May 24, 2023
Navigating concerns in relationships are never easy. Couples often do not know where to start or how to find help. This is also the case for neurodivergent couples.
Neurodivergent couples, comprised of individuals with varying neurological differences, face unique relationship challenges. These differences can include conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and others. However, with understanding, communication, and the implementation of effective strategies, neurodivergent couples can build strong and fulfilling relationships. In this blog post, we will explore some of the common problems faced by neurodivergent couples, strategies for addressing these challenges, and provide references for further reading and support.
Some Common Problems in Neurodivergent Couples:
1. Communication Differences: Neurodivergent individuals often have distinct communication styles, leading to potential misunderstandings or difficulties in conveying thoughts, emotions, or intentions effectively.
2. Sensory Sensitivities: Some neurodivergent individuals may experience heightened sensory sensitivities, affecting their comfort levels and ability to engage in certain activities with their partner.
3. Executive Functioning Differences: Challenges such as planning, organization, time management, and impulsivity can create frustration and imbalances within the relationship.
4. Emotional Regulation: Neurodivergent individuals may struggle with emotional regulation, leading to intense emotions that can impact the dynamics of the relationship.
5. Social Interaction: Some neurodivergent individuals may find social situations challenging, impacting their ability to engage in social activities with their partner.
Some Strategies for Overcoming Challenges:
1. Open and Honest Communication: Encouraging open dialogue, active listening, and visual aids or written communication methods can help bridge communication gaps. Conversations about the different ways both partners are more comfortable expressing themselves and allocating time to practice recognizing the differences in communication will provide a good foundation for the relationship. It would be essential to organize thoughts (you can use visual organizers to help organize your thinking ahead of time) and to focus on one concern/ topic at a time to give space and time to hear each other and show support.
2. Building Empathy and Understanding: Understanding and empathizing with each other’s unique experiences and perspectives provide a sense of trust and safety. A way to work around this is to learn about each other’s varying executive functioning skills and where each partner can support the other.
3. Establishing Routines and Structure: Creating predictable routines and structures can assist with managing executive functioning differences, reducing stress, and maintaining stability.
4. Sensory Accommodations: Identifying and addressing sensory triggers can involve creating sensory-friendly environments, discussing preferences, and finding compromises that promote comfort for both partners. Both partners must create a time and space for themselves in their home to provide some downtime/ decompression or reduce sensory overload.
5. Intimacy: Whether sexual, emotional, or physical intimacy is a concern – re-contextualizing understanding of these aspects of intimacy and each partner’s capacity for connection must be discussed and explored.
6. Emotional Regulation Techniques: Implementing strategies such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, journaling, exercise, and therapy can aid in managing intense emotions and developing healthier coping mechanisms. You will need to learn to recognize how much sensory input overwhelms you and specific ways to recover from distress/overwhelm, so you can support your body and return to your baseline. Instead of zoning out, learn how to “tune in”.
7. Seeking Professional Support: Couples therapy or counselling from professionals experienced in working with neurodivergent individuals can provide valuable guidance and support.
8. Respect: One of the first things we forget when concerns arise is respecting each other and considering individual differences. Both partners must remember that feeling hurt is not always expressed in only one way. We must learn to respect each other’s perspectives, feelings, and needs by hearing the other person out before jumping into solving perceived problems.
Neurodivergent couples face unique challenges due to their varying neurological differences. By acknowledging and understanding these differences, implementing effective communication strategies, and seeking support when needed, couples can build strong and fulfilling relationships. Remember, every relationship is unique, and it’s crucial to tailor strategies to suit individual needs. With patience, empathy, and perseverance, neurodivergent couples can overcome challenges and cultivate meaningful connections. While this post is not extensive, we hope to provide a starting point for your search.
***We do not endorse one particular organization or treatment modality for neurodivergent individuals and couples. Considering the couple’s unique situation and differences is essential when deciding on therapy options. It is always best to contact a professional when looking into couples therapy.
Written by: Bernadette Street
All pictures obtained royalty free through https://www.pexels.com/
Some references for Further Reading and Support:
- “The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders” – A peer-reviewed journal publishing research on autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders.
- “The ADHD Effect on Marriage” by Melissa Orlov – A book exploring the impact of ADHD on relationships and providing strategies for managing its effects.
- Autism Spectrum News (https://autismspectrumnews.org/the-superpowers-of-neurodiverse-couples/) “The Superpowers of Neurodiverse Couples” by Leslie A. Sickels – A web article exploring acceptance and accentuating strengths.
- Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org) – An organization that promotes autism awareness and provides resources for individuals and families.
- “The Asperger’s Couple’s Workbook” by Maxine Aston offers practical exercises and strategies for couples with Asperger’s syndrome.
- ADDitude Magazine (www.additudemag.com) – An online resource providing information and support for individuals with ADHD and their partners.