The Drama of Navigating Intimate NT/AS Relationships

I've just recently came to the realization that my partner might be on the autism spectrum. At first, I suspected ADHD. It seems to explain most of our daily struggles. But, there's also communication difficulties. And that's been really weird, although it took me a few years to put a finger on it. Not everything can be explained by Attention Deficit. So I started digging more, and realized all those weird misunderstandings, the too-narrow or too-wide interpretation of words, the constant "it's not what I meant" and "what DO you mean", the never-ending dissection of paragraphs, sentences and words, the "let's consult the dictionary", the unsolicited advice (mostly absurd, by any standards), the lack of advice when it's required, the lack of spontaneous communication, the nagging, the inconsistencies, the emotional withdrawal, the lack of empathy (the list goes on)... that it might all have something to do with AS.

Let me state this clearly: I'm not a malicious person. I'm not vindictive. I'm not spiteful. I guess the very fact I feel I need to say this reflects my emotional and mental state. I realize the AS partners may appear to be "victims" to the outside world. After all, they're the ones who HAVE IT. The ones with THE SYNDROME. The ones who have to come to terms with it. It must be impossibly hard, right? To accept you're living in a bubble of misconception. That's the only world you know, so how is it possible there are different worlds? I get it. I can't imagine it, but I know it must be painful beyond comprehension. And I do empathize.

But then there's us. The NT partners. We love, we care, we struggle to understand. We notice things. We acknowledge things. We record things. The outside world doesn't seem to care. At best, it does seem to care, but does not understand. We look for sympathy and understanding, we strive after validation, and yet, no matter how detailed our descriptions, no matter how long our appeals, we still feel like it cannot be described to a person who's not living this life on a daily basis. Since all our observations are denied at home, we start doubting ourselves ("maybe I'm the one who's not getting it right"), so we become obsessed with validation. We may be looking for understanding and compassion, but at some point, we get desperate, and our priorities change: we can only look for proof of our own sanity.

Now, that's where therapy comes in. And that's the second blow. The therapist, counselor, psychologist, whatever you name them...

They ask your partner: "Do you feel like you're seeing things wrongly?"

“Well, duh. Obviously, no. So, what's the diagnosis?”

"There's nothing wrong with you."

And then there's couple’s therapy. That’s where it's really depressing for the NT.

"You're not listening to your partner."

"You've programmed yourself to only notice the bad things."

"You seem not to respond to your partner's needs."

And, last but not least, the all-time fav: "There's two sides to every story. The truth is in the middle. Our memory can play tricks sometimes."

What the AS partner hears is: "He's not seeing things from your perspective, which is as valid as yours. He's got no right to undermine your truth, even when it comes down to bare facts. He clearly remembers things incorrectly."

Sure, we all do, sometimes. But I guess by now we've learnt that it's not that simple. Or we wouldn't be here, would we?

While this might be a great piece of advice between NT partners, it certainly isn't between AS/non-AS. It only reinforces the denial and makes things worse. That's what the NT partner probably hears at home, all the time. From a specialist, we expect more than just reiterating clichés that belittle our effort. Also, the things that the NT partner says during the therapy are heard by the AS and get a later response, often very hurtful. That's what the counsellors seem to ignore, mostly. Out of sight, out of mind.

There was a brief period when I thought, "Oh my, that's so sad. The therapists do not seem to have access to literature. Or maybe they just lack hands-on experience."

Then I started reading about Asperger’s. And it struck me. Even in an ADHD/NT relationship, the non-ADHD partner, who is often neglected, may still get some support from books and find an understanding therapist. Yet, for the non-AS partner it seems hardly possible. They're just left alone in their struggle; even though the very nature of Asperger’s syndrome, the very GIST of it, is an inability around communication with the closest ones.

What kind of misguided political correctness makes you question the ongoing trauma of relatives, spouses and children of the Aspie?

What the hell is going on here?

Abuse of the NT partner, albeit unintentional, is INSCRIBED in the very nature of the problem. The failure of communication ability also affects the AS partner and their functioning in an intimate relationship. For the sake of helping THEM, can't you really acknowledge the effort of the NT partner? Can't you support them on the way to recovery? Especially since it's the only way to healing the relationship?

Again, let me say it very clearly. I love my partner. That's why I'm still with her, although I doubt it does her any good. I do a lot to work my (our) way toward mutual understanding. I've sacrificed most of my life for it and I still believe it's worth the effort. Just a word to therapists: don't take that away from us.

© Vince 2017