This post is for couples where one person has an Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). I was inspired to write this blog as I recently read a book that was aimed at the non-autistic partner in a relationship with an aspie. The book (that I won’t name) left me feeling quite disheartened as it implies that it is hard to be in a relationship with an autistic person, and that it will take a lot of sacrifices. It also seems to suggest that people with autism are cold, uncaring and will only function in a relationship if they can physically get something from it, such as money. I can vouch for that fact that this is completely untrue.
This post is based purely on my experience of being in a successful relationship as a person with autism. I have known my boyfriend, Dominic, for 7 years, been in a relationship with him for two years and lived with him for almost a year and a half. Before this I had been in relationships that didn’t work due to my lack of self awareness, and the other person’s lack of understanding. My diagnosis has brought about a hute amount of self awareness, and I feel that this has helped me to create a successful relationsionship, coupled with the fact that Dominic has very similar interests to me and goes out of his way to understand me and accomodate my ‘quirks’.
Here are my tips for being in a healthy autistic relationship:
1. Be explicit about your feelings.
If you just want a casual fling, then state this from the start, we need honesty and if we have gone into this expecting something long term it is easy for us to feel rejected and betrayed. If you realise a few dates in that you don’t want a relationship with the autistic person then TELL them. Don’t drop hints or slowly back away – we won’t get it and will probably make that situation a whole lot worse! I remember once thinking a boy was playing hard to get… He was actually playing “back off you pain in the bum”… Awkward… Similarly, if you’re in love with your aspie or they are making you feel happy/safe/relaxed then say it! Chances are the aspie is sat worrying about how things are going, if you’re interested or if they are being annoying – a simple “You are making me happy by having dinner with me” will help, and will give them tips for the future on how to make you happy (as we often don’t just ‘know’ this stuff as non autistic people seem to). Even now I need constant reassurance from Dominic that he DOES love me and that he IS happy and that I AM enough.
2. Give each other specific praise.
I would imagine this is helpful in any relationship. Dominic tells me every single day that he is proud of me, and names something that I have done that made him proud, for example – he recently told me that he was proud of me for going to work everyday. For most people this is just life, so it means a lot that Dominic takes the time to tell me this as it shows me that he understands that I have daily struggles that others don’t have. I also try to do the same for him that may be taken for granted, for example “Thank you for making my tea, that was really kind.” I’m a little bit rubbish at the whole showing affection side of being in a relationship, but I have learned that giving a compliment like this will at least make him feel appreciated.
3. Planning time apart is equally as important as planning time together.
This one is the MOST important for me. This is necessary as I think it is easy for an autistic person to become completely dependent on the other person – it is in our nature to become fixated, given the opportunity. This isn’t healthy in a relationship and can end badly when the other person needs space, or if the relationship ends, as suddenly our lifeline is taken away. It is good to have other hobbies and friends besides your partner. It works well for me and Dominic as I work in the daytime and he works late evenings, therefore time apart happens naturally. Plus, I am extremely introverted, meaning that my time alone is necessary for me to regain energy and relax.
4. Try to keep at least one evening free together to relax at home.
For me, this is an absolute necessity whether I am with Dominic or not. We have learned that if we have a busy weekend planned – for example, if we are at a party on Friday night and a famity meal on Sunday then it is absolutely compulsory to keep Saturday evening free to relax at home. The pressure of socialising, the change in routine and the sensory overload that occurs due to something as simple as going out for tea can leave me completely exhausted for a whole week. If we don’t plan in at least one lazy evening, then I will either; completely shut down and be unable to speak, move and even be in the same room as another person, or, I will turn into the Hulk of the aspie world, flying into a rage about every noise, smell, light or other sense that I experience.
5. Set clear arrival and leaving times, and learn to realise when your aspie has had enough.
It is important to me that I know how long I need to be ‘on’ for, otherwise, I will become edgy wondering how long until I can get back to the safety of home. Chances are, I do not want to be at this social engagement at all, but we compromise by agreeing a leaving time so that I at least have a time to work towards! If it gets past this time and we are showing no sign of leaving I will start to get very anxious and overloaded. Dominic is able to recognise when I have had enough now, for example, I will often become irritable and I stop being able to process spoken language properly as I can’t filter out the noise, and this means I need to leave NOW.
6. Try to learn not to take things TOO personally – Both of you!!
Say I’ve had a hard Monday at work – a particularly difficult parent, for example, I have then come home from work to find that my usual BSL class is cancelled, then I’ve had to go to my physio appointment (which I HATE – why do they need to actually touch you?!), then I have had to call in Asda for some milk on the way home where I bumped into someone I know who decided to stop and talk. This probably isn’t a particularly bad day for most people but to me it is a nightmare. When Dominic gets home he might walk in and try to give me a hug to make me feel better (apparently this is human instinct… Whaaat?) It is likely that I will tell him to get off me, and be unable to even acknowledge him for the rest of the night. This can appear extremely hurtful, especially if he has had a bad day and needs affection. Thankfully, Dominic has learned that this is how I need to cope with anxiety and I know I am very lucky that he understands. However, I have also had to learn that when HE has had a bad day, I need to show him more affection, or that if he is feeling grumpy, I shouldn’t take it personally if he snaps at me or doesn’t respond to me trying to make him laugh. That is just how HE copes.
Finally, the most important thing for me has been finding someone who is a mixture of kind, gentle, patient and most of all fun. Most aspies will have an immature or unusual sense of humour. It is so important to me that I can be my immature, giddy and quirky self, without the constant fear of judgement or rejection.