Autism or not, wherever family inter-personal relationships exist, a problem or two must co-exist as well. How often do you feel that you and your partner don’t get along?
According to a recent US census, this happens to at least one out of every two couples in a relationship. While the empathy quotient is quite high for homosexual couples, for heterosexual relationships, the chances are as high as 66%, i.e. 2 out of every 3 families will have relationship issues.
The Impact, if either my partner or I have some form of Autism?
Well, in such cases, the chances of a relationship going sour is as high as 95%! In my personal and professional life, I have not come across an individual adult with Autism who has never had any relationship tipping point with their partner. The day I find one, I would be very curious to know what worked for them.
In this post, I would rather talk about:
- What to know before engaging in a relationship?
- What relationship issues are almost certain to crop up?
- What do you need to understand (either as an Autistic individual or his/her partner)?
- How to protect your interests while not completely overlooking or sabotaging your partner’s?
- When to know that enough is enough?
For each of these questions, I would try to respond both from the Autistic individual’s perspective and from their partner’s
It’s More a Question of WHEN rather than WOULD:
As I said, relationship issues between an Autistic individual and his/her partner will happen. If you are newly into a relationship or about to enter a relationship with some having high functioning Autism, stop asking yourself, “Would my relationship hit a crisis point with this person?”.
Most certainly it would, the question is, WHEN? And when it does, do you love that individual enough to be able to deal with it and steer the relationship through the turbulent tides onto sunny shores? If, that kind of commitment and you do not go together, you would be causing yourself a lot of pain by investing in something which might eventually fail. My honest advice would be that if you are not a committed and passionate individual, and it’s still early days in the relationship, carefully re-evaluate your position.
No one knows your condition better than your good self. You would have most likely spent most of your life growing up in reclusion; keeping your emotions and desires very private.
I will give you one advice mate [my Aussie dialect 🙂 ], if there is one person in this entire planet that you want to be completely honest with, it may not be your parents (they might love you no matter what), your friends or colleagues – it is this person standing next to you. Tell her/him what’s going on, express your feelings, share your difficulties and inhibitions. Opening your circles to your partner is not a sign of weakness, rather, there is pride and respect in owning up to what you are. And your partner would appreciate it.
Remember, your partner is taking a big decision to stick around with you no matter what. You might well be worth the deal buddy! Check out the above video where an adult with Autism talks about his relationship issues:
When things go wrong, What goes wrong?
Regardless of whether you step into a relationship with an Autistic individual or not, it is important to understand what might go wrong. The experiences, that you as a partner are likely to face, may depend on what Autism support level your partner has and their gender.
In 90% of cases, the autistic individual in a relationship would be high functioning Autism/Asperger’s (Support level 2 and 3 individuals are rarely seen in relationships) and in 75% of the cases your spectrum partner is a male.
Male autism issues in relationship
So, let’s start with the Male autism issues in relationship:
- Not enough or complete lack of understanding: Doesn’t understand your situation. Never manages to put himself in your shoes.
- Zero Empathy, Complete disregard for your concerns: You may have your issues, concerns, dilemma, He doesn’t care. Even when you try to share, doesn’t show interest.
- Attention span to 2 minutes: Sometimes you believe you 5 year old listens more intently than him
- Stubborn to the level of being Obtuse: Has set his mind on something… Hell bent on doing it even if it breaks the world
- Real life problems and situations ain’t matter: More interested in collecting the latest Jamaican coin than world hunger.
- Can’t take criticism: You try to be nice to him, explain issues you have with him.. He considers it a personal attack on everything he stands for
- Detach when in despair: His best reaction to anything problem situation would be to completely shut down all doors of communication.
- Promises; not fake, but not sincere either: To get out of a situation, he will follow a typical path. First counterattack, use force or verbal insults to combat you. If that doesn’t work, he will mellow down and offer his apologies and make promises… Only they would be quickly forgotten when you have your next crisis.
- Try to shift the blame: will blame you for ruining his entire life, through deep down he knows that he can’t function without you.
- Other similar issues. Check out our Autism Symptoms checklist for more such indicative behavior.
Female Autism issues in relationships
Trust me when I say this…. women with Autism and Asperger’s are far better as partners than men with a similar degree of disorder. Often, some of the relationship issues that couples having an Autistic woman faces are quite opposite in nature than men’s. Here are some of the unique ones:
- Too emotional or too passionate about this they care.
- If you tell her that something is not working, she will get deeply concerned and go out of the way (often to an annoyingly exceeding level) to address the issue. The problem, however, would be that more often than not, she would not be focusing on the right solution.
- Sexual drive would either be hyphenated or terribly subdued. Women with Autism are hardly ever comfortable with their bodies
- May prefer to spend time just by herself, reading a book in a library, listening to music, or watching a nice movie. Men often characterize female partners with Autism to be “boring” as they usually don’t want to go out or party. Women with Autism are not boring at all, you just have to show a little bit of interest in things they care about, she, in turn, will open a whole new world for you.
Understanding Each Other in a Relationship
This is a critical piece. Either of you fails in this, the relationship is also likely to fail. Here are a few words of wisdom for:
Partners of Autistic Individuals:
- Understand that your partner also has a perspective. It may defy logic and rationale, it may be the most bizarre thing you may have heard in a while, but hey – the same applied to Einstein’s relativity and Galileo’s “earth revolves around the stars”. Mistake me not, I am not implying that your partner has the next BIG thing planned out… All I am saying is everyone has a point of view, bizarre or not, try respecting it.
- Show interest in what your partner is passionate about. If you partner is Autistic, there is a fair chance that he or she would have a hidden interest or passion. It may be anything… Observing patterns in numbers to push biking. Appreciate him/her in what they pursue, show interest in their activities.. and you would have won the key to their heart.
- Don’t surprise them. If giving surprises is your favorite thing, you may want to hold for a while. I haven’t come across any Autistic individual who loves surprises. Some are okay with it, but a vast majority of them detest it. So be it a surprise B’day party or sex, tread with caution.
- Don’t Push it. Ever so often, you would come across a situation where it feels as if you are like a broken record. Your partner seems like a wall.. nothing (no emotion or action) penetrates him/her. And then, out of frustration and despair, you start pushing the boundaries in the hope that something radical happens. I will give you a guarantee now, there is a 0% chance that it will work. So cut each other a little slack 🙂
- Set Time Aside. This is my favorite tool. People with Autism love schedules, like patterns and prefers predictability. Use it to your advantage. Set aside 2 hours with him/her everyday. Get both of you to sign on a piece of paper that each of you will drop every other work and spend a specific period of time just (how about after dinner?) with each other. Take it a step beyond. Plan how exactly how you will spend the time each day, and plan at least a week ahead. Here are a few examples:
- Monday: We will watch a movie
- Tuesday: Read me your favorite book
- Wednesday: We will look at your latest coin collection, pull out all the albums and get them organized
- Thursday: You tell me what you want to do
- Friday: We will spend the week mostly doing things you like. On Friday we will talk about us. Where the relationship is going and how we can improve.
Only one advise for individuals with Autism in a relationship: Just listen to your partner. I will be very direct here, you have autism and your partner does not. So listen to her/him, she has the best interests of the family in mind.
Understanding When to Pull the Plug
While supporting each other through thick and thin is critically important, it is also important that you realize (in time) when your relationship has dived beyond the tipping point and is facing a complete dead end. Maybe, after all, its time to move on… But the question is, how do you know when to pull the plug. Here are a few pointers for both individuals with Autism and their partners.
For Individuals with Autism
- When your partner stops caring. A clear indication that she/he may have given up on you. Unless you want to shift your priorities to prove her wrong, there isn’t much point
- When you believe the relationship is doing you more harm than good
- When your condition is only worsening over time and the relationship is partly to blame
- When the relationship is beginning to take a serious negative toll on your mental health
- If you are subject to domestic violence and assault
- If you believe that your partner’s commitment to the relationship is highly unlikely to change for good.
- When you believe that the difficulty in a relationship is setting up a bad environment for your children and negatively impacting their growth
- When there is no hope and you believe your partner would actually be better off without you (trust me, some individuals with Autism are better off just with themselves)