Saturday, June 11, 2016

Why do People with Asperger's Syndrome find it so difficult to Say "I Love You"

It's not uncommon for people, males in particular, to have major difficulties with the words “I love you” but in neurotypical (normal) males, this tends to be related to a commitment issue rather than a problem with the concept of love. 

People on the autism spectrum, particularly those with Asperger’s syndrome have rather different problems with the words both in terms of honesty and understanding.


People with Asperger's are often meticulously honest. That's to say that they go out of their way to be honest about things, even when honesty really isn't the best policy.

It's not that people with Asperger's cannot lie but simply that many, not all, feel very uncomfortable about lying.

If you ask a neurotypical person if they love you, you’ll generally get a “yes” response (if they're going to give you one), immediately - even if they don't actually "love you".

This is because a neurotypical person is fairly comfortable with the concept of love if they DO love you -- or they're comfortable with lying if they DON’T.

A neurotypical person will understand that a “yes” answer is their best chance of manipulating their partners into something, usually sex or money.

A person with Asperger's however won't usually lie to protect your feelings or to manipulate you. It's not that people with Asperger's are “Good people by definition”, just that they usually lack non-verbal communication skills to manipulate anyone.

A person with Asperger's will tend to give a "no" or an indefinite answer if they're struggling with definitions (ie: if they really don't know) - or they'll give an honest answer even if it means that they lose certain privileges on offer.


As people get older and more “worldly”, social customs start to become second nature.

If you approach a well-integrated but "unwell" person with Asperger's and ask "How are you?" and "Are you sick?" You'll get the correct contradictory answers of "fine" and "yes". These answers are of course, quite silly.  After all, how can you be "fine" but still be "unwell".  It's a social thing.

If you ask a younger person with less social integration, they'll often respond to the first question with a statement of Ill health.

The same goes for "I love you".

Older and more experienced adults with Asperger's are better equipped to answer the question while younger, less experienced people with Asperger's will struggle.

Unless you're very familiar with the feeling of "love", it's very hard to be entirely certain that you're "in it". It's kind of like showing someone something turquoise and asking them if it's blue. They know that it's similar but they're not ready to say that it's the same thing.

It doesn't help that cartoons lead young people to assume that they'll see love-hearts in people's eyes or a heart shape jumping out of your own chest.

It's not that people with asperger's believe in the silly literalisms of cartoons, it's just that cartoons and books and movies make it seem that you'll know for absolute certain when you're in love.

As a result, a person who thinks in "black and white" rather than shades of grey will doubt that they are in love because they don't KNOW for certain.

A person with Asperger's will often slip into a major pause when asked if they love you. This doesn't mean that they don't or that they're looking for an excuse. It could mean that they're being totally honest and that they simply don't know.


Many years ago, my wife and I did some counselling sessions. I can still remember the thing that shocked me the most. It was when the counsellor asked us each what we thought love was.

I described it as being when a person looks at you and smiles in such a way that it feels like a warm summer's day. When that warmth is so tangible and so precious that you feel like could stay there forever. I went on with a few other descriptions, all of which I believe in today as much as I did back then.

For me that's what love feels like. It means that on days when I love my wife. I absolutely love her with all of my being.  It also means that there are days when I don't love her.  It's not that I ever stop loving her really, it's just that on some days, when I'm tired or when she's angry, that warm sunshine feeling just isn't there. 

I was heartbroken when my wife answered the same question with statements about what her lover does for her. Her answers felt "material" to me. Our perceptions of love couldn't be further apart.

It was a long time, years actually, before I understood that important lesson. Love isn't something that is defined externally. We all have our own perfectly valid definitions of love. It's very much an individual thing - even for a couple.

Is it any wonder then that some people have more trouble with the concept of love than others? You're comparing abstract concepts like the feeling of a sunset with solid ones like "he brings me flowers".

No two people are going to be totally in agreement as to what love is - and that means that their agreement (that they love each other) isn't necessarily going to be balanced either.  It's not wrong... it's just the way things are. 

As a result, your lover with Asperger's may love you as much (perhaps even more) than you love them but they may still not use the words "I Love You" because they're not sure if they're supposed to be feeling something different.

Sometimes words aren't the most important thing. 


Cri said...

Thank you for this post! :)

Near Captain said...

Thank you for sharing.
Today I was just starting to write down some notes about my last relationship and how my - by that time undiagnosed - Asperger-Syndrome must have, well, "affected" this part oft my life, too.

I hope, I find the time to read your thoughts :-)

With best wishes from a wrong steamship

Selena L'Estrange said...

What about an Aspie guy who overdoes the "I love you"....

Anonymous said...

In my case my significant other's bewilderment about what "love" is has been intensified by the fact that I am much older than he is, so I don't fit the script for a conventionally appropriate partner in a love affair or relationship. This is not a church marriage to a stay-at-home wife and mother. Yet he courted me, initially, because he clearly wanted a partner. Having gotten me emotionally involved, he doesn't quite know how to think about or identify the actual rather intense relationship we have.

Judie Lauber said...

The subjects of not telling the truth or being honest with one's self has been one of many facets in understanding my Aspie partner that I have found to be challenging. My partner is very intelligent in many ways and has really mastered the art of mimicking. He has a very good heart. Communication skills leave a lot to be desired. Music and movies are a good connection for us. Reality has shown me that expectations about what one might think should happen in a relationship might need to be tweeked a bit or sometimes a lot.

Bulldogzbruce said...

I can feel moved by a moment or by words but I doubt I have the emotional depth to even have an inkling of what "love" is.
I overthink everything when in a relationship and 2nd guess what I should be feeling.
I question what I should be doing, acting or thinking at various points or milestones in relationships.
I am a bumbling fool when it comes to being a normal partner.
I can love how a person makes me feel but beyond that I imagine that I appear relatively emotionless.
I've been told this in my last failed relationship.
Now in a new r/ship I can feel the same old insecurities creeping into my psyche. I envy those people to whom being a couple changes nothing about them.
I feel like I'm building a house of cards and a cyclone is just a matter of time away.
I say, think and sometimes act like an idiot. When I'm aware of this - usually after an episode - I retreat into an ultra rational and unemotional cardboard version of who I am when I'm not over thinking my behaviour.
I'm just not cut out for long stable r/ships and I hate hurting those that love me but it's inevitable.
Why was I born like this?

Ginny Monroe said...

So very helpful to me a NT, to understand my boyfriend, who has all the key signs of Aspergers.

Anonymous said...

In my closest friendships, my friends have often told me that they didn't realize the depth of my care/love for them simply because I have rarely spoken it out loud. I assumed they knew. So I have tried to say it more often, because I know they need to hear the words to feel loved.

After about three months, I told my boyfriend that I loved him. His response was to smile so hard I could feel it in the dark, pull me closer to him and wrap his entire body around mine. He is kind, empathetic, cuddly, and a clear emotional communicator -- his actions towards me glow with love.

But I kinda need to hear the words too; I struggle with hints as much as the next Aspie, and I've dealt with at least one person who was capable of treating me with love, but who never said it even once in the three and a half years I was with him. That alone probably fucked me up more than I realize...It didn't help that my ex was far more physically affectionate with his cats than with me, nor that we only had a sexual relationship for less than a year.

I only need to hear 'I love you' once to know. I'm not sure how long I should wait to hear the words.

I think he may be on the spectrum too...