I’m going to crack on with my expose of Asperger issues (before I lose my nerve. And because it’s raining roos and emus here so there’s not a lot else to do…)
The same caveats apply as in my previous post – even when I’m generalising, I can’t speak for all those on the spectrum, and many will have different issues and alternative viewpoints to mine. This is just my take based on my own experience, readings about autism online and in autism forum posts. Here we go…
Topic 2. Relationship Troubles
I’m going to limit this discussion to close personal relationships, here – romantic partners and spouses. Even so, this is a big and complex topic, it’s hard to know where to start or how to do it justice. Let’s just say that (a) most autistics desire close relationships as much as anyone else; and (b) multiple autistic traits act together to make initiating and maintaining relationships far more difficult than it ought to be.
Oh, I have to be careful here, this topic is so sensitive. There are websites and books out there written by ex-partners of (often undiagnosed, inferred) aspies with the sole purpose of exposing the reasons why we make terrible partners. And WE HATE THEM. They misunderstand our motivations, they conflate our behaviours with those of narcissists and sociopaths, and the message is always the same – run a mile!
The usual response from autists (after we recover from the meltdown) is to stress that many of us can and do maintain close personal relationships. Which is the truth.
[Some figures here, in case you are interested, from a poll on autism forum Wrong Planet asking about the relationship status of mature adults. Of 130 respondents, 34% were single but only 16% expected to remain so. 40% were currently in a relationship (though for 6% either themselves or their partner were not happy with it). 19% were separated or divorced. So the stats, while a little skewed, are not as dire as those sites would have you believe.]
Such sites are dismissed as spreading hate speech and some lobby to get them shut down… but they remain. As I see it, they are likely to remain in place until we autists are sufficiently well understood by wider society that such misrepresentations are exposed for what they are.
Simply stressing that autists can and do maintain relationships is not enough. It’s the truth, but it’s not the whole truth. The fact is, autism can make relationships harder and if we are to fully accepted, people need to know why and how and what can be done to help. If we are not to remain misunderstood, we have to be willing dive into these frigid, turbid waters and examine the truth of our relationship troubles.
So, here is a list, off the top of my head, of some of the various autistic traits which muck up relationships for us :
- social skills deficits which reduce the likelihood of meeting someone and making a good impression
- difficulties in initiating and maintaining a conversation
- empathy deficits as per my previous post, which makes us seem less connected and emotionally supportive to our partner
- ability to be attentive in the short term, but unable to sustain the effort required in a long-term relationship
- alexithymia – difficulty in recognising or verbalising emotions. Having emotional needs one can’t express
- trying to resolve issues through logical argument without recognition of the emotional impact. Appearing insensitive
- being unable to tolerate emotive situations (such as involving conflict)
- the need to frequently retreat into solitary interests and pursuits, which can be seen as neglectful
- the need for order and routines, and lack of tolerance for disruptions of these
- inability to pick up on unspoken clues or read between the lines to determine how a partner really feels, if they don’t tell us
I think I’d better stop there. It’s amazing, looking at that list, that we manage relationships at all – yet we do! Humans are remarkably adaptive. Once both partners recognise that their relationship issues stem from Asperger deficits, they can find ways to work around them. Sometimes the result may seem unusual (you would be surprised to know the number of aspies who maintain a happy marriage while living in different houses, or who have a schedule for intimacy, for example) but with sufficient will on both sides it can definitely work.
What is the common denominator in those sites which warn people away from relationships with aspies? It is that these were people who either did not know their partners had Aspergers, or did not understand what that meant. Maybe, if they had known and understood a little more, their experience would have been completely different.