Why Your Asperger’s-Neurotypical Relationship Is Failing

Aspie-neurotypical relationships often start out with intense passion, then fizzle and devolve into disaster.  For the purpose of this article, I have used the word “aspie” instead of “autistic;” however, the two terms should be considered interchangeable in this article.  The reason for this word choice is that most searches about adult autism use the words “Asperger’s” or “aspie.”

The Beginning

Notes: they/them pronouns used for inclusivity/generalization; not all neurotypical-Aspergian relationships will fit this exact trajectory, but this speaks to a trend many might find relatable.  No one is expected to relate to 100% of this; however, hopefully it will highlight the different perspectives and provide some helpful tips to rescue your relationship in coming articles in this series.

For the neurotypical: When you first got together, you had never felt so seen, validated, and understood.  Your partner asked you questions you’ve never been asked, caused you to explore parts and depths of yourself you’d never before explored.  The focus was much deeper than on the superficial.  This relationship was different.  This person was different. The relationship felt like magic.

For the first time, you weren’t experiencing jealousy or fears of infidelity anymore because this was a person who was authentic, genuine, real.  You found that truth-telling vulnerability, worldly wisdom, and zealous wonder refreshing.  You learned to trust.

You felt like you were on a new wavelength, and so you were absorbed in this world with this new love who had so many interesting insights and strong feelings.  But the best part was that they loved those parts of you that you had to hide from everyone else. They didn’t want you to behave.  They had no judgement about what most would consider to be broken or weird.


You started feeling free to say what you really felt, to talk about things dark and uncomfortable, things that would make most people think you were crazy.  But, those flaws seemed to be their favorite parts of you.  This person was a paradox, somehow more mature than everyone else and yet vibrant with a childlike innocence.

With this person, you became the best version of yourself.  You felt evolved, and you were so immersed in this uncharted territory, you fell into this fascinating new world that made your other relationships feel like they lacked depth.  You pulled away from friends and family because they couldn’t understand what this new world, this new you, was like.

For the aspie: At the beginning, you were amazed.  You found this person who seemed to you like this treasure hidden in plain sight.  No one else had realized how amazing this one person was.  You felt like the luckiest person on the planet.

This person had been abused, overlooked, mistreated, and devalued.  You could relate, and the past injustices against your new love caused you such intense anger and heartbreak.  You felt so intensely, you’d give your life to prove to your partner their worth.

With this person, you were euphoric.  Your depression and anxiety were all-but-cured.  The sensory issues that used to overwhelm you didn’t seem to have as much power as they used to.  You had a purpose, and the purpose was to prove your love and devotion.  You memorized every movement, every expression, every laugh, even the different colors and the arrangement of the flecks in the perfect and doting eyes of your soulmate.


And in the intoxicating whir of this new relationship, your existential despair became a thing of the past.  You were energized and felt healed by this love.  Determined to do everything right, you did what you do and dove in head first.  You were going to be a hero, and you finally had a way to make all that was good about you useful.

A Slow Tension Building

For the neurotypical: Eventually, things started to get weird.  There was this big thing that had been planned, this trip or a friend’s wedding or a family holiday, and you had your first real fight.  This person who had previously been willing to assume all the guilt and throw themselves on a sword for you was suddenly cold and distant, harsh and unfeeling.

You quickly made up, and there were a lot of tears from both of you.  It was a passionate resolution, and things seems righted.  Then, there was another fight.  It didn’t even make any sense to you why you were fighting.  Your partner had seen the worst of you and loved it deeply, but suddenly this tiny detail was catastrophic.  You felt attacked.

The arguments increased.  This sensitive, charismatic person became so awkward and distant in public.  At home, they weren’t trying as hard anymore.  You saw shifts, where the eyes that once glittered with unbridled passion and wonder went flat and dark. The grand romantic gestures faded into small rituals.  The magic was being replaced with a dull routine.

You felt like your partner was sabotaging and gaslighting you, embarrassing you on purpose in front of your friends and family.  They found the smallest ways to ruin things for you, like wearing the wrong clothes to a semi-formal occasion or spending an anniversary playing video games.

Where before you could do no wrong, now you began to feel that you could do no right.   Your partner who had cared so much about your feelings was now annoyed by them. You felt like you were with Dr. Jekyll and Mr(s). Hyde.


For the aspie: There was that first big fight that happened.  You were being accused of something that had nothing to do with you, and the more you tried to explain, the angrier and more unreasonable your partner became.  You tried to ask questions, tried to understand, but everything you said was wrong.  You feared that the fairy tale was over.

Once the smoke cleared, you tried hard to understand why your partner was so upset.  You thought about it, rationalized, and gave them the benefit of the doubt.  There was a resolution, but it never made sense to you what the actual problem was.

Then, this person who had seemed so open and so honest started to change.

It was confusing for you to see these two different people emerge, one in public and one in private.  They would hate someone privately and yet cling to him or her in public.  You worried about how honest and genuine your partner was.  If they were putting on an act for others, were they doing the same with you?

Suddenly, they began to take everything personally.  You were living your life as usual, but your partner began feeling like your independent actions had something to do with them.  You felt like you couldn’t go to work or fix a meal or watch a television show without your partner feeling like it was some sinister personal attack with some unspoken motive.

You tried to reassure them at the beginning, but they wouldn’t believe anything you said.  Before, they loved everything that made you different, but now they were trying to change how you dressed and even control how you behaved in social situations.  You felt like they were ashamed to be with you.

The worst came when they started attacking your core character.  You were accused of lies, emotional abuse, and of not caring.  They may have even suspected infidelity.  You took it for as long as you could, reasoning that they were insecure and suffering from mental illness.

You weren’t judgemental; you just wanted them to get help.  You tried to suggest therapy, but they accused you of gaslighting and more emotional abuse.  Where once you were a hero and life-saver, now you were being considered a terror.


Now What?

Self-help guides and traditional couple’s therapy aren’t going to fix these differences.  At the level of the neurology, the differences lend themselves to inevitable conflict.  To even begin to resolve these issues, you’re going to have to understand each other.

And, this isn’t easy.  You can’t just teach each other about your own differences if you don’t know in what ways you’re different or what those differences mean.  You’re certainly not an expert in psychology or neurology just because you belong to a neurotype any more than a person with cancer isn’t an oncologist.

But, a person with cancer has millions of resources that are helpful to understand cancer and what it means and future options.

There are almost no helpful resources for understanding the fundamental differences between NTs and NDs.  Many writers like Kathy Marshack and Maxine Aston write from the perspective of neurotypical supremacy, pathologizing, peddling paltry stereotypes, directly misrepresenting or ignoring research, and claiming [with painful irony] that aspies have “zero degrees of empathy” and simply can’t understand… well, much of anything.

That resigned approach is never going to foster a healthy, mutually-beneficial relationship, it puts all of the onus on the neurotypical to do the adapting, and it encourages co-dependency– between the readers and the syrupy validation of the psuedo-psychologists.

In part 2 of this series, differences in NT-ND identities as they apply to relationships are explored.  Stay tuned.


Was this at all like the aspie-neurotypical relationship you’ve experienced, or is it similar to your current relationship?  In what ways could you relate?  Let us know in the comments.

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45 Responses

    1. LOL I’ve been thinking this for a week and just came here to say that! All cats are special but orange ones are extra-special.

      Whenever I hear about a couple breaking up, my response is always the same: “I feel so bad for their poor little pets!”

  1. Sounds exactly like a typical NT-ND relationship to me. After experiencing 3 in the past year it’s the reason I don’t seek any more. That and every failed relationship gets stored to be used daily to remind me what a failure I am.

    1. omg. you might be a “failure” for any number of reasons, but failing at relationships is NOT one of them! That’s just NT brainwashing, I will not tolerate it, Sir!

      I honestly think rationships are just base animal-behavior, my opinions in the topic are quite uncharitable. Really, we have the ability to evolve beyond all that miserable breeder-bullshit, and we should. I want a future dystopia wherein all the oxytocin-crazed neurotypicals have murdered each other (it’s what their “love” inevitably leads to) and all that remain are autistics who engage in all kinds of weird sex with each other, but never try to interact at any other time than when we’re fucking, and voluntarily use birth control to make humans extinct.

  2. To me, this actually sounds like the better NT/AS relationships ironically. The dance described is poignant and painful but hauntingly real. I see some relationships where the NT and AS communicate past each other making behavioral gestures but not seeming to truly connect at all. I love how well you painted the portrait. You truly grasp what may have once been in at least many cases!

  3. You’ve described my own relationship in such detail, I’m actually struggling for words – not a ordinary occurrence for this particular writer. Now, add narcissism of a grand order to an NT Spousal Unit and most days it’s an excruciatingly unpleasant pairing. It was especially painful to read the “gestures” part. I used to invest a part of each day of the year seeking small gifts which would be greatly significant to her. And now? I just don’t even care – at all. Something has gotta give and I’m deeply tired of it being me.

    1. Yes, your addendum to this article, adding the narcissistic NT spouse, is exactly what I experienced in my 17 year marriage. Unfortunately, it’s too late for me, as we divorced over a year ago, and I have no desire to return to her. But yes, I too experienced the gestures/gifts part, with me doing all the giving before I just quit trying to please her. I hope that it isn’t too late for the rest of you, that there is something that can fix things before you get to where I am, broken and alone.

      1. I am very sorry to hear about what you’ve experienced. It is quite common for autistics to find themselves in relationships with narcissists for several reasons (which will be addressed in upcoming articles in this series).

        1. This sounds very much like my relationship. I was his special interest for a number of years and then while everything was rosy we had a baby together. The day after our son was born the distance was there. Went home for a sleep. Didn’t check up on me till I asked him to pick me up from hospital. Thinking it was a stupid waste of time when I was referred back into hospital with high blood pressure. Its been a terrible 2 1/2 years but I’ve come out of this realising I’m happier being alone. No more rudeness to people, grumpiness, special interest creeping in all the time and his inflexibility if plans change. He’s painted it all that i have serious mental health problems. So ill just take that label in order to be free. I’d love to hear from other people moving on from an unhappy relationship.

      2. Insread of bitching about how thry get burned every time they put their hand on a hot stove, people should try just NOT PUTTING THEIR HANDS ON HOT STOVES.

      3. I see a common pattern of gift giving by AS partners. My bf does this. I love it don’t get me wrong. It means the world to me. But I would honestly rather have the affection he mysteriously withdrew from me back in May than 100 gifts. When I asked why, he said he was feeling off. When I tried to talk about what feeling off meant and how I wanted to figure out how we could work on getting the affection back, he shut down. He doesn’t want to talk about my feelings or his feelings and I’m honestly not sure how either of us can get our needs met like that.

    2. I have a very similar experience.
      It’s ironic that when we drop our mask… we lose our identity and become a stranger. When all we want is to be accepted.

  4. first phase yes, starting from second – no. No big fights, just felt like he lost interest suddenly. No affection, no sex, no nothing. It blows my mind, how it went from this affectionate and sexual relationship, to no affection at all. No matter what i do, i get rejected. It feels more like i was his special interest, and he moved on.

    1. Same here. Withdrew affection and intimate contact and I do not know why. I even tried to seduce him with sexy lingerie. I got pushed away. Yet he could still cuddle in bed. I wonder if it has to do with sensory issues tho my bf would never go get tested to get a confirmation bthat he is on the spectrum. Too much stigma. If he would maybe that would help.

  5. This read was frighteningly close to my experiences with my wife pre-self-diagnosis. Now that we know what’s going on, it feels at least like we have traction when we begin to try to work out issues. It’s taken over a year of consistent effort to build up the traction, and significant individual efforts on both our parts to overcome our knee-jerk emotional reactions to one another. It is indeed impossible to find resources for working things out; I eagerly await the next articles in this series.

    I have a great deal of hope, though. We are currently learning to carefully adopt the “nonviolent communication” method (a non-specialist therapist is teaching us) which is very helpful for us to identify concrete behaviors to discuss, separate our feelings from our interpretations, lay out what it is we both want, and then see if there is a way for us to both get what we want.

    It takes a great deal of commitment toward each other and our joined futures and a willingness to challenge your own attitude and beliefs. I think we have a good chance at making it work.

  6. I found this article similar in many aspects of love, but the lack of communication and misunderstanding of each others actions led to a break down, his feelings changed, that apart from it was easier to flee from me was basically the only explanation, oh we had a few break ups because another woman was following him around. He did go out if his way to please me, it was wonderful, I was put on a pedestal.
    I also put him on a pedestal, but something gradually came to light, something other NTs have was missing, also there where many other health issues, which all had to be accommodated on a daily basis.
    So a diagnosis was made, something positive you would think, but also catastrophic for us both.

  7. There are many things in this article that are similar to what I’m newly experiencing in my current situationship. I’m having a hard time finding literature that can more accurately shed light on things for me. I’ve just recently downloaded some samples of books I may purchase online if they at all resonate with me. I’m the NT in the relationship and I often feel like it’s solely on me to adapt. I’m constantly trying to figure out if things are unfolding as they are because he’s ND or if he’s merely using his Aspergers as a reason (excuses are beneath him) for typical male behaviors. So, I’m hoping to read more from The Aspergian on all of this.

    1. Nicole, please look at the article on “Cassandras,”: click here

      The books you downloaded are almost for sure just going to be ableist garbage.

      BUT, it’s possible your partner is just a major asshole. You can join our group on Facebook, “The Aspergian has an article for that,” to get tips and hints and advice.

      If he’s a good man who loves you but you’re just misunderstanding each other, we can help with that. If he’s being an asshole and blaming it on Asperger’s, we’ll help you to know if it’s him being an ass and gaslighting you. ❤️

  8. Thank you for writing this great article, I think it is a really good summary of what may happen in NT-ND interactions and I sincerely hope that I am allowed to make a few remarks. I think most of the core conflict revolves around the Aspie wanting to secure more “alone-time” in order to recharge batteries while most NT’s want to have more “couple-time”. If both parties stick to their concepts, this may develop into a rather destructive dynamic. I recommend reading “The communication ‘Roundabout’: Intimate relationships of adults with Asperger’s syndrome” and the book “The complete guide to Asperger’s syndrome” by Tony Attwood, which both give great insights into the differences and problems. Furthermore, from reading about several examples of functioning NT-ND relationships (which give good examples of what people do RIGHT instead of all the negative examples) and from dating an Asperger (I’m the NT) myself, I suggest the following: Firstly, the NT should make absolutely sure that he or she understands that, when the Aspie is retreating, when there’s radio silence, when an important appointment has been forgotten, it is not done with illfull intent and the NT should TRY to not feel hurt. Little disappointments accumulate, according to relationship theory, so it’s important to work early on this. Maybe try to adjust your mindset to “this is his weak spot and he needs a bit extra freedom here”. The Aspie must understand that there are ways to read and understand what other people are feeling and meaning and to work on this whenever he or she has energy and time. In fact, Aspies are not at all incapable of reading other people. They are empathic, and they can learn to translate this into the “right” gestures and moves that are “expected” from society. An Aspie’s mind may be very much like a computer, and with the correct social protocol, it may be very efficient. Interesting enough, this is outlined in “The employer’s guide to Asperger’s syndrome”, which can easily be found online. Try to understand each other’s logic and be there for each other, but understand that the Aspie may need to retreat to recharge from time to time. For the NT: Identify your needs and try to give the Aspie direct suggestions to work with, maybe in form of a weekly schedule (if it is a recurring thing), and/or a precise date and time.
    Last but not least, make sure that the diagnosis is Asperger (or, in the more modern layout, “on the autistic spectrum”), and not something else. In particular, do not misinterpret periods of absence or seemingly cold and unusual statements as Aspergers when the person is, in fact abusive and has other problems. As in any relationship, take your time getting to know each other, tell the (potential) Aspie as directly as possible what you want and need (when the time is right, when there is no time of retreat or something distressing him or her), and, as an NT, understand that in no way should 100 % of the work load be on your side. Check that the Asperger cares, tries to learn, makes progress (the basic things for any relationship). That way, people grow with each other, challenge each other each day anew and learn from another. I am sorry for the length of this comment, I sincerely hope it will help some people out there.

  9. Thank you so much for this. You could be describing exactly the evolution of my relationship (I am the NT). The first few months were exhilarating for me, and he did indeed help me be the best version of myself; I loved his honesty and directness; I loved his lack of inhibitions, and his depression and self-hatred seemed to melt away. We were crazy about each other. But when I moved in with him, there were constant communication breakdowns; he didn’t seem to ‘get’ how I was feeling and repeatedly asked me to describe it (which I was reluctant to do for fear of hurting him). A lot of the time, it was me who needed the space and the retreat, and it was me who sank into depression. Now I’ve left him, I’m so sad for what we’ve lost, but it was such hard work for me.
    I found one of the forums (‘AS Partners’), and while it seemed to offer validation, which I needed at the time, many of the comments were so rooted in hatred and failure to accept that an aspie could have feelings as opposed to just needs, I now feel like I’ve really betrayed him by going on there. He sends me constant messages of reconciliation and apology and I am absolutely torn.
    Thanks again for your insight.

    1. Ended up here after another surreal and saddening day of being ignored by my AS husband of one year. We had a long distance relationship (very long) after meeting online and travelling to each others countries. I think he’s very depressed but he treats me terribly and I’m not sure what to do. There’s very little affection now and it’s like he’s a different person. No sex since the honeymoon and although I was expecting some level of change it’s been quite dramatic. I am an empath and it all hurts so much. I’m tired of trying to be strong. I’ve done nothing to deserve this treatment but I wish I had gotten out before we got married. We’ve had some good times (usually on holiday when he’s more relaxed) but the constant drama and bizarre behaviour is soul destroying.

      1. There are quite a few ppl with AS who have YouTube videos to help us NTs understand and communicate better. Check them out

  10. Is there a way to stay connected to my boyfriend after our breakup as friends. Has anyone done that? 5 years we have been together performing music, projects, camping. He called it off, so much stress right now with Covid 19, work, etc. He seemed to have many meltdowns and needing to isolate and be on his own by himself. He does not really talk about being aspie, and once I brought it up and he gave me that look?

    1. I am trying to negotiate a different kind of relationship or friendship. We did lockdown together and his meltdowns got more frequent and more scarey.. problem is he sees me as a key part of the problem .. which is true – since we think differently – and couples counselling made it considerably worse.. he is now trying to do a series of ‘solitary retreats’ ..when we do connect still there is a lot of love and passion – which he cannot manage at all now..
      Feel for you..

      1. That withdrawal thing is hard but it comes from them needing to recharge so NTs should be patient and let them have space even tho it’s not easy

  11. Its exactly like my relationship. I feel.helpless and i dont know what to do. My aspie guy just doesnt seem to care enough to try. I want to just up and leave while hes at work and never see him again, ugh

  12. Wow. Reading this description is shocking — like someone has been spying on my life for 10 years. I’m the NT, an extrovert and very social. Also the adult child of a violent alcoholic and previously married to an abusive bipolar man, so I guess I was a sitting duck for someone who seemed intensely interested in me. But all that started 10 years ago and about 3 years ago he seemed to “check out” from our relationship. Like I was a new toy he was now bored with? We moved to a new city for a variety of practical reasons, but also with the hope it would energize our relationship. It didn’t. Like Lorice said, I had the strong urge to just up and leave while he was at work one day. Obviously, that’s not a realistic solution since we have a home and finances together. But the hurt is so deep, it’s like and adolescent cry for help by cutting. You wonder, “If I just left, how long would it take for them to notice? Hours? Days? Weeks?” I’ve suspected my partner is Aspie for a couple years after seeing a BBC show on autism. We watched it together on tv one night. It set off loud alarms in my head. He said nothing. When I’ve asked if he could identify or if he was interested in getting assessed, he also said nothing. He doesn’t show interest in fixing our relationship or understanding his own “quirks.” He just wants to work on his projects and have me leave him alone. I kept hoping there’s hope since I love him. But I can see from previous comments here that if he’s not interested in our relationship as one of his projects, there’s little hope. This is very sad, but it’s now logical why none of his previous relationships or marriage lasted longer than 5 years.

    1. Can you get him into couples counseling with you? My bf has never been diagnosed and I suspect doesn’t want to be because of the baggage that comes with being on the spectrum and all the discrimination.

  13. As an NT that was in a 20 year relationship, it took me 17 years to figure it out. He adamantly denies he is on the spectrum and is telling his fiance (acquired 9 months after our divorce & found out he was having an emotional affair for 4 years of our marriage) that we divorced due to his obsessions. He made no mention of the excessive neglect, never was home or helped around the house and barely spoke. I worked my butt off to salvage that marriage because I understood he had issues but was willing to see it from his perspective and work with him but his denial and lack of contribution broke me. Basically I married a booty call but since I am an independent career woman it worked until that diminished as well. If we are so awful for those on the spectrum, why do you seek us out and not just date each other?

  14. Yes, this article definitely sounds like my relationship tho my bf has never been diagnosed. I’m no expert but he shows many signs. Things fell apart when he stopped being affectionate and no longer seemed to want sexual contact because he wasn’t feeling great. He doesn’t seem to want to do anything about that and I feel like my need for affection doesn’t matter. Now he’s withdrawn altogether cuz he says he needs time to himself and as someone with an anxiety disorder and abandonment issues I haven’t been handling that well

  15. Hi ! This is so exact what happened to my relationship. Is there a part 2 on this about what to do once there’s a breakup ? Thank you!

  16. Well after reading this article and all the comments I am officially convinced that I will never ever get a girlfriend. All women hate me because I’m autistic and they can’t stand my differences. Reading this article and the comments showed me that harsh reality.

    1. No Need to think like that! I am an emotional, sensitive NT married for 24 years to a wonderful Aspie man. We can really annoy the hell out of each other sometimes, but a good sense of humour, buckets of forgiveness and a MUTUAL commitment to help each other grow and develop our individual, unique talents and interests has kept us going. A shared committed Christian faith – thoughe expressed very differently – is our “cement”. And things like communication, gift giving, Christmas & socialising, spontaneity, family rituals and routines, all of that stuff can be negotiated. Don’t lose hope. Marriage can be an amazingly fun and rewarding thing. But like most things in life worth having, it takes a bit of effort!!

  17. Im autistic too, and these comments have been hurtful. I’ve found a great deal of happiness with my wife, who is very open to working with me and I return that favor. We have a strong marriage. All is not lost for us, just needs to be the right person. Look for someone that already has someone in their lives that’s autistic, and then look to see what they think about that person. Good luck.

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