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Partner Socially Clueless? It Could Be Asperger’s

It was Faith’s second birthday, and her mom and beloved aunt were ready to give Faith a cupcake with a candle on it to celebrate. Faith’s father, Chris, however, was on the phone with the real estate agent, and couldn’t be bothered to stop what he was doing to be with his little girl.

Faith’s aunt was furious–how could Chris not understand that it was time to focus on his child? Faith was only going to turn two once. Faith’s mom repeatedly pleaded that Chris come join them in the celebration. But, no, Chris continued what he was doing, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his wife and sister-in-law were furious with him, and that what he was doing seemed bizarre and wrong.

Chris might just be clueless and self-absorbed, but it’s more likely he has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s is a lifelong developmental disorder that mainly manifests in the inability to successfully relate emotionally to others during everyday interactions. There is a lack of awareness in interpreting social cues, which is a skill that most of us take for granted.

In the opening example, Chris was not intentionally being rude. He just could not comprehend that was he was doing was wrong. In his mind, someone had called on the phone and requested information prior to his wife and sister-in-law requesting his presence for the birthday celebration. Since he had not finished answering the first question, it made no sense to him to stop what he was doing to be with his daughter, which had been requested second. People with Asperger’s are logical to a fault…and often at the expense of the feelings of others.

Asperger’s in adults is often not diagnosed until problems in the relationship have already rooted themselves deeply. Common issues partners of those with Asperger’s face include:

  • Frustration at not being able to “get through” to their partner.
  • Failing to understand why your partner can’t relate to you in a “normal” manner.
  • Dealing with inappropriate comments from your partner that are directed at others or feeling dread about what your partner might say or do when interacting with others.
  • Lack of intimacy in the relationship.
  • Anger when the partner does not respond appropriately to their children, such as displaying affection or showing emotion.
  • Wondering about what to do about the relationship since there is no “cure” for the condition.

Research suggests that the divorce rate for those with Asperger’s is 80%.

What can be done?

There is no magic pill that can be given to help those with Asperger’s, and the younger the person at diagnosis, the better the outcome. However, since Asperger’s is still a fairly new diagnosis, many adults who have it couldn’t have been diagnosed as children, even though it’s likely that people around them knew something was wrong.

For the family members, counseling can help with learning to overcome feelings of anger, frustration, hurt, disappointment, and anxiety. The counselor can also provide psychoeducation about Asperger’s and help you to better understand what your family is dealing with.

For the person with Asperger’s, treatment is more difficult. For one thing, the person with Asperger’s often doesn’t realize there is anything wrong with their behavior. They may be shocked to find out that you are upset with them, and not understand what the problem is. Ergo, going for treatment themselves makes little sense. If the person does realize something is wrong, social skills training is more effective in learning about how to interact with other appropriately. Social skills training involves learning how to read facial expressions and body language cues, and how to have conversations that are appropriate and socially-acceptable. It is hard work to learn these skills that come naturally to the rest of us. Your partner needs to be willing and able to put the effort in and accept feedback, which generally does not come easy for these folks.


Autism expert Tony Attwood

The Other Half of Asperger’s Syndrome: A Yahoo! group for partners of people with Asperger’s

Book: 22 Things a Woman Must Know If She Loves a Man With Asperger’s Syndrome

Temple Grandin on TED Talks

Partner Socially Clueless? It Could Be Asperger’s

Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, is a patient advocate for Women's and Children's Services at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor associate and a National Certified Counselor who specializes in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapies. Her book, Loving Someone With Anxiety, will be published by New Harbinger in the spring of 2013.

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APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2012). Partner Socially Clueless? It Could Be Asperger’s. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Mar 2012
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