If you and your partner with Asperger’s have hit a speed bump, some strategies and insight into loving someone with Asperger’s may help improve your relationship.
Asperger’s syndrome is part of the autism spectrum. While doctors no longer use the term “Asperger’s” and instead provide a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), some people still identify with this classification or its shortened version, “Aspie.”
Whether you’re allistic (non-autistic) or have Asperger’s like your partner, reviewing the social and communication characteristics of people with this condition can help you navigate your relationship.
If you’re having relationship difficulties, it may not mean you’re incompatible. All you need might be some insight into the best ways to communicate and understand your relationship.
People with Asperger’s are autistic people with typical or higher than average intelligence and strong verbal skills, who often lead independent lives. They can find career success because of their focused interests and strengths, including an affinity for detail, intrinsic motivation, and work ethic.
Yet differences in social interaction and communication can lead to concerns if you’re in a relationship with a person. For example, they may sometimes:
- miss social cues
- react in unexpected ways
- hide their rich, emotional experience behind a flat affect that makes them seem lacking in empathy
Autistic people can also have sensory differences that interfere with socializing. Sound sensitivity and touch aversion are two examples.
People with Asperger’s also have strengths that make them wonderful partners. They tend to be honest, loyal, humorous, and champions of the underdog. Autistic people don’t often get caught up in social constructs, so they can see right to the heart of what matters.
Understanding how Asperger’s affects relationships can help you interpret your partner’s behavior. It can also provide you with strategies to nurture and strengthen your bond.
Can a person with Asperger’s feel love? Even though they may not show it in ways that you’d expect, the answer is a resounding yes.
You might see other couples holding hands or embracing and think that this is what a relationship should be. Meanwhile, your autistic partner might have sensory preferences that involve less touch. This doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings for you.
Keep in mind that there are many ways a person can express affection. While your partner with Asperger’s might not want to hug as much as you’d like, they might be the person you can count on to remember the things that are important to you.
Each relationship is unique, and what works for another couple may not be what works for you. What matters is that you both want to be in your relationship, and you’re both happy.
Just because people with Asperger’s are fluently verbal doesn’t mean they communicate the same way as allistic people.
Your partner with Asperger’s may be more articulate than is typical, with a sophisticated vocabulary. At the same time, they may not respond to other elements of communication that are nonverbal or paraverbal (how you say words).
Examples of communication aspects your partner might miss include:
- voice tone, volume, pace, and pitch
- facial expressions
- body language
A simple solution is to pay attention to the words you use. This works because words are what your Asperger’s partner will notice.
For example, rather than assuming your partner will recognize when your energy is low, it’s helpful to say, “I’m tired today.”
This approach can help you, too. If you’re also feeling irritable, talking about being tired offers you some insight into why your mood is altered.
A talent for word accuracy may mean that your autistic partner misunderstands pragmatic (social) language. They might misinterpret common expressions like “Hold on” or “What’s up?” It’s helpful to use more specific wording like “Please wait” or “What’s happening?”
Autism is neurodivergence — not error. Expecting your autistic partner to change all their relationship behaviors to suit yours sends the message that you think their ways aren’t right.
It can also put your partner in some uncomfortable situations, which isn’t how you want to treat someone you care about.
Instead, you can solve this issue with compromise. You’ll need to clearly communicate your wishes and preferences, plus the things you don’t like. Have your partner do the same. Then, meet in the middle.
For example, you might both enjoy movies, but your autistic partner may be uncomfortable with the sensory onslaught of a loud movie theater. You could compromise with dinner in a quiet restaurant followed by a volume-controlled movie at home.
If you ask your Aspie partner whether your outfit looks nice and you don’t get the response you’d hoped for, they haven’t intentionally been cruel. Instead, you’re the lucky recipient of truth from someone you can trust.
Autistic people tend to be more comfortable with clear, truthful communication than flattery intended to spare feelings. The truth is clear and easy to understand.
Whether your partner’s unflattering remark is hurtful or helpful depends on how you choose to see it. Keep in mind that their blunt honesty also applies to positive feedback — and if this is the reaction you get, you can savor and enjoy it.
A lot of people appreciate routines, and autistic people are no exception. In fact, a predictable schedule is favored over spontaneity by many people with Asperger’s.
Communication is important enough to include in your schedule. Pencil in regular times for conversations about thoughts, feelings, and ways you can both improve your relationship.
If needed, you can use conversation prompts, such as stating one thing you’re happy about and one thing you’d like to change. Be prepared to navigate through disagreement, and have strategies in place to mend hurt feelings.
Conversations aren’t the only thing you can schedule. Consider making regular plans for enjoyable activities like movie night, pizza night, outings with friends, or even alone time.
Don’t feel like you should plan every moment together or schedule everything you do. However since schedules can reduce anxiety in autistic people, it’s worth testing to see if this is a strategy that can help your relationship.
Most relationships require work, and yours is no exception. With some time and effort, you and your partner with Asperger’s can grow closer and have a fulfilling connection.
It’s worthwhile to learn as much as you can about Asperger’s syndrome to gain insight into how this cognitive difference can change the shape of relationships.
Clear and specific communication is vital. It can be the difference between repeated episodes of hurt feelings and insight, understanding, and a strengthened emotional bond.
Couple’s counseling can also help. You can try the American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator to find a qualified therapist near you. You can also check out Psych Central’s Find a Therapist resource pages.