Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you struggling emotionally, socially, spiritually or otherwise?
Then you've come to the right place. We are here to help you in any way we can. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile.

Search This Blog

Shutdowns in Spouses/Partners with Asperger’s

“How do I communicate with a husband (has Asperger syndrome) who won’t talk? He tells me whatever I want to hear so that I’ll stop talking as soon as possible. If I bring up a topic that he finds stressful, he immediately stonewalls me. It’s impossible to get him to talk about his emotions. It’s like talking to a brick wall. If I really push it and go after him, sometimes he’ll respond and we’ll finally address something. But it’s like I have to freak out to get him to open up and discuss the issue at hand. It’s so maddening. I don’t want to be a ‘bitch’ - but I feel that it’s the only way to get him to engage.”

What you’re referring to here is a “shutdown” (the opposite of a meltdown). You mentioned that this happens when you are trying to discuss a matter that your husband finds stressful. When he withdraws from the interaction, this may be more of a coping mechanism he uses to deal with stress rather than his lack of interest in what you are trying to convey.

When a listener withdraws from an interaction by shutting down, it is usually a sign that he or she is becoming anxious. Oftentimes, people with Asperger’s emotionally or physically withdraw because they’re psychologically or physiologically overwhelmed. They are trying to avoid conflict – or escape from conflict – in order to calm themselves. For example, your husband may refuse to discuss certain topics or feelings, struggling to endure the approaching anxiety. He may turn away, stop making eye contact, cross his arms, or leave the room. As a result, you may label this behavior as rude, insensitive, and uncaring.

People on the autism spectrum shut down for numerous reasons. Shutdowns can result from extreme events (e.g., losing a job, marital conflict, etc.), but they can also have very small triggers, which simply remind the “Aspie” of a larger pain (e.g., a small incident at work can provoke some long-term insecurities and cause a retreat).

A shutdown will move some form of emotional pain to the center of the Aspie’s focus, and he may start contemplating "what if" and "if only" scenarios. These thoughts are always counter-productive, because we can't change the past, and they usually only make the Aspie feel entrapped by events.

Not surprisingly, shutdowns can be damaging to relationships. The person who shuts down is no longer participating in open communication, problem-solving, or bonding with his spouse/partner. Rather than contributing to the well-being of the relationship, shutdowns stifle conflict resolution. The recipient of the shutdown feels invalidated, ignored, and misunderstood. When your husband shuts down, you may feel so unimportant that you don’t even deserve a response.

So, what can be done about shutdowns?

Advice for your Asperger’s husband:

•    When you feel like shutting down, take several deep breaths and communicate what you need to stay productive. If you need some reassurance or a timeout, ask for that. Talk to your wife ahead of time about the best way to communicate with you.

•    Find other ways to soothe yourself rather than shutting down. It’s your responsibility to calm yourself so you’re able to respond — not react. Even if she wants to, your wife may not be able to soothe you, fix your emotions, or make things better. YOU must do your own emotional work (e.g., being honest and clear with yourself and your wife about what feelings are arising). Self-soothing is a very individual thing. Consider the activities that are genuinely calming for you.

•    Recognize when you’re shutting down. Tune in to what’s going on internally. For example, pay attention to your bodily sensations, which are connected to your emotions (e.g., a lump in the throat could mean sadness, a burning in the chest could mean anger, a fluttering in the stomach may mean anxiety, etc.). Tuning in helps you figure out what you need and prevents you from doing or saying something that may damage the relationship with your wife.

Advice for you, the wife:

•    When you notice that your Asperger’s husband is beginning to shut down, you can choose to lovingly detach and not perpetuate an unhealthy dynamic. If you keep trying to get your husband to engage with you when he doesn’t want to, you convey that you’ll tolerate this kind of behavior. Thus, there’s no motivation on his part to change. By removing yourself from the situation, your husband is left with no one to focus on but himself.

•    A shutdown is not about you. This is the way your husband has learned to manage his uncomfortable emotions. Trying to get him to “open up” will only lead to resentment on both sides. To think that you have the power to make your husband behave in a particular manner if you simply “freak out” is dangerous. It will lead to you taking on more responsibility than is yours in the relationship, which will leave you feeling stressed-out, angry, and resentful.

•    It's generally helpful to talk in a soothing voice during a shutdown. Just make sure that you're careful what you say - and keep things positive. The only thing to remember when soothing your Aspie during a shutdown is that you're still dealing with someone on the autism spectrum. Don't try to force eye contact, and don't touch your husband without either being invited to do so - or being cautious to see the reaction first.

•    When the two of you are calm, talk to your husband about the best way to communicate with him when he’s shutting down. Is there a way for you to talk to him when he’s starting to withdraw from the conversation? Discuss this with him, and do some trial-and-error attempts to see what works and what doesn’t.

Sometimes, no matter how kind and gentle you are with your Asperger’s husband, he will still shut down or avoid engaging in a “stressful” conversation. It may also be the case that your husband is engaging in old, entrenched ways of coping with anxiety that existed long before you came along. If either of these things are happening, it would be prudent to get the advice of a good marriage counselor or relationship coach who can help you untangle the impact of past relationship patterns, and concentrate on how to relate in an advantageous way going forward.

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Does Your New Boyfriend Have Asperger’s?

You’ve met this guy that seems a bit quirky. The idea that he may have Asperger’s has entered your mind (because you did a bit of research online, and he appears to have many of the traits of the disorder). So, how might you know whether or not your new boyfriend has Asperger’s? 

Well…

If he seems cut off from his feelings…

If he seems to focus only on reasoning and intellect...

If he comes off as self-centered or insensitive...

If he seems to have difficulty reading body language and facial expressions...

If he has trouble picking up the rules of conversation...

If he rarely looks you in the eyes...

If he has difficulty participating in general conversations, including ‘small talk’...

If he has difficulty comprehending or communicating his feelings...

If he has trouble distinguishing feelings from thoughts...

If he asks very few questions about you and you get the sense he's not listening when you do talk about your life...

If he appears cold or unresponsive to your text messages...

If he has difficulty seeing and understanding your point of view...

If he has difficulty empathizing with you or understanding your emotions...

If he isn't interested in creating a bond with you – and is more interested in having fun and leaving the mushy stuff out of it...

If he only seems to liven up when there's a possibility of sex on the table...

If he’s not genuinely emotionally invested in what goes on in your life...

If he always seems too busy to spend time with you...

If he has an intense interest in one or two narrow topics, bordering on obsession (e.g., stamp collecting, song lyrics, computer games, collecting and organizing facts, etc.)…

If he seems very smart, yet has little “social intelligence”…

If he never wants to discuss "where is this relationship going" questions...

If he appears to focus on his own personal interests, without seeing your needs and wishes...

If he seems to “need” to spend A LOT of time alone...

If he appears to have quite a few sensory sensitivities (e.g., sounds, smells, bright lights, the sensation of clothing against his skin, etc.)...

If he tends to become stressed when his routines are altered...

If he appears very detail-oriented, often missing the overall picture (applying the same level of detail to every situation whether appropriate or not)...

If your gut is telling you this guy isn't in it for the right reasons...

… then he might have Asperger’s.


==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples