Adult Autism and Relationships
Updated: Sep 26
As a neurodiversity therapist and coach with over 20 years’ experience, I have worked with many autistic clients who struggle in their romantic relationships. This can be a result of many reasons, including difficulties with communication, understanding each other’s perspective, and social interaction that are common in autism. These issues can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and strain in the relationship, which can negatively impact the quality of life for both partners. Another common issue is misunderstanding and unrealistic expectations from the non-autistic partner. It is important to develop an understanding of autism and have realistic expectations of an autistic spouse.
One of the most significant difficulties in autistic / non-autistic romantic relationship is communication. People with autism may have difficulty understanding and expressing their emotions, as well as interpreting the emotions of others. Their non-autistic spouse may struggle to understand how their partner communicates or have trouble giving their partner sufficient time to process their feelings. This can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication, which can escalate into bigger problems if not addressed. For example, an autistic partner may misinterpret their partner's words or tone, leading to frustration or anger. Their non-autistic partner may expect them to process feelings at a faster pace than they are able to, leading to frustration for both. The autistic individual may struggle to express their feelings or needs, leaving their partner feeling unheard or unimportant.
Another common issue for autistic people is difficulty putting themselves in their partner's shoes and understanding their perspective. This can result in a lack of emotional support, which is critical for any relationship. The partner of an autistic individual may feel neglected or unsupported, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Social interaction can also be a significant challenge for autistic individuals in romantic relationships. Autistic individuals may have difficulty understanding social cues, such as tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions, which can result in awkward or inappropriate responses. They may also have difficulty initiating and maintaining social interactions, which can lead to isolation and loneliness. For example, they may struggle to initiate conversations with their partner, leading to their partner feeling a lack of intimacy and connection.
Counselling can help autistic individuals, or their partners navigate the challenges they face in their romantic relationships. One of the ways in which counselling can help is by addressing communication difficulties. A counsellor can help autistic individuals to develop and practice effective communication skills, expressing/understanding emotions, understand non-verbal cues, social interaction, and problem-solving. This can help to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts, and foster a more positive and supportive relationship. A counsellor can also help a non-autistic partner learn to understand autism, develop communication strategies, learn accommodation strategies, and recognize when their partner’s autism is impacting their relationship.
Despite these challenges, it is important to remember that every autistic person is unique, and their experiences in romantic relationships will vary. There are also numerous benefits to being in a relationship with someone autistic. It is also important to remember that both the autistic and non-autistic individual can learn ways to improve the relationship and to avoid focusing on the autistic partner’s shortcomings. With the right support, autistic people and their partners can enjoy fulfilling and meaningful relationships, and live full and happy lives.
If you are autistic or have an autistic partner and would like to work on improving your relationship, contact me for a free consultation.