It gets easier after a while and the results are incredibly worthwhile – making an effort for the person you love means that they are able to be a more relaxed and giving partner. It makes perfectly logical sense!
The dynamics of an Asperger Syndrome relationship can be somewhat different than a conventional one with both partners needing to behave and think differently in order to get on with each other, work out each other’s needs and try to meet them as best as you can.
It often takes the learning of a new language for both partners in an Asperger syndrome relationship to do their best to provide the right responses and actions that work for each person. The Asperger syndrome partner has different skills and needs from their partner and these must be identified and understood in order to avoid problems. It gets easier after a while and the results are incredibly worthwhile – making an effort for the person you love means that they are able to be a more relaxed and giving partner. It makes perfectly logical sense!
Unfortunately, there is little specialist support for couples of an Asperger Syndrome relationship and generic counsellors who do not understand how Asperger Syndrome can impact on a relationship may completely misread what is really going on. Therefore, it is essential that anyone supporting couples with Asperger Syndrome should have a thorough understanding of the subject. The partner with Asperger Syndrome can easily be perceived as being selfish and manipulative, when this is usually far from the truth – many with Asperger Syndrome find it hard enough to work out their own thoughts and feelings without having the capacity to manipulate anyone else's.
Understanding Asperger Syndrome
A lack of deep understanding of Asperger Syndrome can lead to a partner feeling unimportant and unloved, although this is rarely the case. The truth is that the partner with Asperger Syndrome has their own ways of demonstrating love and care and may not know that this is different to what is expected – only their obvious repeated failures and the distress of their partners give them a clue that something is not quite right, although that may have no idea how to fix it.
A good knowledge of Asperger Syndrome is vital in helping a partner to realise that their partner sees the world in a very different way and will not radically change, but that this may be OK. It also takes an acceptance by the partner with Asperger Syndrome of the different thought processing that the condition brings. The third requisite for a successful relationship is to find support when required from those in similar relationships, via internet forums or other groups, or professionals working with Asperger Syndrome couples.
'He/she always puts himself first' - complaints that their Asperger Syndrome partner is selfish. This is a lack of understanding of Theory of Mind and empathy, which affects those with Asperger Syndrome.
'He/she says things which are just cruel' – complaints that Asperger Syndrome partner is harsh and mean when in fact it is simply a direct, verbal speaking style with a limited ability to read non-verbal cues.
'He/she shows little interest in friends, family and socialising' – partner feels isolated; Asperger Syndrome partner may feel overwhelmed, anxious and require less social interaction.
'I feel like I am going mad' – Asperger Syndrome partner may tell them that problems are their fault. Again, this is explainable by Asperger Syndrome (but Asperger Syndrome is not an excuse for bad behaviour) and can be worked on and improved).
'When I cry he/she just stands there and does or says nothing' - no emotional support and lack of response when upset due to the person with Asperger Syndrome struggling to know how to 'fix' an emotional problem. Doing nothing is seen as better than doing the wrong thing for some people with Asperger Syndrome. This is usually not the case for their partner.
'He/she never says that he/she loves me or shows me that I am important' - feeling unloved and uncared for. Person with Asperger Syndrome may not see the need for repeated reassurance, believing that telling their partner that they loved them once should be sufficient.
'He/she treats my body as an experiment or a plaything' or 'He/she has no interest in sex at all and makes out that it is me who has a problem for wanting closeness' - sexual difficulties – problems with physical contact, love making (as opposed to 'sex'), differing levels of sexual desire. These issues can come from the person with Asperger Syndrome having limited experience of intimate and sexual relationships and a lack of understanding of the need of their partner. Changes can be made through listening and accepting each other's needs.
'He/she just ignores me and sits and reads' - Asperger Syndrome partner needs a lot of time alone and does not speak or engage with partner. Those with Asperger Syndrome may communicate more for functional reasons rather than small talk and may feel overwhelmed after a day at work and require solitude. Understanding of the needs of each partner can help to find compromises which ensure these needs are met.
By learning and being willing to acknowledge and accept the very real differences in perspective and perception that a person with Asperger Syndrome may have with regard to people, social and personal relationships, a new mutual respect and understanding can be reached, which supports both partners to be the best they can be in the relationship.
Books on Asperger Syndrome Relationships
Bentley, K. (2007) Alone Together: Making an Asperger Marriage Work. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Jacobs, B. (2004) Loving Mr Spock. London: Penguin.