Selfish or Asperger's? Understanding Asperger's Syndrome in a Relationship
Couples may believe their partner's stubbornness and lack of empathy is due to selfishness, but for those affected by Asperger's, these traits are not intentional.
"I can't believe how unmotivated he is to help out around the house!"
"All he cares about is working on that old car!"
"I swear we've had the same argument every week! She is never going to change!"
These are all comments that may be heard from a couple where one partner is affected by Asperger's Syndrome. Although these characteristics may lead a person to believe his or her partner is selfish and lazy, in reality these are symptoms of a real medical condition.
Characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome
Asperger's Syndrome is a form of high functioning autism which affects the social and emotional functioning of an individual. People with Asperger's usually don't have problems with language but their communication may be impaired as they tend to take everything very literally. People with Asperger's have a difficult time understanding non-verbal cues. They may appear odd or strange in the way they behave. Possible characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome in adults may include:
the need for routine, set schedules, and familiar surroundings
difficulties with transitions or change
lack of eye contact
lack of emotional response
the need to be cued or constantly reminded
lack of focus or superfocus
inability to understand subtle cues or sarcasm in conversation
difficulty in understanding social norms or what is considered socially acceptable
Adults with Asperger's are most often not anti-social, but they may have a hard time making friends or fitting in socially. However, Asperger's does not stop a person from dating or even getting married.
The Disguised Disability
Asperger's Syndrome is often a hidden disability since it is not always obvious when someone has it. It is a relatively newly diagnosed condition, so many people do not even know they have it. Someone with Asperger's may be highly intelligent and seems very productive and successful in his or her job or career. He or she may excel in school or be extremely talented in music. It may be easy for a person with Asperger's to disguise his or her disability until he or she becomes closer to another individual. Usually it isn't until dating or even marriage when Asperger's Syndrome is revealed.
Asperger's Syndrome and Dating
Although individuals with Asperger's Syndrome may not have too many friends, this is often beneficial when dating as they can give almost all their attention to their date. At first they may seem sweet and very honest. Their lack of eye contact may come across as shyness or nervousness. They may seem quirky at times, but usually it is considered part of their charm. It may not be until a couple is exclusively dating or until marriage that Asperger's may be discovered.
Asperger's Syndrome and Marriage
Once married, it is then that the true characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome become more noticeable. Maybe their constant need to be reminded or the way they lost track of time was cute when dating, but now married, it becomes frustrating. Partners may become angry as they wonder why after so many years of being together that their spouse still can't understand what they are saying or understand their feelings.
At times the partner with Asperger's may appear egotistical, selfish, or uncaring, when in fact this is not the case. Asperger's Syndrome is a neurological condition in which a person is often unable to understand the emotions of others. Those with the condition are not intentionally being mean or uncaring, they just cannot interpret other people's feelings adequately or figure out the sarcasm in their speech. Usually they are surprised and embarrassed when finding out their actions were rude or hurtful.
While it was nice to have a partner's unwavering attention when dating, a married couple needs the socialization of others. Many couples are surprised how unsociable their spouse with Asperger's may be, or how inappropriate their comments may be.
Sarah Hendrickx and Keith Newton, who co-wrote the book Asperger Syndrome – a Love Story (Jessica Kingsley Publishing, 2007), explain how marriage can be with a partner who has Asperger's Syndrome. Hendrickx relates, "If there’s something that pops into his head, he’ll say it. He just does not have the edit button that everyone else does."
Accepting the Differences
Some couples may not even know their partner is affected by Asperger's Syndrome. They may believe their spouse just doesn't care enough to change or make a big enough effort to save the relationship. For those who do discover the possibility of Asperger's or for those who have already been diagnosed, they have a better chance at making the relationship work.
Part of understanding Asperger's Syndrome is to know that people with the condition are not intentionally trying to frustrate their partner. They are not trying to ignore their spouse when they get so wrapped up in a particular hobby or interest. They don't mean to be rude when the wrong things come out of their mouth at the wrong time.
Individuals with Asperger's may have certain rituals or routines. They may hate surprises or not be able to handle changes. They may not be able to remember the little things and they may be easily distracted. All of these characteristics are not meant to hurt anyone.
Living in a relationship with Asperger's means accepting the differences that come with it. No relationship is perfect, and neither is one with Asperger's. Husbands and wives both must work to make any relationship work. Having a better understanding of Asperger's can be the saving point in a conflicted marriage.
Together couples can work out a better understanding of one another and learn how to better communicate and to send clearer messages to each other. Knowing that their spouse with Asperger's really does care can make all the difference for a successful relationship.