If You’re Inclined To Do Something Without Thinking, Here’s How Impulsivity Can Affect Your Relationship

Woman with her hand on her head in an article about when you do something without thinking by Caroline Maguire.

As a person with ADHD, you have likely been called out in your life for being “impulsive.” I know I have.  And it is such a common challenge that it is worth unpacking to explore how it affects relationships which are, in many cases, where it can have the biggest impact. For people like me who have a natural tendency to jump in quickly, sometimes without thinking things through, impulsivity is a trait to understand. 

From a technical standpoint, impulsivity often leads to making quick decisions or taking actions without fully thinking them through. This trait, while adding a dash of spontaneity to life, can significantly impact relationships. And, like all things in life, it has a good and not-so-good side to it.

On one hand, impulsivity is the trait that leads us to do lovely things for people we care about like stopping on the side of the road to pick flowers for your beloved or calling in sick to spend a day with your kids, on the other hand it might mean you rush into friendships or impulsively respond to a text to your boss that goes sideways fast. 

It’s also the trait that can cause someone to jump into a conversation and offer an opinion without considering someone’s feelings or without knowing all the “facts” or details. 

Doing something without thinking might feel thrilling, but it can also lead to misunderstandings and feelings of instability between partners. Recognizing and addressing impulsivity and ADHD within the dynamics of a relationship is important for nurturing a stable and understanding partnership.

Why Are People With ADHD More Inclined To Be Impulsive?

People with ADHD often display heightened impulsivity due to differences in brain function and structure, particularly in areas responsible for self-regulation, attention, and planning. The neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which play critical roles in attention and behavior control, are typically less active in the brains of individuals with ADHD.

All of this technical information really means that the difference in an ADHD brain versus a non-ADHD brain is that the reward system inside of you leads you to act impulsively. Traits like “pausing before acting” or “considering the consequences of your actions” before acting are less active in an ADHD brain.  None of this is your fault of course, it’s really a difference in how your brain (my brain) functions vs other people. You can read more about brain science here.

What this means when it comes to ADHD and impulsivity is that for many people with ADHD, their brain leads them to behave impulsively because the reward system in your brain pulls you towards a desire for immediate gratification. Quick responses give your brain the dopamine it craves. 

This system of action and reward is operating inside of all of our brains in different ways all the time. And the dopamine reward system we’re talking about here is just one example of it. The point to all of this is that for the ADHD brain, the dopamine system is one action that drives impulsive decisions and actions. 

This is why the cultural belief that people with ADHD are more impulsive holds weight.

I also think it’s important to note that not everyone with ADHD is impulsive. So if you’re reading this and thinking, “I am very methodical in my decision making” or “I never do things without thinking them through” your ADHD may show up in different ways. As we continue to research different brain types, we know that some people are more impulsive than others. But generally speaking, impulsivity and ADHD are commonly connected for many people.

So Why Does This All Matter? Why Is Impulsive Behavior Hard On Relationships?

Impulsive behavior can be tough on relationships because it introduces unpredictability and often leads to decisions that may not consider the needs or feelings of both partners. This unpredictability can cause stress and uncertainty, making it hard for partners to feel secure and trust each other fully. Acting without thinking may include sudden purchases or spontaneous decisions about significant life changes that lead to financial or emotional consequences that both partners may not be prepared for.

Additionally, impulsivity can lead to communication breakdowns, as impulsive remarks or decisions might hurt feelings or show a lack of respect for the partner’s input. This pattern can diminish the sense of teamwork and partnership in a relationship, making it challenging to build a stable, supportive bond.

Long-Term Effects of ADHD Impulsivity on Relationships

The impulsive behaviors associated with ADHD can have significant long-term effects on both personal and professional relationships:

Challenges in Maintaining Stable Relationships

Impulsivity can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts, as spontaneous decisions may not consider the needs or feelings of others. This can strain relationships over time, leading to frequent arguments or breakdowns in communication.

Professional Setbacks

In the workplace, impulsivity can manifest as poor decision-making or difficulty adhering to projects and deadlines. This can hinder career progression and affect professional relationships, especially if colleagues perceive these behaviors as unreliability or unprofessionalism.

Social Isolation

Individuals with ADHD may struggle with social cues and maintaining friendships due to their impulsive actions. Over time, this can lead to social withdrawal or isolation, as peers may be less willing to engage with someone they see as unpredictable or difficult to understand.

Impact on Family Dynamics

Family members might also bear the brunt of impulsive behaviors, which can lead to long-term tension and stress within the family unit. This can be particularly challenging for spouses and children who live day-to-day with these dynamics.

Compromised Financial Stability

Impulsive spending or financial decisions can lead to significant stress and instability. Over time, this can accumulate, resulting in long-term financial insecurity or conflicts over money management within relationships.

Is Impulsive Behavior Ever Good For A Relationship?

Yes, impulsivity and relationships can sometimes go hand-in-hand positively. Acting impulsively can introduce spontaneity and excitement, keeping the relationship vibrant and engaging. Surprising gestures, like impromptu trips or unexpected gifts, can enhance emotional bonding and create joyful memories together. These random actions can also demonstrate affection and appreciation in a fun and lively way, contributing positively to the relationship’s emotional climate.

However, the key is balance. While impulsive actions can add fun and spontaneity, they should be balanced with thoughtful decision-making and consideration of both partners’ feelings and needs. When done thoughtfully, impulsivity can help maintain the spark in a relationship, making it feel fresh and exciting.

If It’s Having A Negative Effect, What Can You Do To Manage or Reduce Impulsive Behaviors?

To manage or avoid being impulsive, especially when it negatively affects your relationship can be tricky. However, the good news is that it can be taken care of if you adopt the following practical strategies:

Take a Breath/Pause Before Acting 

This simple technique (that is easier written in this article than done in real life) allows you to create a moment of reflection before making decisions. By implementing a brief pause, you give yourself the opportunity to think about the potential impacts of your actions on your relationship. This can help prevent decisions that you might regret later. Pausing is a goal to strive for, very few people get this “right” just because someone told them to do it. Thinking about this as something to work toward, not a “one and done.”

Meditate if You Have More Time

Regular meditation enhances mindfulness and increases self-awareness, which are crucial for controlling impulsive behaviors. By meditating, you train your brain to focus and resist the urge to act immediately, allowing you to respond more thoughtfully in various situations.


Physical activity is not only good for your health but also for your mental well-being. It helps release endorphins, which improve your mood, and it increases the overall capacity of your brain to handle stress. This can reduce the likelihood of responding impulsively in stressful situations.

Don’t Engage In Tough Discussions or Emotional Conversations When You’re In H.A.L.T (Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired)

Addressing significant issues in these vulnerable states can lead to poor judgment and impulsive reactions. Ensure you are in a balanced emotional and physical state before tackling serious conversations. This can prevent conflicts that arise from impulsive remarks or decisions.

Make a List of Your Feelings Before Talking About Them

By organizing your thoughts and emotions on paper, you gain clarity and can approach discussions more calmly and logically. This preparation helps in articulating your feelings without the impulsivity that might come from emotional overwhelm.

If you’re someone who isn’t aware of your feelings at the moment they occur, then you can make this list at the end of your day or at a less stressful time in reflection of what happened. Both work because the goal is to raise your awareness so you start to notice what happens for you inside when different experiences occur.

Start To Notice Your Patterns So You See Hidden Traps That Cause You To Act Impulsively

As you work on understanding your impulsive behaviors, it’s super helpful to start to see patterns. For example, what people, situations or experiences cause you to “react” vs “act”? You can start to do this by simply noticing your patterns, and you can even make a list so you have something to reflect on when new situations happen. By identifying patterns, you can develop strategies to avoid these triggers or handle them better when they occur.

Take A Look At Your Own Sensitive Spots So You Manage Your Impulsive Reactions That Really Come From Past Hurts Or Unresolved Issues With Your Partner

Addressing personal sensitivities and unresolved issues is essential for managing impulsive reactions in a relationship, as these often stem from deeper emotional triggers. Here’s how you can approach this:

  1. Identify Your Triggers

Start by recognizing the situations, comments, or actions that elicit a strong emotional response. These are often tied to past experiences or unresolved issues. Understanding what triggers your impulsive reactions can help you prepare and respond more thoughtfully.

  1. Reflect on the Origins

Once you have identified your triggers, reflect on why these particular issues affect you so deeply. This often involves looking back at past hurts or unresolved conflicts, either from your current relationship or from previous experiences in your life.

  1. Communicate Openly With Your Partner

Share your findings with your partner. Discussing your sensitive spots can help them understand your reactions better, fostering empathy and support within the relationship. This communication should be done calmly and when both partners are receptive and not under stress.

  1. Develop Coping Strategies

Work on strategies that can help you manage emotional responses in the moment. This might include techniques like deep breathing, taking a timeout, or using positive self-talk to calm down before responding.

  1. Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself throughout this process. Recognizing and addressing sensitive spots can be challenging and emotionally taxing. Self-compassion can ease the journey and prevent harsh self-judgment, which can trigger impulsiveness.

  1. Seek Professional Help If Needed

If you find it challenging to manage these sensitive spots on your own, consider seeking help from a therapist. Professional guidance can be invaluable in working through deep-seated emotional issues and learning healthier ways to cope with them.

By actively working on these areas, you can reduce the impact of past hurts on your current interactions, leading to more deliberate and constructive responses instead of impulsive reactions.

Practice Makes Habit

“Practice makes habit” is a powerful adage, especially when it comes to managing impulsive behaviors and emotional reactions. Regularly practicing new behaviors and strategies helps to solidify them into habits, making them more automatic responses over time.

This approach is critical in the context of emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships, where consistent efforts to pause, reflect, and choose a thoughtful response over an impulsive one can significantly improve the quality of interactions. As these practices become habitual, they not only ease personal stress but also enhance mutual understanding and respect within a relationship.

Managing impulsivity in relationships requires self-awareness, open communication, and consistent practice of effective strategies. By understanding your triggers, addressing past hurts, and cultivating healthy habits, you can significantly reduce impulsive reactions and foster a more stable and nurturing partnership. 

Remember, the journey to better emotional regulation is ongoing, and each step you take builds a stronger foundation for a fulfilling relationship.

Please follow my YouTube channel for more on ADHD and friendship. And if I can help you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

How Impulsivity Can Affect Your Relationship: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Why is it important to recognize impulsivity linked to ADHD in relationships?

Recognizing impulsivity linked to ADHD is crucial because it can inform more empathetic and understanding responses from both partners. It helps in distinguishing behaviors that are symptomatic rather than intentional, fostering a more supportive environment to work on managing these impulses together.

  1. How can making lists of feelings and behaviors help in managing impulsivity?

Making lists helps by providing a clearer perspective on your emotional state and impulsive patterns. By writing down feelings and behaviors, you gain insight into what triggers your impulsivity and how you react in different situations. This self-awareness is key to developing strategies to control these impulses effectively.

  1. Is it possible for impulsive behavior to change permanently in a relationship?

Yes, impulsive behavior can change with consistent effort and the right strategies. Change involves learning to recognize triggers, practicing self-control techniques, and possibly seeking professional help. With dedication and support, individuals can develop healthier response mechanisms, leading to more stable and fulfilling relationships.

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