I’ve written before about a number of issues faced by people with Aspergers. I’d like to tackle the one about relationships. I welcome your feedback and I will expand upon what I’m saying in other posts.
Temple Grandin wrote in her first book about not wanting to be in a relationship because she missed many personal signals. Just to keep a sense of correctness and humor about this, having done couples and family therapy for many years, so does everyone. If that were the case, we’d never have relationships, so, here we are—for better or for worse.
What are the risks for Aspies in personal relationships? The first is that an Aspie is likely to miss some of the cues inviting her or him into a relationship. They miss the flirting and the foreplay that goes into one person deciding that s/he may want a relationship. This foreplay is necessary for us, because it gives the person a chance to “test” the other person. When people are asked about what kind of partner they are seeking, they often say that they want a sense of humor and playfulness. Aspies may have problems in that area.
Another area is in the minefield of concrete and black and white thinking. Sometimes Aspies can add to this thinking by a bit of flat affect and a deadpan voice. People seeking relationships want the other to leave openings and room for them and to show some flexibility. Aspies can ‘present’ as if it’s all decided and clear. They can come off “right” and “too sure.” [BTW, all these quotes are from my Aspie clients.]
Aspies can also have other issues that may provide some difficulty in forming romantic relationships. One is that other things may be going on. One Aspie client had OCD on top of the Asperger’s. He kept everything so orderly and so complex that it took over his living quarters. Moreover, he couldn’t always remember his “systems.” What room would there be for someone else in his world?
Another client had ADHD. He was impulsive and episodic on top of being concrete. Initially, he didn’t know he had ADHD. Thus, he “chased” people away.
If you’re following my intent, I’m suggesting that Aspies need to learn how to be romantic and to be flexible. They need help in therapy to learn to pick up signals, to respond more flexibly, and to understand what other kinds of concerns might be affecting them and their partners. That suggests that an Aspie and her/his partner should come to couples therapy as well, and that the prospective or existing partner be helped to understand and to respond in useful ways. Role playing can be an excellent learning procedure in this process.
Some last points to mention here: Being an Aspie doesn’t mean you can’t have issues or other problems that can affect romantic relationships. One Aspie had questions about his sexual preference. When we treat Aspies, we can easily overlook other issues that must be addressed and should not just focus on the Asperger’s. Aspies can also have any of the other problems all of us face. Those too, need to be addressed in therapy.
So, the lesson is: Aspies can succeed in romantic relationships. They will need help in finding them, and they and their partners will need help in maintaining them.