Two individuals that appear the same in many ways, speak in the same way, enjoy similar things, sharing daily life together. Both could be forgiven for making the assumption that they think the same way, but the reality may be very different if one partner has undiagnosed or unrecognised autism, which can cause significant challenges for both partners in relationships, particularly around communication.
Here we look at the perspectives of Ben and Sophie, who have been married for 6 years. Sophie has suggested they try couple’s counselling as their relationship has reached breaking point. Ben has autism, but neither Ben or Sophie are aware of that at this stage.
Sophie – neurotypical (non-autistic) partner
I don’t know if I can go on anymore. I have tried everything. He just won’t talk to me. We need to sort things out, but how can we when he just keeps saying he ‘doesn’t know what to do?’ I knew he wasn’t much of a talker when we got together, but we have been together for a long time, surely he should be able to trust me enough to open up a bit more by now? Don’t get me wrong, he is great at all the practical stuff, but it’s almost as if he does more of those things to compensate for being emotionally ‘unavailable.’ He is so distant and withdrawn these days, and our sex life is non-existent. I feel like he’s not attracted to me anymore.
He plays in a band, which he really enjoys. I support him in doing this because I think it is important. I think maybe he has low self esteem, and that is part of the problem, so I encourage him with this to help with his confidence. Secretly though, I hate it. I feel jealous that he shows so much passion and enthusiasm for the band, and desperately long for him to show even a quarter of that enthusiasm for me. He never does anything romantic to make me feel special.
I don’t want to end the relationship, I thought we were soul mates. But I feel so alone, this is not the way I thought it would be.
He says I ask too much of him, he says I am needy. He makes me feel so bad for wanting simple love and affection like I am a wicked person for wanting these things. I keep telling him, it is not more I want from him, I just want him to do things differently. Like when I’m stressed because I’ve had a tough day, I would love nothing more than a hug when he comes home from work, rather than him heading straight for the drill to put up a shelf! I mean, it’s great that he does those things, and I am grateful, but it would make me so much happier if he asked how my day had been, and showed an interest in me, the person he married.
The atmosphere is almost unbearable. It doesn’t matter what I do, I have tried gently asking him to try to sort things out with me, and tried to understand what it is he finds so difficult. I have sobbed, shouted, even threatened to leave, but nothing changes. I sometimes wonder if he wants me to leave, but every time I ask him he says that is not what he wants. I just don’t understand it, surely if he really loved me he would try harder? I tell him I am unhappy all the time, is this not important to him?
All I want is to feel wanted and understood, is that too much to ask? He makes me feel like I am asking for the world, but I’m really not. I just want to feel like we are both trying to make things work, rather than feeling like I am responsible for sorting everything out while he just avoids everything.
I feel like I am going mad some days. How can he be so cold towards me? It feels so cruel. It is worse when I see him having a laugh or a joke with someone else. Why can’t he do that with me? What have I done that is so bad I deserve to be ignored for most of the time? I feel like I am walking on eggshells constantly, he becomes so defensive whenever I try to talk about things. Sometimes he storms off out of the house, which really hurts me. If he really wanted to sort this out he would stay and talk things through.
I just don’t know what else to do.
Ben – undiagnosed autistic partner
I just don’t know what she wants from me. She is never happy. She puts so many expectations on me that I don’t think I can ever meet.
I never feel good enough, and there is always tension, even if we aren’t arguing, it’s just there, all the time. When I come in from work, she is cold and hostile, so I just keep my distance. I hate confrontation. I am constantly anxious, and worrying if I am going to be in trouble, for either something I have or haven’t done. If the phone rings, my first thought is ‘what have I done now?’
It is mentally tiring and draining, I wonder what the point is, and just feel fed up with the situation, and life in general.
I’m scared of being alone, but I don’t know what to do to make things right.
She always wants to talk, but I don’t see the point, why can’t we just get on with things, rather than trawling over stuff time and time again? I find talking really uncomfortable, and feel constantly under attack. Sometimes the frustration of not knowing what she wants me to say is overwhelming and I just shut down completely, or the words come out all wrong which just makes it all worse. Doing practical stuff is much easier, I know I can do that, and I’m actually good at it.
I love playing in the band, it gives me a sense of being significant and feeling appreciated, and takes my mind off all the difficult stuff. I get quite absorbed in it which helps me to feel a little less stressed, and like I can just be myself completely. Music has always been a passion of mine, as a child I would much rather be listening to music in my room than playing with the other kids.
I sometimes look at other couples when we are socialising with friends, and see that other men seem to know their partner’s really well, and being together looks effortless to them. I wonder if I should know these kinds of things about my partner too. Sometimes this relationship stuff is just alien to me.
I mean we decided to be together, and got married. Why on earth do we need to talk about it any more? It makes no sense to me. She says she wants me to do different things, but doesn’t tell me what they are. When she says things like she wants to feel more loved, I have no idea what that means. You either feel loved or you don’t. If she would just tell me what she wants from me, it would make things so much easier, but it seems this relationship stuff is all about ‘figuring it out,’ and I have to say I am really no good at it!