, caring and apologetic the next day. They might promise to never drink again, and you see glimpses again of the partner you fell in love with. This Jekyll and Hyde syndrome makes you confused, and sometimes feeling like you are going crazy.

8. The Merry-go-round of denial

This brings us to the Merry-go-round of denial (read the full meaning of it here: .

The non-alcoholic partner has entered a never-ending dance with their alcoholic spouse. This is a trip that is extremely difficult to end. The Merry-go-round is like a three-act-play that never ends, where the alcoholic always ends up drinking in the third act, before we start again in act 1. The alcoholic spouse will only have the ability to end the play if all players involved stop the act and steps off the Merry-go-round altogether.


Why can’t your partner just stop drinking alcohol?

why can't my partner stop drinking alcohol?

Most active alcoholics don’t see the drinking as a problem, therefore overcoming denial is the number one step towards recovery. The partner often feels anger and resentment towards their spouse and that they are choosing the drink before them, but the problem is so much deeper than that.

Recovery won’t happen until both partners see and understand the dance of the alcoholic dependent, and that both partners are contributing as they are dancing.

The dynamics of an alcoholic relationship lay in both partners: one that is hiding from feelings of shame and guilt by numbing the pain with alcohol, and the other over-functioning and often unwittingly imposing further shame and guilt onto the partner by continually highlighting the problem. The non-alcoholic partner can become controlling and unrecognisable to themselves.

At this stage, it can be a downward worsening spiral if you don’t reach out for professional help.


What if I am the one who can’t stop drinking alcohol?

Recognising that you have a drinking problem is the first step to recovery. It is a brave and important step to take, and there is a lot of help to receive. Talk to your partner and explain how you feel. Quitting alcohol is very difficult to do on your own. Whether or not you are alcohol dependent, or have developed alcoholic syndrome/alcoholism, quitting cold turkey exposes the wound and could be very painful for all parts involved. You will need supports in place.

I can't stop drinking alcohol

Relationship Counselling when one spouse has an alcohol problem

At the Hart Centre, we have psychologists and therapists who are specialists in BOTH addictions/dependencies and couples counselling. Seeing one of these specialists helps you address the very difficult job of raising the alcohol dependency as a major problem in your relationship, and also gives both your partner support in getting to the root of the problem, as well as you support in getting your needs met without activating your partner, and then, additionally, a chance to then work on improving your relationship.

See at the end of this blog for our Therapists who have both Specialisations.



Doing what you can towards recovery

As a spouse of an actively drinking alcohol dependent partner, you can affect many aspects of this dynamic you unwittingly find yourself in with your partner. Here are a few suggestions…

1. Stop being an enabler.

The first step towards helping an alcoholic to recovery is to step off the merry-go-round. Stop enabling the unwanted behaviour, set up strong boundaries, for example, that you no longer will buy alcohol and that you no longer will cover up their habits to family and friends.

2. Let go of being responsible for and trying to control his behaviour.

You can’t control people, places, and things. All you can ever have control over is yourself and your own behaviours. This is more difficult than it sounds. Just stop criticising, commenting, being sarcastic, passive-aggression, stonewalling. Lose the focus on him and make it about you.

3. Focus on your own wellbeing. 

Take all that energy that was monitoring and taking responsibility for him and focus on what you need, and what makes you happy in your life.

4. Find humility and compassion.

This is very difficult indeed. Just remember to look at alcohol dependence as a progressive brain condition similar to Alzheimers. The alcoholic struggles to change and already hates themself more than anyone else does. Your resentment and anger only add to the shame they are already experiencing. Try to find humility and compassion for your spouse again (without enabling or taking responsibility for them). This takes a lot of practice.


Why there is nothing you can do to make the alcoholic stop drinking

A person with an alcohol problem will only have the capacity to realise the magnitude of their problem once they experience enough negative consequences to themselves, and the potential of losing their relationship if they don’t stop is often what does it.  They need to hit rock bottom and see what they will lose if they continue their behaviours. You can save your marriage by stop trying to save the alcoholic.

Click to find our Hart Centre Therapists who specialise in Addictions/ Dependency in Couples Counselling

Couples Therapist Interview with Roohi (Relationship Counselling Melbourne)

Hart Centre Therapist Roohi is passionate about helping clients understand emotions better and accept their presence within themselves. This paves the way for increased awareness of how emotions can influence behaviours and relationships. She enables clients to understand underlying issues and reflect on their patterns of thinking & approaching situations. She is skilled at supporting clients to identify doubts, see different perspectives of their situation, make decisions that work the best for them and implement strategies to achieve their goals.

To read more about Roohi or view her psychologist profile, click here.  Marriage counselling Melbourne.


1. What has made you interested in helping couples with their relationships?

In my work with couples, I have learnt that healthy communication is often a challenge. When clients are triggered, the way they talk, look and treat each other can lack
understanding and compassion. This in turn impacts their emotions and behaviours, and has a snowball effect on their children, extended family, friends and even colleagues albeit in
different ways. I believe that if couples can develop effective ways of connecting and taking perspective, then despite their differences and disagreements, they will be able to find the
middle ground on which they can co-exist. I aim to support them while they find their way towards each other.


2. What are the most common relationships problems that you see in couples therapy?

Apart from communication barriers, couples might be struggling with lack of intimacy, infidelity, addictions, mental health issues in one or both partners, trauma, work or family
stress, parenthood, and increased responsibilities in several areas of their life.


3. What are the most common problems for women seeking therapy for their relationships?

In my experience, I have seen women having more emotional needs than men, they struggle with health issues that can be aggravated after childbirth, and they feel a decreased need for physical intimacy. They need their partners to listen to them more rather than trying to fix issues, they just want someone to be there and acknowledge the physical and emotional
pain they go through. Of course, this is not always the case, as everyone is different.


4. What are the most common problems for men seeking therapy for their relationships?

Many but not all men might struggle with understanding or expressing emotions, and when they do, the way they make sense of these is different to how women might process. They
show their love and care through trying to fix problems of their partners and find sitting in discomfort without actively doing something about it, very challenging. They may have more
need for physical intimacy and often feel confused why their partners might not want to be as intimate as they want to be. I feel that women need to emotional intimacy before they can get physically intimate while men express emotional intimacy through being physically intimate.


5. What would you like clients to know about the couple counselling process before they come in?

Every couple is unique and so are their issues. For the relationship to be fulfilling, it is essential that both partners feel that their needs are being met. To be able to do this, it is important to listen and express in a healthy manner. Both partners will need to reflect on what they can do from their end to make changes to meet each other halfway. Each has different strengths and weaknesses, and both their perceptions may be valid. It will require cooperation to be able to know what makes sense to the other. This requires suspending judgements and expectations until both sides of the story have been shared and heard. Using curiosity to make sense of a situation can provide great insight.


6. What has been the couple you remember who has made the biggest turnaround, from being in severe trouble to transforming their relationship into a happy loving one?

I helped an older couple reconcile after one of the partners had a relationship outside of the marriage. They were on the verge of separation when they came to see me as the last resort. They worked very hard to understand and communicate with each other and were successful in rekindling their lost love.


7. If you had one word of advice for couples with children, what would it be?

You both are in this together and your children need you. It can be hard when they are younger but taking each day as it comes will help you feel a little less overwhelmed. It’s okay if you make mistakes as a parent, you are learning as your children are growing. Be kind to yourself and to your partner. You have got this.

8. What advice would you give to couples trying to rebuild their relationship after an affair?

Understanding what might have led to the affair can help provide awareness of each partner’s behaviour. If both partners can use their power to make changes in the present, moving forward together can be easier. But before this can happen, it is important to process the hurt caused by the affair. Support your partner that has been hurt to go through the pain. If you rush this, then true healing may not occur. When the hurt partner is ready to let go or choose to forgive, they do it for themselves more than for their partner. There is always some risk in trusting others, and it is up to us to honour our partner’s trust in us.


9. What do you find is the most satisfying and fulfilling part of this work that you do?

When clients find that the tools I have given them have been helpful, they then implement those in their relationship and come back with more questions wanting to understand further. I also enjoy it immensely when I see them taking notes and sharing their feedback.

Relationship counselling Perth and Couples counselling Perth.

If you would like to make a booking with Roohi or any other of our psychologists, you are welcome to fill out an enquiry form here, or call our friendly receptionists on 1300 830 552.




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adhd in family can be difficult

ADHD in Relationships

Adult ADHD and Relationships. Do you, your partner or both have ADHD?

“My partner doesn’t notice me anymore”, a common complaint we hear as a relationship therapist.

While there are many reasons why a partner seems distracted and not present, a startling increase in adult ADHD diagnoses suggest we should consider that chronic attention and communication issues may be a sign of something deeper.

Healthy relationships require paying attention to each other’s thoughts and feelings and maintaining empathy and consideration for one another. The presence of ADHD in one or both people in a partnership presents unique challenges to maintaining these fundamental qualities, and can cause significant distress if left unacknowledged.

If you are in a relationship with somebody with ADHD, you may feel regularly lonely and overlooked in your relationship. You may feel your partner doesn’t seem to notice you anymore, and struggles with following up on things – maybe so much that you feel there is another child in the home. You may feel like you are being pushed into someone you are not – a nagging and irritable person, always having to remind your partner to do this, do that.

It may be additionally frustrating that your partner seems to obsess over new things often, but rarely applies that same passion into your relationship.

Perhaps, if you’re very honest with yourself, you’re reading this and thinking this sounds like you.

It didn’t start off this way… so what happened?

What is adult ADHD?

ADHD is a spectrum disorder, meaning there are varying degrees of the symptoms, and these symptoms can manifest differently depending on the personality of a person. Symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Short attention span
    Does your partner seem to struggle to remain focused on what you are saying? Forget important things you told them just a few days prior?adhd in relationships
  • Difficulty completing tasks and keeping organised
    Maybe you feel like the ‘manager’ of the household, and things would ‘fall apart’ if you weren’t there to pick up the pieces.
  • Impulsiveness
    Do your arguments often center around your partners’ impulse-buying eating into your mutual plans for your next holiday?
  • Chronic forgetfulness
    Do you hear the words “have you seen my phone/wallet/keys” seemingly a hundred times a week?
  • Easily distractible
    Forgetting what they are saying in the middle of a conversation is one example of this… think ,”Ooh! Shiny object!”
  • Restlessness, inability to sit or stand still for long
    Ever feel like you can’t watch a movie without feeling your partner fidgeting constantly next to you?
  • Talking excessively or in a fast manner, blurting out answers in conversation
    Maybe you feel you are hyper-aware of your partner missing social cues when you are out with friends. Sarcasm, hurt feelings, and unspoken messages don’t seem to ‘get through’ to them in the same way as other people.

Is ADHD more common now?

Most experts today agree that ADHD has always been this common, and the increase we are perceiving is more likely a natural result of increased awareness.

Technological advances have vastly increased our access to information, resulting in more people seeking out information on ADHD. Many of us have heard the media-inflated stories of ADHD being the product of poor parenting, too much television, and other obscure scapegoats, however the research strongly points to ADHD being the result of genetics.

Whilst men are slightly more likely to meet criteria for ADHD, new research suggests this gender gap should be taken with a grain of salt. While men are more likely to present as hyperactive, women exhibit more symptoms related to attention deficit, and therefore are more likely to fly under the radar for diagnosis.


The early stages of your relationship – the hyperfocussed courtship

Many who have experienced newfound love with someone with ADHD will fondly recall the early ‘honeymoon period’ as something seemingly straight out of a romance novel.

When we meet someone we are interested in, our ‘love chemicals’ such as dopamine, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are rapidly released, giving us that giddy euphoric feeling we associate with attraction.

Whilst we all experience this phenomenon to a degree, people with ADHD have additional neurological factors that amp up this experience tenfold. Neurological differences in the brain of people with ADHD result in higher thresholds for stimulation and novelty-seeking, resulting in an intense hyper-fixation that we call love bombing. Love bombing can be a very flattering experience for the keen recipient… especially when it comes in the form of spontaneous gifts, deep and meaningful conversations until the early hours of the morning, and grand gestures of affection.

However, this intense level of stimulation eventually becomes overwhelming and impossible to maintain. Once the novelty of your relationships’ shiny ‘newness’ wears off, the person with ADHD will return to their comfortable baseline, ready to obsess over their next object of fascination.

This is not to say that the person with ADHD does not still love their partner post-fixation, rather, the contrast between the love bombing and the post-honeymoon return to normality can feel like baffling whiplash for the non-ADHD partner.

Coupled with the attention deficit aspect of ADHD, many mistake this abrupt shift in dynamic as their partner no longer desiring them or finding them interesting, which feels hurtful and confusing.


When problems start

Your sex life

Sex and intimacy are integral parts of a healthy relationship. The breakdown of ADHD relationships often manifests through the straining of the sexual relationship. The reasons for this can include:

  • Negative emotions such as anger, frustration, and sadness spoiling any budding desire to initiate intimacy in the first place. Resentment is the ultimate mood-killer.
  • People with ADHD are prone to two polarities of the sexual libido spectrum. Hyposexuality (unusually low sex drive) or hypersexuality (unusually high sex drive) may not match the libido of the non-ADHD partner, affecting the dynamic of the sexual relationship. People with hypersexuality may sacrifice foreplay and make their partner feel unappreciated, whilst people with hyposexuality can find sex over-stimulating or find the ‘relaxation mode’ required for sex too difficult to achieve.
  • People with ADHD tend to take their distractions to bed, unintentionally communicating their disinterest in intimacy as their mind flits from topic to topic. The spontaneity and playfulness of sex can be sacrificed by this distractibility.
  • Resentment can take hold if the ADHD spouse suddenly focuses on them for sex (but otherwise has paid them no mind). This can be especially relevant for women, who tend to desire a ‘lead up’ to sex in the form of flirtations and advances. Sex then becomes just another chore to tick off as done.happy couple with adhd
  • Relationships in significant breakdown may experience emotional or physical infidelity as a means of escaping the accumulating stresses of the relationship. The betrayal of trust and security that comes from having an affair presents further barriers to accessing intimacy.
  • People with ADHD are especially prone to addictive and hyper-stimulating behaviors such as pornography and intense sexual activities, which can harm the natural intimacy of the sexual relationship as more than just a means to an end.
  • As communication further breaks down, the connection the couple shares that allows them to laugh off sexual mishaps decreases. This decline in connection and trust results in sex becoming a possible vehicle for failure (and possibly shame) – as such, couples retreat, and sex lessens or becomes monotonous.

Understanding how ADHD can affect the sex life of a couple is crucial to confronting and overcoming bedroom issues.

Partners can benefit from communicating compassionately with one another to ensure connectivity, intimacy, and ample foreplay is at the forefront of both of their minds.

Is it really about laziness?

One of the most common misunderstandings regarding people with ADHD is that their actions (or inactions) are the result of laziness. Simple tasks such as taking the bins out or checking the post can require a huge mental effort for someone with ADHD, and the inability to complete ‘easy’ tasks often results in feelings of failure and low self-worth.

Putting off tasks may come off as lazy to the uninformed observer but is a consequence of the legitimate struggle to take that first step. It is understandably difficult for partners of people with ADHD to remember that these frustrating blips are an expression of neurological differences in the ADHD brain.

With the help of brain imaging technology, ADHD has been re-conceptualized as a reward-deficiency syndrome, meaning that people with ADHD have a deficit of the specific pleasure neurotransmitters that signify reward.

Without these important indicators of reward, people with ADHD struggle to complete tasks that don’t provide immediate satisfaction, and their attentional capacity is inconsistent and easily dysregulated.

“Feeling the future” is difficult if you have ADHD. You have a shorter time horizon, so planning into the future is difficult because future events don’t hit the radar until deadlines become closer to the now.

There you have it; a biological reason for why your husband won’t take the bins out without you reminding him twice every single Thursday!

Painful misinterpretations

One of the most common issues therapists hear from ADHD-presenting couples goes something along the lines of, “he doesn’t even seem to notice me anymore.”

The initial courtship phase sees the ADHD partner hyper-fixated on courting his lover, showering her with his attention and affection as the chemicals associated with infatuation are released. As things progress and the couple become increasingly comfortable with each other, this fixation begins to fade as the ADHD partner becomes accustomed to his partner, and the love chemicals begin returning to their baseline homeostasis.

In response, the non-ADHD partner, who has become pleasantly used to being doted upon, attributes this decreased attention and affection to a painful misinterpretation: he doesn’t want me anymore.

Attempts to amend this often begin with new clothes or lingerie and attempts of increased intimacy, and eventually, frustration and anger when these efforts fall short of providing the validation and attention desired by the partner.

The hurt experienced by both parties here often is compounded: The non-ADHD partner misinterprets her partners’ distractibility as not being in love with her or desiring her anymore. The neutral act of her partners’ distraction takes on a negative association of fear or despair, with every example of distraction reinforcing the belief, ‘he doesn’t love me anymore’.

For the ADHD partner, having weathered frustrations at his ineptitudes all his life mostly by ignoring them, instinctively retreats inwards, thus increasing the perception of disinterest.

Furthermore, given people with ADHD do not input and process information hierarchically, the suffering of his spouse enters his mind and is provided the same attention as other incumbrances (like the fluorescent lights being too bright, the neighbour’s dog incessantly barking).

The hurt caused by the incorrect interpretation that he no longer loves her can create a snowball effect of bad feelings, which act to perpetuate and reinforce the negative behaviours that compound the problem.


Symptom-response-response cycle

Whilst it can be tempting to blame relationship issues on ADHD itself, and it is true that unique challenges present in ADHD relationships, the actual damage sustained is due to a destructive pattern of symptom-response-response that both parties participate in.

The combination of factors – the ADHD symptom of distractibility, the misinterpretation of that distractibility and subsequent resentment, and deeper resentment – amplifies the issue to become the monster it is.

Distractibility alone is not a destructive symptom, but as we note above, it became destructive as the symptom instigating the vicious cycle of symptom-response-response.

ADHD leading expert Melissa Orwell points out that ADHD in relationships can be looked upon as a sort of dance, whereby one partner leads and initiates, but both partners must understand their role within the dynamic to circle the floor.

Whilst it is all well and good for an ADHD partner to address his symptoms, the couple will be unsuccessful if non-ADHD partner’s response does not change also. The key here is to consider both the symptom and the response as contributing factors to create a more realistic picture of the situation, and to promote accountability from both sides of the dynamic.

The easy slide into Parent-Child (Under-functioner/Over-functioner dynamic)

The most destructive of all the patterns in a struggling ADHD relationship is quite possibly the parent-child dynamic. As a result of the chronic inattentiveness and distractibility that is symptomatic of untreated ADHD, the ADHD-partner will routinely forget to follow up on his portion of the household responsibilities and chores, leaving the non-ADHD partner to ‘swoop in’ and sort out.

While he may very well have every good intention to uphold his end of the bargain, he gets distracted or forgets, and his partner ends up overcompensating. This inequality eventually leads to a build up of resentment, in which classically the non-ADHD spouse feels begrudged at having to do all the grunt work, while she perceives the ADHD spouse to be taking a load off.

Eventually, she begins to attack him as her resentment overwhelms, and he retreats, resulting in an even harder attack in an attempt to gain some kind of response and change.

The outcome is both parties become conditioned to learn that communicating with each other is painful, and perhaps cease even trying. When he does get things done, the partner is wary because he is so ‘consistently inconsistent,’ and remembers the many failures over the few accomplishments. She doesn’t give him credit, which demotivates him even further.

The addition of actual children into the dynamic can further complicate a parent-child dynamic of an ADHD couple. Triangulation is common here, with an ‘us versus them’ attitude emerging from the gulf created between the couple as the ‘cranky’ non-ADHD parent versus the ‘fun’ ADHD parent.

The chore wars

Disproportionate sharing of the housework can be a strong symbol of the many things a person doesn’t do in the relationship. In a household of equality, not contributing your fair share can signify a lack of care or respect towards your partner.

adhd fighting over cleaning in relationshipThis can add to general unease about the future of the relationship as one built on mutual trust and respect, where challenges are overcome together.

The difficulty maintaining attention [resulting from chemical deficiencies] creates the perfect storm for people with ADHD to neglect their share of the housework. If left unacknowledged and untreated, an imbalance of housework can take the format of the symptom-response-response cycle and can add to the downfall of a relationship.

The blame game

The blame game is the corrosive outcome of what happens when the dynamics of parent-child and chore wars exhaust both spouses, leaving them simmering in perpetual resentment.

The non-ADHD partner blames her ADHD partner for her unhappiness, justifying that his refusal to acknowledge his ADHD or his ineptitude in treating it has caused their issues. The destructive element of the blame game is that the more she blames him, the more his behaviour reinforces her judgement on him, and she begins to believe things will never change.

In contrast, the ADHD spouse is quietly bewildered by his partners’ apparently abrupt changes in behaviour. Unlike the woman he knew when they first met, she constantly nags him, berates him, and patronises him over things that never seemed to bother him when they began dating. Also, she never seems to appreciate how hard he works to support their family.

She blames him for her unhappiness. He blames her for being so angry and controlling. So long as either person is partaking in the blame game, nobody will get anywhere, because the core issue is not being investigated and dealt with.

Blaming can be dangerous for a multitude of reasons:

  • Blaming creates a toxic environment whereby experimenting with behaviour change becomes unsafe. You fail, you get blamed.
  • Both parties need to look internally at how they are contributing to their relationship distress. Blaming shifts the focus away from the blamer, so that they are unable to consider their own involvement.
  • Empathy is paramount to working your way outside of relationship distress. Blaming diminishes both parties’ ability to be empathetic and affects the ability to forgive.
  • Rather than viewing the problem together to find a solution, blaming sets people up against each other and builds resentment.

Deciding to stop playing the blame game is by no means easy but is a wonderful move towards a more peaceful middle ground where everybody is treated with respect and empathy.

Pursuit and escape

ADHD couples in times of conflict will often find themselves in a ‘pursuit and escape’ situation. The non-ADHD partner is the aggressor; she nags, escalates conversation, and may even physically follow a spouse around in a desperate bid to get her ADHD spouse to pay attention to her.

This behaviour can be a frantic attempt to get their partner to acknowledge her after being habitually ignored, and may signify a survival strategy; if things don’t change, the relationship will no longer be feasible, so she has no choice but to become more antagonistic.

In response, the ADHD spouse will generally react in one of three ways:

  • Compliance, with a high possibility that the behaviour will reappear due to the untreated ADHD symptoms
  • Anger or defensiveness as a shame response that delays the conversation
  • Denial, avoidance, or non-responsiveness (the most common response)

The common result is that the non-ADHD spouse personalizes the partners’ retreat, attributing meaning as ‘he doesn’t care’. Recurring retreats in the face of such aggressive pursuit for reasonable change begin to result in a sense of hopelessness that things will never get better.

Meanwhile, the escape tactics implemented by the ADHD spouse can cause him greater and greater anxiety.

Nag now, Pay later

Deep down, there are generally understandable reasons for why people nag. If somebody is nagging their partner, it is because they feel they are not able to get attention or assistance without implementing an antagonistic manner of communication.

The context of an ADHD relationship, in which the spouse with ADHD consistently does not follow through, is inattentive, and compulsively retreats, can be a breeding ground for nagging.

But nagging is ineffective in an ADHD relationship, because it does nothing to treat the underlying issue – the ADHD symptoms. Instead, nagging:

  • Contributes to the ADHD partners’ compulsion to retreat.
  • Significantly contributes to the relationship moving into a parent-child dynamic.
  • Reminds the ADHD partner of ingrained shame he has felt all his life, such as the many times he’s been nagged by parents and teachers.

Finding positive and effective ways to communicate outside of nagging is paramount to the survival of a relationship with ADHD.

Losing faith

When the issues in an ADHD relationship consistently are swept under the rug, both partners begin losing faith in themselves and one another as a team.

The reasons they fell in love in the first place become more and more difficult to remember. The spouse with ADHD feels confused and dismayed; after feeling like they finally found somebody that accepts them for all their quirks and oddities, they now feel constantly berated and shamed, even when they feel they are doing their best. They can feel worthless and unreliable, and like a bad partner.

Meanwhile, the partner without ADHD is exhausted from carrying the mental load of the couple, and can feel completely taken for granted, as if they are part of the furniture.

They remember a time when they were light-hearted and happy, but somehow they feel like a bitter and resentful person almost all the time.

When they are together, the conversation no longer flows, and is tainted with an undercurrent of resentment. Making love is rare or non-existent, and they long for the time when they would delight in one another’s company as a true team.

ADHD doesn’t invent problems: It just exacerbates the universal ones.

Its true. Every couple needs to negotiate different desires and ways of doing things. ADHD shortcomings can become the scapegoat – but the universal work of learning to communicate your needs and wants with love, understanding and empathy for your partner still needs to be done for every couple in all relationships.

A Good Relationship pushes you to become a better person.

There is much that can help you have a more rewarding relationship when one of you has ADHD.


7 things that can help ADHD in your relationship

  1. ADHD Medication/stimulants

Firstly, the stimulant medications work well, and help close the gap between intentions and actions.
You do need to balance the benefits with the risks and side effects, but generally the benefits far outweigh the risks.

  1. Get serious about sleep, diet and exercise.

Your cognitive functioning and mood are better with good self-care.

  1. The ADHD Partner needs to step up in the relationship.

One of the most simple and effective ways to re-route your relationship back on track is to develop and maintain your attending skills. Attending means actively and consciously choosing to engage with your partner in a positive manner, leaving no room for doubt that you care for them. Below are some creative strategies for creating ‘attend time’ in your relationship, as suggested by Orwell:

  • Book weekly blocks of time together. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a plan, you can figure out the details later. Keep it spontaneous, and decide what you will do with your day together as a pair. Explore the city, stroll by the waterfront, or go see the latest movie. The important part is you schedule (and stick to) this time and treat it as totally non-negotiable.adhd how can we love again
  • Create ‘I love us’ routines. Pick something small that you enjoy doing together, and create a ritual around it. Maybe it’s taking a late night walk with the dogs together while you catch up on the latest gossip of the day, or always sharing a cup of coffee before you head off to work in the morning. These little cherished moments go a long way in showing you care.
  • Set up “attend time” at bed-time. Many of us have mismatched sleeping schedules with our partners. Create a night-time routine where, irrespective of these differences, you spend time in bed together at night time. Chat, hold each other, or cuddle. When it’s time for lights out, the late-to-bed partner can decide to come to bed or get up and do something else. Don’t let mismatched bedtimes stop you from taking advantage of this lovely way to end the day.
  • Say I love you at least once a day. Set an alarm if you need it, ADHD folk!
  • Setting the tone. When coming home after a long day, set a 5-minute ‘no complaints’ rule where neither of you say anything negative – only positive moments of the day. Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ wherever possible. Gratitude and respect are critical for happy partnerships.
  • Surprise your partner. If you ever hear your partner mention something they’d like to have or do, make a note of popping it into the notes section of your phone. Create a specific document of things you can do for your partner. Pay attention to when she says things like “I wish we could….” This will show your partner how attentive and thoughtful you are.
  • Reset your relationship batteries. We know how hard it can be to get away with the responsibilities adult life bestows upon us. But trust us; if you can get away from your normal life for 48 hours and re-immerse yourselves in each other, you’ll come back better versions of yourself. So organize yourself a babysitter or a dog sitter, and go on that hiking trip you always dreamed about together. Resetting can really help you remember how much you actually enjoy each other’s company.
  1. The Non- ADHD partner needs to step down.

  • Your job is to let go of the parent role and try to be more flexible. Only respond to larger patterns, and let the small stuff go. We all have moments where our partner annoys the heck out of us. Do your best to let it pass without comment unless it is becoming a pattern over a long period of time. None of us can be at our best happiest self all the time, and your time to be the big old grump will be sure to come along.

If you’re struggling with doing this, perhaps look at why you can understand the impact of ADHD, anxiety, perhaps high standards of fear of judgement. Your motto needs to be Give your partner room to step up.

  1. Both of you get clear on the differences between preferences and limits.

We all have personal preferences. We can choose to be more flexible with these. Limits are our preferences that we can’t flex on without selling out our integrity. There should only be a few of these. We need to get clearer about these.

  1. Make a time weekly to talk planning.

Lack of planning adds a lot of stress and bad feelings. Set up a weekly meeting to discuss to- dos and calendars. Agree on what will get done, or won’t. Then show respect (do the task) and also show appreciation for your partner doing it.

adhd couples planning australia








  1. If you end up in a fight, how to repair after.

After an especially big argument, it can be hard to see where to begin mending. Gottman suggests that both partners can make a ‘bid’ for repairing the relationship after a fight. Some bids will work on certain relationship dynamics and won’t work for others – it’s all about the unique relationship you each hold with one another. Here’s some ideas for olive branches that Orwell suggests:

  • A thoughtful apology
  • Knowing when the conversation is escalating, and taking responsibility to stop that conversation. Even if you do so with anger, working to cease a damaging conversation can show you care. Tell your partner you are feeling out of control and need time to calm yourself. Return later once you have cooled down to discuss things more constructively.
  • Admission of wrong or partial wrongdoing“I see your point that the way I phrased that was disrespectful you, and I’m sorry. There’s no excuse for that, no matter how frustrated I am.”
  • Acknowledging an alternate perspective“I hadn’t considered your perspective… let me think about that for a moment.”
  • Choosing statements that progress towards negotiation“lets consider both of our perspectives and work out something that works for both of us.”
  • Choosing statements that prioritise you as a team“I know we’re both upset right now, but let’s try and remember we both want what’s best for our daughter. Maybe we can work something out that benefits both of us as members of the same team…”adhd fight how do I get help
  • Showing appreciation “I know how hard you find speaking about your feelings, and though I don’t agree with some of the things you said, I appreciate the time you’re taking to discuss these things with me, because it shows you care.”
  • Using action statements to agree to disagree – Given most issues are approximately 70% unresolvable in the long-term, using an action statement in a way that isn’t dismissive of your partner can be useful: “We’ve been trying to figure out a solution for this for a while now and we haven’t gotten anywhere. How do you feel about agreeing to disagree and seeing if we can create a compromise?”
  • Staying neutral – carefully choosing your tone to be neutral rather than defensive or negative can avoid things digressing further south
  • Rephrasing – especially if your partner is shutting down or can’t see the bigger picture, try rephrasing what you’re saying. Start with a summary of what you understand your partners’ position to be, and respectful and constructive with your language.
  • Consider listening to your female partner – extensive research by the Gottman’s has shown that men who are open to being influenced by their partners in argument are more likely to have a strong relationship. Relationships where men are unwilling to listen to their female partners may just end up in divorce. Interestingly, this research is one-directional: women’s willingness to be influenced by their male partners makes no difference to divorce rates!

These and a lot more are suggestions that can help you successfully manage your relationship and bring it back to happy and secure functioning.

It’s not always easy attempting to do this on your own, particularly when you have developed resentment and avoidance over a number of years.

The Hart Centre specialises in Relationship Counselling for ADHD

That’s where a relationship therapist with training and experience with ADHD can be invaluable. We at the Hart Centre have many therapists in our group around Australia with this specific training who can help you navigate back to a happy relationship.

We understand how hopeless you can feel after too long spent trying to make things work from opposite sides of the understanding spectrum. Perhaps you even feel like you might never get back to being on the same page again.

adhd relationship counselling

We are here to reassure you, you can. Why, you ask?

  • You didn’t know about ADHD, and now you do. Knowledge is power, and you now have a wide range of strategies you can use, or know where to find them (hello, we can help!)
  • You may not be able to wipe the slate clean, but you can choose to forgive your partner and yourself. Things got a little bit much, but that was before you knew about ADHD. You did the best you could do with a lot of stress and pressure placed upon you by the untreated and unacknowledged ADHD symptoms. ADHD is the real enemy here, and those hurtful actions can now be attributed to the ADHD beast. Forgiveness will allow you to break free from what was past, and progress to the new and improved incoming future.
  • You’ve learned to separate the symptoms from the person. ADHD is a very manageable disorder with the right knowledge and skills. Your communication will continue to improve with your newfound knowledge and skills.
  • You are learning the art of validating each other and attending to one another. These are critical skills for damage control after a fight.

Okay, hopefully we’ve reinstated hope that the cause is not as lost as it once seemed.

Real change is possible, but requires some introspection, mutual humility, practiced empathy, and some changes to how you both manage things in your relationship.

Many couples find that, once they have expanded their understanding of ADHD and implemented positive changes to accommodate for the symptoms, they become happier people and more compatible partners.

Additionally, by engaging a relationship therapist who is experienced with ADHD, you can learn to reframe the relationship problems for what they truly are – the common enemy. From there, you can conquer the problems as a united team, and rediscover that deep love, mutual trust, and intertwined happiness you both experienced not so long ago.

Relationship Counselling for ADHD – some important points

A couple’s psychologist/counsellor who is trained and experienced in ADHD will be able to provide both of you with information about ADHD, and work with each partner about understanding the wiring, mindsets and perspectives of each other, and create a space where both of you feel safe and understood.

He/she will also suggest and help you implement specific strategies for your particular relationship, and provide accountability, motivation and support to move you both into a healthier happier relationship.

It is important to note that couples’ counsellors who don’t have knowledge of ADHD can often wrongly ascribe your challenges to personality clashes, or family or origin issues, or can blame one partner more than the other, and are therefore rarely able to give you your best and most appropriate help.

For your part when you are considering coming to relationship counselling, we need each of you to be motivated and be willing to work on your side of the equation, rather than entirely blame your partner. This gives us the best chance of success for your relationship.

But this is often a journey, so we can support you together or individually at any stage of your journey of discovery.

Our Hart Centre relationship psychologists have been specifically trained to help you with the unique problems that come with neuro-diverse relationships. We have psychologists in each city, as well as Skype counselling options for those who can’t make it into one of our offices.



Book a Hart Centre ADHD Counsellor

Check our search tab to find the closest Hart Centre certified ADHD-specialised therapists in your area, or phone our friendly receptionists on 1300830552 who will help you.

Alternatively, click here to submit an appointment enquiry.



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Will my partner change if I bring him/her to relationship counselling?


The question of can people change is always an interesting one. The short answer is yes, we can all change absolutely anything about ourselves, if we have a strong enough desire to.

So the question many people have on their mind when considering whether to come to relationship or marriage counselling is: “If my partner hasn’t already changed the things about himself that I most have problems with, will he or she be able to do it with the help of relationship counselling, and just as importantly, will those changes stay, or just fade away with time?”

To answer this question more fully, it is important to understand that we come into this life pre-wired by way of our personality type. The personality system I find exceptionally helpful in understanding why we do the things we do, without being conscious of it, is the Enneagram. (more about the Enneagram in another blog)

So we each have tendencies towards doing things a certain way. Whether we continue to do things this way or change depends on whether the results of these actions are positive or negative for us. If we are experiencing either  positive benefits, or the absence of negative impact on ourself personally, then we will continue to do what comes naturally.

If, however we start to suffer from the impact of these natural tendencies, either as internal difficulties, or as difficulties in interacting with others or the world, then we can do 1 of 2 things:

controlling relationships

The 2 things we do:

1. Blame others or the world in general

2. Look at what in us needs to change for us to start getting a more positive outcome or experience.

Now, plenty of people take the first option, but that just makes you feel like a victim or cynical complainer- no chance of happiness there.

The second option is the healthiest way to go. Usually the extent of our pain will determine the extent of our motivation to change. It is usually as simple as that.

That is why often we can get the most stunningly positive changes in relationship counselling when a couple has got to the stage of being so sick of their relationship the way it is that they decide it is either make or break: we either fix it or leave it.

In relationship counselling also, we explain that for a relationship to have deteriorated, there will be contribution from both sides. In counselling many thousands of couples, I have yet to find a couple where it is all one partner’s contribution.

Couples often find it amazing how when we work on both sides together, how improvements can be so radical, so that the whole process can gradually become a joint project, rather than an adversarial one.

When talking about the stickability of changes, it is important to manage these carefully, and to have a check-in process in place to ensure each member of the couple honours their commitment to the other,on an ongoing basis.

More next week on why empathy is difficult for men.

Warm regards


Does Couples Counselling Really Work?

Why should we attend Couples Counselling?

Couples counselling can be very effective in helping you resolve the difficulties in your relationship, and some couples counselling is more effective than others.

The first factor that affects how effective your couples counselling is, is how well trained your therapist is in couples therapy. Relationship counselling is a very specialised field, and requires specialist training over and beyond individual therapy and psychology training.

Relationship dynamics are often at the core of why you are having problems that you can’t sort out on your own, and we need to be able to give you insight into these (in a non-blaming way) to help both of you see with new eyes the “dance” you may have inadvertently got into. This new perspective alone often clarifies and softens much of the resentment and blame you may have towards each other.

There are a number of schools of methodology in our field, and each couples counsellor will usually have their favourites, but it is always interesting to note that time and time again the research shows that no one type of their methodology always performs better then another.

The next essential ingredient in couples counselling, is the therapeutic relationship you form with your therapist. You both need to feel that your counsellor “gets” you, hears you and understands you for you to trust them and make progress as a couple.

Your therapist also needs to have had at least a few years of experience as a couples counsellor. Having experienced the full range of issues that are possible in a relationship gives your therapist a broad range of experience to help you, both in terms of often normalising what you are experiencing, which can be helpful, and knowing how to resolve your particular issues as a couple.

Good couples therapy also includes help and support for you in communicating your authentic feelings, and just as importantly, how to listen effectively. You’re not going to have a great relationship without learning these fundamentals.


How to make the most out of Couples Counselling

What do you need to bring to the counselling session to make it as effective as possible?

Firstly, you need to be able to reflect on your own behaviour and own what may be your own contributions. Most dynamics in a couple include two people interacting, so it’s true to say that mostly we all contribute in some way to what’s going on in our relationship dynamic.

Secondly, it can be helpful for you to reflect on what are the actual issues for you in your relationship at this time. Having some clarity about these can speed up the process because your therapist will be asking you about these.

And then thirdly, being willing to commit to some changes for you, to be able to action them, and follow through on them makes a huge difference to relationship improvements, and when both of you have that level of commitment, miracles can and do often happen in many of our couples.


What if one partner wants out?

There are occasions where each partner of a couple comes to counselling with differing wants from the process, for example, one partner may want to work on the relationship and the other wants to leave it.

On these occasions, we do our best to honour both needs while also exploring what deeper needs there may be, and encouraging partners to explore all possibilities before ending the relationship.

So, on these occasions, sometimes one partner in the couple may not be as happy with the outcome as the other.

But in the vast majority of cases, couples are very happy with the outcome of their couples counselling, often saying they’re feeling renewed feelings of love for their partner that they thought they had lost forever.


How do we find the right couples counsellor for us?

At the Hart Centre, we specialise in relationship, marriage and couples counselling. We understand that every couple’s dynamic is unique, and our couples counsellors, therapists and psychologists specialise in all aspects of relationship issues that may arise. Our expert couples counsellors are located in Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Wodonga, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Hobart, Sunshine Coast, Townsville, Sydney, Adelaide, Wollongong, Mittagong and Central Coast. Contact us today on 1300 830 552 to book today, or fill out our enquiry form online.


Related Articles to Couples Counselling

Does marriage counselling and relationship counselling really work?

Sexual power struggles: Man wants sex; woman says “no”.

Psychologist Interview With Joe (Relationship Counselling Sydney)

Why am I with a Narcissist?

Psychologist Interview with David (Marriage Counselling Perth)

Relationship Test: How well do you know your partner?

How well you know each other is a fundamental characteristic of how good your relationship is?

When you have a great relationship, you feel close and connected, and feel comfortable sharing with each other about yourself, knowing that you are largely accepted the way you are.

You can be yourself in the presence of your partner. Even when you don’t agree on things, you each are given the opportunity to express your views. You each give each other permission to be different without it ruining your relationship.

So, check out how well you really know each other. Once you have answered the questions, then you can check their accuracy with your partner.


1. What is your partner’s favourite meal?

2. What is the colour your partner dislikes the most?

3. What 3 things would your partner take  as essentials on a desert island?

4. What kind of home would your partner like to live in next?

5. What country would your partner most like to visit?

6. What clothes do you wear that are your partner’s favourite?

7. How happy is your partner in your relationship?

8. What would make him/her happier?

9. What would your partner do if he/she didn’t have to work?

10. What is  his/her greatest fear?

11. What does your partner dream of doing before he/she dies?

12. What does your partner worry most about?

13. What does your partner love most about you?

14. What does he/she struggle with most in his/her life?

15. What is your partners best accomplishment in his/her eyes?


>10 – Well done! You have a good relationship where you have pretty good knowledge of your partner. You generally feel close and comfortable talking together.

5 – 10 Your relationship is very average. You could do with making more time for hanging out together and talking more intimately about yourselves, and you would be surpised what a difference it would make to how close you feel.

<5 – Your relationship is in trouble. You really have lost touch with each other. You need to be prioritising spending at least half a hour each night and a full day each weekend being together without any other distractions of kids, work, computers or tv etc so you can get to know each other again before it is too late. You may also need relationship counselling to help you get your relationship back on track.

More next week

Warm regards


Discover how compatible the two of you are


According to the Enneagram, you can find out how compatible you are with your partner quite simply by checking out what they called your “Instincts”

We are each endowed with 3 specific instincts that are necessary for our survival. While we have all 3 instincts in us, one of them is our dominant focus. Then we have a second instinct that is used to support the dominant instinct, as well as a third one, which is least developed – a real blind spot in our personality and our values.

These form what they call our “stack”.

Our instinct priority has a huge impact on how compatible we feel with our partner.

If two people have the same first instinct, they are much more likely to get along easily since their basic values and outlook on life are congruent.

Conversely, if your stack is completely opposite to your partner’s, then you can expect tensions and conflicts. Each of you will usually be trying to convert the other.

Most importantly, a healthy balance of all instincts is important. So, if yours is a different stack to your partners, rather than fight about it, you can seek to understand and acknowledge the wisdom in each, learning from each other, and how compatible are youcreating a better balance for both of you. Here are the 3 Instincts:


1. Self Preservation Instinct.

People of this Instinctual type are focused on enhancing their personal security and physical comfort, and can be preoccupied with the basic survival needs, for example, money, food, housing, health, physical safety and comfort. Being safe and physically comfortable are priorities, and they will often bring their supplies with them.

When entering a room, they will tend to notice lighting, uncomfortable chairs, the room temperature, when the coffee break will be, and whether they will like the food provided.

These people often have issues connected with food and drink, either overdoing it or having strict dietary requirements.

They tend also to be the most practical in the sense of taking care of basic life necessities like paying the bills, maintaining the home and workplace, acquiring useful skills.

If this is an instinct that you have least developed, you may not eat or sleep properly, and can lack the drive to accumulate wealth or property, or even care about such matters. Also time and resource management will typically be neglected, often with seriously detrimental effects to your own careers, social life and material well being.


2. Intimacy / Sexual Instinct.

People of this type have a strong desire for intensity of experience and intimacy. This intensity could be found in great conversation or a great movie. The direct riveting gaze is the  dead give- away for people of this type.

When they enter a room they gravitate toward people they feel magnetized to, regardless of the person’s potential for helping them or their social standing. It is as if they are looking for the juice.

These people can be intimacy junkies, and have a strong desire to fuse with someone, often neglecting pressing obligations or even basic maintenance if they are swept up in something that has captivated them. This gives a wide ranging exploratory approach to life, but also a lack of focus on one’s own priorities.

If this is the area that is least developed, you will find you avoid intimacies as much as you can, finding ways to not get up close and personal with people.


3. Social Instinct.

People of this type are focused on their interactions with other people and with the sense of value and esteem they derive from their participation in group activities. These include work, family, hobbies and clubs, or any arena in which you can interact with others for some shared purpose. They understand their own and other peoples sense of place in the hierarchy of groups, and can desire attention, recognition, honor, success, fame, leadership and appreciation, as well as the security of being part of something larger than themselves

On entering a room, these people would immediately be aware of the power structures and subtle politics between the different people and groups. They are subconsciously focused on other’s reaction to them, particularly about whether they are being accepted or not.

They need to know what is going on in their world; they need to touch base with others to feel safe alive and energized.

In general they tend to enjoy interacting with people, but they avoid intimacy. They are the most extroverted of the types.

If you have this as your least developed instinct, you will have a lack of interest socially beyond your immediate needs, with very few friends, and will not be very interested in people. You also disregard the opinions of others very easily. You feel you do not need others and others do not need you, thus there may be frequent misunderstandings with others.

It can be interesting to find out what both your own stack is, and also that of your partners’.

This can give you some great information about whether you feel compatible or not, and what you can do about it. For more help in understanding how these forces work in your relationship, come and discover more in our relationship counselling sessions at the Hart Centre.

adhd how can we love again

How does your Attachment style create problems in your relationship?

Lets face it: loving another and being loved is one of the most fundamental desires we have as humans. Most of us realise that without love of one kind or another, life really doesn’t have much meaning.

But while we universally desire love, almost none of us feel secure enough in ourselves to establish secure bonds or attachments with another. And when we are not able to form secure attachments, we develop either one of two more insecure forms of attachment:


1: Anxiously attached

– where we might cling, pursue, blame, become forceful and demanding, or attacking on separation.


2: Avoidantly attached

– where we may withdraw, detach, hide behind a wall, show very little emotion at separation, focus on tasks and activities, make very little attempt at engaging, feel numb, defensive and distant.


Occasionally for some people, they may vascilate between the two of these.

Most of us can identify what is their natural inclination. When I see couples together in their relationship counselling session, the most common combination I see is one partner who pursues and demands, and the other who hides and withdraws.

This  negative cycle is most common because the more one pursues, of demands, the more the other wants to hide, and the more he/she withdraws, the more rejected and angrier the first partner gets, so he/she pushes or demands more.

It becomes a vicious cycle, and it is no one person’s fault, but it is worth being aware that this is the reciprocal pattern that the couple is unwittingly creating, that often generates great heartache for both concerned.

The first step is being aware of this reciprocal pattern, then it is easier to do something about it, rather than blame and sit in judgement of each other. Assistance with this can easily be obtained through relationship counselling.


Talk soon


how improving attachment style can help your relationship

How Understanding our Attachment Style Can Help Us Love Better


It’s no secret that how we were treated as children has a profound impact on how we navigate the complexities of adult life. Like the foundation of a home, our childhood experiences form the foundation of the rest of our lives.

Attachment theory refers to how the dynamics of our early relationships with caregivers orients our perspective towards adult relationships, particularly when it comes to romance. Being overly demanding, feeling smothered by regular displays of affection, strategic emotional distancing, and commitment phobia are some of the many ways attachment styles manifest in relationships.

Understanding our attachment styles can be enormously beneficial; gaining insight into how our early experiences have shaped our point of view of how love should look allows us to learn how to manage conflict better, communicate easier, and increases our understanding of ourselves and our partners1.

So – what is attachment style, and how can we utilise it to enhance our lives and relationships?



There are four main attachment styles. They are:

  1. Secure attachment
  2. Avoidant (Dismissive) attachment
  3. Anxious (Preoccupied) attachment
  4. Fearful avoidant (Disorganised) attachment



Attachment theory, originally coined by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, proposes that the relationship between children and their primary caregivers determines their social and emotional development “from the cradle to the grave”2.

According to attachment theory, our attachment ‘style’ begins forming in the initial 2-3 years of life, when a rapid succession of synaptic connectivity occurs. Fostering a safe environment where needs are consistently and sensitively responded to is fundamental to infant exploration and growth, and sets the scene for an adult personality that is well-rounded and emotionally balanced.

Children who are provided with this sort of safe and reliable environment are statistically more likely to develop into responsible adults with a strong identity and secure self-worth – in other words, adults with secure attachment3. While roughly half of our population are securely attached, the rest of us fall into the other three types of insecure attachment.



Secure attachment types are identified by their stable sense of self and balanced relationships with others. Some common presentations of secure attachment in relationships include:

  • Resilience: Able to ‘bounce back’ from negative experiences
  • Positive and balanced view of relationships
  • Manages conflict in constructive ways: Emotional reactions are appropriate for the situation
  • High self-esteem and stable identity
  • Rarely experiences jealousy or envy



“I don’t need you, I’m fine on my own”

For various reasons, some parents can be distant or emotionally unavailable in their parenting, with indifference or insensitivity towards the child being the result. To appease parents, children in this environment learn to suppress their negative feelings in expectation of rejection, and become overly self-sufficient, resulting in an avoidant attachment4. Avoidant attachment may present in relationships as:



“Are you mad at me? Please don’t leave!”

Parenting that is unpredictable – varying between warm and nurturing, and emotionally unavailable and insensitive – can result in adults with anxious attachment issues5. This type of attachment tends to manifest in relationships as:

  • Insecurities and preoccupation with worries of abandonment
  • Requiring constant or over the top reassurance
  • Overly emotional and hyper-vigilant of partners’ emotions
  • Low self-esteem and harshly self-critical
  • Coercive tactics during conflict (passive-aggressiveness, blame, or guilt)



Fear and Instability Personified  

The consequence of a child consistently feeling dread or fear of the caregiver in a toxic home environment can result in the least common, but most complex attachment type – disorganised attachment5. People with this type of attachment typically:

  • Have unstable and chaotic relationships characterised by ‘push-pull’ intensity
  • Strive for love and belonging, but struggle to trust people
  • Fearful of intimacy and proximity to others
  • Tend to prematurely self-sabotage relationships due to fear of abandonment



Now for some much-needed good news!

Changing your attachment style as an adult has been proven in contemporary science to be possible.

When made conscious, our unresolved traumas can become an exceptionally handy blueprint for healing through new corrective relationship experiences.

Neuroplasticity studies have shown that, though childhood trauma has a substantial influence on the developing brain, rewiring neural pathways to reflect a more balanced, secure, and stable perspective on relationships is totally achievable.



The first step to learning how to love and live better is to discover and understand what attachment style you are, which you can learn by completing our free Attachment Style Quiz (click the link: no email required).

Increasing your self-awareness of where you sit on the attachment spectrum is instrumental to providing a clear starting point for your secure attachment journey.

Once you’ve gotten to know your attachment pattern, finding a therapist with expertise in the area is your next step. Having an expert guide makes all the difference – especially if you are partnered, or alternatively, if you’re looking for love and want to put your best foot forward.

Attachment-based therapy aims to specifically target the thoughts, feelings, communications, and behaviours that we have learned to suppress, avoid, or amplify due to our early attachment experiences.

By cultivating a safe, secure, and transparent therapeutic space, the therapist works with the patient to reclaim and reshape these capacities, resulting in a healthier way of approaching both the Self and the Other6.

The Hart Centre has a plethora of trained therapists who can help you with navigating your attachment type. Click here to enquire about attachment-style-trained therapists in your area.



Lastly, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of pathologising yourself!

Just because you fit into an insecure attachment style does not mean your needs for closeness and intimacy are unwarranted, unreasonable, or silly. We are all unique social creatures who seek connections with others.

Learning our attachment style may at first feel confronting and perhaps even a little overwhelming; but remember – knowledge is power! Gaining insight into the underlying facets of how we operate can be an empowering process of self-discovery.

Attachment theory is a valuable and scientifically credible framework that we can all use to improve how we treat ourselves and those we cherish most.



  1. Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., Gillath, O., & Nitzber, R. A. (2005). Attachment, caregiving, and altruism: Boosting attachment security increases compassion and helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(5), 817-839.
  2. Doyle, C. & Cicchetti, D. (2017). From the cradle to the grave: The effect of adverse caregiving environments on attachments and relationships throughout the lifespan. Clinical Psychology: A Publication of the Division of Clinical Psychology of the American Psychological Association, 24(2), 203-217.
  3. Cassidy, J., Jones, J. D., & Shaver, P. R. (2013). Contributions of attachment theory and research: a framework for future research, translation, and policy. Development and Psychopathology, 25(4). 1415-1434.
  4. Carvallo, M., & Gabriel, S. (2006). No man is an island: the need to belong and dismissing avoidant attachment style. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(5), 687-709.
  5. Gallo, L.C., Smith, T. W. (2001). Attachment style in marriage: Adjustment and responses to interaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18(2), 263-289.
  6. Costello, P.C. (2013). Attachment-Based Psychotherapy: Helping Patients Develop Adaptive Capacities. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.



Related Articles to Attachment Style

Why do my relationships not go the way I want them to?

How secure do you feel in your Relationship? Take our Attachment Questionnaire

How does your Attachment style create problems in your relationship?

Am I too nice in my relationship? Am I a doormat?

Psychologist Interview with Noga (Relationship Counselling Sydney)

autism in relationships

Ever been over-reactive in your relationship?

If you are human, you will recognise that there are times in your relationship when something that your partner says or does hits a “nerve” or a “raw spot” for you. These sensitivities are also called “hot buttons“.

We all have them, and when abraded, they bleed all over our relationship, making us lose our emotional balance and plunge into reactive and defensive ways of communicating.

So, what are they, and where did they come from?

They are hyper-sensitivities formed by moments either in your past (usually childhood) or your current relationship when your attachment needs have been repeatedly neglected, ignored or dismissed, resulting in you feeling deprived and relationship over activedeserted.

As children, we all need nurturance, listening and empathy, protection and encouragement. When our care takers were not aware, or able to give us these things, we shrunk into ourselves from a pain beyond our awareness, giving us a sense of personal shame, as if we somehow weren’t deserving of these things.

Then on any future occasions when similar themes occur, these raw spots are activated again and we become reactionary, sometimes without consciously knowing why. We have been triggered, and we’re fighting back before we know it.

They cannot be forgotten or left behind, and they cannot be resolved in the present context without some awareness of what they are and the significance of them to us.

It is crucial for us to find a way to explore these in an emotionally supportive environment, where the hurt  has arisen from, and the significance to us, in order to be able to release ourselves from the power that they have to derail our relationships.

Relationship and marriage counselling can help you each sensitively explore what your raw spots are, and where and why you each over-reactive to things. Most people find it an extremely helpful process to make these discoveries, and to listen, support and understand their partner’s process or discovery as well. Clients often report feeling closer than they ever felt before to each other after these explorations.

For quality relationship counselling from any of our 80+ specially trained Psychologists throughout Australia, you can contact the Hart Centre Australia.

Till next time

Kind regards