Relationships are hard, in general. Throw out all empathy from one of the partners and you get a whole new mix.
Understanding the Neurotypical – Asperger Relationship is difficult. I wrote a blog about Empathy 101 that expands on this subject of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Neurotypical persons in relationships with those with “Asperger’s Syndrome” expect and need empathy, but they don’t receive it from their ASD partners. This makes them feel alone, depressed, and socially isolated. They suffer from numerous stress-related chronic illnesses, because no one really understands what they’re going through.
If you’re a member of our ”ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum” community, you probably understand this or you even live in similar environments.
I see it every day in the group and I’m grateful we built this community together to support each other and share our relationship struggles.
One member said:
“I am really discouraged today. I have come to realize that I am married to a man that I will never really know. How do I deal with that?”
While another followed in a similar tone:
“I want/need to find another way…if I engage with him I lose myself, if I disengage from him I am not myself…”
One of the most important things to know about your “Aspie” partner is the quality of empathy is totally absent. Understanding this will help you better navigate your life together and you will be able to direct your energy to better take care of yourself. You are in charge and this thought can feel good.
So how can you help your relationship?
The Art of Detachment in an ASD/NT Relationship
- Stop taking it all personally.
- Stop worrying if you’ve covered all the bases.
- Stop beating yourself up for your flaws.
- Stop expecting more from your AS spouse than he or she can give.
Do all of the healthy feel-good things you can fit into your day. It can be very easy to focus all of your attention on your loved one and leave nothing left over for yourself. Be sure to take time to recharge. In order to give to others, you must give back to yourself. Get involved in what you love doing. Do you like reading or kayaking? Give yourself time for it this weekend.
I also wrote an article with 15 reasons why self-compassion is better than self-confidence. Take a look at it – you might find it useful.
Your partner has just been diagnosed with High Functioning Autism? Find out what you should expect regarding this form of autism. It will help you to better understand the disorder and find ways to cope with it rather than resent it. Find local support groups and engage with other people from your community who are having the same pains as you do.
I am launching a new website soon, called “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum”. I’m creating a local and international community where iit is safe to share your problems and you can get the support you need. I will also be guiding your healing process through our community. Don’t hesitate to join us once the website is launched (sign up tfor our newsletter to stay up to date).
Because those with Asperger lack empathy, they inadvertently cause others to feel ignored, unappreciated and unloved. Many cope by coming up with an explanation of why life has turned out the way it has. But these explanations change nothing. Everything you talk about should be about what you’re feeling or hearing or seeing or smelling right now. Don’t analyze. Don’t blame others or yourself. Don’t judge either. No complaining. No explaining.
Your loved one may already be meeting with someone regarding their disorder, but you may also need additional support as an NT loved one. If you believe you are ready to seek the assistance of a health care professional and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office or schedule an appointment at my website calendar. For busy schedules I also offer online therapy.
32 Replies to “Living with an “Aspie” Partner”
I was thrilled to read this introduction. I look forward to further communications. I am beginning a sixth year in a platonic relationship with a 68 year old gentleman who is an undiagnosed Aspie. I am studying and learning everything I can about ASD. I’m devouring written material. I am trying to learn as much as I can before encouraging him to get a formal diagnosis. He is aware of my study, and my desire to continue in our committed relationship. He is resisting seeking a professional evaluation. Pretty normal I supppse at his age. But his life is worth my time. He is intelligent, caring, good, kind and an intense man of faith. I care.
I am an independent woman with tons of outside interests. He is smart and I think that a diagnosis could help him live a more full and less agitated life. I challenge him and he challenges me. But we know fir sure that communication is often a hurdle in our day to day life. Some dats a great, some highly stressful and some full of caring.
I live in Alexandria, VA, I know of no such support group in my area. Am I mistaken? If I am correct, I could step out on a limb and propose the idea of facilitating a group or being a participating member of a group in my vicinity.
At this point, as you are launching your new website you have major new beginnings on your plate I am sure. But where can I begin – here?
Good to hear from you Penny. There is support for you. In fact, I just launched the new membership group. ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum. It’s an online community with forums, video conferences, teleconferences, and a chance to connect with others who live as you do. Hope to see you there. By the way, there are lots of us “seniors” in relationships with “Aspies.” You are definitely not alone.
My AS husband calls me names and throws things around me and at me. Is that unusual?
Dear Kim. What you describe is abuse and it is important that you protect yourself. As to your question? Yes it is not unusual for “Aspies” to have meltdowns and explode in abusive ways. Take steps to stop the abuse. Your Aspie needs intervention.
My Mom was 88 yrs old when she passed away. She was on the Aspergers Spectrum, undiagnosed.
I never understood Mom until she was 80 yrs old and I learned Mom exhibited the Aspergers Spectrum behaviours listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. With this wonderful discovery, I loved Mom much more.
I finally understood her somewhat.
Mom was very intelligent.
Most of her life she preferred reading books than interacting with people.
Below is a funny-sad story which recaps Mom & Dad’s RELATIONSHIP for their 65 years of marriage.
The day after Mom’s funeral…
Dad was decompressing from all the stresses of her final days in hospital and her wake attended by neighbors and relatives.
My husband and I kept Dad company that week. The day after Mom’s memorial service, we sat with Dad staring into the black void tv screen, unusual, because it was not turned on.
Dad was stream of consciousness talking about fond memories in the marines. He boasted how most of the guys overseas went out on their wives with other women, but he never did that, “I was always loyal to your Mother” Dad said.
I was tired and unconsciously responded as I was starring into the dark tv screen “I thought Mom said, you had had an affair?”
Dad looked at me like he had forgotten and said “Oh yeah, that was with the accountant.”
I was somewhat surprised saying
“ What? The accountant was an old man!”
Dad corrected himself “No, it was with the auditor, a woman. “ He excused himself with “your mother was a very well read woman. She knew how the world works.”
For me, this story sums up how Mom and Dad co-existed. Dad was a busy business owner overseeing hundreds of people. And Mom lived a parallel life to his.
– – –
Mom and Dad interacted like two independent people sharing a home with 3 kids attached to it, somewhere.
Dad enjoyed his story of marrying a young beauty intelligent Class Validictorian of her school. Later years they enjoyed Sunday kitchen coffee and reading newspapers. Dad listening to Mom hold forth with intellectual teviews of books & events.
Mom enjoyed Dad mostly when he wasn’t home. And she never expressed gratitude but we children were grateful for Dad during holidays. He shopped for gifts and cooked the big meals (Mom had melt downs in her bedroom from frustration & disorganization in kitchen) and Dad cooked family Sunday Denver omelets, from recipes he learned as an Eagle Scout. Dad was a a independent go getter, a survivor. To his dying days he was proud of earning the highest Scout badge of honor.
It was painful growing up watching Dad’s frustrations blow out at Mom in raging anger, swearing obscenities at her.
He slapped her once in front of me. (Very shocking and sad to me.) Dad frequently told her to “Shut up, you don’t know what your talking about!” One argument, Dad slammed a peanut butter jar down on the counter and glass shattering into his angry bloody hand.
Dad was frequently frustrated with Mom’s cool demeanor and her disorganized housekeeping.
She rarely had meals ready when he stopped by home for his noon & dinner meals before heading back to the lab. We usually had the same 7 days of recipes every week but she struggled.
Mom would never react to Dad’s anger which made him more angry. Most people would be in tears after his verbal lashings. I was & often afraid of him.
But Mom was cool, most always unemotional and she’d retreat into her room and read her books.
When Dad retired, I was happy they shared some golden years living at an active senior community (CCRC).
Dad played golf and sang in men’s choir and Mom read books and even joined a classics book club.
Mom and Dad enjoyed their final years living together in an active senior community. For over a decade.
They especially enjoyed their years of dining out!
Yours is the kind of story that needs sharing. Our lives with “Aspie” parents was never easy, but influenced us for a lifetime. Thank you so much.
Believe this could be helpful.
Thank you very much for the blog, it’s very helpful.
A friend mentioned that my partner may be Asperger but he hasn’t been diagnosed.
My partner and I have been together for 10 years and sometimes it’s very hard because we see the world in a very different way and I am trying to understand him which is not easy.
Thank you very much, I can recognise his behaviour as he may be Asperger.
I am glad you found this post useful, Isabel. When we first discover ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in our partner, it is eye opening. Then comes the hard work of learning a new form of communication. I wish you well.
This post found me at a very perfect time. I have been with my husband for 22 years, married almost 16 of those. We have three children all diagnosed on the spectrum which is how we figured out that he too is on the spectrum.
I have known since college that I am bipolar, with a stronger pull toward depression than mania. It is an interesting combination. I have been able to make friends, maintain jobs, and once maintain finances.
The last 18+ years since we moved in together have been a constant struggle. The emotional isolation, the constant fear of what I have done wrong, the worry about not doing enough, being good enough, while all not getting the emotional support and love that I so badly crave. I don’t know if it is my need to not give up, to see things through, but I am committed to this relationship, and want to continue to find ways to make this as successful as possible, but am so over my head and yet so alone so much of the time. Between not getting support from my husband, the schools, the medical profession, and most peers who just don’t understand, it is truly isolating and lonely. The internet has been a blessing to cure the loneliness and isolation.
I look forward to learning more about this group and hopefully finding the support and comfort that I so badly want and know I cannot actually get from those I “created” and from the one I “chose.”
The support of a group of people who live this life and understand what you are going through is a huge gift. Just to know that you are not alone is a big step toward healing.
I escaped a highly abusive fifteen year marriage to an undiagnosed Aspie seven years ago – verbal, emotional and ultimately physical and financial. He would rationalize, justify or completely deny his meltdowns. He cut me off from those who I cared about and raged at any outside interest or involvement that I had. My kids were both around the age of 12 when they came to me and asked “what’s wrong with dad, why doesn’t he look at me when he talks, why does he go on and on and never say anything?” At the very end, I tried marriage counseling with him, this after he threw a phone manual in my face (prior to that he refused to attend sessions). The counselor ultimately told me that she didn’t want me to talk during the sessions, because she needed to “reach him.” She told me that I wasn’t allowed to use the word “abusive” in the sessions because it triggered him. That he didn’t have the capacity to understand how his behavior affected other people. His explosions became less frequent (3-5x per week), but more explosive. So I was walking on eggshells at home and was muted in therapy. When I left him, and I literally walked away with nothing, he started stalking and harassing me. This continued even after he remarried. My youngest recently graduated high school. This severs all of my legal ties to this person. I have blocked him from contacting me on every platform. The gift in this is that I now see abusive, high spectrum level behavior when it presents itself. And I walk, actually run, away. Never again.
It is not easy to talk about the dark side of ASD. Narcissism is a trait of ASD, but as Simon Baron Cohen Ph.D. points out, they don’t have to devolve into the negative, abusive narcissist. What I mean by this is that as self absorbed and mind blind as “Aspies” can be, they can learn to be kind and have a high moral standard. The true narcissist of course, could care less about hurting you, as I explain in my book WHEN EMPATHY FAILS. An “Aspie” who has not learned morality can harm you also, and walk away feeling perfectly justified. In my opinion, it’s abuse whether at the hand of a true narcissist, or an “Aspie” who knows no better. Either way, never tolerate abuse. But your “Aspie” may benefit by professional intervention, whereas the narcissist has very limited capacity to change.
I am so sorry Marie that you had to endure this stress, but it sounds like you are free from the torment at this point. My goal is to make sure more people are aware of individuals with EmD (Empathy Dysfunction) and how to protect themselves. Your story is the reason why.
In my blogs and books I have spoken quite a bit about the dark side of Asperger Syndrome. In fact, I recounted some nightmarish events in my own life at the hands of “Aspies” in my latest book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you.” I think you are confusing individual differences among “Aspies.” All have EmD-0 or zero degrees of empathy, but as individuals, how they adapt to their empathy Dysfunction is idiosyncratic. Some are taught the rules and develop a moral code. Others slip into narcissistic behavior. Some brilliant “Aspies” crate beautiful works of art or science, while others use their brilliance destructively. I agree that if your “Aspie” is abusive,then it matters not their diagnosis. Always protect yourself, which I emphasize in my book. However, it’s misleading to say that some narcissist are masquerading as
I feel completely stuck.
My husband (officially undiagnosed, but suspected to have ASD; he won’t go through the diagnosis-process or seek counseling) and I have been married 20 years this past February. Our son (now 24) was diagnosed with ASD when he was 5 and our daughter’s (18) diagnosis has never been confirmed. So being a NT in a potential household of ASD people is stressful beyond words.
I went back to work full-time in 2015 and have discovered, in my current position, that my supervisor is also on the spectrum. Most of the work conversations are on the I-Me-My subject (just like my husband; his likes-wants-needs supersede everything else, including me doing my job sometimes) and if I didn’t focus solely on doing my job, and doing it well, I’d be more lost than I am.
I don’t know what to do. I feel like I can never be me again, anywhere. What do I do?
Cheryl, if you haven’t already please look at our group at http://www.asd-ntrelationships.com. The group is for people just like you who are surrounded. You don’t have to go it alone.
I can’t afford that.
Cheryl, the group is $60 a year, but if that is too much for you, you can certainly get support at the Meetup group. I hope this helps.
Thank you for posting this, Christine. This was an incredibly helpful comment. Having a narcissistic ex and the triggers from that, I want to be sure to fully understand the difference between the two very different situations. Your comment really shows this well and has such important points that people need to be aware of.
This article nails my experience in a fairly successful 42 year “neurodiverse” marriage. The “to do” points are exactly what works for me: Stop taking it all personally. Stop worrying if you’ve covered all the bases. Stop beating yourself up for your flaws. Stop expecting more from your AS spouse than he or she can give. The hard part for me at the moment is knowing just what he can give, and what to believe / what’s real vs good intentions. He can’t help me figure that out either. I hope to read about that here in the future. Thanks Dr. Kathy
I’ve been with my husband for 34 years and I must admit I do struggle with emotional isolation. However, my Aspie creates zero drama for which I’m enormously grateful. Also he is generally in a good mood and is a good person. I was abandoned as a child and widowed at 23 and I think because of these events I am better suited than most to an Aspie. My feelings of rejection and abandonment are constantly stimulated by my hubby but I try to remember that he didn’t initially put those feelings in me and to remain grateful for the clever, non-judging man that he is.
Thanks for reminding me to take a look at your post. You are not alone by the way. Many people married to Aspies came from a sad childhood where they were often neglected and on their own. Out of this grief, they developed ways to cope and to be there for others. Your spouse is fortunate that you know he does not mean all of the things he does. However, it is never too late to encourage him to seek help . . . for the both of you.
Thank you Dr Marshack for your reply and also for the work you do. Anyone who does the research enabling people to live more fulfilling lives as you do, must be part Angel.
Thank you so much,
We just “celebrated” 40 years. It is freeing just to read about the struggles of others. Just knowing what the problem is helps.
It is too late for me to leave. My husband says I am stuck with him, which is comforting in its way. He is always doing things for people, and I have come to realize that is his way of coping.
I identify with the women who say they are living parallel lives. Since I started doing that, things have been better. And I have learned to set boundaries, too.
And the occasional tousle of my hair is very precious to me. That is the most affection I can expect. I try to look at the good things he does, and am reminded that he does not beat me, look at pornography, or cause financial problems.
I have learned to put up with the verbal abuse, and how to respond. He has been a lot nicer to me….I think he knows I am on to him. Leaving is not always the answer.
Hi Jeannette. It sounds as if you have found peace with your situation, and in that peace you have recaptured the authentic YOU. Congratulations.
Are all comments answered or just some? My comment wasn’t. Uh oh, rejection. Thank you. Linda.
Thanks for the reminder. See my answer below.
I am 70 , my sister 68. She was only diagnosed 5 years ago. It . explains so much. Your advice is so helpful as I do have conflicted feelings about her, especially when she has a melt down and calls me terrible things. I feel bruised and battered emotionally, and she blames all her problems and bad behaviour on me. I haven’t been able to find 1 support group where I live in Newcastle Australia, it’s very frustrating
Hi Loraine. There are wonderful supportive online groups in Australia. And you are most welcome to join mine, http://www.asd-ntrelationships.com.
My undiagnosed hubby insists of inviting guests in our flat during the week. I work in kindergarten and I am so exhausted and all what I want is a rest. He works from home and he wants to have friends around. I told him he can meet them in the town, have a beer. But he does not see my needs. I now take it as an insult. He would tell me 2 hours before he invites someone from his job for example.
Today I left our home and went to a library.
We have a son who deeply loves his father. He is 13 now.
I do not know what to do. I am not totally healthy. I recovered from PTSD / (I was diagnosed as BPD histrionic – but I now doubt a little bit) – anyway, I am highly sensitive, too. And I just think I need to leave this relationship, even though some parts work pretty ok. He regularly prefers other friends then me, and his own hobbies at home, then mine. He has bought a big piano now, which does not fit in color into our music room, but he has fallen in love with that. And he does not like the beatiful sitting set – so I will sell them.
He would never ever buy flowers to me – I buy them for myself. Birthday presents are the same – it is getting a little bit better.
But It just feels that I can not survive that amount of stress and loneliness that he puts on me.
Love to all of you dear ladies. And thanks If you have time to answer me.