AS & Relationships That Work Differently

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A forum for partners of those with Asperger's Syndrome and who are looking for ways to cope and overcome the difficulties that as brings.

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NT/AS: What does it take?   Do You Have What You Need? (public)

Started by barneysmom52; 38165 views.

From: barneysmom52


Do I have what I need to exist in a neuro-diverse realtionship (NT/AS)? If not, how can I get it?

This is a question we all ask ourselves, and come to forums like this one, to seek the answers.  

I recently wrote this post as I was gathering my thoughts on the matter.

Do you have the emotional make-up to live with someone who feels and communicates emotions differently than you?

Can you fill at least some of your own emotional and social needs independently? Do you have the means to do that?

Do you have the intellectual curiosity to learn the facts about autism and make sense of your relationship from what you have learned?

Are you willing to learn about some of your childhood issues which may be triggering your strong response to your partner?

You may be this kind of person, and you may not be. Just think about yourself gently and uncritically as you ask these questions of yourself.

Obviously there are many more issues to consider when making choices about a relationship. I thought this post would serve as a good discussion-starter.

Please add your thoughts.



  • Edited 9/28/2007 12:28 pm ET by barneysmom52

From: carolbied


As the NT: (apologies re: gender sensitivity, but I'm writing from the female NT/Male AS perspective)

Do you have the ability to be a strong enough parent for two (sometimes), and let go of preconceived notions about what family life looks life?

Do you have the tolerance it sometimes will take to deal with others behavior and comments directed towards your AS significant other, and clueless comments directed towards you: it's just guy behavior; I know people with AS, and your's couldn't be AS;  why don't you just tell him what you want; he's so smart, I'm sure you're just not understanding him.......  You get the jist.

Is your sense of humor intact?

Can you remember to take care of yourself, especially when the going gets tough?

Do you have a good support system, and if not, can you build one?



From: cmasp


Hi, Jo,

I'm glad you started this thread as well.  As I said earlier, I think your questions are exactly the right ones that need answering.  I think that something about loneliness and being unable to get emotional support in times of emotional crisis also needs to be said.  Although I'm still not too happy about wording, perhaps these could also be questions.

Are you the type of person that is able to get through recurring periods of loneliness?

Are you the type of person that can get emotional support from people other than your partner in times of emotional crisis?

As far as the AS side of things go, I'm not sure that very many of us are very self aware heading into a romantic relationship.  I know I certainly wasn't, in the few I had.  For us, I think history, rather than answering introspective questions, might be a better predictor of whether we might do well in a romantic relationship.  Here are some sample questions I thought of.

Did your parents have a long, stable and happy marriage?  (I think we model behaviour.  A good model to follow would be a big help.)

Have you had stable, long lasting friendships with either males or females as you grew up?  (This can be in elementary, secondary or high school, university, or in jobs.  The ability to sustain any relationship for a long period of time I think will increase the odds a lot.)

What is the longest period of time you have stayed in one job?  (Staying a long time in a single job means that you have the capacity to form some types of relationships, regardless of how casual.  If we act, and then get found out, we can tend to leave jobs when this happens.  Multiple job changes over relatively short periods of time can be a bad sign.)

Have you completed college or university?  (This is obviously not a requirement, but does indicate a good level of social adjustment, intelligence, and the ability to stick with something and complete it.  It will also help in supporting a wife and family.)

While you were romantically involved with one woman, have you ever slept with other women?  (Once we form a pattern, of any sort, it is very hard to break.  If we have a pattern of monogamy, we're likely to keep it.  If we have a pattern of "open" relationships, we're likely to keep that pattern too.)

What is your view of NT's?  (Many people with AS have relatively negative views of NT's.  This is obviously not a good sign for the long term outlook, willingness to change, and compromise, in someone with AS starting a relationship with an NT partner.)

Is the person you're starting a relationship with someone who is strong, independent, warm, caring, and compassionate?  (I think we have a much lower chance of being able to sustain a relationship with anyone who doesn't have these qualities.)



From: cmasp


Hi, Carol,

I'm guessing from your comments <<I know people with AS, and your's couldn't be AS>> that your friends do know about your husband's AS.

I'm interested in how this comes about.  Did you and your husband talk this over, or did one of you just make the decision to tell others?  Is there a difference between your friends and his friends?  For example, do you tell your friends and let him tell his?  Does one of you do all the disclosure, in terms of both your and his friends?  Do you tell people when you're both present, or is just one of you present?  Are both of you in agreement with disclosing this information?

You probably know that this is a topic near and dear to my heart.  I've never had a problem telling anyone, and have never had any backlash from my friends or work, but am still working on trying to get my wife's friends to know.

I think my good luck has been due to a combination of factors.  First, I think I have a good sense of who it is safe to tell.  Second, I think I have a good sense of timing, in terms of when and under what circumstances to tell.  Third, I think I have a good sense of what to tell.  I start off with "interesting information" that I hope will arouse people's interest.  Then I feed them small bits of information over time.  At the end of this process, I'm more in a position to explain more difficult parts of AS, when needed, which I don't think would be understood if I had to start from scratch during a "crisis".

By the way, and in line with the topic of this thread, I'm not sure this is essential to what it takes (obviously not, as my wife and I are doing OK), but I do think it would help a great deal if friends of both the AS and NT partners new about the AS partners AS.

I think both partners, both the AS and the NT, should probably have a veto in this (maybe, just thinking out loud here) and if either party doesn't want it disclosed, then it should probably remain confidential.  But having said this, I do think disclosure is much better.

If nothing else (notwithstanding the uninformed comments you're likely to get), I think there is a greater chance of the NT partner having more options for getting the emotional support from people that might understand.  This understanding isn't going to be there if it's disclosed during a "crisis", as people just aren't going to get it.  But if talked about gradually over time with other people, I think understanding could grow over time, so support could be there eventually.


  • Edited 10/1/2007 4:43 pm by cmasp
In reply toRe: msg 4

From: carolbied


Hi Chris,

Well, this is a somewhat loaded topic at our house too, but for different reasons.  I should probably give you a little background on us, so there is a context. 

We both come from very dysfunctional backgrounds.  I grew up, became a child and family therapist, focusing on early childhood mental health, especially kids who have been severely abused.  I've been in and out of therapy for years, just making sure that I'm heading down the right path.   My husband hit a bad patch before I met him, and saw a therapist for a short while, but nothing longterm.

My husband, when we met, in our late 30's, had a group of friends he socialized with, but they were in discrete clumps, usually tied to musical interests.  Most of my friends were old friends who landed back in town, or were therapists.  I'm kind of a "let's throw everyone together type", so we threw my friends and his friends together.  Eventually, my friends, who found him "puzzling" drifted away, and his friends became our friends.  I have a daughter from a previous marriage, and then we had a child together.  Some of his friends had kids in the same age range, so it worked. 

Except, when we had our son the cracks in the relationship really started showing.  I thought that "his/our" friends would be supportive, but they wholesale told me things like "It's just a guy thing", or "That's not so bad, I've seen worse".  I insisted we go to couples therapy, and he agreed to go to "help" me. 

It was three years in to therapy that our therapist suggested that he might have schizoid pd, and in many ways it seemed to fit, although not wholly. I brought this up with a couple of his/our friends, but since he seems like such a nice guy, really sweet, kind, there was a fair amount of backlash, assuming I was labelling him when in fact it was our therapist and then a psychiatrist. And my goal in telling people was primarily to get support for us both, especially around some of the parenting stuff.  His friends have much looser boundaries than I do, and it was difficult at best.

Two more years, and things still haven't really changed.  (Well, I've become crankier and less tolerant!)  A new psychiatrist mentions the possibility of AS, and then discounts it based on Cognitive testing.  I look into it, and go, hey!  and go back to our therapist, saying This explains so many things!!!   She agrees, and I begin the crusade. 

I don't really care what my husbands dx is, but I do care that we create a life we can both live with.  I started integrating my knowledge of AS in to our life, and asked him to join me.  He was resistant at first, especially since one psychiatrist had said no, but with reading, and seeing the changes I was making in dealing with him (and that they made his life better) he came around.

I shared the new found knowledge with a couple of his orignal crowd, and they simply disbelieved me.  Told me they hoped I could find support on a forum, but they knew AS, and he doesn't have it.  Admittedly, with one person it was in a crisis moment, but I had hoped for a better response.  Also, there is a fair amount unspoken side taking/blame laying, and since he'd never been seen having problems before, it must be me.  Never mind he hadn't been in a relationship for 15 years, so there wasn't a "comparison group"!

So, to your questions.  I do most of the telling, but only because he doesn't really interact with others that much.  I want support for us both, and I'm tired of hearing people say awful things about him to me.  It astounds me what people will say.  I don't think it would ever occur to him (at this point) to try and get someone to understand why he is different.  Heck, he doesn't even appear to notice that people treat him as if he is different. 

I got tired of being the bad guy when his mom was around, and asked that he try to explain that there were reasons why our life looks like it does.  She refused to believe him, although he tried a couple of times to tell her. Even sent her a letter, which she never acknowledged.  It would be pointless to tell anyone in my family...  I am convinced his brother has AS as well, suspect their father did, but that info would go over like a lead balloon.

I am now very cautious about who I tell because of the incredulity factor.  My best friends, all of whom live on the other side of the country, know, and are supportive of me.  My 17 year old daughter knows, and is so glad to have a way to understand some of the more perplexing moments we bump in to.  I've told a couple of the moms in our neighborhood, mainly because of safety concerns, and they are really kind and supportive of us both. 

He doesn't tell anyone that I know of, because in his mind, it is a non-issue.  He thinks he does just fine.  So, it's a bit like a see-saw.  I suspect that with time it will even out more, but I doubt he will try and tell anyone again.

However, all that being said, I'm trying to get together a support group here for people with AS and their significant others.  I'm thinking about going back to school and getting a Phd in psych, looking in to communication patterns in AS/NT relationships, all of which means I will no doubt be talking more about the issue, and my life in particular.  We have discussed all this, and he appears non-plussed, but we will need to continue discussing it over a lifetime, because who knows, his feelings might change.

This has gotten so long, sorry.  I may have missed some of your questions... I'll go back and re-read and may post more! 


  • Edited 10/1/2007 10:46 pm ET by carolbied
In reply toRe: msg 3

From: barneysmom52


Chris, I'm reading these as an NT woman, but I think they are very insightful questions. They are all good points, but this one jumped out at me:

"Did your parents have a long, stable and happy marriage?"  

Both my ds's and my parents had long and stable relationships. Looking back on my own childhood, it was fraught with dysfunction, but we were a family and I always assumed I would be married for a long time when I got married myself.

Of course that might work to keep me in a bad marriage longer, but I always did believe in my husband, even though I wanted to leave during the lonely times and the times he was verbally abusive. (I'm not suggesting staying in a verbally abusive marriage -- we were able to get help for it, but it did take a piece out of me I'm not sure I'll ever get back).



From: barneysmom52


Good observations, Carol.

"Do you have a good support system, and if not, can you build one?"

I had NO support systems for most of our 27 years of marriage. My first therapist, who I started with in 2002, never picked up on the AS piece. He was a good listener and got me started on my journey towards mental health and helped me out with some of my issues regarding our special-needs kids.

My next therapist, whom I've been seeing for about a year, has been a lifeline for me. She understands the AS piece. She says her goal is to help me keep moving forward and not get stuck. She and the people on these forums are the only AS-related support systems I have. My life has changed since I joined the forums. 



From: carolbied



I'm with you on that one!  My therapist is really good, very empathic, and it is great to have her understanding.  But it has meant the world to me to stumble upon a group of people who know what my day to day world is like, having been there, and can offer humor, solace, practical advice, you catch my drift.  I no longer assume my sanity is shot, and I'm one step away from the funny farm.  I am moving forward, looking for solutions.  I feel like long lost parts of me are drifitng back!



From: barneysmom52


Hi Carol,

"I feel like long lost parts of me are drifitng back!"

I feel this way too Carol. I'm also finding that I'm more able to enjoy my "NT-ness" and just be myself. Looking back, I think I was tamping my authentic self down -- "shrinking" is a word I've heard AS partners use more than once -- to accommodate my husband somehow.

Now I think that he never expected that of me -- it was my deal. I have a history of tamping myself down for others. I'm really working on not tamping myself down, and finding I can do this in the presence of my marriage.



From: cmasp


Hi, Carol,

Thanks very much for your reply. I'm really grateful for all the information. It really helps in understanding your situation.  I have to warn you that this is also a very long post.

Our own situation, in terms of current friends, is almost the exact opposite of yours, which may also help to explain why our results in terms of telling others is different.

Both my wife and I grew up in families that functioned for the most part pretty well.

We also met in our late 30's. My wife had just left her marriage of 20 years to an alcoholic husband. I was just recovering from my 2nd major depression, which lasted about a year. By a happy series of coincidences, I had a good living situation, a good job situation, and a very good situation in terms of friends and a social life. I also thought, mistakenly, that I'd been cured of whatever "disorder" I had. At the time, AS hadn't made it into the DSM. I'd previously been diagnosed with Avoidant Personality Disorder. I know now that this was common, and that many people with AS were misdiagnosed with one of the PDs before AS made it into the DSM. Sounds like your husband had a similar experience, and misdiagnosis.

I may have posted here before on how I think some of us can mistakenly come to believe we are cured, due to finding ourself in situations where we can do well. It's like having a phobia of water, moving to the desert, finding you're no longer frightened, and thinking "I'm cured". Of course, the reality is not that you're cured, it's just that you've discovered, perhaps by chance or perhaps by hard work, a very effective coping strategy. I stumbled, quite by accident, into a situation that I now realize looking back on it was almost ideal for someone with AS, so believed I had been cured.

Because of my good situation, and my "cure", I had tons of friends, went out all the time, and was very active socially. I had good coping skills, and a very good "act". Fortunately for others, my "act" was widely and thinly spread over a great number of people, and wasn't intensely focussed on any one person. When I met my wife, I still maintained my friends, so didn't focus all of my attention on her. We still went through a major period of adjustment when we moved in together, and the act I did have started to wear thin, but I don't think it was as bad as it can be. I still had enough things to talk about through my work and other friends that a semblance of my act was still possible.

Gradually, two things happened in terms of our friends.

First, I started seeing less and less of my friends, and gradually pretty much all of them fell by the wayside. I think this was because of the following. As you know, I believe those of us with AS can only provide physical support, and not emotional support via conventional means. I suspect my wife, and I suspect many NT partners of people with AS, see us going over to our friends all the time. I think they believe we're over at our friends, giving our friends all the things we're not giving our wives at home, such as emotional support. Not being familiar with AS, I don't think our partners realize that our friends are sharing the load of taking care of us, in exchange for us doing what physical things we can for our friends. And, I also think because we're around our friends much less than our partners, we can still maintain the "mask" and "act" of being wonderful, caring, attentive, and supportive people. So we contribute to the mistaken belief our partners have that we're giving our friends emotional support, while withholding it from our partners.

The natural inclination for our partners is to say "How come you always go over to your friends and support them, while you never support me and your family at home?" This led to a lot of arguments with my wife early in our marriage. In an NT/NT partnership, if the balance between supporting friends and supporting our wives got out of balance, we'd continue to support our friends. We'd just increase, perhaps substantially if the situation had deteriorated a lot, the emotional support we gave our wives. In an NT/AS partnership, I don't think those of us with AS have this option. We can't emotionally support our wives. The only option we have, to achieve a balance, is to stop going over to our friends, and to stop seeing them. Our partners don't get any more emotional support than they were before, but at least now they know and can see that it's not the case that we're giving something to our friends that we're not giving to them.

That's what has happened in my case. I'm not sure it's healthy. I'm not sure what to do about it. But given what I think is a relatively happy and healthy marriage, and the fact that I'm happy with all my current activities and have very little time, I'm not sure it's enough of a problem to do anything about right now. I do believe that this is an area where I should do a lot more thinking, and where there may be more effective coping strategies.

The second thing that I saw happening, which I think is very, very common in NT/AS partnerships, is that my wife's friends started coming around less and less to see her. She still makes a very great and successful effort to see them. Sometimes they will all get together for lunch, coffee or dinner at a restaurant. Sometimes, they'll all get together at someone's house. Sometimes that will be our house. But her friends just don't casually drop in after work, or on a weekend as they used to. I suspect in large part this is because the friends of an NT partner in an AS/NT relationship sense that things are somewhat ... off. They don't know what. They can't quite put their finger on things. But things just don't quite fit. I think this makes them just a little less comfortable dropping in, so gradually, over time, without the warm, welcoming household to invite them, they just start dropping in less and less.

The friends I have now are old friends from work. I rarely see them socially, outside of work, but I do spend time with them at work. Without exception, even though they are mostly male, they are also caring, empathetic, caring and compassionate people. And I think that's in large part why I get the reaction I do from them when I tell them about my AS.

Much as I would like it to be otherwise, in my experience, I have found telling others in order to get support and understanding rarely works. Now, I tell people to give them information. I make it no big deal. I try to tell them "This means I'll be really good at this, but not very good at that. In order for this project to succeed, I think the best chances for a really good outcome is for me to be assigned these duties, and assign those duties to so and so." In other words, I'm giving them information that will increase their chances of success. I have received some understanding and support from some of the people closest to me in the past, but that has been the exception rather than the rule. Most people just don't get it. But, I do believe that my new approach is working well. I can see evidence of changes at work in how people view me, and others with AS, at my workplace, and so far it has been nothing but positive. Having said that, there are people I haven't and likely never will tell. Just as I have a good eye for detecting people with AS pretty quickly and accurately, with minimal information, I think I also have a good ability to pick out "safe", caring and understanding people, that are "safe" to tell, and also a good ability to detect people that just don't need to know.

I'm glad to see your husband is coming around. I think many of us do have a good intelligence. I think we've had to develop many coping mechanisms based on how society has been in the past, and that many of these coping skills work against us contributing what we are capable of. I think as and when people change their approach to us, as you are doing with your husband, that our coping skills, and contributions, can drastically improve. I'm sure this will continue with your husband.

As to his friends not believing he has it, the same was true for my friends. I had so many say "You can't possibly have no empathy (before I knew the label, and just knew the symptoms). Look at all the kind, caring things you do." Well, perhaps I was, but it was using entirely different neural networks, such as my intellect rather than my emotional pathways to identify what to do and then do it. And, having few real responsibilities, it left me free to do tons of tasks which made me look good. I'm sure if our NT partners had the very, very few responsibilities we have, they'd be available to do tons of chores for their friends too.

Don't worry about being the bad guy around his parents. It's taken me from my 30's to my 50's to get my parents to finally accept something is different about me. And they brought me up. Of course, it hasn't been a consistent struggle every day, and I haven't made a point of trying to convince them, but I wanted to get into some AS scientific studies, which required my parent's input. So they've been aware I've been pursuing it. It's just this year that I think both of them have finally acknowledged my AS. So perhaps you only have another 15 years to go??? :-)

One of my stepdaughters knows, has done a lot of research into it, and I talk to her about it on a semi-regular basis. I moved in when she was 5, so she had more reason to know. My other stepdaughter doesn't know, more because there hasn't been a reason for her to know. I wouldn't have a problem telling her, and think she would be open to it. She had moved out by the time I met her mother, so was never living with me and my AS, and is accepting of me now without knowing anything about my AS.

<<However, all that being said, I'm trying to get together a support group here for people with AS and their significant others.>>

I think this is a great idea. This post is already far too long, but I'm going to offer a couple of suggestions, and perhaps follow up in a later thread. What would you think about modelling it along the lines of AA and AlAnon, and having two groups - one for NT partners, and one for AS spouses?

The reasons I have for suggesting this are the following. I'm sure people know me well enough from my posts by now to realize I'm not at all suggesting AS is "bad behaviour related" and can be cured with a self help program. AS and alcoholism are certainly very, very different. But I think there are enough similarities, in some very specific areas, that a program for AS people and those around us, modelled after AA and AlAnon, might enjoy success in ways that other programs might not.

On the NT side of things, I think modelling a program after AlAnon would have the following benefits.

First, the focus would be on the NT partner. In AlAnon, there is no judgement or pressure on the sober partner to stay or leave. The object is solely to support the sober partner, in whatever decision they choose to make. I think that would certainly help a lot of NT partners of AS people.

Second, it would not depend on the AS partner changing. In AlAnon, the focus is not on getting the alcoholic partner to change in any way, especially in getting them to stop drinking. The focus is on not enabling the alcoholic partner, in meeting your own needs, in setting boundaries, and making sure you stay emotionally healthy. I think everyone can see at least a few parallels with living with an AS partner.

Third, I suspect that NT partners would feel much more free to open up with their honest feelings, vulnerabilities, and anger if AS partners were not present. I suspect that many AS partners would not be at all happy in having their "dirty laundry" aired in public. It's one thing to do on an anonymous forum. It's another to do in a therapists office, with professional guarantees of confidentiality, which is hard enough. It's quite another to talk about things in public. I think a measure of support requires honest airing of feelings, and I do suspect this could be inhibited in face to face gatherings of NTs with their AS partners.

Fourth, AlAnon enjoys success.  There's a lot to be said for a program that enjoys success.

On the AS side of things, I think modelling a program after AA would have the following benefits.

First, you would only have people there that were somewhat serious about changing. No one can force anyone to go to AA before they are ready. And as we've seen here and on other forums, there seems to be very little success in getting those of us with AS to recognize we have AS if we don't want to do this.

Second, the first steps in AA involve acknowledging we have a problem. I think many of us with AS live in a constant state of denial, and construct a fantasy world around us which just is not true. I think until we acknowledge certain things, isolated successes are possible, but lasting change in our behaviour is more of an open question.

Third, I think we could admit to things in an AS only group, especially things like perhaps a lack of empathy, or an inability to truly love our partners in a traditional sense, that could really upset our NT partners if they didn't realize we were talking about what we believe are intellectual facts, rather than emotional wishes.

And, fourth, as before, AA has a record of success, where a lot of other programs don't.

It of course depends on what you're trying to accomplish. I'm just get kind of discouraged from time to time that although my ideas seem to help a lot of NT folks, the people whose lives I think could really be changed by them (namely those of us with AS), don't seem to be very receptive.  I'm not sure that would changed in a mixed group, but then again it depends what you are aiming for.  I just remembered you were aiming for NT/AS communication.  Obviously that would require a mixed group. :-)

Another thing that influences my thinking in this area is that my wife had to go to AA to deal with her alcoholic husband. I've heard that after women end such relationships, and they can relax, all sorts of health and psychological problems, from heart disease to cancer to panic attacks can happen. That happened to my wife, who had to go to AlAnon for a couple of years. While she really resented it (she didn't like going to a group to deal with someone else's problem - her ex's - if she had to go to any group at all, she'd much prefer a group to deal with her own problems, thank you very much), it ended up doing her a world of good. But, quite unexpectedly, I think it's also helped her a tremendous amount in dealing with me, in setting boundaries, not enabling me, in taking care of her own needs, and in recognizing what she can and can't change, and accepting these things.

<<I'm thinking about going back to school and getting a Phd and looking in to communication patterns in AS/NT relationships>>

I think this is a wonderful, wonderful idea. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I think to Belfrey1, that in our area of around 350,000 people, there is currently only one psychologist with experience with AS. This person, who is a woman in her 50's, just by chance happens to have a brother, also in his 50's, who has AS. I can't tell you how much of a difference this made to me when I was seeing her. She just "got" a lot of things without needing a lot of explanation. I think you would have a tremendous amount to offer to others looking for help, having "been there and done that" and having a real understanding of the reality of communication in an NT/AS relationship.

Thanks again for your wonderful post.