Is love blind? If you are with a man who has Asperger’s syndrome, no doubt you’ve asked yourself this question often. What drew you to him? Why do you put up with his insensitivity, his peculiar interests, his focus on logic and reasoning rather than feelings and emotions, his strange conversational quirks, his struggle to understand non-verbal communication, and the other oddities that drive you crazy?
And what can you do about these differences?
Here is a list of reasons why it happened in the first place and why you keep trying to make it work. Not all of them may apply to your situation but it’s likely some of them do. Certainly, recognizing why you are drawn to your partner and what keeps you with him can help you decide what to do about your own unhappiness.
1. You Are The Opposite of Him
Many partners of men with Asperger’s are completely different when it comes to empathy and emotional understanding. Unlike someone with Asperger’s, they are perceptive, emotionally sensitive, and compassionate. Tony Attwood, an expert in Asperger relationships, refers to them as intuitively expert in comprehending the world as experienced by a person with Asperger’s syndrome.
It’s possible that your natural ability to understand emotional experiences led you to want to help your partner overcome his own emotional inadequacy, and as a result become as emotionally skilled as you are.
2. You Misunderstood Who He Is
Men with Asperger’s are often intelligent, well educated, and successful. They appear strong, practical, and independent with a strong sense of moral and ethical justice. It’s not uncommon to characterize them as solid, down-to-earth and low maintenance.
These qualities are not necessarily inaccurate but they are not the full story. It is generally later that the difficulties with communication, narrow interests, emotional unavailability and rigidity surface, at which point you are likely to feel as though you’ve been betrayed. Remember, however, couples sometimes fall in love with who they think the other person is, not who that person really is.
3. You Want To Rescue Him
Once you’ve found out what he is really like, do you have the urge to change him? This happens to many women with an Asperger’s partner, and understandably so. Having invested so much in him and your relationship, you don’t want to give up on him. It’s easy to imagine that with some effort on his part, and a lot on yours, he will change.
This is a powerful motivation when dissatisfactions appear, especially for women who are capable socially and emotionally. It’s easy for such women to believe they can change their partner, even in spite of all they’ve read to the contrary.
Be careful. It is entirely possible for the man you love to grow, change and adapt to your needs but it is not easy. Change is hard. It takes lots of time and effort, and there are no guarantees of success. You also risk setting yourself up to try and love him not for who he is but for what you want him to be.
4. You Like To Be In Control
Often, women are attracted to the passivity of some men with Asperger’s because they want to shape the parameters of their relationship, to make decisions, influence the way the relationship unfolds and have a degree of authority over what occurs.
This is not necessarily bad. There is a time and place for decision making and for influencing the way two people get along. But if it is the primary reason for being with someone and the dominant way of interacting in a relationship, problems are likely to surface. This is even more the case when one’s partner has fixed ideas of what a relationship should be like and is inflexible in how he behaves.
5. He Seems Familiar
When it comes to relationships, most of us are influenced by our early family experiences. And many of us choose life partners who share similar traits with members of our family of origin, or they may have opposite traits. You may be attracted to strong men with Asperger’s because your father appeared weak and dependent. Or, perhaps your father was forceful and aggressive, and you find yourself attracted to the gentleness and quiet nature of a man with Asperger’s. Then again, you may be drawn to men who are emotionally unavailable just as one or both of your parents were with you.
The first and most important model of what to expect from a relationship come from what we experienced early in life. You may not like certain characteristics and behaviors, but if they are associated with how you were taken care of and loved growing up you may be drawn to people who exhibit those behaviors.
6. You Project Yourself
Projection is a term describing what happens when we imagine people thinking, feeling and acting based on our own thoughts and feelings. We may assume, for example, that someone we know is disappointed in us because actually, we are disappointed in ourselves. Likewise, we presume others are proud, unhappy, afraid, content, confused and so on because these are what we ourselves are feeling. What the other person is actually experiencing may not resemble at all what we imagine is going on.
Women who end up in a relationship with an Asperger’s man often complain that he is not the person they initially imagined him to be. The problem, however, is not always the man himself but how the woman assumes him to possess the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that she actually doesn’t like in herself.
Spend some time reflecting on how you think and feel about yourself. Then ask yourself if you assume your partner is similar and, if so, what might you see in him that you don’t like in yourself. Separating out what you object to in yourself and how you characterize your partner, could put you on the road to success in your relationship with an Asperger’s man.
Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Aspergers psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.