Dating someone with Aspergers? While every person with Asperger’s syndrome is unique, there are certain key issues that often appear in their romantic relationships. In particular, most individuals with Asperger’s struggle with social norms that come easily to others, and can demonstrate a notable lack of awareness of how others feel or what they might need. If you’re looking to improve communication, intimacy and understanding with someone who has an Asperger’s diagnosis, consider these seven tips.
1. Remember that your partner is not trying to hurt you
You can learn a lot about the neurological and emotional experiences of people with Asperger’s just by researching the condition online. Most importantly, it can be very reassuring to see black and white proof that your partner is not uncaring or self-absorbed but rather just processes experiences of the world differently. When someone with Asperger’s doesn’t make conventional romantic gestures or fails to respond to yours, don’t automatically interpret this as withholding affection. The average person with Asperger’s simply doesn’t “get” why such gestures are important or connected to love. Keeping this in mind encourages you to explain to your partner why these things matter to you and also minimizes the chances that your feelings will be hurt.
2. Work on a list of relationship behaviors
While the average relationship might prize romantic spontaneity, you’ll probably need to let go of that idea if you want to make it with a partner who has Asperger’s. Instead, it can be helpful to make concrete lists that draw direct connections between particular actions and appropriate times to deploy them (adding in notes about what these behaviors mean to you if you think that would be helpful to your partner). For example, you might indicate that a hug is an action that’s appropriate when you say you’re sad or have received bad news, and note down that this hug will make you feel safe. Similarly, you could add desired daily gestures such as receiving a kiss before going to work and being asked “How was your day?” upon arriving home. This type of list can be as extensive as you like and can also include verbal expressions of affection or care. However, try to avoid taking a patronizing approach—the emphasis should be on how you and your partner differ in thinking, not on the claim that your partner is defective.
3. Ask your partner about their needs as well
The other side of the above exercise involves asking your partner what makes them feel connected and happy in the relationship. For example, some people with Asperger’s are intensely focused on a narrow range of interests and would be thrilled by your taking a more active role in those interests. In addition, while you might love hanging out with a large group of friends, your partner might feel anxious in big groups and need periods of downtime from socialization. A list of your partner’s needs can be a tremendous asset.
4. Don’t unthinkingly blame your partner for all relationship problems
It can be tempting to view yourself as faultless when you have a partner with Asperger’s, as this diagnosis offers an easy explanation for any discord in the relationship. However, this is problematic. Firstly, your partner is not to blame for having Asperger’s—provided they work to improve the relationship and learn more about social expectations, they are likely doing all they can to help. Secondly, as in any couple dynamic, there will be times when you are at fault for being impatient or inconsiderate. When you feel like there is conflict in the relationship, take the time to consider not just your partner’s contributions but also your own.
5. Know that your partner can experience empathy
Studies show that those with Asperger’s struggle with a certain kind of empathy—cognitive empathy. In other words, they cannot just infer emotions from regular cues. For example, your partner is unlikely to intuitively grasp that you are feeling angry if you merely report that your brother has forgotten your birthday. However, people with Asperger’s can experience emotional empathy, which means that once your partner actually knows that you are angry then they may well feel some of that anger as well (along with an urge to defend or protect you). Problems related to empathy and Asperger’s typically come down to communication difficulties rather than lack of emotional affect.
6. Be mindful of sensory overload
Many people with Asperger’s find certain noises, sounds or textures profoundly off-putting, or may be overwhelmed in environments that are saturated with sensory information. If your partner expresses any of these difficulties, keep them in mind when planning dates and picking out food. In addition, be aware that the potential for sensory overload may influence desire to engage in sex (or preferences about how to approach sex).
7. Consider counselling
Finally, while not every relationship therapist will be trained in counselling people with Asperger’s, plenty do have this extra qualification. Search for appropriate therapists in your area, and find one who can make both you and your partner feel comfortable. Going to therapy is not just for those in crisis who are worried about separating. For a couple dealing with the complexities of Asperger’s, working with an experienced therapist can simply be a way to foster more effective communication skills. After meeting with therapists, you can take the lessons learned and conduct your own couples therapy exercises at home.