I am a Neurotypical girlfriend of my boyfriend who has been diagnosed with Asperger's very early on, while he was still in school. I have been with my boyfriend for 4 years and we are long distance.
I have read quite a lot on Asperger's and I understand his need for space and solitude. I am aware of why he sometimes shuts down on me and that it's not meant to intentionally hurt me at all. From my observations, I have seen that when he shuts down, he doesn't talk to me at all, even if I try to connect with him. I'm not the only person who experiences this problem, his friends have told me that he doesn't talk to them during this time either.
He often gets distracted and struggles to focus on more than one thing at a time. He can't multi-task at all because of his intense focus on one thing. When he is focused, he blocks everything else out. It's almost like he is totally immersed into his special interest. It seems that he has no awareness of how much time has passed since we have last talked. Usually when he shuts down, he goes no longer than 2 weeks. This tends to happen more so when he's off college for the summer.
I know that he still loves and cares for me and when we are together we get along extremely well. Our chemistry is amazing and always has been. He makes me feel loved and always makes it up to me after shutting down. We always talk a lot when he isn't shutting down and everything feels amazing when we are talking. We enjoy eachother's company when we are together in person and we share a lot of the same interests. We always have really enjoyable conversations together. Our relationship is amazing and I think we have bonded a lot together over the time we have been in our relationship. Our relationship is something that I treasure and wish not to throw it all away because of an issue. I wish to work through it in order for us both to become stronger.
The only problem I have with him shutting down is that it happens so randomly and I have no idea when it's going to happen until I get no response from him at all. This often can make me feel as if I have done something wrong. It feels like he's isolating himself from me and I often feel a little bit insecure because of this. I'm so used to getting his attention and then it just completely stops.
Is there a way to get him to be more open with me about this issue and talk to me about it?
Could there be any strategies I can use to cope with his shutdowns?
Could there be a way to get him to tell me when he needs space or would this just spontaneously happen?
Could it be that he's not able to say when he needs this time?
I don't think he's aware that this is causing me worry and distress. I am aware that him shutting down is definately unintentional. He probably doesn't know how this is making me feel.
Person's Gender: Female
Person's Age: 20
Reading books about Asperger's. The books didn't offer a lot of help and support on times of solitude.
Mentioning the issue to him. Confrontation is usually avoided, unless he's completely focused on the conversation or if we're together in person. I don't think he's aware how this is affecting me.
Hello. My name is XXXXX XXXXX X would like to help you as best as I can. It can be quite difficult to understand when a person with Asperger's has an episode of extreme withdrawal and it seems particularly unsettling in your case where things, for all appearances, are going very well and then out of no where you're shut out. The "shutting down" may be a result of him feeling overwhelmed or anxious with something which may have absolutely nothing to do with you, but his way of coping with it ends up in isolation. Since you've done some reading already, I am sure that you've learned to be direct and literal as often as possible when communicating with him. I also know that it is hard to confront him about your concerns given what you've included in your description. However, I also can tell that, even though you love him and enjoy being with him, it hurts when he cuts you and everyone else off.I recommend that the next time you are together, you ask him to talk to you about the situation and that you let him know 1) you understand that he needs these times, 2) you need a warning from him so that you don't worry (like a quick phone call to say that he needs some "quiet time" or "reflection time" - whatever you two want to call it), and 3) let him know that without a warning you begin to worry or become anxious and that you know he cares about you and would not want you to go through that. I know that people generally view conflict as a negative thing and therefor try to avoid it, but without conflict people don't take action and things don't change. It seems to me that you are at a point where you need some change to happen in this relationship. I hope this has helped. If you need additional assistance regarding your concern, please send me a response and I'm happy to work on this further with you. Also, if you let me know what books you've read, I may be able to recommend something else as well.
Support services (assessment, diagnosis and treatment) for autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, dyslexia, and learning disabilities.
Hi Stephanie, thank you for your advice! It is much appreciated. I'm really glad that I have found someone who has an excellent knowledge of Asperger's. I find that not many people know a lot about this subject and I feel that your advice has helped a lot. You are very correct in how it's making me feel and it is definately hard to confront him with my concerns. It's really nice to have someone who understands :)
I often have trouble bringing issues up in person because I don't want to create anxiety for my boyfriend. I'm wondering what would be the best way to go about bringing this up into conversation without him feeling like I'm just complaining? I don't want it to become a big misunderstanding and for him to think I'm "attacking" or just "criticising" him in any way.
I did however, read in a book that a way to address an issue would be to say what the problem is, how it makes me feel and what I'd like him to do about it. I find that this definately works with him, as I have tried it before.
I have so far read;
Loving Someone with Asperger's Syndrome by Cindy Ariel.
The Asperger Couple's Workbook by Maxine Aston.
The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome by Maxine Aston.
Connecting With Your Asperger Partner: Negotiating the Maze of Intimacy by Louise Weston.
Asperger Syndrome: A Love Story by Keith Newton and Sarah Hendrickx
An Asperger Marriage by Gisela Slater-Walker and Chris Slater-Walker.
I am also currently reading Aspergers in Love by Maxine Aston.
A lot of the books have been extremely helpful and it's taken me a very long time to get my head around how people with Asperger's think. I feel there's still a lot to understand about them though. I'm trying to get as many perspectives from writers as possible in order to understand, as it's a very complex condition, as you are already aware :)
You have definitely put in the time to make this relationship work and to better understand your boyfriend's perspective as a person with Asperger's is. Since you have found success with the approach of stating the problem, how it makes you feel, and what you would like him to do about it, I would continue to use that strategy in this situation as well. If he begins to show signs of feeling attacked or anxious, let him know that you are not blaming him and that you are letting him know what you need from him because you love him and want to keep the relationship working for both of you. The more direct you are (i.e. don't insenuate or expect him to read into what you say for the real meaning) the more likely he will understand and be able to meet your needs in the relationship.If you haven't already gotten it, another book that may be helpful is Alone Together: Making an Asperger's Marriage Work by Katrina Bentley & Tony Atwood . Although it is about marriage, there may still be useful information for your current situation and/or future situation(s).Based on what you've shared, it seems that you are on the right track. I hope that what I've shared has helped. Please let me know if I can help further or feel free to request me in the future if you need additional support.
Thank you so much! If there's any other problems in the future I will definately contact you again. I really appreciate your help :)
Hello again. I'm just following up to see how things are going with your situation and whether there is anything else I can help you with. Please let me know if there is and again I wish you the best.Regards,Stephanie
Hi Stephanie. I haven't been to see him yet, but after I do, I will let you know how things go. Thank you for checking. :)
You are most welcome.Regards,Stephanie
Things went really well and I am feeling a lot more reassured and understanding. It feels like we are on the same page with eachother now, more than before.
We were talking a few days before I went to go and see him and he wasn't really responding very well on chat. I pointed it out and he apologised for the delay in responce. He told me that he was reading while talking to me and that his brain was in 2 different states. I asked what he meant by this and he said that his brain doesn't agree with him when he tries to do two things at once. I kept this in mind until I went to go and see him in person. I thought this would be a good way to start a conversation about it and for him to open up to me about Asperger's, so that I had clarification from him and more understanding of how it affects him.
Before I went to go and see him, a friend of mine who has Asperger's told me that talking in the dark might help my boyfriend because he will not be trying to figure out my body language and social queues. My friend also said that this will help him focus more on what's being said.
When I went to go and see him, I decided to wait until before we went to sleep to mention it. I asked him what he meant when he said the other day that his brain didn't agree with him doing two things at once. He was surprisingly very open with me about it and was willing to discuss it with me. He explained to me that if he's doing something that requires more of his concentration than what the other task requires, his brain will go into tunnel vision. He told me he would focus on that one thing and block everything else out. He also said he gets distracted very easily. I asked him if he could perhaps give me future warning of when this is about to happen. He explained that he has no control over when this occurs and he has no awareness that it's happening until I've pointed it out to him. I asked whether it was because he needs time alone and he explained it was not that he needs time alone or anything, he just simply gets distracted and has no awareness or control over when it happens. He also reassured it's never intentionally done.
I also asked him about his concept of time and he said that when he's really focused on something, he won't realise how much time has passed and when he's finished doing what he's doing he will only realise how late it actually is.
He also reassured that if he says he loves me he means it and it is written in stone. He said that he's aware that neurotypicals think that if he leaves the room and comes back that I won't be sure he feels that way anymore. He doesn't understand why but he's happy to reassure me even though I know the answer when I ask if he loves me.
I have noticed that when he is watching something and I say something, he will ask what it was I said because he was concentrating on the thing he was watching.
I have also noticed that he is constantly concerned for how I am feeling all the time. He will always ask "are you ok?" and "are you mad at me?". I think he asks this because sometimes I go quiet, as I am a quiet person by nature and I am introverted. Sometimes in the past I got upset and I would take a while to tell him something was wrong and go quiet. We talked about this and if I don't tell him whats wrong it makes him worry. Now I try to be more vocal about how I am feeling and try to reassure him as much as I can. When something is wrong I tell him immediately so that he doesn't have to worry that he's done or said something to upset me. Although sometimes he will still ask if I'm ok even if nothing is wrong. It's really hard to get out of old habits and I have not yet fully gotten out of not telling him whats wrong and how I feel. Although, I do feel as though I have improved in telling him whats wrong immediately because now I have a self awareness of it and he also reminds me that we talked about it and not to keep things inside.
I can see how much he cares and I notice everything he did for me when we were with eachother in person. He really tries hard to make me happy and does everything he can. He always shows his love for me and does nice things for me and I'm really grateful for that.
I think that with the difficulty I'm having about being more vocal about my feelings is very similar his difficulty in the sense that he will also need to be reminded when he isn't talking to me for a certain period of time. I think that like I do, he will also have to be made aware of when it's happening and I will have to remind him to connect with me in order for me not to feel like he's isolating himself from me. Now that I've had a clarification from him explaining everything to me, I feel a lot more reassured and I can feel at ease. I think I now understand fully of how this condition affects him and I have seen what difficulties it brings him.
We also have started to share new interests that he has introduced me to, which help us to connect a lot more. It's always fun to share our interests, do these things together and talk about them. I think that our talk really cleared up a lot of my worries and I do feel a lot better and more understanding of him. I am really happy with the way things are going right now and everything seems to be going great since we had that talk. He listens to me when I remind him to talk to me more, when I feel that he isn't connecting with me as much.
Hi there! I am glad to hear that things went well when you broached the topic and laid your concerns out there with your boyfriend. Based on what you've shared, he seems to have a good understanding of what he's doing after the fact and that he's given you permission, more or less, to point it out to him when it's affecting you and your relationship with him. Since he's given you permission, you need not worry about being direct with him, even though this doesn't come naturally to you. This is a very positive step forward!
Thanks for all your help and support :)
If I have any issues in the future, I will definately contact you again.