10 Characteristics of Neurodiverse Couples 

What is a Neurodiverse Couple?

When seeking help and clarity about your relationship, you may have seen terms like “neurodiverse couples,” or “neurodiverse relationships.”

Let’s take a look at what it all means and some common characteristics of neurodiverse couples.

“Neurodivergent” is a term that describes individuals with brains that function differently from the typical or “neurotypical” population. Examples of neurodivergence are autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia.

A neurodiverse couple includes at least one neurodivergent partner, but both partners may be neurodivergent. This means that each partner’s brain thinks, feels, and processes language, social interactions, and sensory perceptions differently from the other.

Neurodiverse relationships are often challenging due to these differences, particularly when partners are unaware of their differences. However, many neurodiverse relationships can be satisfying and fulfilling when partners develop insight and skills for navigating their differences. 

Common Traits of Neurodiverse Couples

In my career as a therapist and coach working with neurodiverse couples and individual partners, I have seen that many neurodiverse relationships have similar dynamics and patterns. Below, I have listed ten common features:

You may be a neurodiverse couple if you recognize FIVE or more of these characteristics in your own relationship. 

1. FAMILY HISTORY OF NEURODIVERGENCE

Is one or more of your children is diagnosed with autism, ADHD, sensory/auditory processing differences, or a learning disability.

Do either of you have a sibling, parent, grandchild, niece or nephew that has one of the above diagnoses? Are there family members who have been described as “quirky,” “odd,” “set in their ways,” “socially awkward,” or “rigid?”

A study in 2016 found that 80% of autistic traits in children are hereditary (Sadegi & Khanjani, n.d.). This means adults and other family members also carry these genetic traits and characteristics, as well.

2. CAREERS IN MATH/SCIENCES AND HELPING PROFESSIONS

Does the following apply to at least one of you?

  • A career in engineering, computer science, information technology, or finance
  • Excels in math, science, musical arts, or creative arts.
  • A career in a teaching or helping profession such as social work, counseling/psychology, nursing/medicine, physical/occupational/speech therapy. 

3. SPECIAL INTERESTS

At least one of you spends a great deal of time on a hobby or special interest(s). These special interests may often be prioritized over tasks such as household chores, managing bills, and parenting. When talking about special interests, cues may be missed that others are getting bored with the topic. Special interests may change over time.

4. ROUTINES, RITUALS, AND STRUCTURE

One or both of you prefers specific routines, rituals, habits, or even foods, clothes, soaps, and other products. One of you may wear the same brand or style of clothing or shoes for years. You may be content eating the same meals over and over. A change in routine, or a spontaneous suggestion, might create distress that results in an intense outburst or a shutdown of some kind. 

5. OVER-FUNCTIONING AND OVER-THINKING

One partner is highly competent, but also becomes overwhelmed from ruminating about various concerns and decision for the family. This partner is constantly exhausted from household management, parenting, and often from supporting the other partner’s mental health, social relations, and career stress. This partner may also handle family relationships and social engagements with friends and community organizations. 

6. EMOTIONAL FLUENCY

Emotions may cause confusion in the relationship. As a couple, you may experience significant variation in how emotions are experienced and expressed, leading to misunderstandings. Individual partners often experience resentment, and may feel judged or criticized. 

7. AFFIRMATION AND EXPRESSION OF LOVE

One of you routinely feels ignored or invisible, and frequently seeks affirmation of love and value. The other partner is not intentionally withholding attention, love, or affection, but sees repetitive affirmations of love as unnecessary and exhausting. 

8. HISTORY OF TRAUMATIC OR ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP(S)

One of you has previously been in an abusive relationship. This may have been a parental relationship in childhood or a former romantic partner or spouse. Abuse includes verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual or physical behaviors that are destructive and harmful. This person may have been attracted to the current partner relationship because he or she felt emotionally stable and safe. 

9. COMMUNCATION DIFFICULTIES

Clear communication is very difficult for both of you, particularly with each other even though you may not have difficulties at work or with other people. Conflict is common, but resolution is rare. Disagreements may last for hours and result in exhaustion and lack of sleep. 

10. SEX AND INTIMACY

Both of you are dissatisfied with your sex life. Sex may have been physically fulfilling at some point, but a connection that leads to intimacy and closeness has been hard to achieve. The purpose and goal of sex seems different for each of you, and it is hard for you to feel aligned, sexually, as a couple. 

RELATIONSHIP SUPPORT FOR NEURODIVERSE COUPLES

If you recognize your relationship in this list, it is worth discussing the possibility of neurodiversity in your relationship with a trusted professional. If you frequently argue and are consistently experiencing conflict, it is not advisable to approach your partner about neurodiversity without the guidance of a professional. It is important to approach this conversation with sensitivity and respect and to avoid any blaming or finger-pointing.

Seek out a professional who specializes in neurodiversity and has experience working with neurodiverse couples – this may be a professional neurodiversity coach or a licensed therapist. Many providers are still learning about neurodiversity, so be sure to ask about experience with adult couples as well as personal experience with neurodiversity.

About ME

Although my professional training and experience have provided tremendous insight, my own neurodiverse relationships have been my personal training ground for understanding and embracing neurodiversity. In over two decades, I  have helped thousands of individuals, couples, families, students, and colleagues in over 13 countries as a THERAPIST, PROFESSOR, COACH, and GLOBAL EDUCATOR