Although some people on the autism spectrum enjoy fulfilling relationships, there are others for whom emotional attachment can be difficult and this may affect intimate relationships, family relationships and friendships. Here we present the views of people on the spectrum and, in some cases, their partners.
Some people in long-term relationships, married or living together, sometimes with children, talked about positive and difficult aspects of their relationships. One woman thought that people with Asperger syndrome enter into relationships with people who are very caring and ‘they pick someone who compensates for what they lack’.
A few partners said their husbands were very focused on them when they first met which they thought might be a characteristic of Autistic Spectrum Condition. For example;
‘He fell for me and he wanted me and nothing was going to stop him, I am afraid he was so kind and thoughtful and loving and giving when we were courting but it changed the moment we were married.’
‘It is definitely something you have to work at’
Some couples, where one partner was on the spectrum said they worked hard at their relationship and supported each other.
Luke describes how he and his girlfriend work at their relationship.
Simon’s friends helped him understand his feelings for a girl who wanted to be his girlfriend.
Catherine and Neil were pen pals for a few years before they moved in together.
Steven talks about how much he and his son value his wife.
Daniel and Margaret say that Daniel has learnt to argue back effectively and now holds his own…
Catherine and Neil talk about how they support each other and they have both learnt a lot through…
‘I don’t play social games’
Some people were single but hoped to have a relationship at some point. Others were single after relationships had not worked and they had decided they were better as friends. A couple of people talked about the intense emotional difficulties past relationships had caused them which had led to a form of breakdown. John L said he was not sure he wants to tolerate the level of pain he experience after breaking up with his partner.
One man said that all the girls he had been involved with had ‘cleared off and married someone else’ and he always thought it was because he wasn’t really ‘husband material’.
Damian tends to go out with ‘odd ball misfits’ and relationships have been very intense.
Richard needed the help of support staff to end a relationship
Other people also talked about wanting a relationship but finding the social interaction involved in trying to begin a relationship too difficult. This was partly to do with communication difficulties but also to do with a desire to talk about specific interests that may not be shared. One man said that this was an area that he would like some training or support.
For Russell socialising is like ‘going into a battle of tongues unarmed’ though he would like a…
John finds his difficulties socialising are magnified when he is with women.
‘Having a boyfriend would mean having to get on with someone’
Some people were single and did not expect to have a relationship in the near future.
Miranda is happy to be on her own after some unhappy relationships in the past.
Close relationships are Alex’s idea of ‘hell. She can cope well with relationships on the internet.
Daniel found living away from his parents’ house difficult; ‘I don’t know why, I just felt uncomfortable, I didn’t quite know what it was but it was some need for me to be at home. I just feel safer at home’. Another woman said she was asexual and while she had tried relationships in the past, because she thought she ought to, she had realised that she had no sexual desire and was happy on her own.
Duncan prefers a night in, wearing a baggy tee shirt and jogging bottoms, to going out.
Mark is not sure if he could deal with the ‘level of intensity’ involved in an intimate relationship
Some women talked about feeling vulnerable and not being very good at judging characters. Two women were divorced after being in abusive relationships, one of the women had had a few abusive relationships before deciding to remain single and bring up her children alone.
Partners’ perspectives on relationships
Some partners of people on the spectrum had difficult lives because their partners often couldn’t understand how they felt about things or didn’t want to talk things through with them or make joint decisions. Some partners found it difficult to cope with their partners’ special interests; some felt isolated and depressed.
Sue has had a difficult relationship; she is cautiously hopeful about Richard’s attempts to…
Julie is better able to let Tim do what he wants to do, now they have the diagnosis.
Sue describes how her husband could never relate emotionally to anything happening at home and…
One woman had been taking sleeping tablets because her husband’s behaviour had so distressed her over the years. Life became much more difficult when her husband retired because she had ‘the full volume of his personality’. She said:
‘You know, people can do the most terrible, terrible things and I don’t think it is possible for people to know. I’m fortunate enough to be able to chat away and get on with people. There aren’t many people left now but he has done the most damaging things to both of us, really to me.’