As a psychologist who specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, I understand the unique challenges these couples face. The characteristics common to people with Autism Spectrum Disorder often make it difficult for couples to communicate effectively, manage emotions, and navigate everyday life together. However, with the right therapy strategies, neurodiverse couples can build resilience and achieve long-term success in their relationship.
One of the key strategies for building resilience in neurodiverse couples is to focus on communication. Communication is generally a challenge for adults with autism, and it can be even more challenging in a relationship where both partners have different communication styles. Social skills, including the ability to read nonverbal cues and understand sarcasm or irony, are one of the main challenges for adults with ASD. This can lead to misunderstandings and frustration in relationships. Therapy can help couples develop clear communication strategies that allow them to express themselves effectively and understand each other’s needs.
One effective communication strategy for couples is to use “I” statements. This means expressing your feelings and needs, rather than making assumptions or accusations about your partner’s intentions. For example, instead of saying “You always forget to do this,” you might say “I feel frustrated when this doesn’t get done,” communicating clearly what it is you need. This can help reduce defensiveness and encourage both partners to listen and respond to each other’s needs.
Resilience and Emotional Regulation
Another strategy is to work on emotional regulation. Managing emotions is often challenging for neurodiverse adults, leading to a state of heightened emotionality or complete shutdown. Through therapy, couples can learn how to identify triggers and develop coping strategies that allow them to regulate their emotions and avoid emotional escalations.
An additional coping strategy is to practice self-reflection. This involves being present at the moment and observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Regular, consistent practice of self-reflection can help neurodiverse couples become more aware of their respective emotional states and prevent each person from becoming overwhelmed by those emotions.
It is also essential to recognize and embrace neurodiversity within the relationship. Every person brings unique strengths and challenges to a relationship, and it’s important to acknowledge and value these differences. By celebrating each other’s strengths and working together to overcome challenges, a neurodiverse couple can build a stronger, more resilient relationship.
Learning about each other’s strengths and differences and how they impact the relationship is a way to celebrate neurodiversity. This might involve reading books or articles about neurodiversity, attending workshops or support groups, or seeking out a therapist who specializes in working with neurodiverse couples. Additionally, couples can work together to identify ways in which their differences can complement each other and enhance the relationship.
Finally, it’s crucial to prioritize self-care and individual needs within the relationship. Adults with autism may need more downtime or sensory breaks than their neurotypical partners, and it’s important to respect these needs. Respecting your partner’s need for time alone, the freedom to focus on special interests, the ability to engage in stimming without judgment, and overall respect for differences are important aids to a successful neurodiverse relationship. By taking care of their own needs and supporting each other in self-care, couples can reduce stress and build resilience in their relationship.
In conclusion, building resilience in neurodiverse couples requires a combination of communication strategies, emotional regulation, celebrating neurodiversity, and prioritizing self-care. There are many ways to achieve resilience, and doing so builds the optimism and positivity characteristic of successful relationships.
Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Autism Spectrum Disorder psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience.