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

Anonymous 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...

Anonymous said...

It breaks my heart that my aspie boyfriend will never tell me he loves me. I can't be sure how he truly feels, and I often wonder if he is just enjoying time with me for sex and nothing more. He is a lot younger than me and it was a hook up in the beginning; very sexually charged. That is still strong, he wont talk about his life, his future, his dreams etc; and doesnt ever seem to want to know a thing about me.
Any normal guy it would be clear he is just using me, but him having Aspergers throws me so much. I would walk away today if I knew it is only about sex, as I have strong feelings for him. And I cant ask him... I dont want to heat him hesitate or say no. It would kill me. Ive never been so unhappy in all my life, yet here is this beautiful manchild... that I cant seem to live without yet know there is no future with.

Agi said...

Hi, I have realised only last night when I could not sleep due to the very recent break up with my Aspie boyfriend that he is actually Aspie. It's is always hard to have a breakup. Last 8months were like roller-coaster. He is always very excited about seeing me first 12h and usually 24-48 h later he becomes very distant and quiet showing no attachments and even worse by him saying or acting like he is thinking only about himself and his needs only and hurting my emotions ...Often that moment he is withdrawing from our interaction to decompress saying he has lots to do at home and disappearing half of the weekend. I was not aware of his condition for 11 month long relationship. I would assume he does not know that his sex drive and focus on this and luck of people interacting skills and bad communication are signs of Aspergers. I am wondering if his adult children and ex wife know about it... Now when we stated we are not working together as he was making me unhappy and my clear emotional disappointment was making him unhappy as a result Left us in this swing for long enough to feel frustrated and powerless. He was blaming on us being in different stages of life ( I am16years younger and have 2 boys<10) but it is not only that but the most important part was to my understanding his condition. I know from my web search it is a hard work to maintain a healthy relationship with the Aspie but I truly love him. He is intelligent, vibrant when having good times, we enjoy visiting new places, lots of walking, great sex... Communication suffers though and now looks like it's is all over anyway... Knowing he has got the Aspergers is helpful though and I am wondering how I should tell him... Sending a letter maybe.

Anonymous said...

I had to check the name of this site as thought it was me who had written this post! Am in almost exactly the same situation as you, initial hook up that's now almost a year in, I am smitten and want to see him more regularly, he seems to forget I exist in between hook ups. Our concept of time is also extremely different and, for me, it can feel like an eternity waiting to see him next. Just as you say, if he was an NT guy I'd just not put up with it, but with him I'm just loathe to cut him out of my life as when we're together it's just lovely, he's affectionate and attentive, sweet and funny - yet at the same time has very little interest in anything about my life. He told me he loved me recently, yet I know he's still searching for a 'girlfriend' and his actions (when we're apart at least) certainly wouldn't suggest any feeling like that. It's all very confusing, ordinarily I'd just dismiss what was said but because he has Asperger's I can't help but wonder if there is some truth in it, as I can see no payoff for him saying something like that. He is a very accomplished liar for an Aspie though so it could have been an outright lie, however, it was quite a random comment and I don't think I was saying anything that would warrant him saying something like that as a 'Get out of jail free' card like some NTs would use. Hope we both get some resolution!

Ms M said...

I like your post. I am surprised you didnt mention love languages. Everyone feels loved in different ways. When you know what makes you and your partner feel loved things become much clearer and less confusing. I suspect myself to have aspergers. All online tests confirm it. And i suspect my long term boyfriend ( 14yrs) does too but i kno he would deny it.i have the hardest time to say i love you. He says it everytime we say bye, without a flinch. When i tried last year, it took me 10min to say it. I stuttered, hesitated and then i bawled, covering my face. He consoled me and said i love you back.I get fixated with my music and storywriting, he gets fixated with video games and making money. He can talk too much if you let him, and i can lose interest fast, looking aloof.i can be too sensitive, he tends to lack empathy. I keep too many feelings to myself, he can say thoughtless things with a straight face. Somehow we learned to adjust, appreciate eachother, and love each other better. Little by little.

Bulldogzbruce said...

Well that was nearly 3 years ago. Through sessions with my clinical psychologist and just small changes and compromises from my partner and myself I feel very comfortable saying those 3 words.
I have let go of trying to define love or the feeling of being loved or in love.
This has freed me in a way that allows me to genuinely tell her that I do indeed love her.
The more I say it the less I think about it's consequences and simply enjoy the feeling I get from feeling love.
Love isnt a single act, thought or feeling, love is many things.
I won't tie myself down too much with a hard and fast definition but instead revel in the feeling of loving and being loved.
Good luck to all those struggling with the concept...just let it happen.

Bulldogzbruce said...

Unfortunately my concept of truth and trust is far deeper than hers and after 2 1/2 years I intend to end our relationship in the next week. I wish things weren't so black and white in my eyes but I can only see through my own eyes not someone elses. I still love her but our trust base has eroded to the Point where I'm not happy anymore. We've overcome similar events in the past but recently something happened. It might not seem important to most NTs but to me it was like "you're not the most important priority here"...Not her words but how I felt.....
We had planned to move in together and started planning how life would be when we finish our working lives.
I'll be 60 in 2 weeks and I don't think there's any hope of me ever finding the woman for me.