Imagine that you are married to someone who insists on eating same thing on breakfast every day, doing the laundry on a specific night every week, becomes very angry when their strict routines disrupted, allows you to invite only specific friends to dinner, cannot understand your emotions most of the time and doesn’t understand you are hear broken or not still continue to talk what is his mind. Those are how the relationship if you have a partner on the spectrum. Those are some of the many challenges facing people with partners who have autism.
Nowadays, most articles and most researches have written about Autism Spectrum Disorder are written about children and difficulties that they live. While it is true that symptoms of autism appear first in early childhood, before the age of 3 mostly, however, autism is not a pediatric disorder. Instead, it is a neurodevelopmental disorder and it is a lifelong condition that can make the adult years even more challenging.
People can live without a diagnosis of autism, they do not need to be fully diagnosed. While many people with autism experience difficulties, they learn to cope with life through their own efforts. They can be married or live with a partner, have families, or have a successful career. Or others may choose to be alone.
We do not need to degrade the topic to only people with autism. In general, people may have difficulties finding their true love, finding their true match, having a romantic relationship, maintaining a relationship, etc. Like every relationship, people with autism have ups and downs in their relationships as well. So, speaking from both an ethical and legal standpoint, then yes we can say that people with autism can have romantic relationships, get married and even have children.
Everyone knows that sexual and romantic experiences and feelings are challenging for everyone. The feelings might have extra difficulty for people on the spectrum. So, they may have more problems in their romantic relationship and marriages than normally developed people do. Understanding social cues is already one of the diagnostic criteria of autism. So, they can find it more difficult when it comes to romantic relationships. There are more complex feelings involve in it. They have a hard time to understand what attraction is, what intimacy is, and what affection is. More than that, expressing their own emotions my even harder.
Surprisingly, many people on the spectrum have romantic relationships, partners, and even children. They can have a relationship, get married, or get into a longtime romantic relationship. Even more, they can have children. While some are very good to manage all of them, some may have difficulties. However, you need to keep in mind that having autism is not an obstacle to have a meaningful relationship and a long life partner.
Obviously having autism can make romantic relationships and marriages harder, especially if the person does not know to have it. People with autism definitely can feel empathy but probably because of their different wiring they maybe do not feel empathy in quite the same way. They interpret the emotions as they feel their partners which is different because of their different wiring. It does not mean that it is less valid, just not quite the same.
Most of the time in case of autism, people with Asperger’s syndrome tend to marry more. They may not tend to prefer to live alone. Most of them get married and have children. Contrary to being distracted easily in autism, individuals with Asperger syndrome can be focused for a long time and are very careful about details. It makes easier to get married for them. On the other hand, the same symptoms of autism can make their marriage difficult as well. For example;
- Difficulty in interpreting what others thinking or feeling: They cannot follow the topic during having an argument with their partner.
- The incapability of empathy: They may not understand a partner’s feelings.
- Difficulty in regulating their emotion: They may feel every emotion much more than as it should be.
- Trouble in keeping up a conversation, mostly back-and-forth conversation: During a conversation or an argument, they may not able to do with their partner.
- Inflection (not reflect their feelings): They may be in silence when they should not be.
- Proneness to monologues on a favorite subject, want to talk about their favorite subject non-stop: It makes bored their partner and their romantic relationship or marriage consequently.
- Flat, monotone, or robotic speaking patterns that do not communicate what they are feeling: It is a very important issue in marriages.
- Inventing their own descriptive words and phrases: Their partner cannot understand what they are saying.
- Difficulty in understanding figures of speech and turns of phrase.
- Not like to look at someone’s eyes when talking to them: At some point, their partners may find it annoying.
- Talking in the same patterns and tone: Their partners may not understand they are saying something good or bad, they cannot understand whether it is sarcastic or real.
- Participating in a restricted range of activities: IT makes their marriage boring and extra normal.
- Strictly consistent with daily routines: It makes both their own lives and marriage difficult to live.
- Outbursts when changes occur in their daily routines: They cannot travel, go somewhere else or do something else other than daily routine which makes their lives extra boring.
- When something unexpected happens, they respond with an emotional meltdown: They cannot argue as normally developed married people.
- It is hard to read faces when a normally developed partner is not looking at them, and people with autism often struggle to make eye contact.
- Mostly they are non-verbal, making the confirmation of expression of emotional understanding more difficult.
- Experiencing the world in different ways to others: therefore normally developed partner’s viewpoint can be slightly skewed when comparing other’s responses to own.
While these symptoms are perceived as making their marriage difficult, they can make easier at the same time. Let’s consider those symptoms in a way that make easier.
Difficulty in interpreting what others thinking or feeling: They may understand one person easily and they can marry them.
- The incapability of empathy: They can be lack of empathy but if they understand one person very well, it makes their marriage great.
- Difficulty in regulating their emotion: They may love even more than normally developed people do.
- Trouble in keeping up a conversation, mostly back-and-forth conversation: They do not want to argue with their partner because they know that they cannot keep up.
- Inflection (not reflect their feelings): They may be in silence more than as it should be because they do not want to argue.
- Proneness to monologues on a favorite subject, want to talk about their favorite subject non-stop: It means they do not have much time to argue.
- Invent their own descriptive words and phrases: There would be some words and phrases that only married couple can understand and it makes intimate their relationship.
- Talking in the same patterns and tone: Only each other can understand each other.
- Participating in a restricted range of activities: It could be good for their budget as a married couple.
- Strictly consistent with daily routines: The other partner can know that partner with autism are doing at that time and they can trust each other more easily.
- Outbursts when changes occur in their daily routines: They try to stick to plans and it makes their lives easier.
- When something unexpected happens, they respond with an emotional meltdown: Because of that reason, they may have a planned life and planned activities.
Why do you need to think only negative sides of having a relationship with someone on the spectrum? At the same time, it can be as rewarding as any other relationship. They may need adjustments to make. It is also a fact that the other partner should take all the responsibilities. Even sometimes, it is too much for the other side but still… Also, they may have additional work both emotionally and physically. True love is necessary to handle all of these hard situations. Otherwise, it is impossible for someone to do all these things.
There may be misunderstanding and argue more than as it should be when you are in a relationship or marriage with someone with autism. A partner with autism spectrum disorder may have difficulties interpreting non-verbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
Partners on the spectrum may not be able to tell from your behavior alone what you need. Do you need support? Do you need affection? Do you need only a hug? This may be hurtful for the other partner. So, in this case, a normally developed partner should try to be as explicit as possible. They need to tell every need in detail. What they think, how they are feeling, what they need from their partner and their relationships, and so on. They should tell everything to their partners on the spectrum. The one that normally developed should find a way to communicate with the one with autism.
When it comes to forming and maintaining romantic relationships or married people with autism have always been someone that follows. It means that, they always need someone to take the lead like any other area in their lives. Otherwise, they are not prone to engage with another one in terms of a romantic relationship.
Conflicts are inevitable in every relationship. But the sensory overload that people on the spectrum have leads to more conflict in their romantic relationships.
What It Is like Being Married to a Person with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
There is an interview with a woman who is married to a man with autism. She has been talked about their romantic relationships, marriage, daily routines, intimate relations, challenges, difficulties, and happiness share together as well.
In the beginning, the time that she found out he had autism, she said that she did not care about. However, then she did not understand what autism either. She had already got to know her husband at that stage cause they had been together for a long time, so she said that she did not think it would have made a difference even if she knew as much about autism as she does now.
She was annoyed that he did not tell her though, that was that surprised her most, at the beginning of their dating times. She wishes he had wanted to tell her sooner, so she thinks that her husband could have been the one to explain how it affected him personally, instead of hearing it off someone else. The only thing that makes her sad is it should not have been something he wanted to keep from her. As we understand, because of his autism, he wanted to keep it for himself because he thought that everyone leaves him immediately after find out.
When it comes to struggling to understand emotions, she said that she still has lots of problem with his emotions to understand. There have definitely been times with her when he appeared to show no sympathy toward the situation and circumstances, so then when she tries to explain her point of view, he takes it as a challenge and tries to talk to her like her feelings are wrong or her thoughts are nonsense. Even though sometimes he realizes what he has done but it happens at the end and there would be no point to discuss. It is usually when it is a lot later in time.
For example, she says that they have watched TV shows week after and he has seen himself in a character and this has then made him realize where he was mistaken and put things in a new perspective for him.
So, she admits that she can understand why people struggled when her husband was a child because he can be so hard to break through to sometimes when he has his mindset on something particular. She finds it funny when it is not her on the receiving end, as he sounds so certain yet he is so obviously wrong at the same time.
Everyone knows that individuals with autism need for routine and it has been always a huge part of their autism. Obviously, it affects their romantic partners, wives, husbands or spouses as well. She says that there are good parts of his routine, but there are also bad. She likes that he is always planning ahead as it encourages her to be proactive with her life too. But when things cannot be planned and he starts obsessing over all the possibilities, she finds that just as frustrating as him. She thinks it makes her more irritated, as she wants to be supportive of her husband but she cannot always find a solution when its external changes that cannot be controlled or predicted.
She has a little secret even about these challenges. She says that she has never been great when plans fall apart at the last minute, it freaks her out sometime too, but she has to take into consideration that it affects her husband more so. One thing is that she knows she has said before that her husband is happy for her to be near him when things are out of control since she is a constant to him. So, she feels that she has to provide a sense of stability when this get chaotic for her husband.
Even in a relationship with a normally developed person, another partner should make some adjustments in life. So, when it comes to having a romantic relationship or marriage with someone with autism, it is inevitable to make some adjustments in life to stay with them. The other partner, normally developed partner, need to take most of the responsibilities in the relationship.
She says that she has to give her husband extra time to do things. She has learned not to interrupt him in the mornings, and she has learned that she has to shut him down sometimes when he gets too excited about things when it is not an appropriate time. She loves what he has to say and she thinks it is cute that her husband gets so involved with small details, but there comes a point when she has to say “stop”, especially in public as sometimes he has no gauge as to what is socially appropriate or when is the best situation to be doing or talking about certain things.
She accepts that they both have very different thought processes and she thinks her way of thinking is a lot more boring or straight-forward than his. Autism is so interesting, and she thinks her husband having autism made getting to know him such an engaging experience. She admits that her husband is a fascinating guy that everyone wants to meet and know.
Sometimes, her husband has embarrassed her in front of her family, his family, her friends, his friend, her old work colleagues, her hairdresser and pretty much everyone they ever bump into and she is okay with that. She can usually see the funny side of it, so it has never been an issue for her. Actually, it is something that everyone in a relationship should do.
She knows that he does not do it with bad intent, he just does not read the social context. Besides he has never said anything to really embarrass her. It is quite amusing because he eventually realizes what he has done and then the embarrassment turns back on him.
When it comes to his hobbies and obsessions, she says that she does not really like all the physical things as they clutter up the house a lot, but she likes it that he has his collections. Because she thinks differently in this issue. She says that she has lots of friends who are all stressed about what is going on in their lives and they focus way too much on the issues and hurdles they are facing. However, it is nice to see her husband has not put the things he finds fun to one side completely, he pays lots of attention to the things that make him happy and she feels like it is very refreshing.
What about the other way? What about the hobbies and obsessions that she does not like? She likes that he carries a businessman folder full of comics because they are so important to him, but she does not like that he becomes frustrated if she tries to tidy them away or even touch them. She wishes he could obsess over cleaning up once in a while – why cannot that hide hobby? That would make life so much easier!
Other than these life challenges, she does not think that it is important for someone with a partner with autism to know a lot about autism itself. At least at the beginning, it is not. Because she thinks that you get to know them based on who they are, not what their diseases are. She did not find out till months later their dating and she had already made a connection with her husband.
But of course, she accepts that you do need to know some things about autism though, as it helps you to make sense of some of the different ways that the partner with autism reacts sometimes, as well as giving some context to the stories you get told about him/her by his/her family and friends from his/her childhood and so on.
Both partners should face with autism will play a large role in their future. But, it is not something interesting or unexpected. When you have a relationship with someone with autism, you have been already accepted it at the beginning. And also, even in normal relationships, you have never known what is going to be in the future.
In relationships with a person with autism, it should be accepted that the partner is always going to have autism and it is the quirks the partner has from this way which make him/her the way he/she is.
In the future, they have obviously spoken about the high chance that they could have children with autism too and they will have to look further into getting support if that happens. As even though you claim that you fully understand autism, there are so many variations that you cannot know everything. Then again, you have to keep in mind that even if you do not have autism or your parent does not, you could still have children with autism. It is a possibility for everyone.