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Tips for Being in a Relationship With a Man Who Has Asperger's or Autism

By HERWriter
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Being involved in a successful romantic relationship can be difficult for most people. Consider all the breakup self-help books available, the movies portraying cheating significant others, constant fighting and dramatic breakups, and your own relationship history.

Do you think these difficulties increase or decrease for someone with a mental disorder? Let’s just say that it’s not easy to have a relationship while trying to function “normally” in the world.

For people who have Asperger’s disorder or autistic disorder, social interaction is complicated. Although people with Asperger’s are thought to have high-functioning autism, they still have social problems. For example, people with Asperger’s don’t contribute as much socially and emotionally, and they don’t know how to use nonverbal behaviors as well, like eye contact, according to an abnormal psychology textbook.

Interaction and emotional reciprocity are important in relationships, so it’s no wonder that it would be a challenge for someone with Asperger’s or autism to be in a relationship. Although this doesn’t happen for everyone, it’s a stereotype that someone with these disorders will not share his or her emotions as frequently. For example, they might not say “I love you” or show affection as often, because they don’t understand and express emotions as well as the typical person.

If you decide to be in a relationship with someone who has Asperger’s or autism, it seems there are some things you have to consider to help the relationship work. Keep in mind, this may not apply to everyone who has Asperger’s or autism. There is the proposed autism spectrum disorder, which places autism and Asperger’s together. Basic symptoms will be the same, but specifics may differ.

This is what I have observed after being in a short relationship with someone who thought he had Asperger’s and through reading different articles:

1) Don’t assume the other person is uninterested, just because he isn’t telling you he likes you or finds you attractive. Decide what you think of him and let him know.

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EmpowHER Guest

Hi, I have been married to someone with Aspergers for 18 years now. Our marriage has been rough. I didn't know he had Aspergers until about 7 years ago. At first, I made excuses for him and tried to understand. Now at this stage of my life, I just don't want to deal. He is like a child. He is obsessed with series' on TV and plays free cell for hours at a time on his phone. He checks out too often into his escape world while I'm living in the real one. It gets lonely for me. He would be okay to live his entire life checking out of reality. I care about him and want our marriage to work but its just not working for me. The sad part is that he doesn't have an issue and sees the issue as mine, and no matter how much I attempt to explain myself, he is unreasonable, gets defensive, and escapes into his own world even more. He hasn't been formally diagnosed but he has every single symptom of Aspergers, including the neurological ones. And I've read that it is not easy to diagnose and there is no treatment for it.

I don't know why I'm writing except that I would love someone who understands my perspective.

August 25, 2016 - 11:35am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Guys will get lost in minute of sports all the time. If he has nothing else to do but play the game he will play the game. What looks like something boring and tedious he can see as a building progression.

If he is not complaining, then the issue *is* yours. You can't just assert that it's not right so it is his issue.

You don't mention if he is taking care of things with income or if he is just sitting around all day. If he isn't bringing food to the table, then that's different.

I'd suggest telling him what you need him to do. If you want to go out on Friday night, just say, " i'd like you to take me out to eat on Friday night". Try to be specific. It gives him a goal to meet, like in Freecell. Whatever you do, dont try to drop hints or expect him to "know what you want if he really loved you".

August 26, 2016 - 8:09am
(reply to Anonymous)

I get it!!! I do! My dad has it, and my ex has it, I lived with him 5 years and I'm over the top over it. It is just like having a grown up child only they never really mature much. It is stressful!!! At times I thought I was going crazy. I've studied the spectrum for 26 years, I have family members and taught. This article is barely if at all usedful. You can tell them if it upsets you all day long and for weeks. It doesn't mean they will change it. I could go on and on about this, but I won't. You can join us on facebook where there is a group and you'll find lots of people that get it!. <3

August 26, 2016 - 7:03am
EmpowHER Guest

I have been in a relationship for almost a year with a man that I figured out has Asperger's after I noticed he could easily tell me he loved me over the phone and say sweet things in text but never in person. He travels for months at a time for his job but visits frequently. When we were first together I thought he was just shy but now I've realized that he is unable to give me what I need emotionally. He's very into his own agenda....will sit and watch shows or movies on his laptop for 12 hours day after day. Will cook for himself and then when I ask if he cooked me any, he says oh, I didn't think you wanted any. I have a 14 year old son who he has not made effort to bond with and blames it on my son for being aloof. He has showered me with gifts, expensive dinners, flowers etc. but he's very cold and distant in person. Its like he shows his love by spending money on me. I explained to him that if he can tell me he loves me in person a few times it will get easier. He now says it but like only before bed and when we're getting off the phone. I don't feel the warmth and connection with him and I've tried so hard to put a spark into it. One time I took him to this place after dinner that overlooks the whole city. Its romantic and beautiful with all the lights etc., he just stood there and looked. Didn't bother to hold me, kiss me, say something romantic....nothing. It's so frustrating! It just seems really superficial and I'm finally getting sick of it. He hardly ever initiates intimacy (but doesn't turn it down when I do) and never gives compliments, even when I have made an effort to look really nice when we go out. It hurts and I end up having an attitude and giving him the cold shoulder. He probably doesn't mind at all when I'm ignoring him. I've told him that its strange to me that he never says anything sweet or nice and he says he'll work on it but it still doesn't happen. If we're laying down watching TV he will cuddle me if I lay next to him but its almost like he's afraid to touch me. I just don't think I can live like this. I have tried explaining to him many times what a relationship needs to be healthy and he seems to understand but just cant bring himself to act that way? Yet, he doesn't want to end the relationship. He has been divorced and in two other relationships where the women just up and left him with no explanation. The funny thing is, he doesn't seem to think those relationships failed because of his emotional absence! Any advice?

August 21, 2016 - 9:05am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Instead of complaining to yourself that he is selfish for cooking food and not making you any... are you communicating with him?

Have you said ,"hey honey, when you make dinner, make some extra for me in case I might want some."?

If not, he might very well think "well, I want to eat, make enough for one, or else extras might go bad"

I used to have this same problem. My wife would stop by taco bell and buy food for her and the kids. Then she would buy food for me. And set it out. I HATE this.. because she doesn't call to ask if I want something and if so.. what is it? I would not normally care, but sometimes, that type of food isn't really good reheated hours later if I had just eaten.

But I learned eventually that she doesn't think with her head, so she does stuff like that which I consider stupid. To her, I *guess* it means she is being thoughtful.

That being said. I prefer a call like this.. "hey I'm at taco bell, do you want something?" To me.. this would be best. Food isn't wasted.. if I'm hungry I'm happy.. and she would be thoughtful and be happy.

Nope. She doesn't like that. I think it makes her feel more like a servant or something, rather than being purely thoughtful.

It beats me. I gave up trying to figure her out.. but I prefer wasting money on cold soggy burritos than never getting melons at night.....

So I just buy an extra burger at mcD. Even if I think it's dumb.

August 26, 2016 - 8:27am

[Sorry in advance for the long comment, I did try to make it shorter but hope it helps as a comment from the other perspective]

Hi, I'm a guy with high functioning autism, ADHD and a history of depression and OCD who has been married for just over 12 years (we've been together for 14). Although I always knew something was weird about me and I had trouble negotiating social situations, I was only diagnosed last week. Of course it's been my "special interest" recently! On the other hand, the ADHD was diagnosed a few years ago and my wife had been asking me to get treatment for it for about 5 years before I did. To be honest, the main reasons I didn't want to do it were because I was worried that medication would change parts of me that I liked (e.g. creativity) and I was aware that there were other issues that I didn't want to deal with - life can pretty stressful and it's hard enough without medication upsetting a delicate balance you've constructed, especially when you have a history of failure to meet your own expectations in many areas of your life.

Sure enough, once I began the medication (Strattera) I started having odd symptoms that matched things like autism and bipolar disorder. It was scary, but I kept going as I was learning a lot about myself and my wife thought I was nicer to be with (more engaged and less aggressive, although aggression meant something like saying "leave me alone" or throwing a pen across the room (away from her) if I felt overwhelmed by too much sensory input or demands and felt that I couldn’t express it in words – I’ve never sworn at her or threatened to hurt her in any way, and the last time this happened was about a year ago, before I started the medication). I also noticed that the symptoms hadn't started with the medication, it was more that I was noticing them as distinct and important issues now the ADHD was being addressed to some extent.

To be clear, my wife first suspected that I was autistic soon after we met 16 years ago, but I seemed to be managing fairly well in life without treatment and she didn’t want to make an issue of it, so she didn't tell me. When we first got married, we worked on things like skills for socialising, looking people in the eye, expressing love for each other and being clear with each other. I guess I had a rough idea about a number of issues and I wanted to avoid the kind of miscommunication I’d seen in other relationships, so I asked for a few basic rules to be kept: There must be no passive aggression. I often don’t pick up signals or forget things, so if she thinks I should do something, I may not know. If she tells me, I still may not know. If she tells me in the evening, I’ll forget. If she tells me, I repeat it to her and then I write it down, THEN I know. But I may still forget, so smartphones with notifications have really improved my life. If she wants something or isn’t happy, she MUST tell me. If she hasn’t done that, she is not entitled to feel bitter at all (the same goes for me, of course). I’m probably not trying to insult her or ignore her, but she may feel that way – always ask for clarification and apology if necessary. We have to take each other seriously and respect is important, but she doesn’t have to take my ideas that seriously, especially if I’m in the middle of a train of thought. I will try to find outlets for this to take some pressure off her. Many acts of love feel unnatural to me, but seeing them as actions that will make my wife understand that I love her means that they’re as authentic as saying something in someone else’s language. The learning process isn’t automatic, so we work on it together.

This may seem weird, but pointing out things that make you feel loved and pointing out when you did something to make the other person feel loved is a positive reinforcement mechanism that avoids feelings of bitterness when you feel taken for granted, and makes it easier to do those things next time. You will never change your husband by focusing on the negatives, you will only make him frustrated. This is doubly true for aspies, as we react to a negative emotional environment without knowing it – and we can be very stubborn. However, the opposite is also true and I respond very well to a positive and encouraging environment.

While I may not be particularly far along the spectrum, I have had a number of the same issues. I had no idea that she was interested in me for months, and just saw her as a friend for a long time and with many people trying to give me hints. When we were engaged or just married, I might not say hello to her when I arrived after not seeing her all day, and not be able to talk with her for an hour or more. We have had a number of miscommunications and she finds my obsessions hard to deal with at times (especially when they relate to our relationship or to beliefs – after meeting as missionaries, I became an atheist within four years of getting married). I really can’t just not have obsessions and I can’t prove that they won’t end up in a place that she won’t approve of. Such is life. However, I work on what I can do: she has my respect however different our views may be. I try to create the best conditions to allow us to be happy together, with as little pain as possible if we have to split up for some reason. I work from home and look after the kids while she works – I must take shared responsibility for the house, and she must not become a substitute parent or carer. This also means that I have less contact with people during the day, so I have more energy for the family when she returns from work. I discuss issues online, so I don’t have to bore her with them too much. I try to find obsessions that improve our marriage and make me a better person – feminism, psychology, cooking, child raising etc. From my encounters with theology and philosophy, I am aware of the many different and often harmful conclusions that smart and opinionated people reach – there must be more fundamental things than my opinions, however well-founded I think they are. We have certain contexts where she gets to talk about what is on her mind – generally every evening before bed. Similarly, she has people that she can talk with so I’m not bored with hours of conversation about the various people in her life (I’m not putting that down, it’s important but hearing it is like reading the phone book to me at times).

For my part, I have to think about my attitudes to this relationship: when I first went on the medication about 9 months ago, I became obsessed about divorce. After realising that I had alexithymia and was having difficulty identifying my emotions properly, I tried looking around the issue to analyse how I felt and why. I think it’s because of attachment issues and a feeling that I would be socially isolated without my wife, as well as a fear that I wasn't meeting her needs. Attachment is cute, but it can be dangerous and it can smother your partner. I have to deal with this by being more independent, holding the relationship in an open hand and making sure she is being looked after (and that we communicate more). She does not want to leave me, but we have talked about conditions under which she would do this for her own safety or wellbeing. It’s not that I am aggressive toward her or feel that this is likely to happen, it’s just that there are too many negative stories about husbands with autism and I don’t want my family to be hurt, especially by me.

I also have to think about my goals in life – there are many aspies who make their work or interests into an obsession, and I know how that ends. I try to keep myself grounded and ensure that I am involved with the family and not drifting off. Unfortunately I have a set of neurological issues that can cause a lot of trouble in relationships, but I am trying to make the most of the positive elements and find constructive outlets for the ones that are more risky. I have a very loving and supportive wife who respects me and herself, which makes a lot of difference.

May 18, 2016 - 5:34am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Jon_Roberts)

Nice. Uncortunately... My wife will not tell me what she wants. She says.. "you should just know".

--just shoot me now.

May 18, 2016 - 7:49am
(reply to Anonymous)

Yes, if she is on the spectrum then it will most likely continue. If she is not, the recommended books to read would be Queen's Code. It helps women understand men and that they have social beliefs that aren't true about men. It just isn't true that men should just know.

August 26, 2016 - 7:09am
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

I'm sorry that's your situation, Anon.  You shouldn't "just know" - nobody is a mind reader.  


May 18, 2016 - 1:34pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Yeah... it really does require cooperation from both people, rather than the assumption that the other person will just get it. NTs have trouble reading people with A/S, so if they go into the relationship relying on their innate ability in that area, they will come out if it with statements like "people with autism can't feel or express love". It's a good skill to be able to explain things clearly without being patronising, and to respect differences. TBH, there were one or two areas that were a big challenge, as they were more sensitive and so my wife would be less verbal about them. Predictably, I didn't get it so we had to discuss them and define rules for how we acted around them.

May 18, 2016 - 10:30am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.