More often than not, this realization is met with deep remorse and often guilt. In time, he can learn to understand his own way of being in the world without judging himself harshly as being wrong or defective, because that is not the correct metric. Emotional support for him is key to his growth in this area.
The neurotypical partner can learn, first and foremost, that her response to feeling manipulated is normal.
Her pain and confusion are normal. They are valid. She must be allowed to acknowledge and heal her wounds, because it doesn’t matter whether she was stabbed intentionally or inadvertently: she is still bleeding.
The second step, though, is to begin to understand that her autistic partner is not trying to hurt her
Instead, what she experiences as manipulation is his way of trying to reduce omnipresent anxiety, which usually derives from a lifelong experience of not quite getting things right when it comes to understanding someone else’s emotions.
She needs emotional support in order to move forward. At the same time, she also has to come to terms with the fact that her partner’s way of offering this support may not align with her idea of what that support must look like.
The way to view communication in a neurodiverse couple, or any couple, is in terms of its effectiveness. This is the only metric that matters. It’s not a matter of who is right or who is wrong.
The goal of communication is mutual understanding. In order to improve communication skills and strategies, recognizing differences with an effort to respect them without judgment becomes the foundation for growth in the relationship.
When I work with couples, we concentrate on slowing down conversational speed, considering linguistics and the formal logic of argument, and identifying the emotional subtext and context inherent in communication. It takes time. It takes practice. It is not always successful. When it is, it can be described as a process of two steps forward and one step back as two parallel lives learn to build bridges between two lines that will never completely merge.
Learning to trust deeply after years of being hurt, having the faith that being vulnerable one more time might be worth the risk, accepting that one’s interpretation of another’s behaviour may not be the same as that person’s intent: these are the challenges.
It can’t be gaslighting without the intent to manipulate. Regardless, it can feel like gaslighting. Education about neurodiversity, skilled counseling, and communication in renewed mutual respect create the tools for interrupting this revolving door.
Gaslight (1944). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036855
Written by: Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC For her courses online, please visit TheNeurodiverseCouple.thinkific.com. Her coaching and psychotherapy practices are full and she developed these online courses in order to meet demand for her services. Originally appeared on: Good Therapy Republished with permission