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Overcoming Feelings of Isolation in Asperger's Relationships

Isolation is a problem that afflicts nearly every relationship with an Asperger’s (high functioning autism) partner at some point. When one of the partner’s is on the autism spectrum, it’s not uncommon for some couples to slowly drift apart in ways they don't even recognize at first. Signs of isolation include the following:
  • feeling of being unable to please or meet the expectations of your partner
  • feeling that keeping the peace by avoiding the conflict is better than the pain of dealing with reality 
  • feeling that your partner isn't hearing you and doesn't want to understand 
  • refusal to cope with what's really wrong 
  • sense that your partner is detached from you 
  • attitude of "who cares, why try?"

If you, as a “neurotypical” (i.e., someone without Asperger’s), are starting to observe these symptoms in your relationship, you have begun experiencing the problem of isolation. All relationships need a plan to reverse isolation and to bring about intimacy. Isolation is like a virus that invades your relationship – silently, slowly, and painlessly at first – but by the time you become aware of its harmful effects, it’s too late. Your relationship can eventually be crippled by monotony and indifference, and it could even die from emotional malnutrition and neglect. 

Follow these steps to defeat isolation in your relationship to an Asperger’s partner:

1. Attend meetings, lectures, and other activities that inform you about autism spectrum disorders. This is an opportunity to meet people who share similar problems as you do. And the more you get out, the more you will see - and be seen - by others (a remedy to feelings of isolation in-and-of itself).

2. Develop a network of friends and family to help support your relationship – a key in overcoming loneliness.

3. Develop your own identity and get involved in activities that interest you (e.g., self-enrichment classes, yoga, social functions, etc.).

4. Develop relational skills. You can develop skills in relating to your partner just as you can develop skills in golf, cooking, or painting. Most of us develop some bad relational habits over time, and we need training and practice to develop skills in practical, yet vital, areas of relationship (e.g., speaking the truth in love, resolving conflict, listening to each other, forgiving each other, communicating expectations, adjusting to differences, etc.). Your determination to improve your skills in areas like these will show just how serious you are about revitalizing your relationship.

5. Enrich your life by learning something new to bring fresh insight and communication to your relationship.

6. Get a pet. Pets can be great companions, and having an animal waiting for you to come home every day can really boost your outlook and make you feel as though you have a companion.

7. Get involved in causes important to you (e.g., walkathons to raise money to fight breast cancer).

8. Handle anger constructively. You've heard the old adage, "Don't go to bed mad." Well, it's older than grandpa. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Choose to forgive daily. Leave the past behind and move forward together.

9. Have you ever wondered what happened to your best friend from way back when? There are many good opportunities these days with the internet, and e-mail, and Instant Message to hook-up with just about anybody who is still alive. Rekindling old friendships is a wonderful way to reconnect with the human race.

10. Hire a therapist to help you better understand the fears you have about your relationship difficulties. A therapist can help you (a) work through the fears you have, (b) develop coping skills to deal with those fears, (c) learn new relationship skills that will enable you to feel more confident in your dealings with an Asperger’s partner, (d) learn assertiveness skills that will empower you to get your needs met in your relationship, and (e) learn conflict resolution skills to work through the inevitable issues that arise between you and your “Aspie”.

11. Improve the relationship you have with yourself. When you don’t like yourself, it’s hard to believe that your partner likes you. One very simple thing to do to change the relationship you have with yourself is to change the negative thoughts you have about yourself to positive ones.

12. Join a club. Whether it is a church club, a car club, or any other of the thousands of club that are out there, being around people and making new friends is a great way to overcome feelings of loneliness. You can find clubs in your local paper and on the Internet.

13. Join a support group. Support groups are a good place to meet people and make new friends. Support groups are a good, safe way to meet other people who have similar concerns and interests as you do. Sharing common concerns or interests is a great ice breaker.

14. Keep in mind that you can only change your situation. You can't make your partner change his/her behaviors or attitudes about the relationship until he/she is ready.

15. Keep the lines of communication open daily. A good "home-base" is at the breakfast table where the two of you can take a few minutes to talk and discuss concerns.

16. Make sure that the relationship you do have is based on giving and receiving—not just giving. There isn’t a lonelier feeling in the world than to be involved in a relationship in which you do all the giving without doing any of the receiving. If you are one of those partners who give and give and give with the silent hope that you’ll get back in return someday, then it’s likely that you may feel lonelier than the average bear.

17. Make your Asperger’s partner your best friend, if possible. To be well balanced, also include other friendships, but reserve the number one spot for your “Aspie.” Best friends risk being vulnerable, because they know the other person will still love and accept them for who they are, will challenge them to grow, and stick by them no matter what.

18. Revisit your courtship days. Think about what drew you together in the first place, the goals you shared, the traits you admired in him/her, the places you enjoyed visiting, the activities you did together, and so on. Often this exercise helps you trudge through the muck and mire of relationship problems and regain perspective of why you are together in the first place.

19. Set aside time each day to focus on communicating with your partner. Start with a small item that is of interest to him/her. A funny story from a coworker or the newspaper can be a great conversation starter. Keep the conversation light and easy, and don't bring up problems or issues at first. Remember that the focus should be on increasing communication and feeling of closeness.

20. Share experiences. Go for a walk together, or join in for a favorite show or game of cards. Make your partner your primary focus of attention. Turn off all the cell phones and other distractions.

21. Spend time by yourself to think about what you are expecting from your partner. Is he/she aware of what you are looking for? Remember that all couples grow and change over time. Perhaps your needs have changed. Discuss this with your partner. Sometimes we assume our partner knows things that we haven't communicated to him/her.

22. Talk to your partner about how you're feeling, and take time to hash out each other's feelings about any distance in the relationship. Communication is a key in overcoming loneliness in any relationship.

23. Try to manage conflicts as they arise, but respect your partner’s viewpoints throughout the “conflict resolution” process.

24. Volunteer work is a good way to get involved with others who share similar interests. Not only will you be associating with other people, your life will begin to feel more meaningful by getting out of your self-centered isolation.

25. Write a journal. Lack of communication can lead to loneliness. If you have no one to talk to, you can start to feel very isolated. By writing in a journal every day, you will have an outlet for your feelings. By expressing your feelings, it can help you overcome a sense of isolation and loneliness.

In a nutshell, if you are unhappy in your relationship to an Aspie, be proactive about resolving this state of mind -- whatever it takes. Reach out. Ask for help. Be your own self-advocate. Take care of YOU, because if you don't, no one else will.

Living with Aspergers: Help for Couples

2 comments:

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