Neurodiversity: What Is It, and How Does It Affect Relationships?
Neurodiversity refers to people whose brains are wired differently compared with the majority of society. They process information and approach problems in an alternative way to those who are ‘neurotypical’.
It is a relatively new term, coined in the 1990s, and is seen as an improved way of understanding those with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and so on, as it doesn’t view these conditions as ‘disorders’ or ‘abnormal’, but rather variations of how the human brain is wired.
Neurodiverse (ND) people are not ‘disabled’, but simply see and understand the world in a different way to most people. Being colour blind, for example, is not a disorder, but rather an alternative wiring of the brain. Neurodiversity should be understood in the same way.
How Does Neurodiversity Affect Relationships?
A lot of couples are affected by neurodiversity, and more men than women are neurodiverse. A high number of these relationships run into problems for one core reason: communication.
If one partner is neurotypical, (NT) and the other is neurodiverse, (ND), communication can very easily break down and lead to a number of issues. People who are neurodiverse join up dots differently, in a way foreign to their partner and others around them, causing them to feel lonely, misunderstood, and ultimately retreat into themselves.
Neurodiversity in a relationship shows up in many ways. For instance, a neurodiverse partner might be frequently late to appointments, inattentive, unable to stay organised, susceptible to losing things, tune out during conversations, become easily distracted, or speak over the other partner when they are talking. They don’t pick up social cues and go on and on talking when others have lost interest. These traits are common aspects of how neurodiverse people behave, and in the context of a relationship they can cause friction, frustration, and a sense of isolation on both sides.
Loneliness and isolation are very common in the neurotypical partner.
Many people who have a neurodiverse partner have told me that it sometimes feels as if they have an extra child. ND people often appear younger in attitude and behaviour than their partners. NT’s receive little empathy and understanding from their partner and are expected to look after their own needs. This will consequently lead to the NT member in the relationship feeling invisible, unseen, and unappreciated.
Neurodiversity also often causes problems with intimacy. Small details like smells, textures, and certain levels of lighting can be difficult/off-putting for the neurodiverse partner. The neurotypical partner may often forget what their other half does or doesn’t like in the bedroom, leading to an increased feeling of disconnection.
Over time, both partners in a relationship will end up feeling exhausted, exasperated, and love may run out. It will eventually feel like there is an insurmountable chasm between the two parties, making it seem like separation is the only option.
How I Work With Couples Affected By Neurodiversity
The focus of our work together will be to build communication in a safe, confidential space.
By helping both parties acquire an improved sense of how their partner thinks, feels, and reacts in certain situations, we will gradually work towards strengthening your understanding of each other - what makes them tick, how they process information, how they react to certain situations, and so on. Doing this helps you grow as a couple and deal with the challenges presented by neurodiversity in a healthier way.
I teach very simple connection skills, skills to repair the damage of arguments and many other easy to remember skills.
In addition to providing bespoke couples counselling online for neurodiverse couples, I also run a support group, led by myself and neurodiversity expert Chris Hughes, that gives NT people a chance to connect with others who have an ND partner. This is a friendly, inclusive platform where you can share useful skills and techniques, and serves as a welcoming and safe place to voice your feelings and difficulties with people in a similar situation.
If you are in a relationship affected by neurodiversity and want to receive intensive private couples coaching online from a specialist in working with neurodiverse couples, please feel free to get in touch to book your initial consultation.
Relationship Exits - The Three Stages of How Some Marriages Break Down
It is common that couples will find themselves in the position of being in a divorce court, preparing to end their relationship for good, while at the same time still having feelings and even love for each other. How does this happen? How, you might ask, did it get to this point?
The answer is relationship exits: when we do things in a relationship that prevent us from connecting and, over time, cause us to drift apart. Certain feelings we hold inside and don’t share with our partner become expressed as actions - and these actions often lead to a relationship breaking down.
There are three stages of exits and most couples don’t realise they are going through them until it is too late. It happens below your radar initially. To help you understand this process and notice when it happens, here is a breakdown of the three different stages of relationship exits.
There are many standard things we must do in a relationship, such as work, cleaning, looking after the children, exercising, and so on. These activities are not problematic in themselves, of course. However, when people in a relationship start to do them in order to avoid connection, to avoid tackling difficult issues with their partner, that is when they become common exits. You might think reading a book in a quiet corner is a harmless activity, but if you are doing it to put a barrier between yourself and your partner, it can be destructive. The space between the two of you becomes polluted.
If you fail to notice these common exits, and how they compromise connection in a relationship, a couple will slip into serious exits. After a prolonged period of common exits between a couple, the energy in a relationship disappears, and that lack of connection causes the partner to become egocentric and seek satisfaction from outside their relationship. This could entail activities like drinking, gambling, excessive shopping, drug addictions, or even affairs.
These maladaptive behaviours are what we mean by serious exits - a natural consequence of partners not properly engaging with each other over a long period of time. When your partner feels unreachable, you will inevitably look elsewhere for that sense of connection and happiness. Refusing to acknowledge the more subtle common exits means that these more overtly destructive serious exits eventually become the norm, creating an unhealthy dynamic that quickly becomes untenable.
Over time, as serious exits pollute a relationship to the point where it feels unsalvageable, the couple will encounter a catastrophic exit. The most common form is divorce, of course, but tragic events like murder or suicide are also examples of catastrophic exits.
It is only when we reach a catastrophic exit that we start to ask: “What happened?”
As a couples counsellor online, I have many years of experience in working with couples to ensure they do not reach this stage by helping them understand the damaging nature of common exits. Together we will explore what these are for you, why they happen, how they negatively affect your relationship, and develop personalised ways to ensure you maintain an open, honest dialogue with your partner and don’t start hiding behind common exits.