Maintaining a romantic or friendship relationship with someone who is autistic can be difficult. There are many Relationships and adult autism ways to create a stronger and more fulfilling partnership.
What does autism mean for relationships?
You’ve likely experienced your fair share of frustrations, whether you are an autistic adult yourself or in a platonic, familial, or romantic relationship with one.
You may feel confused or annoyed by the confusing ways that your loved ones communicate with you if you are autistic. Perhaps you feel misunderstood or micro-managed in a relationship. You might feel frustrated by the rigidity or fixations of your autistic loved one. Perhaps their harsh remarks have hurt your feelings.
It’s common for people in a relationship to wonder if they can last. Sometimes, partners may react in ways that only increase insecurity or escalate the conflict. One example is when a neurotypical partner feels unheard and stressed after an argument, while the autistic partner becomes distant and resentful. The relationship gets more difficult as problems keep recurring.
Remember that unhealthy relationships are not set in stone. A neurotypical person can have a fulfilling relationship or friendship with an autistic person. It’s important to create a mutually understanding relationship and be open to compromise and adaptation.
Relationships and adult autism
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Adult relationships and the challenges of autism
Autism can affect the way that an individual experiences the world and how they interact with it. Autism can cause individuals to approach social interaction and relationships in ways that are not fully understood by neurotypical people. There are many myths and misconceptions about autistic individuals. The following are some common myths regarding autistic people:
- They are not drawn to social interaction.
- They lack empathy.
- They aren’t able to experience normal emotions.
These ideas are false. Humans are social creatures that seek out strong relationships and support. People with autism are not exceptions. They can connect with others on an empathic level. Even though they may have different ways to express themselves, their emotions can be very strong. Studies show that autistic adults experience more loneliness than their peers.
Many autistic traits can cause problems in relationships, despite the myths and misconceptions.
Reading social cues. You might find it difficult to read social cues that are commonplace for autistic people. This could lead to misinterpretations. You might overlook the irritating expressions or tone of voice in your loved one and misunderstand their mood.
You want consistency. Your partner might be more comfortable with you being consistent with your plans and schedules. You might want to make your relationship more fun by adding unexpected events, but you are anxious or upset about unscheduled events.
Anxiety. High levels of anxiety and stress are not unusual for autistic individuals. This can cause an overanalytical tendency. It’s possible to spend hours worrying about whether your friend misunderstood you or if they are secretly mad at you. Anxiety can lead to insomnia, which can cause irritability or mood swings.
Specific interests. Your loved one may feel that you are putting your special interests ahead of the relationship if they have any. You might get annoyed if you share too much information about your passion, or if your enthusiasm leads to an “info dump.”
Sensory problems. Having discomfort with certain sensations can cause frustration and awkwardness in sexual and non-sexual relationships. You might have to tell your friend repeatedly that you find tapping your feet, popping gum, and speaking at a certain volume annoying.
With the right strategies, you can overcome each of these obstacles. The neurotypical partner must also recognize that the traits of their loved one are not the only thing at play. The neurotypical person must also reflect on their habits and traits to make the relationship work.
Tips 1 for overcoming autism-related problems: Develop mutual understanding
While finding common ground in any relationship is a great starting point, don’t forget about your differences. You will likely see the world and interact with others in different ways. Your responses to situations could also be different. An autistic partner might need to be alone for a while to process their emotions, or may want to learn from new experiences. The non-autistic partner might want to vent their emotions verbally or face challenges based on gut reactions.
These differences don’t have to be bad. You will have to be open to new perspectives.
Learn more about autism. Each autistic person is unique. Learning about common autistic traits can help you both educate and empower. You might find it comforting to know that others are going through similar struggles. Even if you are not autistic you can still learn ways to support your loved ones and gain insight into neurodivergent perspectives.
Treat interactions with curiosity. Even if you think you know everything about your partner, there is always more. Asking questions will help you gain a better understanding of your partner’s inner workings. What drives them? What is their source of energy? What are their fears? What support can they expect from me? You might want to write down their answers for future reference.
Your partner should be open to hearing your views. Do not let shame or embarrassment stop you from sharing your views with your partner.
|What an autistic partner might feel like:|
|Frustrated. It is possible for them to feel that society doesn’t meet their needs or that they are not understood by others. They may long for acceptance by more than their closest friends and partners.|
|Confused. This could be caused by passive aggression or other disorderly behaviors. This question may seem common.|
|Feel anxious. They may want to be reassured that they don’t miss social cues. They might be afraid of being perceived as insensitive or inappropriate.|
|Feeling overwhelmed. An autistic person may feel anxious or stressed by the environment, such as lighting. Stress can also result from social situations that are demanding.|
|Tired. An autistic person might feel the need to hide their behavior to fit in with others. You might also find them introverted, which means socializing can be draining.|
|What the non-autistic partner may feel|
|Stressed. It could feel like they are being too attentive to their friend or partner’s social interactions. They may feel responsible for the actions of their loved ones.|
|Anxious. They may feel annoyed if certain problems keep recurring. Their autistic partner may be too blunt even though they have tried many times to change their communication style.|
|Not mentioned. A neurotypical partner may feel second-class to a partner with autism who has special interests.|
|Restrained in emotions. A neurotypical partner may feel that they must keep their cool to avoid escalated conflicts. Emotional suppression can lead to extreme stress, resentment, and outbursts.|
Tip 2 – Take responsibility for your actions
Relationships are not always fair. You need to understand how your behavior affects the dynamics of your relationship and how it provokes reactions in your loved one. You can take time to think about how your behavior might be contributing to the recurrent problems between you. This is true for both autistic and neurotypical individuals.
Be aware of what you can and cannot control. Nagging your partner is not a way to control them. Manipulative behavior will not foster a healthy relationship. You can influence your reactions, which can have an impact on the dynamic of the relationship. You might find your partner more patient if you are more patient with them.
Ask yourself questions. Maybe you are a pushy friend who feels ignored. You might be a snob and talk down to your friend because you don’t think they will fully understand you. You can be more positive by being introspective.
Bring positivity to your interactions Even the smallest acts of love can make a big difference in your life. Unexpected gifts can make your partner’s life easier. Encourage them when they are struggling to achieve something. Let them know how grateful you are for their efforts. This can help foster trust and security.
Get treatment for disruptive behaviors. These traits could include jealousy, anger issues, anxiety, or any other trait that may be preventing a happy relationship. This doesn’t only apply to the autistic partner. Both partners should be open to admitting when their habits and traits are problematic.
Self-help can help with certain issues. You can manage your anxiety by practicing breathing exercises and journaling. Others, such as sensory disorders, that can interfere with physical intimacy, may need more professional intervention.
Avoidance of the parent-child dynamic
Sometimes, the neurotypical friend or partner might feel like they are the “parent” of the relationship. The autistic partner might not be as skilled at managing certain situations, so the neurotypical partner feels the need to take charge. A neurotypical person may develop a tendency to speak for their autistic friend in fear that they will make a mistake.
This dynamic can lead to an imbalanced relationship. When one partner loses their independence, codependency and resentment may develop.
You don’t have to be the parent in your relationship if you don’t feel that way. While you can support your partner when needed, it is important to recognize that they are an adult and can make their own decisions.
If you feel that your partner is “parenting”, let them know. They can offer you help without trying to control your life. They might be able to give you advice on how to avoid making mistakes in public, but not speak for you. It is possible to find ways to pamper your partner and help to balance your relationship. You can make your partner feel loved by cooking for them or running errands.
Tip 3: Develop effective communication skills
Communication can be difficult if you are an autistic adult, or in a relationship with one. It is possible to misunderstand or offend each other. However, this does not mean that communication will stop. Both of you will need to make extra efforts to ensure that your messages get through.
Tips for the neurotypical partner
These communication tips might be helpful for autistic friends, family members, and partners.
Use figurative language with care. Some autistic adults, but not all, tend to take things literally. Try to be simple if this is the case. You might, for example, stop using ironic or sarcastic humor.
Recognize differences in body language. Don’t be offended if the other person doesn’t maintain eye contact or uses unusual nonverbal cues. Keep your eyes on what they are saying. You should also be aware that they might not hear some of your nonverbal cues.
Be patient. Do not lose your temper if you have a misunderstanding. Don’t assume that the autistic person will be incompetent. They just process things differently.
Tips for the autistic spouse
The following suggestions are for autistic people who want to talk to someone neurotypical.
Ask for clarification. If necessary, ask the other person for clarification. You can also ask them if you think they meant what you said.
Take your time. Do not rush to respond. Rushing can cause more confusion. Take a moment to reflect on what was said and how you would respond.
Request a break from the conversation. Ask if you are unable to continue the conversation due to sensory issues or if you can resume it later. You can take a walk to calm yourself if anxiety is rising or you feel tired from the conversation.
As an autistic adult, improving your communication skills
Decide what you want to do better and why. Maybe you would like to be able to recognize when your partner is frustrated.
Divide the task into steps. Is there a first sign that you should look out for when gauging the frustration of your partner? While every person has their nonverbal cues and some are more common than others, some can be used to help you spot them. Maybe your partner furrows their brow when they are annoyed. Is there another sign you should look for if your partner does not show the first one?
Practice. Ask your partner for feedback and practice the skill together. You can also practice the skill with someone else.
Do not get too caught up in perfection. You don’t need to do it perfectly every time. You should be willing to work with your partner to improve communication. You might be able to get your partner to express their feelings more clearly, and you won’t need to rely on only nonverbal cues.
For more information, visit Body Language and Nonverbal Communication
Tips for both partners
Do not suppress your emotions Negative emotions such as frustration, can lead to anger and stress levels that are high, and should not be hidden. Instead, tell your partner what you feel. You can then work together to find solutions and compromises.
Reset assumptions. As you attempt to understand the reasons behind your partner’s actions and words, it is easy to make assumptions. These assumptions may not always reflect reality. While you might believe your partner is not paying attention because they are angry, they may be focusing on something else. Ask questions, not try to figure out what is going on inside your partner’s head.
Use “I”, instead of “you”, statements. Statements containing “I” emphasize your emotions. “You” statements may sound accusatory. As your partner becomes defensive, the former is more likely to escalate arguments. Try saying “I feel ignored” instead of “You are ignoring my concerns.”
You can learn to listen.
It is easy to get into the habit of listening but not hearing from a friend or loved one. You might find yourself waiting for the right moment to speak, instead of paying attention to what is being said. This is especially true if you have different communication styles. These are steps to help you become a more active listener.
Reduce distractions. Your phone should be put away. Reduce background music. You can have important conversations with people who have sensory issues in a physically comfortable space.
Avoid judgment. Your attention should be completely on the person. It might be helpful to repeat the words of your partner in your head. This will help you stay focused. You can put aside all criticisms and judgments and just listen with an open heart.
Refrain from interrupting. Sometimes you might feel like you have to make an objection or change the conversation’s direction. Practice patience.
Give feedback. Ask your partner to clarify something or repeat it if necessary. You can also say “What I’m hearing …” and then rephrase your partner’s words in your own words. This will ensure that you are on the same page.
Tip 4 – Capitalize on the strengths of each other
It doesn’t matter if you are autistic or not. However, it is important to recognize that each of you has strengths and weaknesses. Your autistic friend/partner might have a sharp memory and be organized. However, they may not be confident in social situations. Perhaps your neurotypical roommate, while assertive and outgoing in personality, is less analytical. You can start to recognize your strengths and work together to create a balanced dynamic. You want to feel like you are contributing to your relationship.
Make a list of the strengths and areas you need to improve. You might want to ask the following questions:
- Which of you is more adaptable and willing to adjust to new situations?
- Who can come up with more practical solutions and is more rational?
- Who is more organized?
- Which person feels more at home in social situations than the other?
You can divide the tasks according to your strengths if you are roommates or living together. One example: The most organized person can pay the bills, while the most outgoing partner can communicate with the landlord.
You’ll need to come up with ways to work together to improve your weaknesses. You can use automated payment systems or reminders if you have difficulty remembering to pay your utility bills.
Talk it out if you feel like one of your responsibilities is more important than the other and assign tasks to the other. Even if one of you must work on new skills, you can come up with a plan that works both for you.
Make the life of your autistic loved ones easier
There are many ways to support an autistic friend or partner without micro-managing or nagging.
Keep consistency. Some autistic people struggle to adapt to sudden changes. They feel secure and at peace when they are consistent. Keep your loved ones informed about any changes to ensure that they are not surprised. Ask your loved one for their opinion if you are planning to change the layout of the living room.
Make your home more welcoming for people with sensory issues. You can reduce your discomfort by making simple changes to your home such as dimming the lighting or adding noise-canceling headphones. If an autistic person tends to lose time, timers can help them stay on track.
Join together. Some evidence suggests that mindfulness can decrease anxiety and improve sensory regulation. Encourage your partner to meditate daily, but don’t force them.
As an autistic adult, making new social connections
You can feel lonely if you are an autistic adult.
It can seem overwhelming to an autistic adult to have to listen to and interpret small talk. You might be worried about how you will navigate awkward situations and miscommunications. You can make it easier with the right strategies. The connections you make can transform your life.
Follow your passion. Meetup is a great way to find groups near you. There are many options, from board game meetups to trail walking groups. These events and groups offer great opportunities to meet others who share your interests. You’ll find new friends if you focus on having fun.
Connect with the neurodivergent community. Many autistic people find it easier to interact with neurodivergent than with neurotypicals. You might feel more understood by neurodivergent friends and be more accepted. You might get tips and tricks for connecting with more people, as well as strategies to deal with common issues like sensory overload and social burnout. You can find forums for neurodivergent online. Attend in-person events as often as possible. There are dating apps for autistic and neurodivergent singles.
Make time to relax You may find social interaction tiring.
Before and after every engagement, you can relax on your own. It is possible to meditate, browse the Internet or take a walk after a coffee date.
Establish common interests. Find commonalities between yourself and those you are interacting with. This will make your interactions more natural and create opportunities for bonding. Consider your hobbies, travels, favorite foods, and media.
Listen well You might enjoy sharing your interests with friends if you have them. Talking too much about your favorite topic is a mistake. Allow others to have a change of subject matter and discuss their lives. Engage others by using active listening techniques
Learn to read body language. This skill is useful whether you want to determine if someone is interested in you romantically or if a friend is bored by the conversation. Ask friends for help if reading body cues is not something you are good at. You can also learn by watching the interactions of others or looking through online guides.
Identify unhealthy relationships. Recognize that not everyone will make a good friend or romantic partner. Take a look at your interactions. Do you find the other person rude or disrespectful? Are they only interested in themselves? Are they judgmental about you and other people? You might feel uneasy or undervalued if you don’t get along with the other person.
How to deal with rejection. Acceptance is part of dating. You might also find that people turn down friendship offers. Accept any negative emotions, such as sadness or resentment, but don’t dwell on them. You might be rejected by the other person for superficial reasons.
Rejections can be frustrating. Take some time to think about the possible problems that you might have. Trusted family members might be able to offer honest guidance. Be gentle with yourself. Look for ways to improve.
No matter if you are trying to build new Relationships and adult autism existing ones, remember that people can sometimes be complex and there is always more to learn. Keep curious about those around you. Spend time with people who are interested in learning more about you and what your perspectives are. You have a lot to offer potential partners and friends.