The Invisible Elephant - undiagnosed Aspergers

This is a continuation of looking at the particular issues faced in relationships where one partner has a Neuro-typical brain and the other is on the Aspergers Spectrum - whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.

In this writing I will look specifically at the unmovable nature of people on the Aspergers Spectrum and how in relationship, they often need their partner to bend to their wants quite significantly for the relationship to 'work'. The curious thing is that while their NT (neuro-typical) partner is constantly working hard to accommodate their wants and needs, they truly believe that they are being the most considerate, flexible and helpful partner possible - even when the facts of their behaviour could prove otherwise. They might pick examples of their own helpful behaviour where they have given lifts, cooked a meal or sorted a practical issue for a child - what most people would consider to be just the normal things we do for one another in life.

For all of us, the truth is as we see it to a degree, however an NT brain can usually adjust to an altered perspective. But for the AS partner, this is the only way it can be seen because to their mind there is no other truth or explanation.  These same people can in business matters often see all perspectives, and are known for being fair and considerate.  It is in the couple relationship/marriage where these rigid ideas are most often seen.  The idea of fair and unfair becomes very skewed and despite their often careful logical assessment of a situation, unfortunately that logic is often 'faulty'.  They find it almost impossible to see a situation from their partner's perspective.  It is as it seems to them.  Black and white, no shade of grey, no room for an alternative perspective.

I liken this unbendable mind to a bar of steel.  It is as if the AS partner is made of steel - he/she has a set solid form which cannot be bent or coaxed into any other shape.  The NT partner is often a softer, warmer character who melds and accommodates in order to create the most harmonious relationship possible.  In order to better fit with her partner she will also adapt her behaviours to something less soft and more business-like which might give her a harder edge than she naturally had before the relationship.  I liken the NT character to a malleable sheet of lead such as is used on roofs to shape and fit the form it is nestling against. 

The NT lead partner shapes herself to her steel like partner to increase the harmony in their lives.

In doing so she will become a different shape to what was natural to her - she will be bent out of shape and in doing so can start to have some ongoing health problems as her body carries the stress. The likely illnesses to occur when she is bent out of shape are ME, depression, neck and back problems and eating disorders. Typically she will be less fit and well as she was before meeting her partner.

These patterns in the AS/NT relationship are very familiar to me because couples frequently arrive in my consulting room when they inevitably hit a period of crisis.  This usually happens when the NT partner is exhausted by the lack of understanding and love coming her way: or when the AS partner decides he is not making his partner happy.  These two things are often intrinsically linked. I often hear AS men say - I am happy when she is happy.  So when he is hearing 'criticism' for not getting things perfectly right in his partner's eyes he believes that she is not happy with him and he decides he's had enough.

There are challenges for both partners in this AS/NT coupling which can only be overcome by a more thorough exploration and understanding of how each of their minds work.  Only then appreciation, accommodation, acceptance and love can shine through. 

When there is an invisible elephant in the room, one is from time to time bound to trip over a trunk - Karen Joy Fowler