Living with Asperger Syndrome - Partners

At AANE we have been working with partners and spouses of adults with AS for a number of years. Presently we run groups for spouses which many people find extremely helpful in understanding their partners and their relationships. Below is some general information we’ve come to realize through our work. For additional information, read Dania Jekel and Grace Myhill's article, Asperger Marriage: Viewing Partnerships Through a Different Lens or Elsa Abele's Tips for Couples to Improve Social Interaction.

Guiding Thoughts

  1. All people with AS are different and all marriages with AS are different.
  2. Mixed Relationships Can Work (AS/NT) with a willingness to communicate and some understanding of both partners’ needs.
  3. Partners should always:
    • Be explicit, clear, concise, logical and non-emotional
    • Say what you mean and mean what you say
    • Be very clear to state all expectations and needs, even if it seems obvious
  4. Relationships become harder with children because:
    • Demands on adults increase
    • It is harder to keep routines with children in the house
    • Increased stress due to additional responsibility
  5. AS traits are often a moving target
    • AS traits are exacerbated with stress and increased anxiety
    • Negative and positive behaviors are inconsistently present, which can be confusing and make the partner with AS seem willful.
  6. Leverage strengths and minimize deficits as they impact the marriage
    • Division of labor that makes sense
  7. Non AS partner often stressed by intentionally or unintentionally try to keep anxiety level low so that AS partner can function (walking on eggshells)
  8. Don’t go it alone! Get help from professionals who understand AS and its impact on marriage.
  9. Try to continue common activities which you both enjoy

Be especially aware of:

  1. Theory of mind (perspective taking)
    • Do not attempt to negotiate when stress or anxiety is high, theory of mind/empathy at a minimum, talk calmly when the stress has passed
    • Do not take things personally because lack of perspective and heightened emotion can lead to blaming
    • Communicate clearly, verbally or in writing, about your perspective during a calm time
  2. Executive Functioning
    • AS partner may be more helpful around the house with very clear, explicit, verbal or written guidelines; may not see things that have to be done.
    • Breakdown requests into small components
    • Frustration and resentment build up because activities seem so minimal and obvious (i.e. do or put away laundry) but AS partner may not know what needs to be done
    • Instructing your partner can feel insulting and patronizing but when presented respectfully may be perceived as helpful and provide relief
    • You may feel resentful that you have to tell your spouse how to behave, but this accommodation will help and may decrease friction and arguments
    • Hire help, if financially feasible, for:
      • Housekeeping
      • Yardwork
      • Financial Management
  3. Social – Communication Differences
    • Social Expectations in relationship
      • Don’t expect the AS spouse to know what you want (the AS partner may think s/he knows what you want and may be generous in trying to give it to you)
      • You may need to provide “the why” – a logical explanation for a request
        • (i.e. Saying “I love you” - I need you tell me this once a week/month – or I won’t know.)
    • Expectations outside of relationship
      • May need to give your AS partner a break
      • People with AS can experience sensory overload
      • Talking with multiple people at once (difficult to filter conversation and pay attention to the right one – so may withdraw or dominate conversation)
      • May need breaks – may physically leave someplace without saying anything because too overloaded to communicate or stay – best option may be to leave
      • Family or other social gatherings
        • Have a plan for socializing with a comfortable person and taking breaks when needed
        • Okay to attend events alone
  4. Down-time for AS partner
    • Need to find things to restore self – without interacting with people - this may be time on the computer, time spent with special interests, etc.
    • Generally need more recovery time than most people
    • Sensory Budget concept (Alex Michaels)
      • anticipate what things will be hard and how much they will “cost”
    • Transition home after work may be especially difficult and break may be needed then even though it is the time when the non-AS partner needs the most help
  5. Disclosure
    • Disclose Strategically - Need to pick when, to whom and how much to disclose. May be helpful to you and partner to let others know about AS but it depends on the context.
  6. Parenting Issues
    • Be clear about division of labor, if children and AS spouse share interests have them participate in those activities together
    • AS spouse may understand AS child/ren even better
    • Get help from outside
  7. Intimacy
    • AS person may be hypersensitive to touch
    • Light touch may be more unpleasant
    • May not tune in to non-AS spouse's emotional or physical needs
    • May have less need for physical closeness
    • May not verbally express affection, may need to be reminded or asked

Strategies to cope with AS in relationship

  • Both partners should learn as much as they can about AS
  • Can’t change neurology but you can communicate
  • Always include the why if making a request or suggestion (exhausting but necessary and ultimately beneficial)
  • Understand that “no” may be the first response to new ideas, but may mean, “I just need more time to think about this.”
  • Don’t take things personally (ability to generalize is decreased so it may be confounding if you just explained why you need to do something a certain way and now you need to explain something else)
  • Approach AS spouse with logic.
  • Make requests in writing; AS spouse may be a visual thinker/learner
  • Be aware of possible slower processing speed
  • Avoid multi-step tasks or requests
  • Allow for sensory breaks (whatever that would be for your partner)
  • Don’t expect to get certain things from your spouse – look elsewhere (women friends, social groups)
  • Do something together that you both enjoy (thinking back to when you first became a couple)
  • Remember that AS person can be kind, loyal and empathetic.
  • AS person can learn things cognitively that others learn intuitively
  • Have your own life, friends, interests and down-time.