Why Your Partner Says “NO!” To Therapy When You Suspect Autism

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Counseling Has Not Been Helpful

You’ve been to other therapists, you’ve been to other counselors, and it’s just been a disaster.  Now, after a lot of research and reading, you think your partner is autistic (some people still use the term “Asperger’s”) and you want to see a neurodiversity specialist.

Your partner’s reaction, though, is “Nope, I’m done. We’ve tried this. I’m not doing it again.” 

You’re probably thinking,

I really need them to understand how much I’ve been hurt,”

and your feelings are valid, too.

You feel frustrated. You feel angry. You feel hurt. I know why your partner is digging in their heels – and it’s a valid reason. 

It Feels Like Standing In Front of a Firing Squad

To your partner, though, it feels like standing in front of a firing squad. They have been identified as “the problem.” Many autistic partners say to me something like “Now my partner believes that it’s been me. I am the source. I am the cause of all the problems.” 

Who wants to go into counseling or coaching under those premises? I wouldn’t. Unfortunately, a lot of counselors who aren’t familiar with neurodiversity do approach it that way.  It is called having an “identified patient,” who is the primary problem in the relationship. The entire focus becomes about autism and how it is contributing to relationship issues. 

“Fixing” Your Partner’s Neurodiverse Traits is Not The Solution

Many people ask me to help their partner with the neurodiverse traits and behaviors that are causing problems in the relationship. The trouble with this goal is that many of those traits are hard-wired as much as your neurotypical traits are hard-wired.

The problem is not your partner’s neurodiversity – it is your differences from each other. When you approach the relationship challenges by wanting your partner’s traits to be different, you are essentially wishing for your partner’s hard-wired neurology to be more like yours.

I had a partner who was an entire foot taller than me. I wished he wouldn’t leave the driver’s seat in the car so far from the steering wheel – I couldn’t even reach the pedals! His height was not the problem, though – it was the difference in my height and his that was the problem. Likewise, he hated when I left the seat so near that steering wheel that his knees got bashed when he first sat down. I couldn’t be taller and he couldn’t be shorter, but we COULD recognize our differences and each make efforts to accommodate the other. If either of us had blamed the other for this challenge and made the other responsible for the problem, it would have been hurtful.

Mixed neurotype couples often fall into this trap, though. Both partners struggle to recognize the validity of the other partner’s way of thinking and feeling. Both have expectations of their own, standards of their own, values, beliefs, and opinions, and both often see the other partner as the problem.

Autism and other neurodivergences like ADHD are often labeled as pathological disorders when, in reality, these individuals are often the creative minds and problem-solvers of our world. From a social standpoint, our society has blamed neurodivergent individuals for not being more neurotypical – and our medical model has pathologized them.

As human beings, we have so many differences. Some are more readily accepted than others. Humanity needs all neurotypes, and all kinds of thinkers, feelers, and do-ers! In a relationship, a mixed-neurotype couple can actually be a “power couple,” if both partners acknowledge and embrace their differences from one another without blame or trying to make each other change.

Each of you is different in what you are bringing to the relationship:

  • How your brain works
  • How your sensory system works
  • How each of your personalities has its own unique quirks, strengths, and weaknesses

Both of you have different ways of using language and handling conflict and you are both bringing personal and relationship baggage to your relationship. If one of you is autistic, then it has contributed to the confusion and misunderstanding, but not because autism is “the problem.” You have each had vastly different expectations and ways of thinking and feeling AND you weren’t aware of these differences. It’s a two-way misunderstanding. 

Neither of you is solely to blame for the problems in the relationship, but you both are accountable for making the relationship work. 

Blaming one person for the problems in the relationship is dysfunctional and will drive a bigger wedge in your relationship.  Both of you are responsible, though, for learning about yourself and how your personal traits and preferences affect your partner and the relationship.

Past hurts and previous issues cannot be resolved until you can clearly see your differences without judgment and learn to hear each other in order to understand each other. It is pointless to address things that have happened in the past if you don’t know how to have a meaningful conversation that brings clarity. It’s like trying to have that conversation in two different languages. This contributes to rehashing over and over again, which is not helpful and not useful, and leads you to where you are now. 

To get clarity about yourself and your partner, start with learning how to communicate in a way that fosters connection instead of conflict and resentment. In my communication program, Crack the Communication Code, I have two courses:

  • Battle Busters – Discover a tool to drastically reduce the volume and intensity of conflict.
  • Relationship 2.0 – Discover 4 stages of communication, and how each stage contributes to confusion and misunderstanding. Develop critical skills for interacting in a way that connects.

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