WHEN ASPERGER'S THREATENS A RELATIONSHIP
by Barry K. Morris B.ScWk
Some individuals will be at the milder end of
the autism spectrum and will enter relationships but experience various
degrees of difficulties due to autism
syndrome. The theory
of mind holds that many people on the autism spectrum will
have difficulty seeing the world through another person's eyes.
This can create many problems in relationships, as the person may
act inappropriately in some situations and appear to be aloof, blunt,
uncaring, insensitive, inflexible or cold at other times. There
can be problems with reading body language and the 'hidden messages'
in conversations, and these problems are greatly amplified in intimate
Non-autistic people easily assume that adults
on the autism spectrum are doing these things intentionally, but
they are usually surprised or shocked to hear how their words or
actions have been perceived.
Relationships are not easy at the best of times,
and the autism spectrum is just one of many factors that can bring
relationships to the breaking point. While many people believe commitment
is lacking in relationships today, the truth is that most people
do their best to keep a relationship together until they believe
it cannot be rescued. This fact sheet can help to make sure you
have explored your options before deciding to end a relationship.
Never underestimate the impact of relationship
counseling, especially when both people acknowledge there is a problem
and want to do something about it. When problems have been going
for some time, it is natural for people to become defensive and
simply blame each other for the situation. Counseling is a great
way to to get a balance perspective again, with a fresh objective
angle from the counselor. Ideally you will need a counselor familiar
with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Check with your nearest autism
or Asperger's Association.
Own up to your problems
Remember it takes two to tango! It will be natural
for a partner without Asperger's to think all the trouble lies with
the other person, but some of your reactions could be contributing
to the problems. Relational issues usually trigger our insecurities
and you may need to look within yourself at how you need to change
For example, if tend to be passive-aggressive,
you will tend to show your displeasure by treating your partner
coolly or with sarcastic remarks - poor communication strategies
that will normally not be understood by someone on the autism spectrum. Try to see the things you need to change as well, it is
rarely all the other person's fault, even though Autism Spectrum Disorders can create huge difficulties at times. You would like
your partner to minimize the problems caused by autism or Aspergers.
It is only fair that you minimize any problems you might have with
emotional manipulation, being overly controlling, passive aggression
or volatile outbursts with cutting insults.
Remember all good relationships involve a degree
of compromise, and there will be many things a non-autistic partner
can do to ease the situation. Objective non-emotional expression
of frustrations and expectations will work much better than yelling.
For some couples, writing things down can work remarkably well -
it defuses the emotions, it is a visual strategy that works well
for people on the autism spectrum and can be kept for future reference
Get informed about autism and Asperger's syndrome
Remember Autism Spectrum Disorders have wide-ranging
effects and your partner is not choosing to make life difficult
for you. Learn all about the autism spectrum and understand why
your partner has trouble understanding social situations and reacting
in appropriate ways. Try to meet each other half way and work on
strategies that will make things easier for both of you.
For adults on the autism spectrum, don't allow
your diagnosis to be
an excuse for behavior or social interaction that hurts or frustrates
your partner. Use your knowledge of the autism spectrum as a basis
to learn the skills you need to minimize problems. It is true that
having Asperger's syndrome can be like living in a foreign country,
where it is hard to understand the language, customs and 'rules'
for behavior - but you can always learn to adapt to living in this
'foreign country' if you put your mind to it. Of course, you do
have the right to stay just the way you are, but relationships always
involve compromise so you may be forced to make a choice!
support groups and forums
In some areas, there are actual support groups
for people where one or both partners are on the autism spectrum.
This can be a great opportunity to learn from others and find strategies
that may work in your relationship. It there are none in your area,
there are various forums on the Internet. Just try "Aspergers
partners forums" in Google and go from there. You cannot underestimate
how chatting with others can defuse the worst of your negative emotions
and allow you to start doing objective things to get your relationship
back on track again.
It's still no good!
Despite what is said about our 'easy divorce'
society, people rarely make the decision to end a relationship flippantly.
In most cases, it usually only comes after agonizing guilt, depression,
frustration and having tried every option to make it work. Talking
all of the issues through with a skilled counselor will help you
make the best decision in your circumstances. If the relationship
does end, there may be years of antagonism, bitterness or pleading
for a return to the way things were. In some cases, there may be
threats or actual violence which cannot be tolerated in any circumstances
- when this happens, check with the police or legal system in your
country for how to best protect yourself.
Coming to terms with it all
Leaving someone can be very difficult, especially
for those took marriage vows seriously and vowed to be with someone
in sickness or health, for better or worse. The sad truth is that
in some cases, the effects of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and
the inability of others to cope with these, will end some relationships
despite the best efforts of both. For others, these best efforts
will keep the relationship going and eventually emerge the stronger
for it. That is why any decision to leave should be first discussed
with others who have been there, an experienced counselor, and after
all possible options have been tried.
to read personal stories by adults with Asperger's syndrome.
Click here to go to the
home page to view the full range of autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU