Aspergers needs a specialist counsellor

As a couples counsellor, I see certain familiar patterns of problems and behaviours occurring in many couple relationships. This is when one of the partners has an undiagnosed Asperger's condition.

The common theme is for there to be a persisting love for one another and a desire to be together - and yet certain parts of their relationship feel all wrong. There is plenty of room for misunderstanding and hurt in both directions.

Often, the neurotypical (NT) partner will feel neglected and unloved by her partner and will get frustrated and impassioned by the lack of emotion, appreciation and physical affection coming her way.

The Asperger's partner will be perfectly happy in the relationship as long as things are calm and the only time they feel unhappy is if their partner shows that they are unhappy in an emotional manner. So the NT partner melds to the AS partner in order for things to stay harmonious, but in doing so she bends herself out of shape and is rarely feeling completely herself or happy in the relationship.

It is a complex dance. A situation where each partner's 'truth' differs wildly from the other's. They are both right but fight about the other being wrong. Both end up wanting to change the other because their truth is the only truth. There are often lovely harmonious parts of the relationship too which is why the couple continue to stay together. The nice times continue the desire to be together.

The destructive, unhappy part of the cycle can be demystified by working with a couples counsellor who has a specialist interest in Aspergers; who can explain the different brain workings of a NT and AS brain to help clarify what is happening in the couple relationship,

Once they know the 'facts', the couple can then work on improving their relationship - or they can decide that it is not possible to be together. Arguably this is a better position to be in than not understanding why the cycle of frustrations and resentment persists.

Amongst diagnosed AS partners there is a recognised need for counsellors such as myself who understand the particular challenges the Asperger brain brings to the relationship.

Freddi Manson - Specialist Aspergers counselling  07792 186720

Aspergers in your relationship?

There are so many aspects to a relationship and so many ways for misunderstanding and miscommunication to occur.

This week in a session with one of my couple clients, I realised it was as if one was a native french speaker and the other was a native German speaker and they were trying to communicate with each other in their own language. Imagine the problems this would pose. 

Misunderstandings in relationships can come about for all sorts of reasons.
  • Lack of time can create hurried, barky exchanges of information where offence can be taken and the meaning of the words can be lost.
  • Male and female speaking and listening styles differ (Venus and Mars).
  • Lack of respect in conversation can create real problems for the couple. The rudeness then gets in the way of the message and the love.
  • The brains can be ‘wired’ differently. This leads to misunderstanding after misunderstanding because each person cannot be understood by their partner.          

As with my couple, their brains and how they compute factual detail and emotional content are worlds apart - a language apart.

What I am saying is not a poetic idea without scientific basis.  There are many people (currently estimated at 1:86) who are on the Aspergers spectrum but remain undiagnosed as they are high functioning and camouflage their condition well.

One of the most frequently recurring themes I see in my couple clients, irrespective of their presenting issue, is when one of them has an undiagnosed Aspergers condition.

Aspergers Syndrome (AS) brains work very differently from Neurotypical (NT) brains and can present a high level of misunderstandings in verbal exchanges, demonstration of emotion and decision making within the couple’s lives.

Typically, at the beginning of a relationship a high functioning Aspergic will make a big effort to behave in an acceptable manner with their new partner.  This does not come naturally to them - it is learned behaviour from mistakes made in previous relationships. They may also display behaviours which mimic a relationship they have seen that they think works well.  It is all an act - a mask the AS person wears in order to ‘achieve’ the coupling with their chosen partner.  They like the ‘idea’ of a relationship but are often unable to actually do the relationship.

The trouble is that sooner or later the mask will slip.  The behaviours required to make the relationship work are impossible to maintain.

Signs of the presence of high functioning Aspergers in your partner:
  • Unable to truly empathise
  • Looks blank as though not listening 
  • Doesn't remember what you've said because they tuned out.
  • When asked a question about something they have done they receive it as criticism.
  • They justify their position or opinion instead of saying sorry.
  • Black and white thinking.
  • Think they are being considerate but it is not evidenced in action.
  • Lacking in facial expression
  • Mis-reading your facial expression as anger when impassioned.
  • Mis-reading your tone of voice as aggressive or hysterical.
  • Either disinterested in sex or treats sex like a sport or activity lacking in connection.
  • Unable to connect with any relational depth.
  • Makes decisions for themselves believing it has no affect on the relationship.
  • Likes to feel popular as this tells them they must be OK
  • Good at long-standing friendships but on a superficial level.
  • Can be perceived as cold and disinterested.
  • They need time out and will often desire their own company.
  • Need regularity in their lives
  • Need to be in control
  • When over-challenged will either shut down and look blank; run off ; or become disproportionately angry.
  • Turns arguments round so that their bad behaviour becomes yours.
  • Often is the last to get a joke.
  • Unable to demonstrate real pleasure.
  • Will often blame partner for being ’needy’ or over-dramatic.

All these behaviours can be explained by the fact (proven by experiments tracking the brain) that an Aspergers brain has no Theory of Mind.  This is evidenced by the inability to show true compassion or empathy. All thoughts are filtered by the left brain (logical brain) rather than the right brain which allows for empathic reaction. The couple are thinking, speaking and listening in different languages.

It is hard enough  to have a successful couple relationship where both partners have a similar brain working - when you add to that equation an Aspergers brain the relationship can be hugely frustrating for both involved.

If you recognise traits as highlighted here you would benefit from talking it through with a qualified couples therapist like myself, who specialises in Aspergers Syndrome.

'Emotional reciprocity, love and belonging are essential human needs, if these needs are not being met and the reason why is not understood, then mental and physical health may be affected. This is why self-diagnosis or diagnosis by a professional can make so much difference and have a positive effect on both in the relationship, because there is the realisation that neither is to blame.' Maxine Aston

When to end a relationship

It never ceases to amaze me how adaptable we are as humans.  So much so that we can quickly become used to negative and harmful behaviour in our partner relationships.

The typical example cited is that of the battered wife who keeps going back to her man because he says sorry, and she loves him. 

In a more moderate (but no less harmful) way we become used to more insidious abuse, normalising the hurtful words or behaviour of a partner as we get used to his/her disempowering passive-aggressive ways. When there is no physical violence it would be easy to think that the relationship is not abusive.  But there are many types of abuse and sometimes it’s the quieter forms which create a deeper damage. It is abuse by stealth.

Adaptation allows us to endure the atrocities of war, the threat of death, the loss of home and country as with the countless refugees currently escaping to Europe; these unfortunate dispossessed people have had to adapt and will continue to adapt as a necessity for survival.

It would seem that adaptation is very much part of the human condition when it comes to survival. In the couple relationship, this adaptation creates a lowering of expectation, allowing us to get used to our partner’s damaging behaviour. Yet these are damaging behaviours which should not be tolerated and by doing so we condone them.  Any behaviours/words which gradually erode the core sense of self is harmful and dangerous to those on the receiving end.

So when do we draw the line? What needs to happen to signal the end of the relationship?

There is of course never one answer to this question.  When, in a rational mind, all hope has gone and the love is less important than the need to stop the damage - when the balance has tipped so far to the negative that there is no hope of changing the direction of the relationship - perhaps this signals the end? Or does it?

I have worked with couples where one partner was resolute in their decision to end their abusive relationship - despite sharing 2 young children, she couldn't go on, she reached her full-stop.  Yet somehow, during the course of working with me, something shifted and as a couple they fell back in love, the abusive behaviours stopped, and with a newly found understanding of each other they are now a loving connected couple with a joint vision for the future. 

So the answer is not predictable and we sometimes give up too soon.  It’s well worth seeking help to see if your relationship can be resurrected, like the mythical Phoenix from the ashes you may rise up together like a rebirthing of all that you once loved and admired in each other with the added benefit of a deeper understanding.

Hope rises like a phoenix from the ashes of shattered dreams - S.A Sachs