Updated April 21, 2020 and 4/11/21
This is an old post about Neurodivergents and love, and over the last seven years, after working with even more Neurotypical’s (NT) who are loving someone who is Neurodivergent (formally Asperger’s (AS)) I have learned many more than five good reasons to love someone who is Neurodiverse.
And the extensive comments below give you a flavor for how intensely people feel about the subject, both pro, and con.
Regardless, loving someone who is Neurodiverse isn’t up for public debate. It’s a very private matter, and one I’m particularly invested in.
The gap in understanding between the NT and their ND lovers is large. But the love in a neurodiverse couple is deep and real.
I’ve been “accused” of being Neurodivergent because I’m a fan, and I’m not sure how to respond. It’s a bit like being accused of having a gluten intolerance that makes you a lousy person to cook for.
Okay. Guilty as charged. I’m gluten intolerant.
But to argue that a cook should never date those with gluten intolerance is fine and dandy until you fall in love with one. Then you make wheat pasta for one because pasta without wheat sucks. In other words, you adjust.
I am not Neurodivergent, so I do a particularly respectable job of reading the minds of NT’s and encouraging them to adjust their thinking to become more happily married. Science-based Gottman Method couples therapy is great for that. But I am also great at figuring out why someone who is ND might think, act, or feel the way they do, and helping them explain it to their loved one. And the vast majority of those who are ND I see in an intensive format are delightful people. I am so happy to help.
I like puzzles and making these relationships work involves finding all the missing pieces and putting them in an orderly fashion. And I love couples who work hard to adjust to each other, as is the requirement in neurodiverse relationships.
Neurodivergents and love
We’re going to talk about Neurodivergents and love. While some may declare a Neurodivergent love relationship is impossible, I beg to differ. As a psychologist who specializes in science-based work with couples, I am here to tell you that loving someone who is Neurodiverse is not only possible, there are a great many good reasons to do so. A Neurodivergent and love are not mutually exclusive.
If it’s so great, you might ask, why don’t more people declare: “I love someone with autism!”? Often because most of the couples I work with don’t even know their spouses have the condition.
It shocks them to discover that their husbands or wives aren’t “narcissistic” or “mean” or “unloving,” but have a brain that functions differently. And those who do know are often AS snobs who “can’t believe” someone doesn’t know “something so obvious.”
Is it challenging to love someone who is Neurodiverse ? Of course, it is. Once you both learn how, it is as rewarding or heartbreaking as any other marriage.
Okay, so many people right off are going to say producing a reason to love a Neurodivergent will be generalizations and these aren’t true of everybody who is Neurodiverse.
They say, (and with good reason) “If you’ve met one person who is Neurodiverse, you’ve met one person who is Neurodiverse.v ”
But there are generalizations you can make about why to love a Neurodivergent, and like all generalizations, of course, they won’t hold true for everybody.
I’ve had the good fortune of being in contact with several people who are in intimate relationships with a person who is Neurodiverse (ND), a mild form of autism, or themselves are ND.
I’ve taken a passionate interest in the subject of love, relationships, and ND-NT bonds. Many sites on the internet tell you about problems with these couples. But here are some of the good reasons to love a Neurodivergent.
1. Reason number one for why to love a Neurodivergent: They’ll tell you the truth
A lot of Neurotypicals (NT’s) have an ambivalent relationship with the truth. We like the truth if it is good news or flattering. We’re less sure if we’re confronted with things that challenge our notion of self or our own goodness.
You ask a ND ”Do you like my dress?” and they are going to tell you the truth. If you don’t want to hear the truth, the blunt truth, don’t ask them.
If a possible answer is going to send you storming out, angry at them for saying whatever comes next, ask someone else. A ND is going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly, and will do it without malice, without sly intentions.
They’ll just tell you what they think. Like it, or not. So, one good reason to love a Neurodivergent is that if they tell you something when you ask them, they mean it.
And sometimes ND’s don’t understand that NT’s like to hear some truths over and over like “I love you.” Just tell them. Say “I want you to tell me you love me at least three times every day. It makes me happy to hear it.” Okay. No sweat. Your ND will probably have no idea why it is necessary, but if it makes you happy, fine. He or she will work it into their daily routine.
This is a hotly debated topic in the comments section. Refinements, of course, are necessary but would make up a much larger post. I’ll get to writing another specific post on this topic of lying and truth-telling. Stay tuned, but for now, read the comments below. The readers are very helpful in teasing out the nuance.
2. If you’re kind… They won’t cheat on you with someone else
Does this mean that no ND ever had a sexual affair? Or that if they have an affair, it means you weren’t nice enough to them?
Of course not. I’ve worked with couples where the ND has had an affair. And these affairs are distinctly different from the NT affairs I’ve worked with. A subject for another post.
But having to deal with people, especially relating intimately, takes a lot of work for a ND. In some ways, it is like your dentist wondering if you’ll be sneaking off getting an optional root canal with another dentist.
“Why?” the ND might ask. “Why would anyone voluntarily do that?”
It is hard enough having one intimate partner. Juggling two is just ridiculous, from an ND point of view.
Loyalty is really an under-acknowledged virtue and good reason to love a Neurodivergent. If an ND falls in love with you, they will remain as steadfast and true as any canine companion (no insult intended).
They can be enormously forgiving and generous in spirit. They have more than likely taken abuse from NT’s all their lives, so they’ll assume that it’s a thing you, as an NT, do too.
Terribly unpleasant, but the natural course of things. This may change as children grow up with the diagnosis, and learn that bullying, teasing, and cruelty is not a thing to tolerate from anyone.
It shames the NT spouse to realize that their past behavior has been what amounts to emotional abuse toward their ND spouse. Most often it was unintended abuse.
It stuns a loving NT, once they realize this. There are many, many adult NDs who are undiagnosed and struggling in their relationship. All of those years of fighting and angry accusations were misguided, and the NT’s expectations were unrealistic, many even fantastically so.
It would be like demanding your spouse fly, and being angry at them, as they repeatedly drop to the ground. To truly love a Neurodivergent, you must utterly understand a Neurodivergent, and understand their history of abuse. And not add to it.
Neurodivergents and Love? Good Couples Therapy Can Help
It is why I have such a powerful desire to work with these couples: the unnecessary heartache is enormous.
But getting back to sex, sexual affairs just aren’t too likely. Sex itself is an uncertain proposition for a lot of NDs. Their bodies might work just fine, but it is all the subtle non-verbal stuff that makes it hard to figure out if that person is flirting with you.
Educational videos about flirting help the single ND recognize the signs. Their bodies also can be over-stimulated with sexual arousal. They might find kissing too wet or become upset that you’re touching them too lightly, or might need a sheet between you when you have intercourse, so they can relax.
Try explaining that to someone you just met in an airport lounge.
This is not to say that an ND won’t get intensely involved in talking to the opposite sex (or the same sex if they are gay or lesbian) online about asphalt or fiberglass boats.
It just means if he’s up until 3 AM chatting with another woman, it’s likely going to be asphalt or fiberglass boats…To truly love an Neurodivergent, recognize that some people will be more engaging and exciting to talk to about asphalt or fiberglass boats. But having sex? You will rank #1 as a preferred sexual partner. (If sex gets a ranking at all….)
Clinicians working with NDs that do have affairs have to look deeper. Often the same arguments that on the face of them look ridiculous are actually true with those ND spouses. “She wanted it and I didn’t know how to say no…”
It might, in fact, be the truth.
And rehearsing just what to say to break it off (or better yet being there to do it) is an excellent idea.
3. There are no hidden motives…What you see is what you get
Unlike the crafty NT’s, who can work out sometimes elaborate ruses to achieve their aims, you can pretty much guess the motives of a Neurodivergent, once you know them well. If not, just ask.
Loving someone who is Neurodivergent can mean that behaviors can be confusing, though.
“Why did my wife start eating the meal she cooked, without telling us that dinner was ready? Is she angry at us?”
She’s not setting you up to eat a cold dinner.
It isn’t a “defense mechanism” against intimate family time… or passive aggression. She started eating because the meal was cooked and she forgot to call her family.
She Just Forgot
That’s it. End of story. You are the one with hurt feelings (and a cold dinner) but instead of getting emotional, get some mechanism in place that enables her to remember “Eat with family.”
Those new to Neurodivergent dating say it is sometimes impossible to predict what their intimate Neurodivergent partners will do next, or how they will respond to something.
I think this is because unlike an NT, an ND will probably be responding honestly, in the moment, or to an internal stimulus that isn’t immediately obvious but is eternally logical once it’s made clear.
It may be hard for NT’s to predict because other NT’s have learned a lot from other NT’s.
NTs may do things out of obligation, or to “please” their partners, regardless of whether it is actually something they want to do or not. They are predictable because they follow NT rules, the NT “hidden rulebook,” that is at once instinctual and invisible and “obvious” to everyone else until these are violated.
Things like: “Don’t tell your hostess you hate her cooking” or “Don’t comment negatively about your wife’s appearance, even if she asks: ‘How do I look?'”
Want the Truth?
It’s just hard to know whether she wants the truth or not. She does and she doesn’t. It’s in the hidden rulebook, but nobody gave the ND that book. And some things are simply lacunae, like “Look under the stall door to see if someone is in the bathroom, not between the slat” is something “everyone” knows, but not letting Doris French kiss you on your birthday is not, if Doris isn’t your wife. Letting her kiss you on the cheek is fine. And no more than “2 Mississippi’s.”
So many rules to learn, especially about sex. (“When wearing any Teddy, it means your wife wants to have sex with you. Don’t limit it to mean only the ones you bought for her.”)
She doesn’t want to be touched that way in the beginning, but she isn’t lying to want you to do that exact same thing when she’s adequately aroused. What’s adequate? Yep, working it out is a challenge.
Neurodivergents and Love Means Sometimes Love is Blind…
Most NDs have a tough time predicting what will please their partner, because they can’t take another’s perspective. We call it “mind-blindedness.” Loving someone who is Neurodivergent means accepting that you are going to sometimes feel “left out” or “forgotten about.”
But not out of spite or malice. And if you can be direct, clear, and make a request, and not act out of spite or malice yourself, things will go a lot more smoothly.
If you ask “why” as in “What is the deep motivation behind your current behavior?” you may get something as straightforward as “because I wanted to.” It isn’t a dodge. It isn’t a personality disorder like “narcissism.”
It is the absolute truth. ”Why this and not that?” might bring you a very idiosyncratic answer like “I took the long route because that shorter route has a line of red houses that are very distracting and unsettling for me to drive past.” Loving a ND is learning all the puzzle pieces that they’re composed of, and learning how to live with them.
Not uncovering their “true motivations.” To love a Neurodivergent well, try to figure out the quirks.
Once you do, you will have a pretty good idea of what to expect. But for reasons like “I knew you hated me doing this, so I did it to teach you a lesson” is not going to be in it (unless they are mimicking).
Because how would they KNOW you really hated it? Why would they spend time out of their day to do THAT? It’s ridiculous. They’d have to plan ahead, keep you and how you feel constantly in mind, and they want to spite you. Lack of spite is a good reason to love a Neurodivergent.
4. They will understand your need to be alone
One thing that gets a lot of NDs in trouble with their loved ones is the need to be alone.
After a great block party where everyone had a ton of fun, they want to be in their rooms for the rest of the day playing video games or reading about the French Revolution.
No, they don’t want sex.
No, they don’t want to invite the Flanagan’s back to the house for an evening of charades.
They want to be alone.
Neurodivergents and Love…and Time
If you want to get into a huge fight with a ND intimate, you can simply insist on interaction at this point. Complain about how they never want to socialize (after they’ve spent 4 hours socializing…) or how they don’t love you enough because they don’t want to make love. You might watch them explode in an angry tirade.
I prefer the term “meltdown” because it more accurately describes what is happening. Their nervous systems simply can’t handle “it,” meaning “socializing with people” (you included…) anymore.
There is no “point” to this meltdown, other than the feeling of overwhelm, but if there were a goal, it would be simply this:
To get you to GO AWAY.
NT’s happily married to NDs understand this need for quiet time, especially after socializing. A good reason to love a Neurodivergent is that you will have time for yourself. Make the best of it.
5. They make excellent fun friends when you share the same interests
Loving someone who is Neurodivergent is simply different. No, they don’t ‘dish the dirt’ about other people, and they may not even call you on your birthday, unless you specifically direct them to, and program it into their smartphone. But they can talk endlessly about mutually fascinating subjects and can be enormously interesting and fun.
Not every ND is Mozart or Einstein, but every ND usually has intense interests that they know a phenomenal amount about. They can teach you things about these interests that you would never get from anywhere else. They are, by and large, more than happy and excited to share what they know with you when they aren’t overstimulated.
A good reason to love an Neurodivergent is when you find a common interest, they likely know much more about it than you do and will be happy to engage with you in it endlessly.
“I love someone with autism”
Great! Love is a wonderful thing. You’ll work with all the challenges that an ND-NT relationship brings because you have found a delightful person to love. Like every couple, there will be issues. And like most couples, most of these problems will not change. Sixty-nine percent of marital problems are “perpetual.”
They will continue to be “issues” between you. What makes loving a Neurodivergent so great is that once you find all the puzzle pieces and understand how they fit, you both can relax and have a great life together.
Okay, so you have to have a code at parties that says: “Look at their face. They look bored. Move on.”
But they’ll be a truthful, faithful, “what you see is what you get” guy or gal who will respect your need to be alone and do your own thing and will share their passionate interests with you.
And they are unlikely to say, “No offense,” because it is difficult for them to imagine that anyone would be upset about whatever it was that you might get offended about. That would require putting themselves in your situation, and seeing out of your eyes…which is something they CAN NOT DO.
But hey, as spouses go: You could do worse.
Get help for your Neurodiverse marriage
Originally published August 10, 2013