How to Improve Communication in Your Neurodiverse Relationship

Communication, for any couple, is a continual work in progress. Your neurodiverse relationship is no exception.

Whether one or both of you are on the autism spectrum, the challenges to feeling mutually heard and understood are real and ongoing. Coming together to engage and respond to each other effectively is vital to a lasting connection.

Moreover, it’s important to address your challenges sooner rather than later. Otherwise, that sense that you’re on different pages or speaking two different languages will continue to grow.

So what steps can you take to turn your communication issues around?

Try these 4 Strategies to Make Communication Work

Discrepancies in social communication are central for neurodiverse partners struggling to connect. Consider the suggested improvements below:

Make Space for Processing Issues

Frustration between partners often occurs because of misunderstandings resulting from a difference in perception. Neurotypical communication frequently happens in the moment and more spontaneously than that of their neurodiverse (ND) counterparts.  Thus, neurotypical (NT) partners perceive that neurodiverse partners lack interest or concern about what matters to them.

In actuality, neurodiverse partners may simply require additional time to process the issue at hand.

To work through this, look for ways to enhance the processing of experiences. Consider sharing topics before discussions. Or follow up a discussion with the highlights as you saw them. When neurodiverse partners are allowed time to break things down, they do a more effective job of assessing the matter and responding appropriately and sensitively.

Time Your Talks Well

Generally, timing is a crucial part of improving daily interaction and communication. Acknowledge that trying to talk when either of you is in a rush, hungry, exhausted, or in the middle of other projects is not productive. Accept too that planning optimal times and circumstances to talk is always critical in a neurodiverse relationship.

Why? Because transitions matter greatly to people on the spectrum. Planning ahead supports a neurodiverse person’s ability to switch gears mentally, be as thoughtful as possible, and engage successfully. You may even want to plot conversation time on your phones and planners to pave the way for a fruitful conversation. Paying attention to the stressors that might distract you or detract from tuning in to each other goes a long way in supporting deeper communication.

Deal With the Way You Deliver  Information

Do you and your partner often start conversations only to feel criticized, picked on, and defensive? This, too, is common among neurodiverse couples. The way you and your partner share information must be given some relational context to translate well.

For a better chance at connecting and feeling close, choose to set your mental and emotional intentions first. In other words, be clear and upfront about why you are sharing or giving feedback. Let each other know that the intention is not to hurt, belittle, or demand, even if the information isn’t altogether positive.

Delivering well-timed information, outside the context of heated discussion. Interacting when you are both calm and comfortable is ideal.  A neurodiverse partner will likely find it difficult to accept and integrate feedback for meaningful conversation in the height of conflict. In addition, it’s vital that neurotypical partners continue to provide as much clarity as possible regarding tough feedback, to compensate for differences in social comprehension.

Leave No Doubts About Needs & Wants

Finally, communication does not go well when partners have to guess what each other is thinking. Assumptions are made, signals get crossed, and feelings get hurt. Too often, couples believe that love means never having to state things clearly. This is the exact opposite of the truth.

Mindreading does not work well and is a sure way to create problems. Don’t use intuition to communicate, use your words. Say what you want clearly and mean what you say. Doing this routinely is not a sign that something is wrong between you. In fact, in neurodiverse relationships, problem-solving occurs best when there is a solid, open expression of needs and desires between you both.

Be straightforward about what you want from the relationship. Talk about what you want from the conversation. Do you want deep conversation and feedback? Or simply to be heard? Such crystal clear communication is the framework in which neurodiverse partners do well.

Take the Next Step

Recognizing patterns of unproductive communication and practicing more effective strategies takes time. To strengthen your neurodiverse relationship, you’ll need patience and new tools to master optimal communication. Try to be patient with yourselves.

Couples therapy is often a  safe place for you to improve awareness and insight together. Please consider seeking support for your neurodiverse relationship, I’m here to help. Contact me soon for a consultation.

Be Well,

Dr. G

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