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Navigating Relationships: Neurodivergent and Neurotypical Partners

Conversation Between Two People with Intersecting Speech Bubbles

Being romantically involved with someone who processes the world differently than you can be both enriching and challenging. When a neurodivergent individual—someone who is autistic, has ADHD, or another neurological variation—enters a relationship with a neurotypical person—someone whose brain functions are considered usual or expected by society—their differences can create unique dynamics. Here, we explore the challenges that might arise and provide some tips for both partners to foster a harmonious relationship.


Challenges in Neurodivergent-Neurotypical Relationships


  1. Communication Gaps: Neurodivergent individuals might express themselves differently, leading to misunderstandings. What seems clear to one partner might be confusing to the other. Many neurodivergent folks have a hard time with “small talk,” may be more likely to interrupt others in conversation due impulsivity and non-linear thinking, and/or get excited about a topic of interest and take up a lot of conversational space.

  2. Sensory Differences: Neurodivergent people often have heightened or diminished sensory sensitivities. Social settings or physical touch that are comfortable for a neurotypical person might be overwhelming for their partner.

  3. Emotional Expression: Emotional regulation and expression can vary widely. A neurodivergent person might struggle to identify or express their emotions in a way that a neurotypical partner understands.


Tips for Neurodivergent Partners


  1. Self-Reflection: Consider the role your neurodivergence has on your mood, behaviour, and thoughts. Understanding this can allow you to replace self-criticism with self-compassion resulting in less reactivity and projection towards your partner. 

  2. Self-Advocacy: Clearly communicate your needs and boundaries. If sensory overload is an issue, explain what environments or activities are challenging for you.

  3. Honesty About Social Interactions: Be upfront about your social energy levels. If socializing drains you, let your partner know when you need to recharge.

  4. Utilize Tools: Use apps, reminders, or written notes to help with organization and memory, which can improve communication and reduce misunderstandings.


Tips for Neurotypical Partners


  1. Patience and Understanding: Educate yourself about your partner’s neurodivergence and learn about their unique experience of their neurodivergence. Understand that their way of processing is valid, even if it’s different from yours.

  2. Clear Communication: Be explicit and clear in your communication. Avoid idioms or sarcasm that might be misinterpreted.

  3. Sensory Consideration: Be mindful of sensory sensitivities. Collaborate to create a comfortable environment and be open to adjusting plans to accommodate your partner’s needs.

  4. Routine Respect: Respect and support your partner’s routines. While flexibility is important, understand that changes can be more challenging for them.


Building a Strong Relationship


  • Open Dialogue: Regularly check in with each other about what’s working and what’s not. Adjustments are a normal part of any relationship.

  • Celebrate Differences: Embrace the strengths that each partner brings. Neurodivergent individuals often offer unique perspectives and creativity.

  • Seek Support: Consider couples or individual therapy with a professional experienced in neurodiversity to help navigate challenges and strengthen your relationship.


Dating across neurotypes requires empathy, patience, and a willingness to learn and adapt. By understanding and valuing each other’s differences, neurodiverse partners can build a supportive and loving relationship.

 

As an ADHDer married to a neurotypical partner, I understand the complexities of neurodiverse relationships. If you identify as neurotypical or neurodivergent and feel you’d benefit from working with a therapist experienced in neurodiverse relationships, feel free to book a free consultation with me.

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