Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Working on Your Asperger-Neurotypical Relationship - Part 1 Talking

Over the years I've written quite a bit about AS/NT relationships. I've written about accepting your aspergers partner for who they are and how to reach them in the relationship.

I guess that it's all been a bit one-sided but today I'm starting a series which might rectify the balance. These  posts is directed at people with Asperger's sydrome and are about being the best partner that you can be.

All relationships need work. They're not "fire and forget". You can't simply say, ok we've ticked the boxes; we're married, we have a house and we have kids. That's not where the work ends.

There's a saying from Marriage Encounters which I like to repeat. "Sometimes I love my partner -- and sometimes I have to work harder at it",

Life is all about change. As aspies we often don't like change but we're powerless to stop it. Like it or not, people change and situations change. In order to adapt to these changes, we too need to change.

We may have loved our partner because among other things, she shared our love of Star Wars but that was twenty years ago. As aspies, we often retain our special interests for life but our neurotypical partners do not. We have to accept that these things change and conversations which were once interesting to them are now considered "boring".

An Example
It took me years to learn that my wife no longer loved movies. She didn't care who the director was or what else they were working on. For her, a movie at the cinemas is an "escape" from the rigurs of daily life and kids. No matter how good the movie was, she does not want to talk about it afterwards.

Of course, that's all I want to do after a film and our rides home were probably torture for her. It didn't help when she told me to stop talking about it either because she'd mostly use fake excuses like; "I have a headache".  "Oh, Ok", I thought, "I'll save this interesting diatribe for some time when she's feeling better".

It was a long time before she was honest with me about her reasons and even then I'd get it wrong thinking that she didn't want to talk about that specific movie.  After all, when her words were; "I don't want to talk about the movie!" what else can I think?

When it finally sunk in, I said "well, you talk then and I'll listen", probably quite snappily. She didn't talk though because she claimed to be busy driving and our conversation dropped into awkward silence which was only broken about ten minutes later with her saying; "so what? are you not talking to me now or what?"

I was confused. On the one hand, she wants me to talk about something but on the other, it needs to be things directly related to her - and outside the realm of my special interest.

Instead of a wall of talk, I need to be more give and take. I need to guess something that she wants to talk about and ask questions.

It's not easy. I'll ask about the kids or family or budget but I'm often met with "oh, so now you want to talk about it .... after I've been doing it for years....".  Obviously they're not the right conversations either.

It seemed that there was no easy answer but apparently there is.

You're supposed to talk about "us". When you're out as a couple, the conversation should be about "us".  The questions you need to ask are;

  • How are you feeling?
  • How was your day?
  • Is there anything that I can do to help?
  • What do you need from me?
  • Are you happy in this relationship?
  • How do you feel our relationship is going? (don't ask this one while she's driving).

Once she picks herself up off the floor and answers you, you need to think about the answer she's given you and try to find a way to work at delivering it. Also, don't be surprised if you get asked the same question back - be prepared to give an answer.

In my case, the answer was; "I want to be appreciated more" ... and I guess that's the topic of my next post.

In the meantime, if you're an aspie, then your homework is to ask your partner one of those questions.  Also... If you're a female aspie, I'm keen to know if your partners have similar needs or if they're just happy to talk about special interests?

BTW: A big shout out to Aspie Wife Aspie Mom who first got me thinking about "the other side".


bjforshaw said...

Strong echoes of my wife and me here - I think I've got a better insight into what she's thinking now. Many thanks, Gavin.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm a female Aspie. My partner does most of the talking when we're together. He talks about the things he likes. I like to listen to people, so I don't mind. He lets me talk about anything I want to when I want to talk.
As far as talking "about us" goes, we have a system that if we are unhappy in any way with the other we say so up front as soon as possible, and how it could be better. When we are happy with each other we say so.
I'll keep what you said in mind when I'm talking to NT females. Thank you for making blogs.

J-Mo said...

Hello! I love your blog! I have one at I am going to share this wit a coworker who is in an Aspie-NT relationship. Stay in touch maybe you can post on my blog sometime! I am 24 and while I have a lot of experience with ASD, there is still much to learn and share. Take care!


Anonymous said...

Thank you Gavin!

Not sure how well I would have managed this NT/AS journey without your helpful comments and posts.


Steve-Prospering With Aspergers said...

Gavin, what a great topic. I've written a couple of articles regarding the topic of Aspie dating and marriage. A question I have for you is this: a reader once asked me how to bring up the subject of Aspergers to her undiagnosed husband. She was afraid he would shut her out/be defensive. Any thoughts?

Gavin Bollard said...


It's usually not Aspergers itself that people want to talk about in relationships but rather the symptoms.

The best way forward is often to think about the good and bad behaviours; OCD, Meltdowns, Eye Contact, Readability of Emotions, Limited range of discussions etc... and start a discussion on them.

Aspergers is just an easy way to lump a whole lot of symptoms together.

Actually, the best relationship discussions are centered firmly around wants and needs.

What does partner X need/want and how can partner y provide it?

If not, why not (this is where you talk about the symptoms) and what is the alternative. (What could serve a similar purpose).

eaucoin said...

Gavin, this is not about this post particularly. I know you reach a lot of people. I just started reading "Living well on the Spectrum" by Valerie L. Gaus. It's a workbook format and it's really, really good, and I haven't found anything else like it. I think you should buy it and review it so more people will know about it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. I am dating or have dated a man with aspergers. I'm not really sure what we are. Anyway, the "I'd like to be appreciated more" is something I told him. I haven't given up on him and I'm still trying to understand


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Penny said...

I'm a female Aspie in a relationship with an NT man. Your conversations with your wife look a lot like the ones I've had with my husband. I'm only recently diagnosed and still baffled by the realization that for my entire life I've been misunderstanding what's going on. In the past I've blamed the other person for being stupid or just gotten mad and or drunk. No wonder this is my 3rd marriage!

Beyond Autism said...

This reminds me of the things I've been dealing with in my marraige of 7 years now. I'm the one diagnosed with Asperger's. He has ADHD and was diagnosed Bipolar as a child. (but we aren't really sure about that one now) We also have 3 children with Autism and ADHD, and 2 without a dx so far.

I really appreciate your blog. I have for awhile now, wondered if my husband might be on the spectrum. After all, ADHD and Bipolar symptoms could be autism.

In our relationship, he is quiet most of the time and really doesn't participate in much. He is withdrawn and depressed, angry, sullen, and passive aggressive. Being aspie, I find him confusing. Nearly 100% of the time I am confused by what he says, what he means, or what to do next. Of course, I think that I'm doing everything right and try to follow all the things I've learned about conversations. (Two years in DBT classes really were helpful) In the end, I'm still confused and I feel like our relationship is lacking and slipping away.

The biggest thing that stood out for me in your post was about change. I'm having a hard time with the changes my husband has been going through. I feel like everything that made us a team, and made us fall in love.. has changed. And it makes me feel uneasy and unsure. My husband feels like its his right to change whatever he wants, and of course he's right.. but its scary for me. I can't seem to shake the confusion.

I've linked to your blog from mine at

Anonymous said...

My wife recently left me for another man who was interstate (married) and they communicated secretly via SMS and email. He had been "appreciating" her 40 times a day via SMS. Unfortunately, as an Aspie who was already having trouble letting her know how much I loved her, there was no way I could compete with that... especially as I didn't know it was going on. Now she is living with him in Sydney (he left his wife).

I felt the whole time we were trying to communicate it was like trying to speak through bulletproof glass. We could see that each other was saying something... but we had no idea what...

Strangely enough, when I discovered the affair (and the fact there had been an earlier affair from 2004-2007 with a different man) the trauma seems to have freed me up to the extent that my friends say I don't seem to have AS anymore. I'm a completely different person - able to express myself, have eye contact, and approach strangers and talk about them.

In fact my wife said that I am finally the man she "always wanted me to be"... but she had made a "commitment" to this new man and felt she needed to follow through with him or he would be very upset.

And thus ends my second marriage :(

If only I had read this post earlier... how much earlier though? I suspect after 2004 our marriage was already over. At least that's what my wife told me before she left. How she stuck around saying things were fine for 7 years I will never know...

Barb L said...

Hi Gavin, thanks so much for your post it is really insightful! I am dating a gentleman with aspergers syndome and at times, I too have found the communication between to be a struggle. I have found that using sites like to be helpful in better understanding people with aspergers syndrome and learn to communicate with them better as well. It has definitely helped me and I suggest taking a look!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Gavin:)
I am excited about my future with my boyfriend who has AS. Though things can be crazy frustrating at times, I believe that with a clear understanding of AS we will inspire and help each other. It is not an easy road to travel, but I am very much in this for both of us:)

Anonymous said...

Hi There,
My boyfriend (bit rocky so maybe soon not to be) has recently dropped it on me that he beleives I have autism due to the following: I am very good at my job and i click my fingers (i do bite them and then I always just thought I was picking at my fingernails if they arent in my mouth), I get fixated on things (ie; if we have a disagreement, i need to sort it out and him to see where I was coming from and for me to perhaps u derstand and apologise where I see I may have been wrong etc - however he is does not apologise in return even though I have asked him multiple times that i respect people more when they admit they are wrong or say sorry).
He also says I cannot self regulate? When I am upset even for a silly thing... I have tried to communicate to him from the start and a quick hug to not let me get out of control upset is all i really need most times or for him to just be light hearted and pull a face or make us smile but he says I need to learn to self regulate so he wont hug me when i am upset most of the time which makes me even more upset.
I dont seem to have social problems as I am seem to be quite likable and sociable and can travel on my own or with people. I have a sister with aspergers and ocd etc but i never thought that I may have something? Yes, i can be a little quirky and like things my way but, i dont mind this... i laugh it off. Obviously I would be a low spectrum but how to know?