Mixed-neurological relationships are vulnerable to physical, verbal, psychological, sexual and financial domestic abuse, with psychological abuse being the most common (Rench, 2014). Both partners are vulnerable to experiencing trauma in the relationship.
People with autism have a difficult time understanding how their own actions affect others and will often take actions that harm their spouses without understanding how that harm will, in turn, affect the relationship, circumstances and escalate the conflict. This lack of understanding diminishes any incentives the partners with autism might otherwise have to take actions that would reduce conflict. As a result, people with autism are often instigators of conflict and abuse in adult relationships.
Over time, the typically developing partner acts in self-protection and contributes to the conflict, creating a negative system for both partners. Sometimes typically developing people seek out relationships with those who have autism because their higher levels of social skills give them power advantages. In some cases, typically developing partners will use their power advantages abusively. Usually, however, typically developing people who fall in love with people with autism are natural and empathetic caregivers who enjoy helping others (Aston, 2009).
Partners with autism often incorrectly perceive that they are the victims of abuse even while they are the perpetrators. Their impairment in capacity to understand how their actions affect the circumstances and their impairment in immediate empathy contribute to this lack of understanding. Their diminished capacity to comprehend their typically developing partners’ intentions plays a role in their misperceptions that they are the victims (Marshack, 2009).
Typically developing partners often unknowingly enable abusive behaviors from their partners, worsening the situation. They often have advanced theory of mind skills and accurately perceive their partners’ with autism don’t intend to be abusive — even while the abuse is occurring. Yet sometimes partners with autism do intend to be vindictive and abusive. Typically developing partners will often be too willing to forgive abusive behaviors when in reality, quick, accurate feedback about what is and isn’t acceptable is what people with autism really need in order to learn how to behave appropriately in social situations.
In many cases, typically developing partners unhealthily excuse abusive behaviors that are taken against them. No one should have to endure abuse regardless of others’ intents and capacities to understand. “Mindblindness” is not an excuse for being abusive.
Aston, M. (2009). The Asperger Couple’s Workbook; Practical Advice and Activities for Couples and Counsellors. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley
Marshack, K.J. (2009). Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going over the Edge? Kansas: APC.
Rench, C. (2014). When Eros meets Autos: Marriage to someone with autism spectrum disorder. (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University). Available from Proquest Dissertations and thesis database.