I can’t say whether it’s right or wrong to stay with someone who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) any more than I can tell anyone to continue a relationship that isn’t working.
While you made the choice to be with the person you love, you may not have chosen the challenges that ASD can create. Sometimes, the difference between one’s expectations of a relationship and the reality of what is required to grow and thrive within it are simply irreconcilable.
But that’s not always the whole story. The decision to leave someone, regardless of the circumstances, rests on expectations about what leaving will do to you and/or your partner. As much as you can, examine those expectations before you decide. Doing so will serve you well.
Here are seven common concerns about ending a relationship with someone who has ASD, suggested to me during conversations I’ve had as an Autism psychologist. I have added my own questions and comments as a way to help you think through this important life changing decision.
My Autism Spectrum Disorder Partner Needs Me
Do you believe he or she can’t and won’t survive, even thrive, without you? Why? If you’re convinced your partner can’t be happy without you, maybe your relationship is more about trying to prevent misery and unhappiness than promoting growth and fulfillment.
Are you a savior, there to rescue your partner from what may happen if you’re not around, or are you there to love and support your partner? If it’s the former, do you not believe you are worth more than that?
What do you provide that your partner can’t do without, that someone else can’t provide? Do you need to feel irreplaceable? Do you need people to depend upon you so you won’t be left? Are you afraid you can’t survive without someone depending upon you?
My Autism Spectrum Disorder Partner Can’t Tolerate the Pain of Separation
How do you know? Have the two of you talked about what separation would be like? Would it really be that catastrophic? If so, consider the possibility that your partner may want to perpetuate a dependent relationship in which leaving is intolerable. He or she may believe that is so but believing doesn’t make it true.
What Will People Think If I Leave?
People may think lots of things, i.e. that you’re callous and don’t care, that you’re avoiding the hard work of a relationship and prefer instead the easy road, that you’re doing yourself a favor but not your partner, or that you simply don’t love your partner enough.
Most likely, what you imagine people think are your motives for leaving are what you think about yourself. If you doubt yourself and your intentions, you’ll imagine others think exactly the same about you.
I Can Only Help If I Stay
If you want to help, whatever that may entail, you can help whether you stay or leave. If fact, you may be in a better position to help as a friend than a partner. If you decide to leave, do so because you’ve decided your needs can’t be met not because the person you love has Autism Spectrum Disorder and you must stay to help.
The Children Deserve Parents Who Are Together
No one can say for sure what impact staying or leaving will have on your children. It could be positive, negative or a combination of the two. If you decide to stay be sure you are clear about whose interest you are considering. Are the children really going to be better off if their parents stay together? How do you know? Will you be able to parent effectively if, in spite of your unhappiness, you decide to stay? Is leaving really going to solve your misery or are you mostly hoping it will?
I May Not Find Anyone Else
Almost everyone worries about being alone forever. The important question is not whether you will be alone but what will you do to ensure that doesn’t happen. It is up to you to create the circumstances that lead to a future you want. Remember, if you want to be with someone who else can prevent that other than you?
Change is Worse Than Staying
How do you know? How can you be sure the future will be worse than the present? If you work to ensure it isn’t, chances are it won’t be. Take a look at the assumptions you’re making about your future and be sure they don’t restrict your possibilities. Consider, for example, whether you’ve decided that you don’t deserve to be happy or that you can’t imagine anyone ever loving you again. These are assumptions, not certainties. They only affect you if you let them.
The key to an intensely personal decision like leaving a committed relationship is to resist the impulse to decide quickly, and instead consider every angle you can think of before making any change. There may be situations where acting quickly is necessary but in the vast majority of cases, thoughtful consideration over a period of time will bring you to the decision that is right for your circumstances.