Operating Room

NEURODIVERSE COUPLES COUNSELING

​UNDERSTANDING NEURODIVERSE COUPLES

NEURODIVERSITY MAGNET


Initially Aspies and neurotypicals feel a strong initial attraction to each other and couple up.

 

  • The neurotypical may be attracted to the Aspie's stability, focus and intelligence.

  • The Aspie may appreciate the neurotypical helping him or her navigate social situations.

  • The neurotypical may be the Aspie's special interest, at least during the dating period. Typically, the neurotypical soaks up the attention. 

 

They may view themselves as complementary, a perfect fit - like a "magnet" has pulled them together.

DIFFERENCES TURN INTO DYSFUNCTIONAL PATTERNS

Yet, it is easy for these neurological differences to lead to wires getting crossed. Building and maintaining an emotional connection becomes more difficult if a couple discovers that they speak "different languages" and have a disparity in how they think and experience emotions.

 

Without the tools to understand and constructively deal with neurodiversity, these differences are often interpreted negatively which, over time, become cemented into dysfunctional traumatic patterns which:

 

  • degrade trust in each other and the relationship,

  • cause one or both partners to pursue, withdraw and/or explode,

  • lead to feelings of blame, shame, isolation, hopelessness, sadness, disappointment, confusion, loneliness and abandonment,

  • lead to a diminished sex life,

  • make shared efforts, like parenting, more difficult, and

  • gradually weakens the the "relationship house." 

THERAPY FOR COUPLES WITH ASPERGER’S

EMPATHY IS POSSIBLE

 

Therapists who are not experienced with neurodiversity often tell clients married to Asperger adults that their partner cannot feel empathy and cannot truly love. This is dangerous feedback because it is simply not true. Asperger's partners feel empathy and are capable of love.

Asperger's adults are often shocked to find that their partner’s faith in their love and loyalty could be compromised by a forgotten good-bye or missed eye-contact. Most typical AS clients feel empathy but often need a structured process to receive the feelings from his partner, connect with her feelings, and learn to reciprocate the feelings back. That is where our team comes in.

SUPPORT FOR COUPLE AND EACH PARTNER

There are several ways our team of therapists and coaches support neurodiversity:
 

  1. meet with the couple together (see more below),
     

  2. have a separate therapist or coach meet with each partner individually to provide emotional support and skills training for:
     

SPECIFIC STEPS FOR COUPLES THERAPY
WHAT NOT TO DO:


There are plenty of traps when trying to heal your neurodiverse relationship so it is very easy to focus on the wrong thing.

Here's a short list of things we will not focus on:

 

  • Convincing the AS partner who doesn't see the need to change that he/she should. People on the spectrum may have been misunderstood for most of their lives so they have a good reason to be stubborn. Change comes from understanding, not from pressure.
     

  • Trying to find the right carrot and stick to finally motivate your partner.
     

  • Getting the diagnosis exactly right. Even with the right label, the problems are still there! See more on this on our diagnosis page.
     

  • Punishment and manipulation (It just tends to put them deeper into "Defense Mode").

WHAT TO DO:

Instead, we work together to eliminate the counter-productive patterns (mostly based on misunderstanding) that have developed during their relationship, accept each other's differences, and follow a clear roadmap to increase closeness:

  1. CREATING SAFETY:

    • Learning basic communication strategies as a foundation for communicating during counseling sessions;
       

    • Creating a safe space where the couple can begin to suspend judgment, see each other's unique qualities and strengths, and reset expectations without resentment. This may include a discussion of meltdowns, aggressive pursuit of a withdrawn partner or any other behaviors that may be experienced as reducing emotional or physical safety;
       

  2. ASSESSING:

    • Identifying and naming the dysfunctional relational patterns that have build up over years and may be rooted in unaddressed neurological differences;
       

    • Considering other factors (not related to neurological differences) that may be impacting the relationship;
       

    • Assessing levels of motivation and making a commitment to the couples work;
       

    • Self-exploration and self-awareness through sharing personal history (including family of origin), successes and wounds;
       

    • Exploring how you personal story is impacting the relationship;
       

    • Identifying deeper unmet needs for each partner;
       

    • Identifying how each partner may be coping to get needs met or to simply survive (angry or critical pursuit, silent withdrawal,,);
       

    • Understanding and expressing how each partner's neurological make-up impacts needs and coping strategies;
       

    • Pursuing a diagnosis (COMPLETELY OPTIONAL) or Identifying the aspects of Asperger's that apply to you;
       

    • Accepting the diagnosis OR accepting your unique characteristics (for both partners);
       

  3. BREAKING THE TRAUMA CYCLE

    • When one or both partners has been traumatized by relationship patterns that are rooted in their neuro-differences, the partners must overcome two distinct challenges:
       

    1. heal the trauma, and

    2. understand and build bridges across the neurological differences.
       

    • The problem is that most approaches to Neurodiverse couples counseling do not adequately address the trauma. As a result, couples get stuck in trauma-fed reactive behaviors that keep then stuck.
       

    • We have created a diagram that shows the typical trauma cycle for neurodiverse couples and the path to healing. Your therapist or coach will walk you through how to heal the trauma cycle step-by-step.​
       

  4. GENERAL HEALING

    • Bridging the double empathy problem;
       

    • Expanding communication skills.
       

    • Acknowledging past wounds and charting a path forward. In a pre-diagnosis period, a couples history is often marked by misunderstanding, resentment, anger outbursts and withdrawal. This must get addressed in a healing way.
       

    • Learning different responses to traumatic reactions / triggers (move from defensiveness to providing comfort);
       

    • Meeting emotional needs through increased clarity and structure (Love List exercise);
       

    • Learning to play together;
       

    • Coping with sensory overload and meltdowns; 
       

    • Shifting from aggression to anger and then to underlying needs;
       

    • Expanding Theory of Mind for both partners;
       

    • Managing other possible struggles for both partners (including depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder);
       

  5. TOPICAL HEALING​

    • Time Management: Enabling time together (for connection) and apart (for self-care);
       

    • Parenting: Learn how to leverage your neurodiverse strengths to parent your children (whether or not your children are neurodiverse);
       

    • Special Parenting: Learn how to parent your neurodiverse children;

    • Sex: Meeting each other's sexual needs through managing different levels of libido, enhancing sexual communication, and addressing sensory issues;
       

    • Financial: Understanding how each partner feels and thinks about money and building a bridge across the gap.

CHANGE IS POSSIBLE!!

 

Although these steps may seem daunting, there is good news. Despite the tendency of the AS partner to be rigid and focused on himself, most AS clients that we work with will put in tremendous efforts to change in the context of our therapy and the support from the NT spouse.

Asperger’s is NOT a fixed condition that locks someone into the same behaviors throughout life. It is subject to the same forces of change that occur in anyone’s life. Understanding this provides the ray of hope to break painful entrenched patterns of interaction. 

Please know that the change is usually gradual but, over time, both partners usually experience progress and your relationship can finally become more relaxed and rewarding.

Desmond Tutu has been quoted saying:

 

“there is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.”

 

Everything in life that seems daunting, overwhelming, and even impossible can be accomplished gradually by taking on small manageable steps. 

 

In fact, many neurodiverse couples that our team counsels report that they are satisfied with the marriage and choose to remain in the relationship.

MEDICATIONS

Where appropriate, we encourage couples to consider if medications can help. There are no medications for Asperger's but there are meds for anxiety, depression, OCD and ADHD which often are experienced in these situations. We always provide a referral to a qualified psychiatrist for all discussions on medications.

​​

Improving Empathy
 
 
 
Hugging Couple in Nature

“Showing kindness towards those who are different and embracing our imperfections as proof of our humanness is the remedy for fear.”  

 

 

Emma Zurcher-Long of Emma’s Hope Book