Aspergers and Relationships

This is the first time I have written about my relationship on my blog. It is a private part of my life and I checked with my boyfriend, out of courtesy, whether he was happy with me writing about our relationship on here. I feel that I have discussed many other topics on this blog and I feel that covering the topic of Aspergers and relationships would be beneficial to a lot of my readers so the time has come to address this area.

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost five years-our anniversary is on Monday. We met at work while both signing a petition against a rent increase in the hostel where we both lived at the time (I still live there-he moved out when he left the organisation). Unusually for me, I felt able to speak to him with ease the first time I met him-usually I have to get to know people first to feel comfortable with them. The first evening we met, we spoke for two and a half hours before we went our separate ways. Ten minutes later, a note was slid under my door which read “Let’s keep in touch” followed by his mobile phone number. The rest, as they say, is history. Our first date was a couple of days later and we have been together ever since.

Prior to our relationship, I never thought I would be successful in the area of romantic relationships. I was a late starter in this area compared to my peers. In fact, my current boyfriend is my first serious boyfriend and I was twenty two when we got together. My failure to find love at an earlier age caused me great distress when I was single. I used to be incredibly self pitying which, looking back now, is cringe worthy. I saw everyone around me finding girlfriends and boyfriends with ease and I wondered what it was about me that made this an impossibility. The more anguished I got about my lack of a relationship, the less attractive a relationship with me probably seemed to any outsider observing the way I behaved. University was a phase of my life where I often felt depressed anyway-the lack of a man to share that with just made things worse. I was unbelievably happy when I met my boyfriend and could finally settle down with someone.

I am going to be brutally honest here and admit that Aspergers does add an extra layer of complication to our relationship (my boyfriend does not have AS). Reading non verbal communication has never been one of my strong points so I have to work twice as hard as most people to pick up the subtle signals from my partner. I am often naive to social context and don’t pick things up which are usually obvious to everyone else, such as the social nicety of typing both of our names in a text to let my family know that we have arrived safely in our holiday destination. I will type “I have arrived safely” because, in my mind, my family know that the two of us are travelling together so should automatically know that, if I have arrived safely, he will have arrived safely too. I guess that’s where the whole theory of mind thing lets me down. It took me a while to realise that I should include both of us in the text and I still do sometimes forget. It’s like my brain automatically writes “I” without thinking to add my boyfriend’s name too. Like any couple, we have our differences and these can be difficult for the other to comprehend. He has said to me in the past, “Every time I think I understand you, you do something else which makes me realise I still have so far to go to understand you”. I don’t think that Aspergers has affected our relationship in a negative sense-I just feel that it is an area which means that we both have to work slightly harder at our relationship than a lot of couples. It is hard for me to understand how he thinks a lot of the time and it is equally as hard for him to understand how I think but we work through it and have a lot of fun and good times too. I appreciate our relationship every day and I appreciate how hard he has worked at understanding the way my mind works. I know that there are aspects of my condition that make me far from the ideal partner-when I am tired, my tolerance for social interaction drops to the extent that I can’t even manage our daily phone call and will just send a quick text saying “Good Night” instead, and I like my own space a lot too. However, I believe, and I’m sure he will back me up on this, that there are also aspects of my Aspergers that make me a pretty good girlfriend to have, such as my strong sense of loyalty to those who are dearest to me and my strong sense of justice. I like to live by the rules because it’s the right thing to do and that means that I always treat him fairly and the way that I would want to be treated. In more humorous ways, I am a cheap date as I don’t drink (the AS made me totally immune to peer pressure at university and, as I have hated the taste of almost every alcoholic drink I have ever tried, I have remained teetotal since the age of sixteen when I got tipsy on half a bottle of Bacardi Breezer-I am obviously a real lightweight which is another reason for me to avoid drinking) and my attention to detail means I am also a very efficient proof reader of the documents he asks me to look over on a fairly regular basis.

I have met a lot of people with Aspergers, particularly in online forums, who believe that people with Aspergers would be best off dating and seeking relationships with other people with Aspergers. I have mixed views on this. I think, on occasions, it works brilliantly and there are lots of couples where both people have Aspergers who are very happy together. It must be a relief to have a partner who has a deeper understanding of how your mind works without having to explain why this is. However, I think there are also many potential pitfalls that not everyone thinks about. Firstly, I think, for me personally, if I was single and on the look out for a potential partner, some Aspergers traits, for me, would be intolerable to live with. I know that this sounds harsh but, despite being an obsessive person myself, I don’t tolerate other people’s obsessions well if I have no interest in them. If we had our own separate spaces to pursue our obsessive interests in peace, it could work but otherwise I think I would become very stressed very quickly. Also, there is no guarantee that, just because you both have Aspergers, you’re going to be compatible, which is something I think a lot of people forget. A lot of people with Aspergers have strong characters and are very strong willed which means that, quite often, they can wind each other up. I also think that, for me, I need someone without Aspergers to keep me calm. I am a naturally anxious person and I think a lot of people on the spectrum have their own issues with anxiety which can make it hard, in my experience, for them to be able to view another person’s anxiety objectively and deal with it calmly. I am also fairly stubborn-once I have something set in my mind, there’s no shifting it. My partner will often agree to disagree in cases where we have differences of opinion but I can imagine, if I was in a relationship with someone whose characteristics of Aspergers were similar to mine, our differences of opinion would be loudly debated over and over again because neither of us would be willing to back down. I know, of course, that there are people with Aspergers who are introverted and quiet and a relationship with someone like this may have worked well for me if I was still single now.

I am not saying that those of us with Aspergers make difficult partners and that dating us is impossible-that is not true. What I am saying is that, for some of us, including me, relationships work better with people who are not on the spectrum because of the fact that they tend to be a lot more socially aware (my boyfriend is amazing at reading non verbal communication and reading context) and so provide the ideal support for our bad days and are able to talk us through why social situations go wrong sometimes. I am not saying that a relationship between two people on the spectrum would be doomed to failure-that would be foolish to assert because there are many successful relationships where both of the partners are on the spectrum. I would not be averse to a relationship with someone with Aspergers if I was still single-all I am saying is it shouldn’t be assumed that a relationship with someone else with AS will work because you both have AS-you need to be compatible together too. I have a low tolerance level for a lot of minor personality traits and this is something I am working on so that I can tolerate more personality types. I am never nasty to anyone I can’t tolerate-I just get incredibly stressed and flustered around them because they trigger me all the time. If I was in a relationship with someone who had an equally low tolerance of certain traits, I can envision a lonely life ahead. Luckily my boyfriend can pretty much talk to and interact with everyone he meets, an ability that I envy but that I know is necessary in life and so I am happy that he is blessed in this way.

A lot of people with Aspergers find making and keeping relationships difficult. For most people, it does get easier in time. Maybe I have watched too many soppy movies but I genuinely believe that there is the right person out there for everyone. I don’t mean an instant soul mate-a lot of couples are incompatible in some ways but I mean meeting the right person who is willing to work through the issues and we must also work through the issues. Yes, Aspergers makes it extremely difficult to get it right, socially speaking, and we can make embarrassing mistakes but we need to try and meet our partners half way, metaphorically speaking. It is hard for us to understand how someone who isn’t on the spectrum thinks and sees the world but it is just as hard for them to understand the way an individual on the spectrum sees the world. All we can do is try and educate each other. Sometimes it won’t work and the couple are just too incompatible to remain together but eventually you will find your ideal partner. All relationships need working at as that’s what needs to be done if you want to hold on to that special person in your life-Aspergers might make that work a bit harder but, if both partners love each other and are determined, it will work out in the end. There will be someone out there who doesn’t get fazed by the social mistakes or the need for a quiet place to destress or the fact that our ability to read non verbal communication isn’t too brilliant. There will be people out there that fall in love with our honesty and loyalty, even if we find it hard to verbalise our emotions. I love my partner so, so much and I feel truly blessed to have him in my life. It’s not always easy but ours is a relationship worth working for. We work hard at it together and appreciate each other deeply. It should be remembered that it is better being alone than being in the wrong relationship. There are some people out there in relationships with people with Aspergers who moan constantly about how embarrassing their partner is and how much hard work they are. I am lucky that my boyfriend does not see me in this way. Nobody is forcing anybody to be in a relationship with someone with AS-surely, if you loved them enough to enter a relationship with them, you love them enough to appreciate their Aspergers. Playing the martyr is not helpful. I am very aware of how difficult Aspergers can be in a relationship but keeping the relationship going should be a mutual effort. A lot of people with Aspergers do desire romantic relationships and, with the right people who are willing to get to know us for who we truly are, we do make good partners. We all just need to give each other a chance.

14 Responses to Aspergers and Relationships

  1. livhelmore says:

    Beautifully written, thank you so much for writing and sharing this. Your boyfriend is blessed to know and appreciate who you are !

  2. maximusaurus says:

    I’m glad it has worked out for you. 🙂
    As somebody with Asperger’s, my only relationship to date has been with someone not on the spectrum. It last 18 months, but ultimately she couldn’t deal with my Asperger’s and it caused our breakup. Live and learn, I guess.

  3. Some people take a lot longer than 22 years to find someone for the first time! You’re very fortunate to have someone you managed to hit it off with just like that.

  4. stefania PB says:

    my husband complains about me saying to people things like “my house” “my dog” and talking always about myself instead of saying “our” or “us”, so i understand what you mean!!!

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  6. Snowflake says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am an NT and I was in a “relationship” for three and a half years with a man who I’m pretty sure has Asperger’s. I didn’t realize it at the time. It was only after he started seeing someone else and pretty much ended our friendship that the light dawned. As I started to read through his emails and couldn’t make sense of them, a friend suggested that perhaps it was Asperger’s.

    I’ve always known that he was different, but I didn’t know why–or how to deal with it. Still I loved him deeply and he was my best friend. I was always trying to understand. It would seem to me that he’d make decisions about us without consulting me. There was lots of “I.” We had it all for a short while, but then he said he couldn’t do it, he wasn’t ready–out of the blue. It wasn’t about me, but about all these externalities. We stayed friends, dated again, but again he got so anxious that he couldn’t stay in the relationship. Eventually we settled into a kind of more than friendship, but not a classic relationship. We were a couple in most senses, but he would never acknowledge that and often made sure that no one thought we were a couple, which seemed odd to me as I am none too shabby. He was great if I was upset about something else in my life, but if the issue had to do with him, or with our relationship, he often either withdrew or got frustrated and sometimes extremely angry. Generally he is very mild mannered, so this seemed like an anomaly.

    I wish we had both known he had Asperger’s before so that we could have used the knowledge to modify our behaviors and understand each other better. One of the biggest issues was that he never wanted to work on himself, so perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered. Eventually, he told me, “You only want marriage and I can’t think about that now. I just need something, someone for right now.” I didn’t only want marriage, but that’s what was stuck in his mind. For some reason, he seems to look at me in an all or nothing way. He doesn’t know how to be someplace in the middle with me and this is so hard for me. Eventually, he destroyed what was a very deep friendship and shut me out, turning to someone new.

    Although I’ve now told him that I think he has Asperger’s, I doubt that he will really acknowledge it. He seems obsessed with his new girlfriend and makes sure that I know he is “in a relationship,” which seems odd and hurtful to me. Part of me wonders if she is a good choice for him, too. He doesn’t always make good relationship choices, although I do think I was a pretty good choice (of course, I’m biased). He tells me he thinks of me every day (It has been months since he broke up with me). I find this confusing, but think it might be part of the Asperger’s. In many ways I feel sorry for him because he will not accept himself. It seems to me that life is hard enough as it is. Life with Asperger’s is even harder and it seems would require self-acceptance and the willingness to acknowledge one’s differences, especially if you want a successful relationship.

    Thanks again for sharing your story. It helps me understand a little better, although I don’t know that that matters much any more for me.

    • sjmarsh2013 says:

      Hi Snowflake. I am sorry that things never worked out for you and this guy. A lot of people with undiagnosed Aspergers can behave in the ways you described. I think it is sheer confusion because they know they don’t quite fit in but don’t know why. Self acceptance is hard to find amongst this section of people. I can only hope that you are happy now and that, in time, he will seek a diagnosis and embrace himself for who he is, Aspergers or not xx

  7. Oliver Simpson says:

    This is one of those issues in the autistic circle that I feel different views to at times.

    It’s one I have seen across a few forums and in newspapers etc., where quite often you will get someone who had a bad experience with an autistic person in a relationship. Detailing the problems that came up etc.

    Sometimes I have sympathy for some of what I hear and read about, but sometimes I think to myself did the person in question ever try to approach the relationship as being an equal relationship or was it very one sided in emotional, mental, sexual or financial terms that leads to it being static in someway.

    Same with the autistic person as well I ask myself this question, did they get into the relationship because they found the person interesting and lost interest after a while (it’s something that seems to come up in a few more bitter forum tweets). Or were they so desperate for affection of some kind that they latched on to the first person they thought they could get it from and things eventually just crumbled because of issues that came up that comes with any relationship in general.

    I’m probably being very cynical here, but sometimes I find myself wondering if some people on the autistic spectrum really understand what they are getting into when they start a relationship of that kind (of course this can always apply to non autistic people as well) or if like a few people in life are rushing into something that they lack the mental, emotional and physical maturity to make work. Some of this can easily come down to life experiences and childhoods that an autistic person has had, which often has been one of suffering, being misunderstood and other issues as well.

    Though it can definitely work if the effort and trust is put into it.

    You have proven yourself that it can work if you put a lot of trust, effort and communication into the relationship, and that’s where I feel many relationships a normal person with an autistic person can go wrong in, the communications between the two parties not happening, the lack of trust between one or both parties, and also the relationship being unequal overall.

    Also the autism issue can be a taint on the relationship, especially if the other party comes to see it as being the problem of a relationship and what defines their partner and forget that they are a person as well, I can get why this happens, but it can cause much harm in the process to both parties.

    Relationships in general for autistic people can be very complex and prone to starting off or going wrong that they can just give up on it. It’s something I think that in the years to come will get more complex as more people with autism become known and the stereotypes and beliefs that many people have about autism continue to get challenged and questioned in the process.

  8. thanks for this steph. I was late to the game too and still struggle quite a lot. It’s a constant learning process isn’t.

  9. Joanna says:

    Reading these comments particularly the first was very enlightening also very familiar. Lots of the things described in the relationship is the same as my experience. As stated there are some very worthy traits that are so typical of someone with AS. However I am in a ‘relationship’ with a man who has AS but he is not aware. We are both divorced, in our late fifties and our intention was to set up home together. I have known him for many years as a friend. However 5 years later we still live apart. Over the last 5 years we have been an ‘item’ so to speak but I have ‘painfully’ learned how difficult he can be for all the previously mentioned reasons. I know for sure that I could not live with him as his mood swings and dramatic changes in personality have been so hurtful and for want of a better word ‘offensive’. He has NEVER been physically violent. That has to be stated. The catalyst responsible for these awful changes is alcohol. He has the belief that drinking copious amounts of lager relaxes him and so, come four specific days of the week Or when he is on holiday or off work he does so. He is not good company under alcohol NOT as previously stated to any violence but he goes further into his own self, despite company. He has a poor sense of humour at the best of times and fails to identify when others are trying to be jolly. He can then become derogatory due to his lack of understanding. A Saturday evening would then consist of him staring at the tv screen and appearing as if he were watching a programme in another language. He has a very superior attitude to all things general and usually is very quick to state that others are ‘bloody stupid’ but he would not consider that it is he who is incapable of understanding. I have stupidly endured his personality changes when under the influence over the simplest of things. He has no curiosity as to why he acts this way. He accepts no responsibility. We remain friends now but I feel if he met someone else he would be happy to absolutely end our relationship. Due to our ages he is content to see me periodically with no romantic attachment. I suppose this applies to me as well. However I feel content at not having to spend time with him and alcohol together. I can walk away and go to my own home but alone. I am very sad about this discovery of his nature and I feel very lonely. I would have preferred that we able to live together under the same roof harmoniously. But this is not to be. I wish I had been more aware of his AS before I made a massive life choice to start a new life with him.

  10. Anna says:

    Joanna, I am almost two years into a relationship, in our mid 50’s He is I am convinced an AS man. I am NT and am realising the reality now that novelty of the newness of me has subsided. We still have not had full intercourse and he thinks that is acceptable because he is unable to use condoms as not confident (we would need to use as he has an STI) I am heartbroken that I will never have an intimate connection with him and he is not concerned at all. I wish I had not got involved with what appeared to be a kind gentle quiet man !

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