If you were to google Neurodivergent Relationships right now, you’d have a ton of hits that talk about how difficult they are. You might see things discussing communication difficulties, a lack of empathy, or feeling like their partner “just doesn’t get it.”

I’ve had numerous couples in my office share frustrations that when they tell new friends or family that they love someone who is autistic they often hear “oh that must be so hard!” or assume that means they are non-verbal. While no relationship is easy, there are a large number of pluses to having a relationship with someone whose brain does not work the same way yours does, and shifting to see the positives can have a huge impact on your relationship and quality of life!

First things first—what exactly is neurodivergence?

Neurodivergent was coined in the 1990s by Judy Singer, a sociologist, to discuss differences in thinking patterns.[1] She focused on ADHD, autism, and dyslexia, but has grown to include a variety of differences including PTSD and dyspraxia. Her goal in creating the word was to create a space to focus on the positives of the brain versus focusing on it being clinical and something that required change.1 Basically, it’s anything that deviates from ‘typical’ thinking or neurological functioning but does not mean that a person cannot function or struggles to have a successful life.

A neurotypical person is someone who has a more ‘typical’ style of functioning. In this instance, typical doesn’t mean better but is instead used purely as a descriptor. A neurodiverse relationship would be someone who was neurotypical with a neurodivergent partner, or multiple neurodivergent partners.

Reasons neurodiverse relationships are great

Different Perspectives 

At times having different thinking styles can lead to conflict and miscommunication, but it doesn’t have to. I asked my husband, an autistic man, what he thought the biggest plus of our neurodiverse relationship was. He said, “that we don’t think the same way so we can have different viewpoints that we wouldn’t have thought of before.” And you know what, he’s right. Harvard Business Review[2] stated that “because neurodiverse people are wired differently from neurotypical people, they may bring new perspectives” that can be beneficial for growth.

For example, I’m not a great planner but I love going on vacation. Typically I’d book a flight and just figure everything else out as I went, which led to me missing out on many things I wanted to do due to poor planning. My husband is an excellent planner and is great at focusing on the details—but would get so caught up in the plan he wasn’t able to enjoy himself. He noticed that if he were to do the big planning pieces I’d be able to think of more things to do and now we have trips that are meaningful to us both.  

Commitment To Understanding

Let’s face it, the world is mostly created with a neurotypical person in mind. We approach topics such as empathy, interpersonal relations, and even eye contact from a neurotypical perspective. This can lead to difficulty for neurodivergent populations to feel understood. Harvard Business also stated that neurodivergent populations have “higher-than-average abilities” yet also “struggle to fit the profiles sought” by others.

This leads to a huge need to feel understood, validated, and appreciated. In my office, this also translates to huge efforts to understand their neurotypical partner as well, even though it might be extremely difficult to do so.

They want to know the pieces they are missing, the inside jokes between friends they aren’t comprehending, and social nuances they don’t see—without also feeling the pressure to mask and appear different than they are. If you can commit to putting in the effort to understand your neurodivergent partner, it will go such a long way to them feeling comfortable and understanding of you.

Authentic Communication

My husband is not a great liar. Not because he doesn’t have the ability to do so, but because he genuinely doesn’t see the point. Sometimes this can be hurtful and appears that he does not prioritize my feelings, but more often I know he isn’t just telling me what I want to hear and instead really is wanting to give me accuracy.

For many neurodivergent clients, communication styles tend to be blunter, and use less ‘stating the obvious’ statements, and will take things at face value. I also see this repeated client after client when doing neurodivergent couples work. This can be so beneficial as the neurotypical partner also feels more comfortable with true honesty and expressing their own thoughts after seeing it modeled for them. This can also help reinforce that you may not benefit from asking questions you don’t want an answer to, which can lead to a decrease in arguing or discord with your partner.

Not all neurodiverse relationships look the same, but all will have strengths. If you are able to move to a place of curiosity and understanding when it comes to relating to your partner, it will certainly be worth it and can lead to meaningful, happy relationships. When we focus on the positive attributes our neurodivergent partners bring to the relationship, we have higher satisfaction because of the differences, not in spite of them. 

[1] Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Disabled World. Revised Publication Date: 2021-03-15. Title: What Is: Neurodiversity, Neurodivergent, Neurotypical, Source: <a href=https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/awareness/neurodiversity/>Neurodiversity</a>. Retrieved 2021-07-13, from https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/awareness/neurodiversity/ – Reference: DW#502-17.172.98-6c.

[2] https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitive-advantage

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