Are you a neurotypical person with a partner on the Autism Spectrum? Are you struggling to find ways to connect and relate in everyday ways? You aren’t alone in your experience. Many couples in similar circumstances struggle as they try to find harmony and balance together in their intimate partnerships. At Spectrum Connections Therapy, we specialize in counseling to support issues related to neurodiverse partnerships.
What is an integral part of developing a solid connection in neurodivergent partnerships? Accepting that there are key differences in perception, communication, and emotional regulation/expression in each person’s experience. To grow and deepen your bond, you may find it helpful to work with a well-qualified therapist who has experience in working with relationships where one or both individuals are on the autism spectrum or otherwise neurodivergent. In support of this need, here are a few general tips to keep in mind when navigating life with a loved one on the spectrum:
Tips to Understand a Partner on the Autism Spectrum
1. Accept that emotions look different on your partner.
Most of all, dispel any notion that your partner is unable to feel or express emotions. In fact, intense empathy and emotion are common among autistic people. It simply isn’t revealed on their faces or in everyday interactions. Emotional expression, for your loved one, maybe difficult or hard to understand. This is not an indicator that they don’t care.
2. Acknowledge that emotions look different to your partner.
Interpreting and reading another person’s emotional expression can be challenging for autistics. This does not mean they don’t care or lack empathy. Try to acknowledge that your autistic partner is really jumping into the deep end with you. On one hand, they long for connection. On the other hand, they recognize that they are missing their partner’s subtle signals to come closer and engage more.
Do your best to understand that your partner is working hard at their relationship too. They want to be with you, despite the mysterious messages they are continually trying to decode.
3. Stay open to mutual growth and be patient.
The ‘-typical’ portion of the descriptor ‘neurotypical’ can lead you to believe that it is your partner’s job to grow into relationship harmony with you. That isn’t actually the case. Neurotypical partners should do their part and embrace their own personal growth too towards cultivating balance in the relationship.
Your neurodiverse partner is likely constantly navigating a biased world that often doesn’t feel safe to them. As much as you can demonstrate a desire to understand their point of view and reactions, the better. Be as supportive as you can, and they may need your help deciphering neurotypical communication. During this process, you may find that explaining and sharing in ways you both understand each other can be a bonding activity that is a fulfilling part of your connection.
4. Honor your partner’s unique needs.
Learning and respecting circumstances that challenge or upset your autistic partner is key to developing trust, intimacy, and a deeper connection. Consider the following factors:
- Social environments may feel overwhelming. A great many people on the spectrum enjoy time to themselves and engage in hobbies or special interests. Go easy when it comes to insisting upon lots of gatherings or outings together.
- Group discussions may be draining: Many autistic people are exhausted by the need to manage multiple conversations. They usually prefer getting to know one person at a time and prefer to engage meaningfully and attentively that way.
- Sensory sensitivity and overstimulation are not unusual. Tune into your partners’ energy level and mood routinely. Consider the environment and their experiences at work and around others. You may be able to recognize how much they are affected by certain sounds, textures, scents, and sensations.
5. Contain conflict: lean into compassion and away from assumptions.
Conflict happens in every relationship. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are realities and that’s okay. Healthy partnerships tap into a wealth of patience, compassion, and empathy when things get rocky. This is true for your relationship too.
Of course, the onus is not solely on you to keep the peace. Your partner is responsible for sharing and connecting with you too. Your efforts to empathize with your partner and their challenges are what matter most.
Slow down your thoughts when confusion, irritation, or anger rises. Try not to automatically assume your partner is intentionally trying to hurt you. It is likely that they misunderstood your intent to share or make your feelings known. Non-verbals can be challenging for autistics to interpret correctly, so, try being as calm, clear, and direct as you can.
Leaning in compassionately to discern their pain and viewpoint is a sure-fire way to deepen intimacy between you.
Why Counseling is Key
Specialized neurodiverse couples counseling can help you and your autistic partner look inward as well as gain valuable tools to communicate and connect in healthy ways. As a result, you’ll both have the opportunity to productively examine your beliefs, feelings, and intentions for improved self-awareness.
You can then share your true feelings and hopes for the relationship. With that in mind, forward movement and setting satisfying goals as a team may feel more fruitful and exciting again.
We’re here to help. Please contact us for a free 30-minute phone consultation.