How Do You Survive the Loneliness in Your NT/AS Family?

The loneliness we feel when in a relationship with someone with Asperger’s Syndrome is indescribable. Even Aspie children can contribute to this feeling. We know we love them. They say they love us. Yet there’s this deep, profound loneliness, the source of which we must discover in order to combat it There is something ineffable about the loneliness we feel when in a relationship with an Aspie. Even our Aspie children can contribute to this feeling. Even though we know that we love them; even though they say they love us; there is this deep, profound loneliness nevertheless.To be perfectly honest with you, I still feel lonely on a daily basis. I know it’s not reasonable, since I have such abundance in my life. Nevertheless, spending decades of my life with those unable to acknowledge me, understand me, or connect with me, has left me longing for the sense that I am loved and belong. My head tells me I am wrong about my loneliness, but my heart tells me differently.

When you search the Internet, you’ll see numerous articles and resources for people with Asperger’s who feel lonely. Those with Asperger’s have trouble fulfilling the basic human need of bonding and connecting, so it’s not surprising that they feel lonely. Because of this, I help my Asperger clients develop rules for engagement, so their families can thrive, despite these challenges.

But there’s still not much out there for family members who live with an Aspie. We depend on family to provide warmth, belonging, acceptance, respect and value. That’s lacking in NT/AS families. On the outside, everything looks normal, so friends don’t understand, which adds to the loneliness you feel.

Do you find that you suffer in silence, because there isn’t a safe place to talk about your loneliness? I understand. That’s why I’ve created a safe and supportive space for members of my Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD group. Are you ready to reach out? I invite you to join my next Video Conference: Surviving the Loneliness on Wednesday, May 9th or Tuesday, May 22. It will help you identify the source of this loneliness and how to combat it. One powerful way to combat the loneliness is to participate in our conference call and share our experiences.

If you prefer one-on-one counseling, and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works better for you.

13 Replies to “How Do You Survive the Loneliness in Your NT/AS Family?”

  1. My husband has aspergers. Has run his own business for the last 20 years , has 36 employees who he doesnt empathise or understand, nor they him. He has some very intense hobbies which I am not part of. Our son is at uni he has aspergers too. Our daughter has just finished college is about to go off travelling. My husband keeps me very separate from his collegues and I never hear of any social activities at his work apart from on the odd occasion on the day that something is actually on, and its awkward for me to go. My husband travels a lot for his business but hates to be away from home and is reluctant for us to go away anywhere together.
    This is a solitary life. It’s hard but it does help to know its the same for other people.
    Karen (age 52) Cornwall England.

  2. I suspect my partner has Asperger’s, I have read up a lot about it and ASD in general. I also started seeing a psychotherapist to make sense of the things I struggled with in our relationship over the course of the few years, she is experienced with ASD and very much believes he has aspergers. At one point I thought he might be gay as there was such little reciprocity, absolutely no flirting, he can be quite effeminate etc. I queried this with him and this really annoyed him and caused a lot of damage which I am really apologetic for.
    Recently I queried the Asperger thing with him (because I stupidly thought it might help us). This didn’t go down well, currently he is very hurt by this. I’ve tried to explain that I think his brain is brilliant (he’s very intelligent) but in the ways it isn’t brilliant, it affects me and our relationship negatively.
    He has special interests which I am trying to get into with his encouragement (surfing and tennis).
    But if I am honest with myself, there is love but no romantic passion in our relationship and never has been even at the start. I thought it (the passion) would grow but it never did. He’s a lovely person and has so much integrity. He’s got good morals, from a point of view of long term, he would be very loyal and reliable. In saying that, I feel fearful of our future, I fear I will feel chronic lonliness, we’re both in our 30’s. When I read about ASD/NT couples, it’s mostly negative from the NT side.

    1. I am in the same exact situation. I have also begun to start suspecting his sexual orientation. I am not a bigot, I have family members who are gay. I just dont believe its right to mislead a woman into thinking they have a future together.

      I would not be surprised if he has a secret life you dont know. I am in my late 30s and I gave my best years to this guy. I also asked him about the aspergers (cause I found it on a youtbe video and it was similar to what I experienced w/ him), he got really upset, screamed, banged doors, texted his female best friend crap about me, while I was crying and apologizing. Just makes me sick overall, but ultimately the decision is ours if we want to let go or not.

    2. Update sept 2022:
      After a year of me attending psychotherapy & reading various books to help our relationship, he ended it with me.
      He had been unsure about me and the relationship for 15mths, possibly more (it was probably going to be quite hard for him to get past my queries about him being gay and actually asking him about aspergers – what was I thinking?!).
      I moved out as I said space might help him have some clarity and he ended it 3 days into the space; I wonder how much longer he’d have kept it going for had I not suggested the space. We were supposed to attend couples counselling (my idea, it was always me trying to find solutions) but he finished it just before the first session. We were together 3yrs, he advised he didn’t think he felt how he should feel after 3yrs (this was his longest most stable relationship, he’s 37 – all of the others lasted around 6mth-1yr and he had never lived with a partner before). Every conversation that regular couples have was hard though – finances, house stuff etc.
      There were never any chats about the future even at the start when apparantly he was mad about me.
      I almost lost my mind in this relationship, it was a lonely place to be. I completely reduced my expectations to avoid disappointment. In saying that, I definitely didn’t communicate well sometimes and there are many things I regret about my own behaviors (I was over ruled by my emotions/thoughts in this relationship, my ego has a lot to answer for too) but I have learned so much. Hoping what is for you doesnt pass you and that people come in and out of your life to teach you lessons and maybe aren’t always there to stay.
      I was at a point though where I’d come to terms with what I felt was aspergers & therefore realised you can’t apply Neuro typical princliples with ASD and as bizarre as it sounds with everything I’ve said above – I really do love him and had become excited about thoughts of a future with him and what that might look like. I’m aware I sound like a complete hypocrite.

    3. This resonates with me a lot. Feel free to message if you want to chat. It can be so lonely. I has a recently diagnosed Asd husband and it is hard with 2 young children. Like you say, no flirting, no desire. Life is mundane and he has his interests that come and go 🙁

  3. I hear all of you! I believe I was attracted to my husband after a twenty year marriage to an alcoholic. He seemed so rational and calm, it was exactly the opposite of my first marriage. I found him fun and witty; later I realized most of his funny lines were from the many movies he’d watched! After 26 yrs., I realize I essentially start and maintain 90% of our conversations and he replies with rote answers. He no longer reads or has good hygiene. He finally admitted that the shower terrifies him! He has basically no friends, doesn’t enjoy travel, speaks occasionally to his son and grandsons. It’s like I’m married to a big blank space!!! Yes, it feels VERY lonely!!!

  4. @Sandra. You don’t sound like a hypocrite. Love works in mysterious ways. Not just seen from the outside; but also sometimes by the persons involved. When a person does her/his best, no one can ask for anything beyond that. It seems you did your best, and he probably did too. I wish you all the best on your life’s journey. A big hug to you.

  5. Thank you for the post. I recognize it – this deep, profound loneliness. Yet I can’t pinpoint what causes it. This is why I react.

    I am not a big fan of labeling, but I am an NT (I think), one year into a long-distance relationship with an ND partner (the current, political correct term?). He just told me a week ago about his diagnosis as a ‘high-functioning autist’ (he got it many years ago). So many challenging experiences and his funny little quirks made sense to me once I knew and had done a little reading up. I had sensed a few “autistic” traits, but I think i dismissed the thought because I knew my only insight to autism came from “Rainman”, and that doesn’t qualify as knowledge.

    My ND partner tries his best to be “normal” (in his own words), though I must say I do not know what “normal” is – in my view it is a broad spectrum – what I know is, I don’t feel happy about the thought that in his experience this labor intensive “acting normal” is necessary. Anyways, he can talk about everything he sets his mind to, he is fun, caring, curious about many things (including me), tolerant of my quirks, shows his love physically and has no problem saying he loves me, and he does read me (sense if something is wrong) and addresses it, and he tries to show an interest in my interests.

    Like everybody else (read NTs too), he has his limitations. A tendency to black-and-white thinking (something NTs can excel at too), and he certainly does not work well with all the assumptions and generalizations that NTs happily operate on. Avoiding those assumptions and generalizations is – when you think about it – quite wholesome. It causes a lot of misunderstanding for NTs too, so here is definitely an area where some NTs (including me) could learn a lot.

    I just described the perfect partner, didn’t I? Yet, there is something just a little bit off which induces this feeling of loneliness in me. This is the part I am so curious about.

    Before I progress, I think it is worth remembering that loneliness can certainly also occur in relationships with people of “one’s own breed”, e.g. NT-NT relationships. If this is indicative of a not-so-strong relationship, I do not know. If I remember correctly, existentialists argue that being alone is part of the human condition, and as such a feeling of loneliness is not strange – perfect relationships or not. Having mentioned that, back to the ND-NT relationship, and the loneliness it may instill in one or both parties.

    I think about my other friends. I could have given almost the same account of their traits as I just did of my ND partner. And yet I don’t feel this deep, profound loneliness with them, on the contrary – I mostly feel very “connected” (whatever that is). Of course, I am not in the same kind of relationship with them, so it is a bit like comparing apples and bananas. What remains is, he gets my all, whereas friends get the most, but not the last part which is reserved for him. Logically that would mean I should feel more connected to him – or am I making an assumption?

    Somewhere I read “acknowledge, embrace and celebrate the differences”. That is my inclination too. Sometimes differences can be frustrating, but given the time to think about it, I oftentimes find his strength is in those ways he differs from me. As such, on the whole I feel enriched (there are one or two differences I cannot celebrate no matter how hard I try).

    At the moment (I am still new in this journey with an ND partner), I am thinking – this deep, profound loneliness may be rooted in that he doesn’t share much about what is going on in his life (both wrt. friends, day-to-day activities, and thoughts/inner life).

    A telling example of this non-sharing – and the consequences it has had for our relationship – goes like this: He has a vast network of connections/relationships, and especially wrt. to the female “nodes” in the network his non-sharing got to the point where I saw it as being past privacy. Indeed, some of his actions came across as pure secrecy and even potential dishonesty (his “Now I have to hide everything from you” exclamation was not helpful), and it made me feel very, very hurt, and I told him so. I asked very straightforward “Why can’t they know of me, and why can’t I know of them? What would be so wrong about that if they are just friends and not lovers/prospective lovers? Why do you send the same set of four heart-smileys to them as you send me, if they are just friends and not lovers/prospective lovers?”. His first reaction seemed angry. Zero empathy, no display of understanding of why I might feel this way – just “you have to trust me and accept me for being me, as I accept you”. This way, or the high-way. He avoided my questions totally (still do). I respectfully communicated that I will not be in a relationship where there is not the least bit of empathy or willingness to relate to my viewpoint on something so important, and as a consequence, I ended our relationship. Over the course of some traumatic 24 hours, he turned 180 degrees, and did everything he could to persuade me to take him back. That was when he told me about him being a HFA. He said that thanks to my pinpointing his actions and how they made me feel, he could now see the situation through my eyes, and will take action and be more open about his life going forward. Sounds promising.

    I wonder though, if he really understands the differences between sharing, privacy, and secrecy (and when to apply transparency) – in the way that the understanding is internalized and becomes a natural guiding principle for one’s actions in every domain, and not just as it applies to a particular situation – in this case online chatting with female friends. His very consequent action was to delete the app he had used to maintain his network, maybe thinking the female nodes was the problem, and not the “secrecy”/non-sharing. I hope he is – or eventually will be – capable of understanding that difference because it is impossible to make guidelines for every situation. But that is another story. Back to the important thing here – the non-sharing, and how I think it spurs this feeling of loneliness.

    It is like my ND has a compartment for me, a compartment for his friends, a compartment for acquaintances, a compartment for family, a compartment for work etc. Everything of the same kind goes into a compartment of its own. Very structured. I think for him this is logical and makes the world easier to handle. Only if there are overlaps between the compartments will they mix – e.g. if he needs my sparring on something work-related, he will tell me about work to the extent he thinks is relevant to the discussion. Very rational. Very foreign to me. It makes me feel somewhat “left out” on things I consider to be an important part of his life (a feeling in the vicinity of ‘loneliness’). But I will have to accept the compartmentalization if this is how his brain works.

    I think it is this very “compartmentalization” that makes it irrelevant for him to tell me about his network, and the network about me, and also in his view make the same set of heart-emojis (“schema”) applicable across compartments because he knows he loves me and not the other ones, and so what could possibly be the problem? I have tried to explain to him, that it is very well that he knows the difference, but maybe the other ladies don’t (he firmly believes they do), and what is worse – it certainly makes me wonder how I am different from them. The latter he acknowledges as the important point – so I guess this objection of mine made it to the “important compartment” 😉

    I see myself as a rational person too, but I share all kinds of things that are out of the strictly “need-to-know” realm. Experiences, thoughts, knowledge, and information about my life, friends, colleagues etc. – sharing that does not serve a particular utilitarian purpose right there and then. I share just for the purpose of sharing, to feel connected, and because I find it natural. If applying a purpose is helpful to you, then let’s call this kind of sharing “background information” – information on what is going on inside me, what thoughts I have, and what my life consists of. Could be useful for a partner – but there are no guarantees it is. It is just what I and my kind of people do. I guess my partner and his kind of people don’t do that. This is where I feel so lonely in relation to my ND partner.

    Maybe this difference can be compared to a cultural gap. Like when you immigrate to a country with customs and belief systems very different from what you are accustomed to. You can learn about this other culture, you can do your best to integrate and even assimilate all kinds of customs, you can build a good life there, you can experience happiness, and you can want to stay there for the rest of your life because of your partner, your kids living there, the rewarding life you have built, etc.. But still, it may just be so, that you feel a deep-seated disconnect from your home country and the family and friends you left behind, and not really feel at home in any one place, even after 30 years of living where you do. In that situation, you may feel deep, profound loneliness although surrounded by people who love you. I used to know one who has it this way. I always asked, “Why not circumvent this whole two-countries ordeal by deciding, that your home is where your loved one is, and on the side enjoy the best of what both countries have offered you?” Maybe naive. Maybe not everybody is capable to decide that.

    Following this analogy, I now get to ask myself the same question – not in relation to physically immigrating to another country, but in a metaphorical way in relation to my ND partner. It involves giving up the fixed idea that we only connect if we share experiences, thoughts, knowledge, and information just for the purpose of sharing. It involves developing a curiousness as to what makes him feel connected too. And probably a lot of other things I do not know about yet. Unknown territory that awaits exploration.

    Thinking back on the “acknowledging, embracing and celebrating the differences” – maybe embracing the hardest part. Embracing also the things that hurt, the uncertainties, the thought that there are things one has to let go of. But I will try, because I love my partner, and I think there a lot of valuable lessons for me to learn, that ultimately will be beneficial regardless of who I meet on my path – NTs, NDs, or whatever they identify themselves as.

    I worry a bit about how my relationship may affect my friendships, though. As he says “I don’t like people so much – I don’t enjoy the small talk”. But I have decided I will not let loneliness get me in this domain, if I can help it. My friends where there before him, and those I hold the most dear, I will not let go of. A few others if need be. I will not end up being alone (a different concept from lonely, I know), to make it easier for my partner. In this we must find the way.

    I hope my thoughts on loneliness in a ND-NT relationship made sense. This NT-world is entirely new to me, and thus also having to relate to these thoughts. I apologize, if the language got in the way – I am not a nativ English speaker. I look forward to hearing your thoughts 🙂

    1. I love this post, your musings and what not. 17 years in and the Loneliness compounds to unbearable limits. I may soon be done.

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