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. After he is aware of your attraction and isn’t confused about nonverbal gestures and flirtation, it might be easier for him to decide if he feels the same way.
2) Don’t be alarmed if your significant other is confused by romantic gestures, like hugging or kissing. Stop if needed, but also try explaining what the gestures mean, or suggest going to a psychologist together so you can work on your partner’s relationship skills.
3) Tell your partner how you are feeling, especially if you are angry, and why. Your partner may not understand your emotions and why you are reacting a certain way.
4) Learn what his interests are, and try to engage in activities focusing on those interests. Go on a few dates where social interaction isn’t necessarily the focus.
5) Ease him into large social situations, like parties or group outings. Understand if he is overwhelmed or decides not to go with you – he might prefer being alone or with less people.
6) Understand that some people with Asperger’s can be brutally honest, according to the book “Asperger Syndrome and Long-Term Relationships.” The book explains that when talking about reasons for marriage, a person with Asperger’s might say that there is an availability of sex as the main reason, while not including his love of his significant other. Romance can be puzzling to someone with Asperger’s, but again, you will probably see improvement after explaining the meaning behind it, why it’s necessary and that it makes you feel good.
7) If your partner talks in a confusing manner, like in riddles or using complex vocabulary, or doesn’t answer your questions directly, ask him for more clarification. Also, remember not to use riddles, jokes or sarcasm in the same way you would with someone who doesn’t have Asperger’s or autism. If you do, ask if they understood and then explain what you meant. Otherwise, they might be hurt by what you said or just be confused.
8) If your partner has certain quirks, like not wanting to talk on the phone, understand that it may be related to Asperger's. Confront them about the issue if it bothers you, and explain why.
Abnormal Psychology: An Integrative Approach by David Barlow and V. Mark Durand