Like any other romantic couple, two adults who are in love in an Asperger’s relationship are on cloud nine when they first meet.
Reality sinks in once the emotional high wears off, and if there are not some tools for navigating the journey, Aspie-NT couples may find themselves at-risk.
There are many successful Aspie-Aspie marriages and Aspie-NT marriages. For the purposes of this article, I am going to cover the subject of Aspie-NT (one adult with Asperger’s and one adult who is Neurotypical).
For every successful Aspie-NT committed relationship, there are many others who are struggling, teetering, and on the brink of failing.
Solutions for Aspeger’s Committed Relationships
I am borrowing the ideas for this article from Solutions for Adults with Asperger Syndrome (2005), and specifically to psychologist Dr. Juanita P. Lovett’s chapter on How Marriage is Affected by AS (Aspergers Syndrome).
Building Understanding Between AS and NT Worlds
Here are some autism spectrum facts about individuals with Aspergers that it’s important for NT partners to understand:
- An individual with AS has challenges understanding or predicting the consequences of his/her behavior on others. Therefore, the Aspergers partner may see the NT partner as irrational or illogical.
- NT women especially tend to want their partners to understand them and their feelings. However, they need to realize that this is something they may not be able to get from their AS partner. Some change may be possible, but the NT partner may need to adjust his/her expectation, and find other places for support without being unrealistic about what they expect from their AS partner.
- AS men in particular may find conflict almost intolerable. They may hear a difference of opinion, or an attempt to explain a different perspecitve about a situation, as conflict or a criticism of who they are.
- AS individuals, because they have a hard time separating boundaries at times, may hear criticism of a family member (e.g. their father, mother, or a sibling) as a criticism of them, and they likely will not be willing to tolerate it.
- The most basic elements of speaking and hearing are the most important issues that AS-NT couples may have. AS adults often may have a very difficult time hearing negative emotions expressed by their partner. They may refuse to communicate, but then end up lashing out in a very hurtful way later on.
Step 1: The diagnosis of AS must be made and accepted by the AS partner.
One of the best things that can happen is for the couple to seek help from a therapist or marriage coach who understands the unique differences between Asperger’s Syndrome individuals and NT individuals. If the therapist does not understand the unique differences, all that will happen is the couple going back and forth, arguing for their own view of the situation. And the AS person will have a hard time understanding his/her impact on the NT individual.
Step 2: Both partners need to have an in-depth undersanding of AS and how marital relationships are affected.
There are a couple of resources I want to share with you, so that you and/or your partner can gain better understanding for each other’s world.
First, I highly recommend joining WrongPlanet, the free online community started by a young college student, Alex Plank. (I think he’s graduated by now). There are multiple topic areas, including in depth discussions for adults with Aspergers, dating, and social skills, but one thread I particularly appreciate is what’s called the AS-NT Open Hotline. In that thread, NT’s and Aspie’s can both post questions they have about different points of view from the AS side of things, and from the NT side of things.
Second, in doing some research for this article, I found a site called Aspires: Climbing the Mountain Together.
Here’s a quote from the site:
ASPIRES is an on-line resource for spouses and family members of adults diagnosed or suspected to be on the autistic spectrum. Our approach to one another and towards our “significant others” is directed towards solving problems in our relationship with a spectrum-sitting spouse.
ASPIRES is an e-mail subscription list for individuals with AS, and those who have a parent, spouse, or child with AS. We share our family and relational experiences, resources and survival tips as well as offer encouragement and hope. Through sharing, we hope to lighten one another’s burdens and find positive solutions to many of the troubling challenges that characterize our relationships and bridge the communication gap that exists in everyday life.
Step 3: Both partners must make a serious commitment to making the relationship work.
However, the individual with NT is going to have to understand that it will feel to them that they are the party making more accommodations. Even if the individual with AS accepts and understands their diagnosis, the truth is that your brains are wired differently. Interpreting non-verbal signals, the core of all communication, for example, is something that the AS individual will always have a lot of difficulty doing.
As an NT individual, you will need to shift from “what is wrong” about your partner and the relationship, to “what is right.” You will need to build on the strengths, and value the differences, versus seeing your partner as insensitive and uncaring.
Final suggestions for Improving an AS-NT Marriage:
- For the NT, shift your focus from what you are not getting from your AS partner to see and value the strengths he or she brings to the relationship.
- For the AS person, reconsider your perception of your partner and of yourself. Consider that, because of the differences in the way your brain works, a lot of what your partner is telling you about your role in problems is probably right.
- For both NT’s and AS’s, try to listen to one another in a non-defensive way. Ask for clarification of things you don’t understand in a simple, respectful, and low key way.
- Become students of each other’s culture. Pretend that you are learning a new language from a new country. If you are an AS, remember that, in many ways, your partner is from another planet, the NT planet. And if you are an NT, remember that your AS partner is from the AS planet. Celebrate the diversity and the differences.
I realize that I have only scratched the surface here. I welcome your comments, experiences, critiques, and suggestions. But I hope that you will find some beginning tips and tools to help you celebrate and thrive in your marriage.