Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tony Attwood's Three Requisites for a Successful Relationship

I just finished reading an Aspergers Relationship book today (it's excellent by the way and a review is coming shortly). The book had a great quote from Tony Attwood near the end and it's such a great quote that I've been mulling it over all day long.

I thought it was worth repeating here;

Clinical and counselling experience suggests that there are three requisites for a successful relationship.

  • The first is that both partners acknowledge the diagnosis.
  • The second requisite is motivation for both partners to change and learn.
  • The third is access to relationship counselling modified to accommodate the profile of abilities and experiences of the partner with Aspergers Syndrome.

- Dr. Tony Attwood, "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome"

Let's look at Tony's three requirements in more detail;

1. Both partners acknowledge the diagnosis
I know that I'm often saying that "it's just a label" and "it doesn't change you as a person" but it's still extremely important to accept the label.

An NT who doesn't accept their partner's label will simply brush off their partner's traits as;

  • Rude
  • Disinterested
  • Self-Obsessed
  • Unemotional and/or lacking in empathy
  • Lacking in Social Skills
  • Lazy
  • Whining
  • Frigid

These are all very negative and impact not only the relationship but also the aspie partner's self esteem.

In some relationships, the condition is reversed. The neurotypical partner fully accepts that their partner has aspergers but the partner with aspergers can't accept the label.  Unfortunately, if you can't even accept your own traits, then you won't be in a position to change them.

2. Motivation for both partners to change and learn
You'll notice that the second requirement specifies both partners.  Too often, change is driven by a single partner and ignored by the other.

The requirement doesn't specify that the level of  motivation should be the same and it's often the case that one partner will have to do more work than the other to bring balance to the relationship. The rule isn't about the amount of effort one puts in, it's about willingness to change - on both sides.

3. Modified Relationship Counselling 
The third requirement is a  really interesting one.  It suggests that normal relationship counselling will not work. You need to see someone who understands Aspergers Syndrome.

This is actually a very tricky requirement. You'd find it difficult to find even a local doctor who understands how Aspergers Syndrome presents in adults - particularly if the aspie is female.  You certainly won't have a great deal of luck finding a local relationship counselor who fits the bill.

There's no understating this rule. To a normal counselor, a person with aspergers may appear cold, unemotional or unconcerned about the relationship. They may appear to care more for their "rock collection"  (or other special interest) than they do for their partner.

Even if your counselor knows about Aspergers Syndrome - or Autism, it's probable that they only understand it in the classic sense.  A lot has changed over the years and the perception of aspies as people without empathy has undergone a drastic change recently.  Unless your counselor is aware of this, they won't be in a position to help the relationship.

Then of course, there's the subject of children.  Caring for children is one thing - and it puts enough stress on a relationship.  Caring for children with Aspergers Syndrome is a completely different thing altogether.  Since Aspergers is at least partially genetic in nature, it makes sense that your counselor won't really be able to understand your case without understanding how children with Aspergers are different.

So there you have it.
Tony's three criteria for successful relationships in which one partner has Aspergers Syndrome.  Have a think about it.... does your relationship satisfy all three criteria?  If not, is there anything you can do about it?



bjforshaw said...

Gavin, can't wait for the book review. I found this apposite and thought-provoking. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing ~ I pray for these 3 things to work in my own relationship - as each one seems a challenge! Lucky for me, I do believe in miracles, one way or another, they can and do come around!

aspmom said...

As this generation of aspie kids grow up aware of their own diagnosis, marital (and pre-marital) counselors will have to be quickly caught up to speed on how to counsel couples in NT/AS marriages.

Here's to hoping for better resources and helps in coming years!

aspmom said...

And currently my NT/AS relationship does not meet ANY of the above three criteria (and many, many NT wives are in my same boat). Which is why I am struggling and determined to grasp at ANYthing I can to make it not only bearable, but successful . . . and rewarding to stay.

ThePhantomEcho said...

Reading this book right now. :)

ThePhantomEcho said...

Also, I'm an Aspie, myself. Haven't gotten that far into the book yet though.

Marita said...

I have to buy this book. We are off for marriage counselling tomorrow and I'm not holding out much hope for an understanding counselor. Last person we saw kept focusing on the kids as being our problem. Hello! Our complete inability to communicate with each other as a couple might be more of an issue. :: sigh ::

Gavin Bollard said...


Good luck. When my wife and I went to see a counsellor, he was able to (barely) hold our marriage together until we could find a way to heal it ourselves.

Our solution ended up being Marriage Encounters which wasn't counselling but teaching.

It taught us how to listen to each other and how to talk about problems without blaming or getting into arguments.

Before then life was really difficult at times - especially at Christmas.

In fact, we got so much out of the weekend that I'd like to do another sometime. Not because we're having issues any more but because we came out with so much more respect and love for each other.

Not sure if it will work for you because all relationships are different but it's worth considering.

Anyway; if you don't want to do it, you can still try their techniques. I've written a bit about them.

PS: Don't read those posts if you're attending a weekend, it's easier to let it come naturally.

Steve-Prosper With Aspergers said...

Gavin, what would you say to an Aspie who is undiagnosed and does not want to be diagnosed. I've received desperate emails from women NT's who don't know how to approach their Aspie husbands about their possible diagnosis.