Love and romance are basic, yet complex, human needs. Sadly, we receive little useful education about how to make love work or how to make love last, or just how to make love. A great deal of our learning comes from television and movies, which are two-dimensional at best. When “happily ever after” doesn’t happen, we stop trying and settle into a routine of love and sex that can grow dull and tedious, or we bail out of the relationship.
When someone has a partner with Asperger Syndrome, she or he may be craving sweet, romantic gestures that never come. Asperger Syndrome is characterized by a lack of communication skills, social skills and reciprocity of feelings. The Aspie knows what they think and feel, but often is unaware of what others think or feel. It can make you wonder how someone with Asperger’s develops an intimate relationship or even gets married.
The answer is simple: Aspies and NTs (neurotypical — someone not on the autism spectrum) choose partners just like everyone else. We’re attracted physically, intellectually and emotionally. We enjoy the similarities for the comfort and the differences for the spice.
We also unconsciously seek mates who have qualities we lack. Those with Asperger Syndrome are attracted to a strong, compassionate NT who can handle the social world for them. The NT is attracted to the unconventional nature and childlike charm of the AS adult. They may sense that the Aspie will allow the NT her independence. They find out later that the AS mate isn’t supporting independence — he’s simply unaware of the NT’s interests. The Aspie’s attention is narrowly focused on her or his own interests, not that of the mate.
But it’s important to remember that Aspies do love. They just love in a different way. Just as all marriages face challenges, there are things that can be done to help this relationship. If you are in a marriage with someone with Asperger Syndrome and want that marriage to succeed, you must first learn how to understand your partner.
Most individuals are hardwired to achieve a mutually satisfying solution because they can step into another’s shoes. Aspies are not. They can’t read their partner’s signals — they have mind-blindness. Therein lies the rub. Aspies don’t comprehend the meaning of the traditional gestures of love and romance. They don’t set out to hurt their love by withholding affectionate words and actions.
What are some things you can do to smooth the way to romance?
- Non-Aspie partners — don’t take your Aspie partner’s actions (or lack of actions) as a slight or personal affront. See it as an area for further communication. Aspies simply don’t get why a show of affection is important to their non-Aspie partner. They’re out of sync. Not being romantic isn’t a hurtful decision they make. When the NT more accurately understands the actions, or inactions, of their Aspie loved one, feelings get hurt less often.
- Help your Aspie create his or her own rules of engagement in order to act in ways that really matter to you. This personalized list tells the Aspie what to do and when, without them needing to understand the incomprehensible “why.”
Does this really work? One Aspie husband explained it to me like this: “I just can’t say or do the first thing that pops into my mind. It might be all wrong. It’s like I need a ‘politeness checker’ running in the back of my mind to remind me to be a gentleman.” This marriage was strengthened when he and his wife wrote down rules about appropriate engagement in a notebook. He keeps it with him and refers to it frequently for guidance. Without that tool, he says he’d be lost.
The Asperger romance rules might include:
- Kiss spouse goodbye each morning and say “I love you.”
- Call spouse at lunchtime each day and ask “How is your day going?”
- Buy “For My Wife” card and flowers on special days, listing them.
- Hold spouse’s hand and say thank you when receiving a gift or card from him or her.
- Tell your spouse that she’s beautiful or he’s handsome when dressing for a special occasion.
Aspies may not understand why something is important to their loved one. But learning to make the effort, the gesture, represents good intention and love — just a different kind. If you want to build more romance into your ASP/NT marriage so that both partners feel loved, you have to be willing to openly and frankly talk about what you need. Many have found that consulting with a mental health professional can facilitate this conversation so the Asperger loved one can learn appropriate responses for those needs.