Dealing with unemotional, reserved men with Asperger’s (high functioning autism) can be a tough dilemma for girlfriends and wives – especially if they are used to handling more assertive men. They are frustratingly silent during conversations, they take coaxing to come out of their shell, and they often seem uncomfortable when dealing with social situations. Even so, Asperger’s men are often very sensitive, which can lead to a truly fulfilling relationship. In order to get there, though, an enterprising woman needs to know how to approach her reserved “Aspie” properly.
If your Asperger’s husband or boyfriend clams up around your friends and family, avoids social outings, or is too reserved to express his feelings, you've got some challenges ahead, especially if you're an outgoing person yourself. Be patient, because Aspies need more time to adjust to new situations. If you let your reserved man take his time to open up, your bond will be even stronger.
Here are some tips for getting your unemotional, reserved Asperger’s partner to open up:
1. Be confident, but not overbearing. If you do manage to get your Asperger’s man to open up (e.g., he starts talking about his feelings), be sure not to interrupt him. It will make it even harder for him to open up again if he feels like what he’s saying is not sufficiently appreciated and that you may think that what he’s talking about is unimportant or boring.
2. Be patient. When it comes to men on the spectrum, it may take some time to get a full answer, so don't be afraid of a little silence. Prompting, such as "go on," or "what are you thinking?" will not help and will likely make him nervous. You should also generally avoid finishing his sentences when he pauses momentarily. He may want to articulate his thoughts in a particular way, so give him enough time to do so.
3. Calling attention to your Aspie’s “reserved nature” can make him feel uncomfortable. Never ask him why he is so quiet or unexpressive. He has most likely heard these things many times, and talking about it will be counter-productive.
4. Do not push your Aspie to talk if he clearly seems to be avoiding it at that moment. He will only become annoyed with you and try to avoid you in the future.
5. Don't assume your man’s reserved nature is just a social phobia (although it might be). Perhaps he is instead going through a hard time or has had an emotionally trying past. Don't rush him, and don't come on too strong.
6. Don't pressure your Asperger’s man to contribute to a group conversation (e.g., at a family gathering). If he is not already participating, and especially if he is off to the side not even noticeably listening, abruptly requesting his input will likely make him quite nervous since several people will suddenly be fixing their attention on him. If he is already part of the group and hesitates to contribute, however, asking a simple question related to the topic at hand may be helpful for allowing him a chance to speak.
7. Avoid making jokes about your man’s reserved nature. On the other hand, be judicious with potential compliments. Compliments can make him feel more comfortable around you if they seem sincere.
8. Find out his favorite thing, and try to find something about yourself that relates to his thing. If you have discovered an activity that he enjoys, ask him if the two of you can do it together.
9. Have an ongoing joke with your man. This will help him to be himself around you.
10. Look for topics that seem to engage your man. You will be surprised at how much reserved Aspies can blabber once you get them onto a topic they care about.
11. During conversations, make normal eye contact, but don't stare at him the entire time. Staring can feel a little intimidating to a person with Asperger’s. Remain casual and relaxed through the conversation, and really listen when he speaks.
12. Many Aspies have another side to them. If you discover a way to really bond with your man, you may find that he is loud, fun, and funny.
13. People with Asperger’s tend to choose their words with care. When your Aspie says something, be sure to listen, and then think about what he said and the inflection he used before responding. There may be several layers and meanings hidden in the folds of that sentence you thought was simple and straightforward. When you respond, know that your Aspie wants you to understand the hidden meanings and layers, in addition to just the words. A blunt or overly simple response from you could potentially be interpreted as a loss of interest or being dismissive of his comments.
14. When you do ask questions, avoid ones that are personal. Try focusing on something related to the current location or activity. Ask what he thinks about different things that come up in the conversation. Try to avoid “yes-no” questions. Instead of "Did you like the new movie?" ask "What did you think of ..."
15. You may have to initiate most conversations initially. But after your Aspie becomes comfortable with you, he will likely be more open and outgoing with you.
Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples