Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you in a relationship with someone on the autism spectrum? 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

Lack of "Displays of Affection" in Adults with ASD

“I have a question that may be somewhat ridiculous – or even insulting, so please don’t get me wrong here. But can my husband with autism even understand the concept of true affection? I’m asking because sometimes I have my genuine doubts.”

Lets’ make sure we all understand what affection is first of all. It’s a physical way (emphasis on “physical” here) of showing just how much we love someone. It’s an attachment that consumes us, wanting to kiss, hug, or hold the person we love. Receiving constant affection from your partner or spouse is a great reminder of how much he or she cares for you.

A lot of emotional concepts are challenging for adults on the autism spectrum. Affection is probably one of the most complicated emotions of all. The lack of empathy, sensory sensitivities (in this case, perhaps touch), and inflexibility that many people on the spectrum live with makes understanding the concept of affection difficult (but not impossible).

It’s very difficult to separate the idea of an ASD individual loving someone from the true source of struggle, which is the concept of “theory of mind.” He feels a full range of emotions (e.g., anger, sadness, joy, and yes, affection), but the issue lies in connecting these emotions to the emotions of his significant other. Theory of mind is understanding that his spouse’s thoughts and feelings are her own and how they can coincide with his, even though they are not reliant on what he is feeling.

The possibilities are there for your husband. Affection is an emotion that he can come to understand fully. The process of developing theory of mind is ongoing in people on the spectrum. Affection is only a small part of this very multifaceted equation.

While affection may be a tricky emotional concept for your husband, the basic idea of affection is very real. Balancing affection within a marriage is what will bring on a variety of experiences, both negative and positive. With straightforward discussion about emotions, your husband should be able to understand the concept affection, and be successful at it. He probably already does understand this concept at some level, but doesn’t show it as frequently as you may like.

Unless it feels artificial to you, there’s nothing wrong with asking your husband to show you some affection when you need it (e.g., “kiss me” … “hold me” … “give me a hug” … etc.). Some women feel that if they have to ask, the affection is simply fake, which is certainly understandable. Unfortunately, these women may never receive displays of affection. Even though “asking for affection” seems like settling for second best, it may be better than nothing.

We all should feel comfortable with asking for what we need. If we don't, then we have no room to complain. And, using the excuse "Well, if I have to ask, then forget it ...I'll do without" sets us up for feelings of resentment in the long run. So ask. If after asking, we still do not get our needs met... well, that's a completely different story - and the topic for another article on how we need to begin the process of taking care of ourselves by getting our needs met elsewhere!



•    Anonymous said… Affection doesn't seem to be in his vocabulary unfortunately. I would so love a proper hug from him or an unprompted I love you. Even a Wow you look lovely  :( x
•    Anonymous said… Based on my experience.... rarely if ever....
•    Anonymous said… For crying out loud, it's called communication. How about when some NT guy grabs you without permission and acts entitled to your personal space? I've heard a lot of women complain about having their space violated by some creep. It's not a bad idea when you're dating someone to just ease into various PDAs. You cozy up and sometimes move their arm where you want it, so they feel comfortable holding you or whatnot. If they initiate, a lot of social anxiety comes up around doing something wrong, and they will hesitate. A lot of folks on the spectrum whom I know are best when folks bother to ask at first, and build up that trust. It's good for all kinds of folks.
•    Anonymous said… How come there's is never any focus on partners of aspie women? It's all partners of aspie men. I understand love and affection but dislike touch beyond my children and grandchildren hugging me and cuddling and so on.
•    Anonymous said… I am an aspie and I have no problem understanding the concept of affection. Most of the time, I enjoy displaying my affection to the people I love through kisses, hugs and such gestures. However, when my sensory hypersensitivity is at its worst and/or when I feel overwhelmed, I experience intense feelings of claustrophobia and any form of physical contact becomes almost unbearable. That might (partly) explain your husband's attitude. I hope this is useful.
•    Anonymous said… I can feel affection but do not want to touch them or have them touch me.
•    Anonymous said… I have asked for a hug to be given everyday. Usually, one of us remembers to do it and when it happens it feels wonderful! It feels genuine and affectionate and he seems to enjoy it as much as I do.
•    Anonymous said… I think you have hit the nail on the head. We are expected to confirm. It's incredibly stressful as an aspie woman. There is little or no awareness out there I believe !!!
•    Anonymous said… I understand the concept of affection but don't like being touched. Could this be your husband's issue? If so then maybe talk to him about how you both can show affection without the overwhelming-ness of physical contact. Like telling you how he feels for you, or giving small handmade gifts, what ever suits you both.
•    Anonymous said… I'm an Aspie Romantic I guess.But I have so many ASD friends who I've tried to help understand what it is their spouses want and need. Only one I think is hopeless.Please don't quit trying!!!! Because when they DO start to show you, you'll be swimming in the depth of their love and devotion and everyone will ask you why you're always smiling!
•    Anonymous said… Interested in the bit about it feeling fake if you have to ask, as this is something I've always felt. Do I just have to look for the ways he does care (i.e. endless "tasks") or when he does respond when I ask, is this "real" or just a mechanical response to a request for affection.
•    Anonymous said… Mine thrives on affection. He is one with a very outgoing personality. His love languages are attention, affection and affirmation
•    Anonymous said… My bf doesn't seem to like public affection. But he is very affectionate, depending on his mood, but "big bear hugs" don't ever happen from his initiative. And if i "squeeze" too long, he doesn't like it.
•    Anonymous said… Of course we feel effection we just can't show it the same way as NT people many of the ways NT's the truth is most aspies and autistics feel affection far more deeply than NT's we just show it differently as we don't know how to show it the same way as typical people. Your having doubts because he can't show it the same way as a typical person. Most typical people believe you show love and affection by compromising and giving into what the other person wants or with body language or expressions we can't do those things so we show affection in otherwise usually by doing something often going out of our way to do something or putting a lot of thought into something and I found with my own partner and other partners of autistic and aspies that they don't recognise this as an attempt to show affection often disregarding it upsetting us. We also like to be able to see people we have affection for so just hang around them and follow them around if he stays with you a lot just being their that's a sign of affection aswell as changing or stopping what he is doing is another sign as he is trying to make you comfortable.
•    Anonymous said… That is a pretty loaded question. If you mean "understand true affection in the way you do and want to receive it", perhaps not. But many neurotypicals don't understand that either. Read the Five Love Languages yourself first (if you haven't) in order to fully understand what you mean by "true affection". Then read it with him and let him know what *you* need to feel loved. You might also want to work with him on finding out what makes him feel loved and what he believes he does do that he thinks is loving behaviour. You might not realize what his displays of love actually are. That is because the 5LL is written from a lot of NT assumptions. For example, for me, giving my loved one lots of space and time alone is an act of love.
•    Anonymous said… They don't feel ur POV, like u feel theirs. NTs believe that love brings out loving/compromising behaviors. Empathy is rarely demonstrated.
•    Anonymous said… Unfortunately the problem is fewer women are diagnosed and even fewer share their diagnosis. We suffer the same fate as NT women - we're expected to conform. Men can be open about having aspergers but women are expected to act like the good wifey.  It's even worse having been in an AS/AS relationship - hearing aspergers put down by NT women while having AS men put you down because apparently dating an AS man somehow means you must be NT and therefore "the enemy".
•    Anonymous said… We feel affection like anyone else. PDAs & the like are difficult for me. We're a little more inhibited with those things.
•    Anonymous said… You should make a group and have everyone that follows this page join the group. Then it's closed instead of being public and more could help and be comfortable commenting. Just an idea.
*    Anonymous said... I love going on vacations with him. He let's me in. We cuddle and have lots of excessive time to feel each other. But when we go home to our separate houses, it's over. Back to work. Little closeness. It makes me think it was all fake.
*    Unknown said...You have to tell him what you expect from him. Either write it down or gently but firmly tell him exactly when,where,what,how and the frequency. Have a callendar and schedule what you need. Remind him if he forgets. If he rejects your ideas then leave him and find someone who you are compatible with. Don't accept settling for less, you will regret and resent him forever.
*    Unknown said...This is so true! You have to teach him what you need. It you don't, you aren't giving him a chance. But if he refuses, pack your stuff and never look back! You WILL resent him if you accept a lonely life.

Post your comment below…


  1. My wife on the Spectum. Wasn't diagnosed until we were 4 years into our marriage. I was so in love that I didnt notice the lack of affection at first. 8 years in and I'm craving some attention initiated by her. Im looking at this from the perspective that I needed a soul lesson: I needed to learn to love unconditionally. Loving someone that doesnt stroke my ego. I'm learning to love without expectation.

  2. Ive been married to a man on the spectrum for 18 years. I accept him as he is and have never tried to change him. But I have on at least 4 occasions during our marriage had a long talk with him about my desperate need for affection and words of affirmation. I thought it would be enough to appreciate the ways he does show his love for me… But that’s a head knowledge and doesn’t seem to translate at all emotionally… I KNOW I am loved but I don’t FEEL like I’m loved :(
    When I try and speak to him about it he tends to get a little bit defensive. And nothing ever changes. I thought if he understood how much I need it then he could really try to do it or learn how to do it… But he does nothing.

    1. I’ve had the same conversation several times with my husband during our 35 year marriage. He cannot articulate why he isn’t affectionate or never says anything nice. Nothing ever changes. And he gets very defensive. I tell him I am sharing how I feel and that I am desperate for affection and empathy and words of affirmation and that even a little affection and warmth would make a huge change in my life but nothing ever changes. I am worn out. It is only recently that I have come to the conclusion that he is probably on the spectrum. He refuses to speak to a professional.


Popular Posts

Chat for Adults with HFA and Aspergers