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Does ADHD make monogamy harder?

Sarah* kisses her husband of 16 years, grabs her bags and heads out the door. He follows soon after. They have a date. But not with each other. That night, they'll fall asleep side by side, in their own bed - sleepovers aren't allowed.

That's one of the relationship rules that ensures their open marriage works. 

"Sleepovers are a thing we don't do unless we both discuss it and agree to them," Sarah tells Mamamia.

"We need to make time for each other and the children, so one date per week. We don't share private information, so I know the name of the person he's meeting but not private information. We always put the dates in each other's calendar."

There's no dating friends or the parents of their children's friends either. These are some of the rules the couple put in place when they opened their relationship three years ago.

Watch MM Confessions: My partner doesn't know. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

While the decision to change the structure of their relationship was relatively recent, it was always going to happen, says Sarah, who has always struggled with monogamy.

"I've always ended up cheating on my partners, which is not something I'm proud of at all. And obviously it didn't end well, and those relationships ended," she says, emphasising her affairs weren't about her partners. 


"I think it's the excitement of the transgression, but also the validation from other people, and needing something exciting to happen, or something interesting or something new."

Sarah reached out to Mamamia after reading Mia Freedman's story about shopping and ADHD. Also newly diagnosed with adult ADHD, Sarah had begun to wonder whether her neurodiversity had something to do with her distaste for monogamy. 

"The story resonated with me so much because I'm quite similar. That search for a dopamine hit, it's almost like an addiction. I'm not addicted to sleeping with different people, but ever since I was a teenager the thought of having one partner, and then that's it, for the rest of your life made me feel extremely claustrophobic. I never felt like it was something I could do, but I didn't know there was another option," says the 40-year-old.

Sarah describes herself as a "relationship person" - it's just the monogamous sex she doesn't like. Then she heard a podcast discussing open relationships, and the concept of consensual non-monogamy. 

"It just made me so relieved to hear a working, loving relationship could work in this way. I love my husband but I don't want to only have sex with one person until I die."

When she met her husband, Sarah was transparent about her view on the subject, and they made an agreement that whenever she wanted to open the relationship, they would. 


"We were monogamous for the first 13 years of that relationship, but it was always in the back of my mind. The first few years were really easy, because you're still in that bubble, and I knew he would be open to changing the structure. Just knowing that gave me more breathing room and took those shackles off."

Happily monogamous, Sarah's husband had no specific desire to open their relationship, but she says he's now "seeing other people and having a good time".

It was only after they started meeting other non-monogamous people - many of whom were neurodiverse - that Sarah considered a connection between her ADHD and her desire for non-monogamy.

"Some of the partners I've met said, 'It's so interesting because almost all of the women I date casually or who are in non-monogamous relationships have ADHD'. There's one guy I'm dating, who's dating quite a few people and is in a non-monogamous relationship, and he also has ADHD. It seems to be incredibly common. These models seem to work in these types of relationships."

Psychologist, Jocelyn Brewer, who also has ADHD, says while an inability to maintain monogamy is not recognised in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, difficulties with emotional and self-regulation can mean that some people with ADHD also struggle with being in an exclusive relationship and avoiding infidelity. 

"This can be due to a combination of impulse control, choices made to gratify impulses and the inability to consider long-term consequences and perspectives," she says. 


"But there are also socio-cultural influences that influence monogamy and associated norms around sexual activity and experiences. Someone's libido and their desire for novelty and new experiences might play a part, but is not necessarily caused solely by ADHD."

Jocelyn's professional experience suggests the connection between ADHD and non-monogamy might be more connected to a person's relationship with their diagnosis (formal or self-identification), than the diagnosis itself.

"If someone feels that ADHD is something that controls them and they have no/little autonomy over, they may put their difficulties with monogamy down to their diagnosis, and avoid personal responsibility for the fallout of infidelity or non-monogamy practices."

Regardless of your neurodivergence or diagnosis, Jocelyn says having honest conversations in your important intimate relationships is key. 

"Being transparent about your libido, sexual preferences and needs, your vulnerabilities and difficulties in exclusivity is important to avoid being emotionally hurtful to those you engage with intimately."

When asked whether ADHD directly causes non-monogamy, Jocelyn says the short answer, is "no". 

"ADHD presents in a variety of complex ways for different people and is managed to different degrees by both psycho-stimulant medications as well as cognitive strategies, coaching and therapy. It is often masked or camouflaged in order to avoid showing up as different and symptoms can be exacerbated under stress. 


"I have ADHD, I don't find monogamy that hard. But maybe that's because I'm 45 and happy chilling at home with my family, not 25 and on the prowl. Context is everything and I think we need to be very careful of 'blaming' ADHD for all difficulties."

But Sarah isn't sharing her story to prove a connection with ADHD, in fact, she says she continues to struggle with much of what comes with neurodiversity. 

Instead, Sarah says she wants others who struggle with monogamy to know there’s another option, that doesn't result in deception or hurting your partner. 

"The most common pushback is that if you want to see other people you can't really love your partner. I think that's the important thing to challenge because we are deeply committed to each other. 

"We have a loving relationship, we have a mortgage, we have three children. That's our priority, but it doesn't have to come at the expense of having sex with other people and having these adventures," she explains. 

"I feel there are many people out there who might (want an open relationship) but are worried about what that might mean, or about being judged, or might not even realise it's an option. I think it would probably save a lot of relationships."

Image: Getty.

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