Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Do Aspies Suddenly Back-Off in Relationships? (Part 1)

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is why an aspie (or suspected aspie) suddenly goes "cold" and backs off on an otherwise good relationship.

It's a difficult question and the answers would vary considerably from one person to another and would depend greatly on the circumstances. Nevertheless, I'll try to point out some possibilities.

Negative Reasons
I generally like to stay positive on this blog and assume that people are not necessarily "evil" but simply misguided. Unfortunately, I do have to acknowledge that there are some people out there who take advantage of others.

I read a book a few years ago on "sociopaths in the workplace" and I was stunned by the figures. They suggested that sociopaths were so common that most workplaces (small business) had at least one or two.

The fact is that there are lots of people out there who really feel very little for others and who are very manipulative. I'd like to say that aspies aren't like this but I'm sure there are a few.

One of the problems is that sociopaths and aspies can present similarly on the surface. There's not a huge amount of immediately visible difference between "lack of emotional connection" versus "inability to convey emotion". Similarly, manipulative behaviour can often come across as simply "needy".

Since the aspergers diagnosis is based on purely subjective criteria, it's not unlikely that in some cases, sociopaths may be misdiagnosed as aspies.

You have been warned.

Now let's move onto more genuine and solvable reasons.

Change Resistance
This is one of the biggest reasons. The aspie detects an approaching change in the relationship; perhaps you're talking about moving in, having children or maybe you're simply becoming assertive about routines; tea times, household chores or furniture placement.

Whatever the reason, the aspie change resistance kicks in. As we know, aspies are not the world's best communicators and half of the time they'll be completely unaware that the problem is change resistance. To them, they're just unable to cope with the TV being moved to the opposite side of the room. They don't know why they don't like it but they can think of lots of fancy excuses. The aspie may find it easier to go quiet and say nothing than to speak their mind.

The NT side of the relationship will often take this "quietness" to indicate grudging acceptance and may exacerbate the situation by repeating it (for instance, moving more furniture). By the time the "quietness" is really noticed as a problem, it's often too late and the aspie has gone "cold" on the relationship.

NTs can assist with change resistance problems by becoming aware of unusual "quietness" in their partner and encouraging discussion. Aspies can help by making more efforts to communicate, even if it means resorting to written forms.

Next Time
Next time I want to look at the role that Depression and Self Doubt plays in causing aspies to back off on relationships.

18 comments:

The Rambling Taoist said...

I've talked about this issue on my blog too. From my own experience, I always seemed to develop "issues" as any relationship changed and all relationships do this. The person I initially met and fell in love or strong like with would become a fixation in my mind and when that girl or lady began to change -- simply as the result of being in a relationship -- I didn't know how to handle it.
So, I would pressure the person to return to being the person I first met.

Of course, no one wants a person who supposedly loves them to try to put them in an emotional box! This is the point in which all of my relationships (except for the one with my wife of 24 years) broke down.

When people ask me why my wife & I were able to break this pattern, I'm completely honest. All the credit goes to her! It is solely because of her patience and compassion that we were able to wade through my "issue" period and come out the other side.

eaucoin said...

When it comes to relationships, NTs negotiate them. We Aspies often don't know what we want or how to ask for it, and it makes relationships hard work. We take longer to figure out when it won't work, and then we may stop trying. Since an NT doesn't understand what an effort we've been making, they're liable to think us cold when we stop trying so hard. It's not personal, just a reflection of how the concept of social reciprocity is a struggle for us. When I was young, I knew when my mother didn't like a child that I brought round home. By the time I was in junior high, it was easier to keep my distance from people than to explain why I couldn't have them over. I had NT siblings who could bring friends home, so I knew the problem was with my selection process, but I didn't have anyone to ask about such things. I'm sure a few of those potential friends wondered what happened when they didn't get asked back after I'd been to their homes, even though I clearly liked them. Many of us with Aspergers grew up with family members who we couldn't trust and when a parent is one of those, a lot of our issues go underground, in which case we won't be sharing with you the straw that broke the camel's back, and we will seem very mysterious (not in a good way).

Rachel said...

Wow, maybe it's a gender issue, but I have never had a problem with being quiet about issues in a relationship. Oh my God. I'll discuss anything, and when I know change is coming, I'll get into gear for it. More often than not, it's my partner who resists the change.

My first NT husband had a very difficult time with making changes; my present NT husband is actually quite flexible, but he goes about making change in a very slow and determined way. It's his nature to want to weigh all the options before making a change, and this aspect of his personality balances my tendency to take quick, decisive action. When I'm right about a change that needs to be made, I'll lead us both in a very good direction, but when I'm wrong...Oy. It's good that he's there to slow me down!

Anonymous said...

I've been dating an undiagnosed AS for a couple of months. When I brought up how he doesn't express how he feels or take proactive steps he backed off a bit. Now looking back, he may not have gotten the gist of "proactive" an misinterpreted what I was requesting as a committed relationship.

I tried to explain things more black and white. He directly answered my questions and said he does enjoying spending time together and would like to continue but he didn't want to go beyond that. Presumably that meant not wanting to discuss feelings.

It's very frustrating as an NT knowing if he's interested at all. I suppose if he weren't he'd just make himself unavailable, hide or ignore my calls/emails instead of continuing to engage?

Anonymous said...

I've had this happen to me, and it's quite devastating. I'm an NT woman with Aspie traits, so I *get* why my Aspie guy felt he had to back off, but it doesn't help lessen the frustration of being helpless to change that he backed off. My question is: once an Aspie has backed off in a relationship, is it possible to restore the relationship in some fashion that approximates the original strong feelings, or is it just "over?" I'm willing to take baby steps to restore the relationship, but if he isn't going to budge or even talk about how he feels, then it seems pointless. Pointless, and a missed opportunity for a real connection (which makes me very sad).

Anonymous said...

I can't even get as far as to get into a relationship. I have issues with work place/school relationships not progressing to the next level. I notice that all my fellow students and co-workers have no issue in becoming buddies and laughing and joking and hanging out. They even take their friendship beyond the office and talk about the bike rides they went on or the other activities they did together. They seem to have endless things to say and talk about with each other.
Two years later I am still on a very superficial level with them. They have, by this time, noticed my difference from them and each deals with it according to their individuality. Some avoid me, others accept our superficial relationship for what it is, others just seem to wonder about me.
The part you wrote about the sociopaths in the work place relates to Aspies in that, Aspies can sometimes be the target of "Socios". A lesson that is often learned the hard way by some of us. Also, I see a big difference between Aspies and Sociopaths, Sociopaths seem to jump right in and try to charm everyone to get what they want in social settings.

The Sage of Redondo said...

Hello all, from what I read alot of people start out strong in relationships but then grow weaker and weaker as they expose more of there traits and stop reading the other person. What are your thoughts on this?

As for change resistance; yeah it's suddenly annoying to have something moved but I usually just shrug it off. My mom and my sister would often change the furniture layout just for the excitement of being in somewhat different setup which would drive me nuts as they often made the room worse then before. In retrospect I can understand this feeling of wanting some change but I keep myself too busy to worry about things like that.

Tamala said...

I have noticed a pattern of withdrawal in friendships. Being so introverted, I am often initially drawn to very emotional, social people. After a bit of time, they wear me out and I don't want to get sucked into the emotional maelstrom. I need to try to make friends with the other introverts.

The Sage of Redondo said...

*nods* Tamala when someone approaches you or takes the initiative to talk to you it has a powerful psychological effect (attraction); extroverted people are quite tiring if you don't know how to make conversation and establish relationships. I'm guessing they do most of the talking and initiative, such as inviting you to places, etc, you feel left out and not in control so your interest may simply die out. I'll post references on my own blog soon enough of where you can find out more.

Anonymous said...

I usually back off because I find that as people get to know me, they try to "fix" me. When that doesn't work, they criticize me. Past a certain point it just hurts too damn much.

Justine said...

I am currently in a loving relationship with a NT, I'm AS, we recently moved in together, and this couldn't be more true of the first three months of living together.

I thought that I had lost the feeling of love for him, but he was so insistent about communicating with me for so long, that we eventually figured it out. But honestly, I didn't have much clue as to this being associated with my AS.

I had "gone cold" and thought it was all lost, as I do as usual when the relationship "moves to the next level". I had never been able to recover from this, but I have this time. And I think I may have found someone who can cope with me for a while. : )

KtL said...

I'm an NT currently in a relationship with an AS, and this topic is extremely helpful.

I'd be grateful to anyone who had any insights to share if you'd be willing to contact me (see email through profile).

:) Thanks!

Bruce said...

I;m 45yo and have AS, was diagnosed at age 39. I don't understand how marriages last a long time. Was married 10 years the first time, about 3 years too long, before I finally left and almost 11 this time and its complicated. If this one ends I can't see trying again.

Anonymous said...

Most people with Aspergers, like most people want social relationships. We tend to have a hard time understanding the way the majority of people interact. Sometimes when I find I click with someone and they want to become friends or more I get nervous. Its like this is what I hoped for but now what do you do? Also years of being an outcast picked on psychologically and physically abused means I tend to assume at a subconscious level people probably won't like me, when reality turns out not to match you deep seated insecurites it can be exciting but also frightening. As a matter of fact some people(not just Aspies its a general psychological problem that can happen to anyone) deal with that kind of abuse by actually trying to make sure no one likes them so they can stay in their comfort zone. Most people with Aspergers I think I'm just going off my own personal experience have to think long and hard about what they say and do in social situations. Its work, it doesn't come natural, so while its something we desire its work basically. Its not neccessarily relaxing like it may be for most people. And of course its less complex/awkward with friends than any kind of romantic relationship with the opposite sex(or same sex if you're gay I suppose).

Anonymous said...

I have a friend and over the corse of just a few months we became very close.
The first time I saw him I fell in love with him, a few weeks later I told him I liked him. To be totally honest I figured he would never see me again once I told him. To my surprise after he told me he wasn't really looking for a relationship, we continued to get closer and even faster than before.
My birthday marks the start of summer I spent the day with him and we both had a blast. About a week after my birthday he informed me that he thought it would be best if we did our own things over the summer. His birthday is the month after mine but he didn't want me to see him for that either.
I really want to talk to him but have been reluctant to even try to get in contact with him, because I don't want to make things worse. I feel like I did something but I have no idea what it was.
He confided a lot in me and told me a lot that he trusted me. I remember a post you did on stemming and stress relieving things that most aspies do. Everyday he would listen to his mp3 player before class started. But once he started hanging out with me, he stopped and just wanted to talk to me. We have been at each others houses and met each others families.
Neither of us have ever been in any type of relationship, and I never told him I wanted to be in one with him. I told I liked him once, but never mentioned it again. I just turned 19 and he just turned 20.
Truth be told, I would be ok being friends forever. I never mentioned it because my hope was that after being good friends for a while he might want to be more then that. Now, knowing that there is a chance I could loose him, I just want him back in my life.

Could you please help me know what to do.
Any advice you have would be wonderful.

Anonymous said...

He with Aspergers, was so affectionate and loving. He is very high functioning. Intelligent, witty, socializes really well with his group of friends. He is slightly awkward socially but I find that adorable. When we first dated, he was so sweet and responsive in person. When we were apart, he seldom shared his life and was distant. In the year that we were together, when we were in each others presence, he was very emotional and empathetic. That would quickly go away when we were not together in person. He went through a period when he did not know what to do with his life, I tried to help but became frustrated with both the lack of direction as well as the lack of communication.

So our relationship started to become stressful on him. One day he was telling me that I was his "dream girl" that the only thing he is sure of in his life was that he wants a future with me. Literally the next day, he was so cold and told me I am not what he wants. This was after I became upset that he was not responding to my messages for a period of time. I was so confused and distraught. He proceeded to ignore my emails, calls, messages for a month. When he finally spoke with me again, he was not the same person. He is easily agitated, unwilling to communicate and unwilling to compromise. It's like the person that loved me so deeply, so completely, more than anyone he has ever loved, was a totally different person. Now he tells me he doesn't have time to work on a relationship with me or anyone. I am emotional, because I am hurt and he doesn't seem to see why I should be and think I'm putting pressure on him by being emotional. I tried to get him to see it from my perspective so many different ways and I was met with only resistance. Right now, the emotional side of him that makes someone human is completely gone, and the only side remaining is the logical side. He said he doesn't know any other way to be but logical. He says he loves me but makes absolutely NO EFFORT to show it; he doesn't want me to see other people but tells me he WON'T be in a relationship that he has no time for. He thinks that there is something wrong with me and even called me emotionally unstable/hysterical when I cried. He has trouble communicating; he keeps flopping his points and was everywhere..He has trouble understanding his own emotions, I believe. But because he has trouble communicating, he says it's because I don't listen to him. I cannot for the life of me get him to see anything from my perspective despite however hard I try. His voice is monotone, cold and devoid of any sort of emotions. He says he has other priorities in his life, does not have time for a relationship with me. That really hurts. I told him it hurts, but he cannot handle my emotions and says I'm just "dramatizing." He no longer wants any communications with me. The worst part is the fact that he doesn't how the lack of empathy and lack of communication is attributed to his Aspergers at all. He was diagnosed in the 3rd grade.

This relationship has left me a complete mess. The way things ended makes me feel totally manipulated and scarred. I am having trouble piecing things together and I am having trouble moving on. Why did he become stone cold and prioritized everything in his life before love? What happened to the sweet, sensitive, caring, smart, witty guy that I once knew and still love?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
I'm the woman who calls herself July 21st. You can read my story in part 2 of "Why do aspies back-off in relationships" if you want. When I read your words "what happened to the sweet, sensitive, caring, smart, witty guy that I once knew?" I immediately recognized more or less what happened to me. I'm NT and my male friend has AS. We were not together, but only very close friends although this relationship has never had very clear boundaries. At the beginning of our friendship he was always with me, always very sensitive and very caring. When things began to grow a little bit deeper he had a verbal anger attack at me and didn't talk to me for one month. I wrote him saying that I cared and we went back to what we had before for two months but when he sensed again that our friendship was not really only a friendship, he had another verbal anger attack against me and decided that he never wanted to meet me alone anymore but only with other people, so limiting very much our relationship and humiliating me. I often tried to write him nice words saying that we could fix everything and become friends again but it all ended up with him going back in august for good to his own home country and saying goodbye to all other friends except me. I haven't heard of him since 4 months and I don't think I'll ever hear from him again. I'm answering to your post for different reasons: first, to tell you that I understand you, and unfortunately that you are not alone, because I'm also very sad and scarred by what happened in a similar situation; secondly that I found some confort in this blog, but also on FB in the pages "asperger syndrome awareness" and "the girl with the curly hair". I never wrote there but I found a lot of explanations for my friend's behaviour which helped me a bit to understand what happended. It didn't solve the situation, but it helps a bit. I think that when the relationship becomes too stressful for them or if their anxiety from the relationship becomes too big, the only solution they have is to drive you away, because they cannot stand all this stress and anxiety. My friend was in the end very scared of me and of being alone with me but this was irrational, as I assure you I couldn't scare an insect, let alone a human being!!! But still, even if he was sad about it, he couldn't help being scared and driving me away. Also, the anger attacks are probably what is called "meltdowns", which are typical of AS. I always tried to forgive them, even if he insulted me very much. But I have to tell you that, in spite of me forgiving everything, he always blamed everything on me. I made mistakes and hurt him, of course, but never intentionally. He, instead, hurt me intentionally a lot of times, especially when he felt refused by me. The only advice I can give you is to think that it's not your fault and to try not to stress him too much by writing him too much or calling him too much, maybe just one simple and calm email where you tell him that you care and you want to solve things. I hope it works for you, for me it didn't but things were a little bit more complicated in our relationship that I can write here. And finally, I really wish Gavin or some other AS could help us understand and give us some advice on how to try and get a friend/boyfriend back when he doesn't want to speak to us anymore. I just left my friend free and in peace and didn't write him anymore, even if I still care, because I thought it's a way to respect his choice. But I also know that AS do not usually make the first move, so probably even if he wanted to contact me again, he will never do that. So I dont' know what to do and in abscence of advice, I will probably do nothing...????

David said...

A fascinating topic as I'm an (undiagnosed) aspie male in my late 40s and recently had a very intense relationship, culminating with me 'going cold' and ruining everything in a single evening. I met a lovely lady 10 years my junior online. After a few false starts, we embarked on a passionate and loving relationship, the intensity of which I'd never known before. She was the first and only person to love me for me and being with her was the best few months of my life. I suggested us moving in together and that, in retrospect was my big mistake. Almost immediately we moved in, I began to become overwhelmed with the life changes required and within a week I wanted to run. Explaining this face to face traumatised her, particularly as I was so cold/logical about it all. She left the house and other than a little initial contact, during which we were both confused and upset, I have had no contact with her. She closed off all communication about six months ago, but I'm still in an absolute turmoil of guilt, regret, loss and self hatred. Although I've tried, I've been unable to rekindle those feelings of love with anyone else and I'm close to giving up on relationships altogether. At the time I had no idea of my limitations as I'd never been truly in love before, but communication rather than cold, unilateral action is the key. For anyone with AS needing to back off in a relationship -- talk it through, write it, email it, whatever, but don't make the mistake I did.