7 Signs of Neurodivergent Masking in Your Adult Partner



Signs of Neurodivergent Masking in Your Adult Partner

In recent years, the term “neurodivergent” has gained traction as a way to describe individuals whose neurological development and functioning diverge from what is considered typical or neurotypical. This includes types of differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. 

“Masking” is a practice of filtering internal thoughts and adjusting natural behaviors and traits to fit societal expectations – it’s something we all do. Masking is necessary for social survival, but can be exhausting and detrimental to the mental health of neurodivergent individuals due to the mental energy involved. 

Additionally, people who are neurodivergent often struggle to understand social cues and norms which makes it harder for them to blend in social settings. Understanding and identifying signs of neurodivergent masking in a relationship can help you support a partner and help them avoid burnout. Here are seven signs of neurodivergent masking in adults:

1. Social Exhaustion

Social interactions can be taxing for many neurodivergent individuals, particularly when they are masking. This exhaustion often goes beyond typical social fatigue and can manifest as extreme tiredness, needing extended alone time to recover, or feeling completely drained after social events. A partner might seem energetic and engaging in social settings but later describe feeling utterly depleted.

2. Scripted Conversations

Many neurodivergent adults use rehearsed scripts for social interactions to navigate conversations smoothly. These scripts can range from standard greetings to entire dialogues practiced in advance. While this can facilitate smoother social exchanges, it can also lead to anxiety when conversations deviate from the script. In romantic relationships, it can result in conversations feeling inauthentic and lacking depth. Your partner may sometimes seem overly rehearsed, or may quote lines from movies or songs, and may struggle when the dialogue takes an unexpected turn.

3. Mimicking Behaviors

To blend in, neurodivergent individuals might mimic the behaviors, speech patterns, and body language of those around them. This can include adopting accents, using specific phrases, or copying gestures and facial expressions. While mimicking can be a natural part of learning social cues, in neurodivergent individuals, it often becomes a strategic effort to appear more neurotypical. In a partner relationship, this may feel like a partner is “mirroring,” opinions or behaviors instead of contributing genuine thoughts and feelings.

4. Delayed Responses

When masking, processing social information and formulating appropriate responses can take extra cognitive effort. This can result in noticeable delays in conversation, where an individual might pause longer before responding. They may appear to be thinking deeply about their responses, which is often the case as they navigate the complexities of masking their natural reactions. In a relationship, it is important to give a neurodivergent partner time and space to process thoughts in order to respond.

5. Inconsistent Eye Contact

Maintaining eye contact is frequently challenging for neurodivergent individuals. Some might force themselves to maintain eye contact because they know it’s a social expectation, leading to discomfort and distraction. Others might switch between making intense eye contact and avoiding it entirely. This inconsistency can be a sign that someone is masking their natural tendencies to align with social norms. If you ask your partner to make eye contact as a means of connecting with you, it may result in your partner focusing more on maintaining eye contact than what you are saying or doing, which is the opposite of what you are hoping to achieve.

6. Uncharacteristic Social Behavior

Friends or family might notice that your neurodivergent partner behaves differently in public compared to private settings. For example, they might be more reserved or overly outgoing in social situations, contrasting with their natural personality seen at home. This shift often stems from the pressure to conform, causing a disparity between their authentic self and the version they present to others. Neurodivergent masking is not an attempt to deceive others, but is often a concerted effort to fit in that comes more naturally to neurotypicals.

7. Overanalyzing Social Interactions

After social interactions, neurodivergent individuals who mask may spend significant time replaying conversations and scrutinizing their behavior. They might worry about social faux pas, misinterpretations, or whether they successfully masked their neurodivergent traits to others in social settings. This constant overanalysis can contribute to anxiety and stress, impacting overall well-being. 

Recognizing and Addressing Masking

Neurodivergent Masking in Neurodiverse Relationships

Understanding these signs is crucial for creating a more supportive environment for your neurodivergent partner. Here are some steps to help recognize and address masking:

  • Make Home a Safe Space: When your neurodivergent partner is at home, whether you live together, or they are in your home, make it safe for them to be themselves without judgment. It is critical to recognize that your partner’s neurodivergent masking is an effort to connect with you and is not intended to be dishonest or to fool you. 
  • Promote Open Communication: Foster open dialogues about neurodiversity and masking. Encouraging your neurodivergent partner to share their experiences in order to reduce the pressure to mask to feel accepted and loved.
  • Educate Yourself and Others: Learning about neurodiversity and the challenges of neurodivergent masking can help you better understand and support your partner. Consider taking courses, reading books, blogs, watching videos, and engaging in discussions on the topic.
  • Support Self-Advocacy: Empower your neurodivergent partner to advocate for their needs and preferences. This can include requesting accommodations at work, seeking therapy, or joining neurodivergent communities for mutual support.

Conclusion

Neurodivergent masking is a complex and multifaceted experience that many adults navigate daily. By recognizing the specific signs of neurodivergent masking, you can support a neurodivergent partner in relaxing with you and sharing their authentic selves. Understanding and empathy are key to promoting a healthy relationship by fostering an environment that values your differences from one another.

Interested in learning more about neurodivergent masking from a neurodiverse relationship expert? Contact me today!

FAQs: Neurodivergent Relationships 

Neurodivergent individuals can absolutely thrive in relationships, just like anyone else. While neurodiversity may present unique challenges in communication and social interaction, it doesn’t diminish the capacity for meaningful connections. In fact, many neurodivergent individuals bring unique perspectives, strengths, and qualities to their relationships. Successful partner relationships are built on a foundation of trust, communication, and mutual respect, all of which must be cultivated over time. In your own neurodiverse relationship, focus on open and direct communication, active listening, and recognizing your partner’s perspective as valid (even if it is different from your own) in order to have stronger and more fulfilling relationships.

Intimacy issues in neurodivergent individuals can manifest in various ways, often stemming from differences in communication preferences, sensory sensitivities, and emotional regulation. Some neurodivergent individuals may struggle with recognizing and expressing emotions, leading to difficulties in forming deep emotional connections with their partners. Sensory sensitivities can also impact physical intimacy, as certain sensations may be overwhelming or uncomfortable. Additionally, challenges in recognizing nonverbal cues can create misunderstandings and confusion. However, with patience and understanding from both partners along with clear, effective communication, neurodivergent individuals can navigate these challenges and cultivate fulfilling and intimate connections with their partners.

Neurodivergent individuals, like all people, have diverse personality types that are not inherently tied to their neurodivergence. Neurodiversity encompasses a broad range of neurological variations, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others, each with its own unique characteristics and traits. While there may be some overlap in personality traits among individuals with similar neurodivergent conditions, it is important to recognize that neurodivergent individuals, like neurotypical individuals, can have a wide range of personalities, interests, strengths, and challenges. Have fun in your own neurodiverse relationship by discovering your personality differences and chatting about how these differences show up in your relationship. 

Neurodivergent individuals express love in diverse and meaningful ways, often influenced by their unique neurology and sensory experiences. Some may show love through thoughtful gestures, such as offering practical help or creating structured routines that promote a sense of security. Others may express love through deep, focused conversations with people who matter to them. Additionally, neurodivergent individuals may express love through big or small acts of service like making a partner coffee every morning, keeping a partner’s car maintained, or providing financial security through budget and investment management. Understanding and appreciating these diverse expressions of love can strengthen relationships with neurodivergent individuals and foster deeper connections. In any kind of relationship, it is important to remember that each person is unique in how they show love and that meeting a partner’s expectations is not how love is expressed and measured.

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