Today’s article is written by an NT for NTs among us who are in a committed relationship with an Aspergers partner.
Novel Gardner (her pen name) reached out to me because she wanted to share some insights she’s had from her relationship with her Aspergers partner. She’s graciously agreed to answer questions you may have, via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without further introduction, here’s her article –
Aspergers Relationship Advice for NT Partners
In this essay, I hope to share are the highlights and gifts of a relationship between one with Asperger’s Syndrome and someone like me, often called a “Neuro-Typical." Often what is discussed are the challenges of such a relationship. Certainly, these exist and I want to offer specific ideas that have worked for us. Yet, I want to draw on the gifts that this relationship offers me and what potential such a union can have from the Neuro-Typical side.
For The NT: Change Your Relationship Expectations
For me, it is helpful to consider what defines a “healthy" relationship and build on that. It isn’t easy to go against trends and expectations. In my experience, I feel there is a lot of pressure to have any relationship conform to some ideal form. Perhaps ushered along by media, there seems to be a template that dictates that a couple meet and then in a few short years they either marry or live together, have children and then supposedly, live happily ever after. At times, it seems to me that relationships should all follow a similar trajectory and have the look of a traditional coupling. While many people are willing to look at relationships and who forms them, few really focus on the elements that make healthy relationships work.
It was pivotal to me when I accepted that my relationship with my partner will likely never conform the ideals I see promoted. Further, I suggest that those “ideals" aren’t really all that healthy. No doubt this was the most difficult step for me. Yet, in the years we’ve been together, I’ve learned that commitment comes in many different forms. Our relationship looks different because we are different. What greater love is there than for couples to respect their differences and work with them and not against?
Appreciate Your Differences and Notice The Gifts
What Greater Love?
For example, though my partner and I are deeply committed to each other and our relationship, we chose to marry or even live under the same roof— at least for now. This comes, not from a lack of love, but from a deep reservoir of it. The gift that I’ve received from this is to understand that proximity does not equal intimacy. Perhaps you can think of a time when you spent a lot of time with someone but really weren’t that connected to them. Moreover, I’m sure you can think of times when you felt very close to someone though you were miles apart. My partner and I live about a three-minute walk from each other and we see each other daily. Faithfully, he calls me at his lunch time and we often end and begin our days together. We keep separate households, separate bank accounts and often varied schedules. I work from home as a writer and artist, he works at his engineering office and often at musical gigs on weekends. But nonetheless, we are connected in meaningful ways that work for both of us.
Respect Each Other’s Space and Time
Most relationship experts will agree that at the core of any healthy relationship, trust and respect exist. This is one of the big gifts of an AS-NT union: we daily respect each other’s space, time and we trust that we are both a priority for the other. It’s a daily commitment, a daily practice.
Learn to Communicate Effectively With Each Other
Communication is often cited as one of the biggest challenges in any relationship and for the AS-NT couple, it is certainly a struggle. In my experience, this has been an area where I have had to really grow. Two keys that I’ve learned:
1 – Communicate when the atmosphere is calm
2 – Keep requests and details direct.
“I’d like to finish the project in the garden this weekend. Can you help me with the planting on Saturday at 4 PM?"
I want to add a #3 to that list: Keep expectations reasonable and be willing to solve a challenge in creative ways. If my partner says, “No, I cannot help you, I need to practice." , I have learned to take that at face value. He is being honest and I like that. I can find someone else to help me or I can find another time that might work better.
Pursue Your Own Personal Growth
Perhaps the greatest gift of our relationship is the ability to grow as my own person. The love songs might sing about someone being “my all in all", the reality is that this is just a fantasy. No one person can meet all our social, emotional needs. We all need friends, mentors and other people in our lives to live fully and completely. No other relationship offers a better environment for personal self-growth. In this relationship, I am free to invite girlfriends to go with me to events such as movies or the museum. To ask my partner to do everything with me all the time would be exhausting for him – and limiting to me.
An example of this came when I had to attend a dinner for a restaurant review. It was in the evening, when my partner typically practices music and it was a dress up occasion. I’m sure that some men might enjoy such an event but this is just not something my partner enjoys. I knew that and invited a girlfriend to go with me. When I told my partner of my plans he responded, “Good call." We both enjoy this freedom allows.
Summing Up: The Gifts of the AS/NT Relationship:
1 – Allow the relationship to be what it can be, not what some ideal says it “should" be.
2 – Build a healthy relationship that shows trust, respect and love in ways that are unique to you and your partner.
3 – Understand that communication will be challenging. Be willing to communicate with facts being clear in your expectations.
4 – Look for the gifts of this relationship. Many are hidden in the challenges and worth the effort!
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