Not so long ago you met the person of your dreams. You fell in love, decided it was right for you and eventually married or created a committed relationship. But things have not worked out as you had planned.
Your partner doesn’t seem to recognize your feelings. He doesn’t appreciate all you do for him. You can’t rely on him to get things done around the house. He appears to have no idea what you need from him. He can be funny and charming at times yet totally rude and insensitive at others. He seems to lack empathy. Often he acts rigid and without spontaneity, hardly ever doing anything on a whim.
Somewhere along the way it has occurred to you that the love of your life has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). You wonder if this relationship will survive. You ask, it is possible to have a truly fulfilling, satisfying relationship with someone who has Autism?
The answer is YES.
But you will need to work to make that happen. You will need to gain understanding of the skills necessary to improve and enjoy a relationship with someone who has ASD. You will need to face many issues that cause you dissatisfaction and understand why. You will need to rekindle the positive feelings of love between you and your partner. Above all, you will need to find the strength to want your relationship to work and to dedicate yourself to finding ways of making that happen.
As an Autism Spectrum Disorder psychologist, I have seen many couples surmount the difficulties of Autism and succeed in transforming their relationship from one they don’t want to one they do.
How Autism Spectrum Disorder Affects Relationships
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder act awkwardly in social situations. The give-and-take of interactions with others, such as listening and sharing information, do not come naturally. Conversations are often one sided, especially when a person with ASD is talking about his special interests.
Your partner may ignore or misunderstand nonverbal cues or body language. Expressing or managing feelings may be difficult and he may find emotions confusing or uninteresting. He may be able to carry on an intelligent conversation but not know how to initiate or end one.
Your partner may interpret the things that you say literally. Humor may not make sense to him in the way it does to the majority of us.
He may focus obsessively on a particular interest and not be aware that other people don’t share his singular interest. He may have a preference for repetitive routines and become easily upset by changes to that routine. It may appear that he is largely inflexible and dominated by black-and-white thinking. Inflexibility, rigidity and singular interests are the most common problems that I see in my work as an Autism Spectrum Disorder psychologist.
Your partner may make unilateral decisions based on his need for predictability. He may withdraw from discussing decisions with you because doing so seems complicated and overwhelming. The difficulty of engaging in discussions and mutual decision making may feel intrusive to him, leading him to withdraw from you in order to find a balance of his own. Division of labor may become more unequal because your partner has his own way of doing things and often can’t compromise. You may feel like you cannot depend on your partner to help you when necessary. In turn, your partner may feel left out, ignored and marginalized.
It may not be easy to do, but you and your partner will both need to understand and appreciate your differences in order for the relationship to work.
Learning to empathize is a crucial first step in improving your relationship. Your partner may not easily see your perspective but with some effort in that direction he can learn to accommodate to your needs.
With patience and persistence, he can learn to understand why you and others interpret his behavior as offensive and insensitive. He can learn what it takes to make you feel heard and appreciated. He can work to develop the language of shared feelings and communicate these to you. Both of you can acknowledge Autism Spectrum Disorder and the differences between the two of you that result from it. And both of you can choose to make the relationship work, accepting from each other guidance and instructions on how to make that possible.
Help from a professional, such as an Autism Spectrum Disorder psychologist, can go a long ways towards accepting the differences you and your partner have.
On your part, understanding that change begins with you is an important first step. It means, in part, committing yourself to learning about ASD. By identifying and understanding your partner’s situation, you build a bridge that allows the two of you to work on your areas of differences.
You can learn to communicate in ways that are easier for your partner to understand, for example, being specific and explicit about what you need and how your partner can meet your needs. By using checklists, calendars, schedules, charts and other organizational systems you can help your partner know what exactly is needed to make the day-to-day operations of your relationship work.
By developing greater awareness of your partner’s tendencies and the key differences between you, it becomes possible to lessen the differences between the two of you.
These ideas can help both of you find ways of renewing your loving partnership. With effort, desire, understanding and commitment, loving someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder is entirely possible.