“Can people with ASD have normal relationships”?

People with ASD can have “normal” loving relationships. Many people with ASD go on to have fulfilling relationships, marriages and have children. Couples in a relationship when one person has ASD may experience some issues related to difficulties with communication and social skills.

Although couples in a relationship with ASD may have difficulties there are some strengths to being in a relationship with someone with ASD such as: fierce loyalty, trust, intelligence, hard work ethic and intense focus.
Often the partner with ASD may not get a diagnosis until later in life, usually once a child has had a diagnosis. The non ASD partner may have suspected for some time that something is “just not quite right” with their partner.

A diagnosis can be helpful in explaining some of the behaviours of the person in the relationship with ASD and some of the issues that occur in the household. The individual and the couple should seek further counselling or assistance to work through issues together.

Difficulties experienced

  • Many of the relationship difficulties experienced are related to the ASD partner not understanding the emotional needs of the other partner.
  • The ASD partner may also be perceived to be controlling, insensitive or emotionally cold.
  • They may have difficulties with domestic issues such as cleaning budgeting, shopping and other household basics.
  • One partner usually takes responsibility for most of the burden of the household.
  • The partner with ASD may not pay the other partner compliments, know instinctively when the partner needs a hug, or hold much sentimental value in gifts or other special occasions.
  • Sexual relationships can vary, with sensory, intimacy and communication and sensory issues making sex and physical intimacy difficult. Others report that their sex life is ‘normal’ and some report high sexual activity.
  • The family may become increasingly ‘closed’ or very private and not socialise with others or go on many outings.
  • The partner with ASD will have difficulty with changing plans and being away from familiar environments.
  • Men with ASD will often try and find a practical solution to an emotional problem – often not what their partners want- they may just want a hug.
  • Women with ASD may be fiercely independent and controlling of their environment and situation which can impact on family members.

Points to note

  • Verbal, physical or psychological abuse, threats or controlling obsessive behaviour is never ok regardless of an ASD diagnosis. The couple or the individual should seek help if these issues are arising.
  • Unless a person with ASD is explicitly told, they will not automatically know how to meet their partner’s emotional needs. With time they can learn the right response to a situation.
  • The non ASD partner may need to be very explicit about what they need from the ASD partner – i.e. a hug, a cup of tea, or help with a specific task.
  • The non ASD partner should develop an interest, hobby or other activity outside the home and away from their partner, to enable them to have their own sense of identity and keep up with social relationships.
  • Support groups may have an important role in the life of the non ASD partner
  • The couple should explore what having ASD means to them – how it affects the individuals in the relationship and what to do about each aspect of it. Different or “outside the square” solutions will be needed to solve some of the problems.
  • Couple counselling in a traditional sense may not work unless the therapist involved has an understanding and experience in working with couples with ASD
  • People with ASD may not understand their non ASD partner and their emotions at all, yet love them deeply and try to please them.
  • Some people in an ASD relationship feel as though their partner is “deaf to their feelings”.
  • As with young people with autism, visual supports, reminders and organisers can be really helpful to assist in the organisation of household chores and tasks that need to be completed

Resources
Asperger marriage- viewing partnerships through a different lens

Books

  • An Asperger Marriage by Chris Slater-Walker and Gisela Slater-Walker
  • Asperger’s Syndrome and Long Term Relationships by Ashley Stanford
  • Asperger’s in Love by Maxine Aston and Christopher Slater-Walker