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

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