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Dating Someone With Asperger's? Here's How to Strengthen Your Bond

Dating Someone With Asperger's? Here's How to Strengthen Your Bond


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All relationships can get complex at times. Dating someone with Asperger’s is no exception, and it brings its own joys and opportunities.

If your partner is on the autism spectrum and you aren’t, it’s natural and not uncommon for both of you to wonder about each other’s reactions or behaviors.

You might find yourselves searching for ways to address your concerns and tips on how to strengthen your bond.

Learning more about autism and Asperger’s can help you navigate some of the situations that may arise. This, in turn, might become the first step toward a stronger relationship.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term for a number of conditions, some of which were previously diagnosed separately.

Asperger syndrome, also referred to as Asperger’s, is one of these conditions.

In this article, we’ll be referring to dating someone who has previously received an Asperger’s diagnosis or who identifies with this term.

According to Eva Mendes, LMHC, NCC, a diagnosis of Asperger’s is defined mainly by differences in social communication and emotional regulation reciprocity.

“The communication challenges can be verbal or nonverbal,” Mendes, a psychotherapist who works with adults with Asperger’s, told. “Sometimes they can also have rigid behavior patterns and routines.”

“They also tend to have sensory sensitivities,” she added. “That can cause issues with relationships because sometimes they have trouble with touch and sound, and sight and smell and taste.”

These differences in how someone with Asperger’s communicates, perceives touch, and reacts to your emotional expressions might be confusing at first.

Despite the potential challenges, though, it’s possible for a neurotypical person — one who is not on the autism spectrum — to develop a fulfilling long-term relationship with someone with Asperger’s.

In the past, it was believed that a diagnosis of Asperger’s or autism was incompatible with love and relationships. But love is an emotion that can be fully experienced by nearly anyone, despite differences in perception, social interaction patterns, or emotional expression.

In other words, someone with Asperger’s is capable of falling in love. There are, however, some potential challenges both of you could experience along the way. But, isn’t this the case for most relationships?

Some of the challenges might come, in part, from what researcher Damian Milton has called the “double empathy problem.”

The concept refers to the potential difficulty both neurodivergent and neurotypical people may have when attempting to understand each other.

This is not “a problem” someone in the relationship has. Instead, it’s a common occurrence when two people with different outlooks and experiences relate to each other.

According to Milton, autistic people don’t lack empathy, as some people may inaccurately believe.

Neurodivergent people express emotions differently, mostly based on their particular way of experiencing the world.

This might make it difficult for nonautistic people to understand and sometimes empathize with an autistic person.

The same can be said for autistic people understanding nonautistic individuals. It’s a bidirectional experience.

The major challenge comes from assuming that the nonautistic way is the correct and only way.

This might lead to assuming that the autistic partner must make a greater effort to understand and comply with the feelings and needs of the neurotypical partner.

A good starting point, then, for strengthening your bond with someone with Asperger’s might be considering that they shouldn’t always have to come all the way to you.

In other words, it may be important to understand that there’s no one way of “doing relationships,” and that the correct way to relate to others isn’t simply the neurotypical way.

You can meet the other person halfway, and sometimes, you can meet them all the way.

The same way a neurotypical person may be used to certain relationship patterns, a person with Asperger’s may relate to others from their experience, too.

This presents with unique opportunities to learn to relate in different ways. Here are some of the ways someone with Asperger’s may relate to you that may be surprising at first.

Flirting is perceived differently

A person with Asperger’s may not notice your subtle hints when flirting. You may be using your best “moves,” and they could go unnoticed.

“Sometimes, they don’t know when someone is interested in them or flirting with them unless someone is very explicit,” Mendes explained.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. Instead, they could not be reading or interpreting your cues correctly. You may need to be more direct if you’re interested in some romance.

Taking initiative may be up to you

Making the first move, or organizing a date, may be a difficult task for your partner with Asperger’s. This, again, is not necessarily lack of interest. Instead, it may be linked to potential challenges in executive functioning.

Executive functions are cognitive processes that have a direct impact on behavior. They’re what makes you formulate a plan when you set a goal, for example.

“Sometimes there is lack of initiation; [someone with Asperger’s] might hesitate to ask their partner out on a date,” said Mendes. “Executive functioning is planning and organizing tasks […], and a lot of them do struggle [in that aspect].”

Apparent lack of support

When you’re dating someone with Asperger’s, there might be times when you feel a lack of emotional support or understanding from them.

For example, your partner might not notice when you’re feeling sad or not know how to respond when you tell them you are. This doesn’t mean they don’t care.

“They may miss cues about how their partner is feeling [and] there might be a lack of emotional reciprocity,” Mendes said.

In the same way, it might be possible for you to miss cues about how your neurodivergent partner is feeling because they express these feelings in a different way. This might make them believe you’re not being supportive.

Tough love

When dating a person with Asperger’s, you may find you’re on the receiving end of some blunt comments. Experts say it’s important to remember that your partner may not have meant to upset you. It might be just a matter of differing communication styles.

In the same way that someone with Asperger’s might not realize you’re flirting with them until you clearly state your interest, they may be inclined to tell you what they feel or think directly without subtleties.

“Sometimes, a lot of people on the spectrum don’t have a filter,” Mendes explained.

This means they might say things without realizing the content or tone they’re using. This could lead to some friction unless you understand there’s no intention to upset you.

Verbally expressing love

You may find your partner with Asperger’s doesn’t say “I love you,” or express their emotions, as often as you need them to.

Mendes says this may be because, to your partner, the love between you two has already been established. They might see no need to vocalize emotions any further.

“If their partner says ‘I love you,’ they may say it once and then they feel like ‘I don’t need to say it again because it hasn’t changed,” Mendes explained.

A mismatched libido

Sometimes, people with Asperger’s might have a significantly lower or higher sex drive than some people not living on the spectrum.

As with any romantic relationship, a mismatched sex drive could potentially lead to some difficulties.

“Sometimes, people on the spectrum might have a low sex drive, so that can be a little mismatched. Although that’s not true for everyone,” said Mendes.

Mendes says there are many ways to address the differences and challenges you may experience when dating a person with Asperger’s.

It’s important to remember that “your way” is not necessarily “the way” to a successful relationship. This applies both ways, and compromises are required from both parties.

Communication is everything

Mendes suggests that all couples schedule time each day to talk about how each partner is feeling. This could also be an opportunity to air any grievances.

Scheduling this time, she says, is particularly important when dating a person with Asperger’s.

“Sometimes when you have a partner on the spectrum, those random conversations or points of connection aren’t happening, so one has to be deliberate about it,” she said.

Saving time to communicate about your feelings and expectations can help you both understand where the other person is coming from.

When having these moments, it’s important to make a conscious decision that whatever is said will not end up in a fight. Your partner might have different needs or different perceptions about your needs.

Clear and straightforward communication is an opportunity to learn about these perceptions and clarify any misconceptions.

Be clear about intimacy needs

“In terms of intimacy issues in the bedroom, you want to be very explicit in communication,” Mendes explained.

“I have one couple where the spouse might say to their partner, ‘Hey! Tonight I think it’ll be good to have sexy time,’ and the partner is like, ‘OK, I’ll be ready!’” Mendes said. “They can get themselves mentally prepared and ration their energies if that’s going to happen.”

Mendes says this approach may feel unromantic to some people but argues it’s important to be explicit and not assume physical or emotional intimacy is going to happen spontaneously.

You might also come up with additional ways to express your emotional and physical intimacy needs to your partner.

For example, you could set alarms for them to call you at specific times of the day just to check in. Or you could remind them you enjoy it when they say “I love you” before leaving the house.

Understanding the need to be more explicit with your partner in order to get what you need can help avoid feelings of rejection.

It’s also important to ask your partner with Asperger’s if they’d like you to do or avoid certain things so they feel your love.

Research Asperger’s

Learning more about Asperger’s may help you better understand your partner.

Mendes uses the example of a couple she works with where one partner has sensory differences.

In that case, the partner with Asperger’s didn’t like being touched on the shoulders. Whenever their partner would initiate touch in that area, they would flinch. Then, their partner would feel rejected by this reaction.

Reading more about sensory differences in people on the spectrum helped the neurotypical partner understand this reaction. They were then able to work together to find other zones that were better for touch.

Learning more about Asperger’s but also asking your partner about their preferences could help you bond in new ways.

Let them know how you feel

Communication is key in any relationship, particularly one where differences may be more evident.

Mendes says it’s important, for example, to let your partner know when the language they’re using feels hurtful or upsetting to you.

“There’s a lot of misunderstandings with how people on the spectrum phrase things. They can be very blunt; they can have no filter,” Mendes explained.

Understanding that this is how they communicate is important. Similarly, you may be communicating in a way that makes your partner feel misunderstood or challenged.

It may be a good idea to let them know how you feel and ask them how they feel.

It’s also important not to assume verbal communication is the best approach for your partner with Asperger’s. They might prefer other communication outlets when feeling overwhelmed, such as sensory input.

Build your support network

If you believe your partner with Asperger’s may not provide all of the emotional support you need, consider seeking help outside the relationship.

Mendes advises practicing self-care and seeking emotional support through other avenues.

Reaching out to your friends or family can help. You may also consider getting a pet, she says.

It’s not uncommon to feel guilty for investing time and effort in you and your needs outside of your relationship. However, when dating someone with Asperger’s, doing this could take the pressure off your partner and help you meet some of your needs.

In the same way, your partner may also feel the need to reach out for support in other spaces. Support groups or therapy can be a great alternative for both of you.

Reaching out for professional help can facilitate strengthening any relationship.

If you and your partner are trying to work on your challenges and establish better communication, couples counseling could help.

Seeking someone who specializes in supporting autistic people is highly recommended.

“If you feel like there are some recurring things, and you talk about it a few times and you’re just not getting any traction, sometimes it’s just helpful to have a neutral third person there,” says Mendes.

“All of a sudden, hearing it from another perspective will open your mind a bit and make you feel lighter. You might even realize, ‘Wow! I’m actually happier in this relationship than I thought I was!’”

Being in a romantic relationship with someone with Asperger’s might bring its own opportunities.

Whether you just started dating a person with Asperger’s or you’ve been married to them for a while, there are a few practical ways to strengthen your bond.

Learning more about Asperger’s, becoming aware of the opportunities, and seeking professional help are some of the ways you could work together.

“With hard work, awareness, and the right counselor that specializes in this […] you can create a good relationship,” Mendes concluded.


Coping With a Partner's Asperger's Syndrome

Understanding your partner with Asperger's syndrome can be difficult or seemingly impossible at times. Making better connections can lead to a happier, healthier relationship.

It takes a lot of work to make a marriage or other long-term relationship a success. And when one partner has Asperger’s syndrome, the relationship can be even more of a challenge. Given that Asperger’s makes emotional connections and social communication extremely difficult, it’s no wonder that a partnership between a person with Asperger’s syndrome and someone without it can be filled with stress, misunderstandings, and frustration.

To understand how Asperger’s can create such angst in a relationship, it’s important to know how people with it are affected. Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that is part of the autism spectrum. It is considered a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that one in 68 American children born today has some sort of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Another study published on CDC also shows that ASD is over four times more likely to be diagnosed in males than females.

People with classic autism can have severe impairments in language development and the ability to relate to others. Those with Asperger’s syndrome are affected to a lesser degree, but often have difficulties connecting on a social and emotional level. They have a hard time reading verbal and nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions, and may have trouble making eye contact. They sometimes don’t pick up on “how” something was said, only on “what” was said. People with Asperger’s may also lack empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others. They may unwittingly say or do inappropriate things that offend or hurt others’ feelings.

Though each person with Asperger’s syndrome is unique, some common characteristics include:

  • Above-average intelligence
  • A keen interest in or obsession with a particular subject — an unusual interest in trains, for example — and being a master on that subject
  • Having strict routines or rituals and having a hard time with change or transitions
  • Sensory issues

Because of these eccentricities and their lack of social skills, people with Asperger’s may make few friends and are often considered loners.


Keep an eye out

A common challenge for people with AS is reading social cues (like body language) and emotional expressions. This can make it difficult to understand how someone is feeling, or what they are thinking, unless they explicitly tell you. So much of human communication is non-verbal and based on the assumption that others can easily tell what we mean or what we want.

Tests like this one on emotional intelligence can help you practice which facial expressions tend to reflect which emotions. Besides these demonstrations, other online resources like this and this can also help you expand your ability to read emotions and social cues. Some informal resources should be taken with a grain of salt if they don’t come from a medical expert, but content from other people with AS may still be helpful because of the wisdom of personal experience.


Can Second Life therapy help with autism?

For people with Asperger's syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, social interactions can prompt excruciating anxiety. Cognitive neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, is working to help them with a virtual, interactive platform that fosters their ability to communicate more comfortably and effectively with others.

With a therapist's guidance, patients enter a protected area in Second Life designed to help them practice communicating and negotiating in realistic settings. (The area—which is simply a location within the cyberworld—is secured so patients can't enter the main part of Second Life, which Chapman believes could be overly confusing and disorienting for them.) As in Second Life, both patient and therapist create avatars, or virtual representations of themselves. The therapist's avatar—backed by a real therapist watching from a different room—enters the scene when the client needs help. More avatars, created with the help of the client's friends, relatives or other clinicians, can inhabit the scenes as well.

Depending on the issues a person needs to work on, various challenges arise. A boy with Asperger's who has difficulty making friends, for instance, may enter a lunchroom where his task is to find a lunch mate. But he may encounter two children already engaged in conversation, which can both raise his anxiety and—with the therapist's help, if necessary—propel him to use skills he has difficulty with, such as initiating small talk or seeking out another friend. Meanwhile, an adult may enter an apartment where she must confront her roommate's sloppy housekeeping.

Chapman, chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas (www.centerforbrainhealth.org), is developing the project with her colleagues, brain-imaging specialist Daniel Krawczyk, PhD, also at the center, and schizophrenia expert Carol Tamminga, MD, in the university's department of psychiatry.

While Chapman's work to date has involved mostly people with Asperger's and autism, the team wants to expand its scope to see if a similar intervention could help people with other conditions that include a social-deficit component. To this end, they have recently launched a pilot study to test different versions of the intervention with 45 adults with either Asperger's syndrome, high-functioning schizophrenia or brain injury, as well as 45 children with either autism or Asperger's syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or brain injury. Scenarios will be tailored to fit the unique needs of each population and each individual, says Chapman. The work is funded by the Lattner Family Foundation, the Wacker Foundation and the Sparrow Foundation.

Given the promising results so far with people with Asperger's, Chapman—whose work with patients with autism conditions began some 30 years ago—says it's the first time she's really felt hopeful about helping her clients improve how they communicate and build relationships.

"We now know that the brain doesn't learn just by teaching someone rules," she says. "It's only by real-life experiences, by training the brain in social situations, that people can develop some competence in these areas."

So far, it looks like the virtual world may be a great place to do that, she says.


4. Open up

Know that sharing a worry, insecurity, or fear with someone can help you feel closer. It doesn’t have to be something too personal, just something relatable. Perhaps you have an upcoming presentation, and you’re a bit nervous. Or your car died, and you feel stressed about having it fixed before you head away for the weekend.

When you do this, you are building trust between you. As you get to know each other better, the things you share can become more personal. It’s a process of layers. Reveal little, easy things first, then deeper, more meaningful ones.[6] Strong emotional bonds take time to grow. Be patient and enjoy getting to know each other.


The Gift Of Being Married To A Man With Asperger's

On my first date with Mike — we’ve been partners now for 24 years — he asked me, “Are we on a date?” And on the second date, he asked, “Are we still dating?

I thought it was so sweet and endearing then.

It took me nearly 17 years to realize having to ask someone to know exactly what was going on is typical of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).

The syndrome wasn’t even a diagnosis back then. Today it is considered a high-functioning form of autism. It presents in myriad ways, including an obsession with details, social awkwardness, a seeming inability to recognize the feelings or reactions of others, and flat, outward expression with few physical cues as to what the AS person is feeling.

I had no clue about this when I fell in love with Mike. I just found his lack of drama and histrionics calming and a welcome relief from my own family’s constant antics and manipulations.

He balanced me nicely: I was outgoing and verbally engaging, Mike was quiet and had no problem being alone. I was animated, he was peaceful.

It wasn’t until we decided to move in together that I began to feel the tension around how truly different we were from one another. At the time I had a dusty, cluttered little apartment, Mike had a big house with a living room that looked to me like a hotel lobby — Georgian-style chairs carefully chosen for their shape and upholstery, tables placed just so. He wouldn’t allow me to put any of my stuff anywhere outside of a single room he had designated as mine … I wasn’t allowed to put a single nail in a wall!

Since then, of course, I’ve found out much about people with Asperger’s, who have affectionately been nicknamed “Aspies.”

There are an estimated 30 million Aspies worldwide. Many are brilliant and highly accomplished. Mike is a member of Mensa, has an IQ of over 165, and makes a great living as an IT person (many Aspies excel in this field).

Typically, among other things, they share the following characteristics:

  • They have an extraordinary ability to focus on details rather than the big picture.
  • They are deeply loyal and dependable.
  • They have a strong need for order and accuracy.
  • Their conversation is free of hidden meanings and agendas.

Aspies can present challenges for others, though.

For instance, after we moved in together we began to have some conflicts. He had rules for everything in the house — I love to whistle, for example, and he forbade it. He didn’t seem capable of extending himself for me. If I felt needy, he didn’t like that, and it triggered my own childhood experience of living with a family that could never stretch for me. Mike couldn’t come out of his comfort zone, and many things had to be on his terms.

I couldn’t find the typical clues to show me that he loved me that you expect in a partner. When I felt needy I would often ask him why he loved me and he would say, “I just do, I can’t explain why.”

He didn’t have the words for it, just the feelings themselves.

Ever the therapist, I began to wonder if Mike’s flat facial expression and ever-present calm had some pathological basis, such as if perhaps he had been abused or traumatized in his youth. We went to couples’ therapy and I could tell he wanted to change and was an making effort to do so, but his changes weren’t enough for me back then. I felt he was just like my family and I was projecting my youthful trauma all over the green screen he presented to me.

Then one day I happened to see an obscure movie called “Adam,” about a man with Asperger’s and I felt I could identify with nearly every scene. Also, Mike loved the popular TV series, “Big Bang Theory,” and I would watch it with him. The show’s character, Sheldon, might as well have been Mike. Sheldon had a 50-page contract of rules for living with him, even one that stated, “No whistling in the house!”

While the show never directly comes out to say that Sheldon has AS, it is clear to those of us who know what it is that this is exactly what is being dramatized by the actor.

And then it dawned on me— Mike has Asperger’s!

I started to read more about it and it became clear how Mike’s mind worked differently from my “neurotypical” one and almost immediately 50 percent of my problems with him were gone. I thought, “What am I so angry about? He is trying harder than anyone in my family to accommodate my needs.”

Instead of thinking he had a hidden agenda or was playing games like my family did, I realized Aspies are exactly who they are and there was no attempt to manipulate me.

And so, after 16 years of difficulty with traits that I now know are AS related, I realized how much Mike had tried to make room for me in his world. I recognized how hard it was for him to be in a relationship, and began to notice all his attempts, which were big for him. And the more he did, the more loved and secure I began to feel with him.

Out of his unconditional love for me, he was offering more verbal and physical cues.

I just had to pay attention to the way he demonstrated them, rather than limit myself by only seeking what I was looking for. I started to see how hard he was working to override his Asperger’s with me — and that enveloped me.

Long story short, these last 8 years together we have had little conflict because I have been able to accept him for who he is, as he has done for me all these years.

Despite those we’ve known who can’t imagine how we have remained partners all these years — even some friends we have lost due to misinterpretation of Mike’s ways — I have never met anyone in these 24 years I would rather be with. He is the perfect partner for me.

I learned an important lesson from being married to a man with Aspies that I want to share with anyone dealing with a partner: Put away your judgment.

Learn how their minds work differently than yours, and radically accept them for who they are. Don’t fight it.

This doesn’t mean you won’t have any conflict with your partner, but it will be easier to work through the conflict because it will lack the negative judgment about who they are that gets in the way of dealing with the issue at hand.

If you can, I’m pretty sure you will discover, like I did, new riches in your life.


5. Managing depression, anxiety, OCD, and ADHD

People with AS are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). Undiagnosed and untreated anxiety is a major problem for individuals with AS, and can lead to a deeper manifestation of the negative AS traits like impulsivity, melt-downs, rage, and withdrawal, all negatively impacting the marriage. It is vital to diagnose and treat depression, anxiety, OCD, or ADD/ADHD either with medications or/and with therapy.

Another helpful form of intervention can be provided by a life coach who specializes in AS, such as AANE’s LifeMAP coaches. Coaches can help adults with AS resolve practical problems that are draining their emotionally or causing friction with their spouses, such as employment issues, or difficulty with time management, staying organized, or social skills.

NT spouses can often experience their own mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, affective deprivation disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of being in a relationship with an undiagnosed and untreated partner with AS for an extended period of time. In these cases, the NT partner should also receive treatment.


When things get intimate

If a person asks "do you want to come back to my place" it usually means for sex though if it does, there are no guarantees that it will happen.

If you want to do so, smile and give a definite positive answer such as "yes" or "sure". A negative or hesitant answer is always offensive.

The actual act of asking this question is more of a risky social endeavor than a positive answer so long as the answer isn't over enthusiastic and a negative answer is a more risky social endeavor than a positive one so don't feel embarrassed in answering positively. They will probably be relieved and pleased if you do.

Guys sometimes ask this question of women, but it is a bad idea for an aspie male.

By making potential partners jump over all these hurdles, people are often trying to avoid retribution from competitors and also short term relationships in which only their partner benefits.


You're Jealous of the Kids

Let's face it: No one really likes sharing their mate. For most of us, jealousy is in our nature. But when you're dating a single parent, being jealous of the kids will get you nowhere. (Well, that's not quite true it may get you sent out the door—quickly!) While there aren't many dating issues that are black-and-white, this is one of them. If you're competitive with the kids, you're setting your relationship up for failure. Being jealous puts the parent in the middle and isn't healthy for the kids, which leads to more tension than most relationships can handle.

How to Handle It

When you experience jealousy, stop and acknowledge the emotion. If, after giving it some thought, you think the issue is worth bringing up, find some time when the two of you can talk about it alone. Come clean about how you're feeling and talk about what you both value in your relationship. Then, explore how you might be able to let go of the jealousy. For example, it might help to make it a point to share little reminders of how much you each value your relationship in the hectic mix of your everyday lives.


Make time for fun

Pre-COVID research would suggest that couples who can find novelty and fun even during isolation are going to emerge happiest. Arthur Aron, PhD, a research professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, has found that couples who participate in novel and challenging activities together experience self-expansion, a highly rewarding motivational state that can translate to a stronger relationship bond. Isolation is “new and novel, but not exactly fun,” Aron says wryly, but some couples are managing to find fresh activities amidst the lockdown: Zoom cooking classes, long walks at that nearby nature preserve they’d never managed to visit before, videochat “dates” with other couples.

Anecdotally, the couples struggling the most to bond in quarantine are those with young children, says Linda Carter, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the New York University School of Medicine. “All the advice we like to give to couples about finding time together, activities together, ways to enjoy time together and try new things, it’s very difficult,” she says. “There is zero time for each other. The whole day is shuffling the kids back and forth.”

Carter recommends that couples with kids old enough to be left in the house alone for short periods take walks around the neighborhood together for those with kids who can’t be left alone, she encourages parents to carve out time after the kids’ bedtimes to spend time together.

Even short periods of novel activity can nourish a relationship, Aron says: “If you can find space to be with your partner, then use that space well.”

Couples who are really struggling should seek out virtual couples therapy, Aron says. “And if either of you as an individual is anxious or depressed,” he says, “individual therapy is really important.”



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