Marriage to a Spouse With Asperger's Syndrome

Autism can make romance tricky—but not impossible!

Asperger's syndrome no longer exists as a discrete diagnosis. Today, people with the symptoms of Asperger's receive an autism spectrum diagnosis (assuming they choose to seek a diagnosis at all). The names "Level 1 autism spectrum disorder" or "high-functioning autism" are often used instead of Asperger's.

It can be difficult to manage marriage to a person who has a hard time with social skills, interpersonal communication, empathetic understanding, or flexibility of thought.

Dr. Robert Naseef and Dr. Cindy Ariel are experts in counseling families in which a person is on the spectrum. They offer specific insights and advice to partners living with high-functioning autism.

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Dr. Robert Naseef: Overcoming Loneliness in Marriage

If there is one word that describes the reaction of a family member to the diagnosis of autism in someone you love, that word is loneliness. If this word describes you, rest assured that you are not alone in having this response. There is help available for both you and your partner. Now that autism is more widely recognized, adults and children who may not have been identified as autistic in the past are being diagnosed. This is particularly true for high-functioning autism (HFA).

There is even a website devoted to the issues faced by spouses and partners at Asperger Syndrome Partners and Individuals Resources, Encouragement & Support. There are numerous helpful articles archived there. Family and relational experiences, resources, survival tips, encouragement, and hope are offered there.

It is through this kind of sharing that many people help each other lighten the burdens of living with autism and find coping strategies and solutions for many issues in relationships. Certainly, it is not easy to bridge the communication gap that exists in everyday life. Being simultaneously relieved by the diagnosis and trapped is a treacherous dilemma.

Usually, with more information comes hope, so you may want to learn more about autism. There are numerous books and websites. One good medical site to start at would be the PENN Social Learning Disorders Program. There you will see your partner's condition described as a social learning disorder, which is a helpful way to look at their differences and the challenges that face both of you.

It is also important to look at the history of your relationship. You must have had good times together and shared positive feelings about each other. Try to recapture what brought you together.

You may benefit from a consultation with a mental health professional who is experienced in helping people in your situation. Even if your partner won't go with you, you may gain some insight into the relationship that will help you change the chemistry in your relationship.

Dr. Cindy Ariel: Cognitive Therapy Can Make a Positive Difference

People can change. In our profession, we help people to change and would not do what we do if we did not believe with certainty that it is possible. Most people with high-functioning autism function at a high cognitive level, and that means your partner will be able to use that intelligence to learn social behavior that is more socially acceptable and empathetic.

If your partner is willing to see a counselor, or even to get a second opinion, it could help them to see what is difficult to accept right now. Reading books by other adults with autism such as Stephen Shore, Temple Grandin, and Donna Williams may also be very helpful to begin to gather the cognitive evidence they may need to understand their diagnosis.

People with autism are able to move forward—not quickly and easily, perhaps, but slowly and steadily. It takes patience and perseverance. You will both have to change some of your current understanding and expectations. In every marriage, couples must make some sacrifices and compromises that they did not expect, and this often brings couples to a deeper, more mature place in their love, marriage, and commitment to one another.

2 Sources
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  1. Robledo J, Donnellan AM. Supportive Relationships in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Perspectives of Individuals with ASD and Supporters. Behav Sci (Basel). 2016 Nov 3;6(4):23. doi: 10.3390/bs6040023

  2. Ariel, C, Naseef, R. Alternative Choices.

Additional Reading
  • Naseef R, Ariel C. Voices from the Spectrum: Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, People with Autism, and Professionals Share Their Wisdom. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.