Saturday, November 26, 2011


Through working with many Aspie couples I've come to notice an interesting phenomenon. The apparent lack of emotionality of the Aspie partner seems superficial. After gentle questioning it becomes apparent that many adults with AS are quite emotional - sometimes even overly sensitive - and many of them are suffering in silence.

It is a fascinating thing to watch, indeed. The adult with AS, often times experiencing severe anxiety, becomes....quiet. To the neurotypical adult, who expresses emotions interpersonally, this silence can mean only a handful of things, from disengagement to disinterest. In fact, I have worked with only a few adults with AS who do not suffer with severe anxiety or depression. While a few clients exhibit anger, sometimes overwhelming anger, most do not. Rather they retreat, and become unreachable when they feel threatened. The untrained therapist might view this retreat as passive-aggressive, even evidence of sociopathy. However as I experience this behavior in many different kinds of adults with AS, it is becoming clear to me that the behavior is not only means of protecting oneself, it may be largely involuntary.

Partners of adults with AS may stray from the mid-line too, though in the opposite direction. The more their partners retreat, the louder they become, desperate to effect a response. The cycle is self-perpetuating, of course: the louder one becomes, the more the other involutarily withdraws. Yet who among us has been taught another approach? What options are there for cajoling a withdrawn adult to communicate?

Answers to these questions are not easy to hear. They are painfully complex in their simplicity. They arouse in partners emotions such as righteous indignation and outrage. But the answers are solutions to bridging what appear to be unbridgeable gaps. The foundation to this bridge, of course, must be basic emotional stability and, above all, humility. It appears to this therapist that usually both partners stray from the mid-line of thought-emotion integration. Recognizing this and strategizing ways to meet in the middle can help couples - even those who seem miles apart - come together in deeper and more balanced ways.


  1. This is frankly pretty tough to read but I think it is dead on. Food for thought. You should do some workshops.

  2. "What options are there for cajoling a withdrawn adult to communicate?"

    Listening is generally a better way to hear what someone is saying than talking. I'm not trying to be sarcastic, but am actually offering a suggestion that sitting with the person and being a safe person who will really listen without putting your own spin or responses onto them is more likely to work. It may take time and it certainly will take restraint on your part but acceptance and validation without judgment is the one thing that breaks through my defenses.

  3. ...I think you just summarized my entire relationship with my ex in this post. She was very excitable, Type A, and I spent a lot of time soothing her. When she was upset at ME, I snapped shut like a turtle pulling its head in. All I could do was try and wait out the storm, and the more I shut down, the more emotional she got, trying to get me to react. It was basically awful.

  4. Dr Terra

    I don't know if you still read comments on old posts but, if you do, could you please explain what you mean by "expressing emotions interpersonally"?

    With thanks


  5. A wise old owl lived in an oak
    The more she saw the less she spoke
    The less she spoke the more she heard.
    Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?