So, you’re in a relationship with someone who has Asperger syndrome (AS) or high-functioning autism (HFA). You understand that this is a “developmental” disorder, right? In other words, this person is emotionally lagging behind his or her chronological age. For example, he/she may be 35 years old, but their emotional age is more like an 18-year-old.
In the fullest sense of the phrase, their social/emotional brain is under-developed, and will pretty much stay that way - to one degree or another - their entire life.
Understanding Your “Immature” Partner with ASD—
1. Immature simply means “not fully developed.” By nature, your AS or HFA partner may not understand how to respond to typical social situations. He/she is most likely NOT trying to be difficult, however.
2. Due to this immaturity-factor, your partner may come off as inconsiderate, unable to accept blame for his/her relationship mistakes.
3. Emotionally immature individuals are often manipulative and controlling, and they do so as a way to cope with their anxiety (i.e., they hate change, so they feel a strong need to control the situation). Most people on the autism spectrum are “high-anxiety,” which can trigger emotionally immature reactions (i.e., “age regression”), and this can blur the lines between adult and childish emotions.
4. Unfortunately, it may be particularly difficult for an emotionally immature person to realize she needs to change, because a hallmark of immaturity is blaming others for her struggles.
5. An AS or HFA partner who is emotionally immature may often:
- act out his emotions (e.g., explosive anger, sudden crying, etc.)
- appear to always be justifying his actions to himself and others
- be manipulative
- motivated by fear or a feeling that he "has to do something"
- be reactive
- overly-concerned with self-protection
- feel the need to avoid failure, discomfort, and rejection
- see himself as a victim
6. People with AS and HFA who are emotionally immature:
- feel that they can’t change their situation or improve their life
- find it difficult to cope with their emotions
- may not have learned how to face and handle difficult emotions
- often act-out from a place of fear, feeling that they must protect themselves from uncomfortable emotions
- often experience “learned helplessness” (see video below - and share with your Aspie)
While you may be tempted to respond to your AS or HFA partner immaturely as well, giving them a taste of their own medicine, this will backfire in a big way. It’s risky to egg-on an immature partner who is often on the edge of having a meltdown – or shutdown – anyway.
Use your social support network. Find a friend, family member, therapist, or any one else who will provide moral support (and advice if desired) during “the tough times.”
P.S. Resentment on the part of the NT partner is not uncommon in situations such as this. So, don't beat up on yourself if this is the case with you.
Resources for Neurodiverse Couples: