While some people with autism prefer to be alone, many people with Aspergers are “lonely loners.” Many of us would love to make connections with others–especially romantic connections. Romantic relationships are a particularly challenging area for people with Aspergers; there are some basic principles to keep in mind to help you develop the type of relationship you’re looking for.
Tip #1: Remember that relationships take time to develop.
Aspergers often comes with a more-than-healthy helping of impatience. Our brains are wired to see things in black-and-white, and as a result we often have a hard time looking past what is going on right now and realising that it may be different in the future. This makes relationships difficult because the type of relationship you want often takes time to develop. Most people’s relationships begin as acquaintanceships and then become friendships and possibly more than friendships. Don’t be discouraged because the other person wasn’t “swept off their feet.” More often than not, it doesn’t work that way.
A corollary to this is that it’s okay to just be friends with someone. Many people–both those with Aspergers and those without–have a tendency to look at people they are attracted to as either relationship material or not. Many people think that if you are “just friends” it’s not good enough. Remember, though, that every solid romantic relationship is built on a solid friendship. If someone you like doesn’t like you “that way,” then try being friends with them instead. You do have to be careful not to try to push the relationship further than it can go, but you might find a friendship with a like-minded individual satisfying.
Tip #2: Don’t share everything at once.
Part of the reason that many people with Aspergers get impatient with slow development of relationships is because we are not fans of the superficial or the ordinary. It can feel uninteresting or dishonest to talk about things that don’t matter that much or refrain from sharing our deepest selves with people we just met.
The problem is that sharing deeply requires emotional intimacy, which, again, takes time to develop. Most people learn to trust each other slowly. They share a little bit about themselves–often things that seem uninteresting or unimportant to the Aspie mind–and as time goes on they share at deeper and deeper levels. Telling someone you just met everything about you is, for most people, the emotional equivalent of having sex with someone you’ve known for just a few minutes. People who want lasting relationships don’t feel comfortable with one-night stands, whether they’re physical or emotional.
In addition, if someone already knows everything about you, there’s no room for discovery and growth, which are key parts of any relationship. So hold back on telling people everything. Instead, follow their lead and share a little bit at a time. A good rule to follow is that you share at an equivalent level to the other person. This not only keeps the intimacy level appropriate, but helps you remember to listen to what the other person is saying rather than just jumping into the conversation with what you were thinking about.
Tip #3: Pay attention to your self-esteem.
One of the biggest challenges in relationships is separating your feelings about your partner from your feelings about yourself. Many people think that if you love your partner, that makes the relationship healthy. However, it doesn’t really work that way. Sometimes people deeply fall in love with someone who hurts them on a regular basis. If the pain is purposeful, the relationship is abusive. Even in non-abusive relationships, however, people may accidentally harm each other in all sorts of ways.
For this reason, it’s important to pay attention to your self-esteem while you are in a relationship. Ask yourself how you feel about yourself while around the other person. If you feel stronger and better about yourself while around them, that’s a good sign. If you feel not-good-enough, you need to look closer at what’s going on.
Self esteem is too large a topic to cover in one article; it takes time, effort and sometimes professional assistance to raise your self-esteem. However, there are a few things you can do if you notice your self-esteem falling whenever you are around a partner or potential partner.
It can be hard to tell if our feelings are coming from our behaviour or from the other person’s. One way to figure this out is to identify the thoughts behind your feelings and then look at what triggered those thoughts. For example, if you feel like something’s wrong with you, and the thought behind that feeling is “I talk too much,” ask yourself why you feel that way. You might have noticed that you are talking a lot more than your partner. So you might be feeling uncomfortable because you don’t like that behaviour rather than because your partner doesn’t. However, if you have this kind of feeling and you notice it was triggered by the fact that your partner sighed or rolled her eyes every time you spoke, then your partner is contributing to that feeling.
If your feelings are coming completely from you and you haven’t noticed any behaviour on your partner’s part, the next thing to do is ask your partner if the behaviour really bothers him. It is important to be open to the answer to this question; try not to get defensive or take it personally if your partner says the behavior is bothersome.
If your feelings are related to your partner’s behaviour, talk to him or her about how you feel when they engage in the behaviour. Use the tips from Conflict Resolution for People With Aspergers to help you approach the issue productively.
Romantic relationships are challenging for everybody, not just people with Aspergers. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s impossible to learn how to relate to others–which is what you need to do if you hope to have friends and/or a partner–without trying and sometimes making mistakes that can hurt. Keep the above tips in mind to help make the process of learning how to be in a relationship easier for yourself.
I currently am using my first-hand knowledge about living with Aspergers to help people with Aspergers and/or those who interact with them regularly live happier lives. If you would like help with a specific situation related to relationships or any other Aspergers-related issue, please contact me via the contact form.