The Neurodiverse* Couple

*Neurodiversity describes variances in the structure of the human brain that result in different ways of experiencing and responding to the world around us. Neurodiversity in a relationship refers to the convergence of the autistic and non-autistic perspectives. It can also include ADHD, ADD, dyslexia - the full range of ways the human brain is constructed that differ from what we call neurotypical.

Have you ever said ...

  • My partner seems to lack empathy and doesn’t care how I feel

  • My partner misjudges me all the time - I can’t do anything right

  • I can’t seem to find a way to communicate with my partner

  • My partner feels attacked and criticized if I disagree

  • We argue all the time and never resolve anything

  • My partner just walks away when things get emotional

  • We've been together for a long time and I am lonelier than I have ever been in my life

If these comments sound familiar, it’s because they come from couples like you - neurodiverse couples who can’t figure out what to do about their challenges.

All relationships face challenges. The challenges faced by a neurodiverse couple are unique because they derive from structural differences in the brain. This is why the counsel of well-meaning friends usually feels off the mark: they really don’t understand what makes your relationship different from theirs and from other neurotypical relationships.

It also explains why much traditional couple counseling can be ineffective. It usually assumes both partners are equally adept at focusing on emotions and sharing insights. This makes sense, since most counseling modalities are developed by neurotypical clinicians for neurotypical couples. It can present a problem in the neurodiverse relationship with two partners whose way of perceiving the world and responding to it are fundamentally different.

It is possible for an individual to have some of the characteristics without meeting the full diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder, as it is called in the United States. In Great Britain, it is called Autism Spectrum Condition, a term I prefer since it is descriptive without implying pathology.

What is important here is that it doesn’t matter whether there’s a diagnosis. If the behaviors and descriptions we explore together make sense to you when approached through the lens of neurodiversity, then our work can be effective in helping you understand and address your concerns.

To meet the specific needs of neurodiverse couples, I developed a protocol which I call Neurodiverse Bonding. It begins with a sound exploration of the differences between partners and the reasons for them. Then we go about the business of building communication bridges to accommodate and ameliorate these differences. It might surprise you to learn that there is often humor in my work with clients, who feel great relief at learning that what they previously viewed as intentional was actually their own misunderstanding of their partner's way of being in the world.

We will begin with sound clinical information to sort fact from fallacy, and to make certain we are not assigning blame or identifying deficits when we speak of differences. The visual model I use is a sketch of the double helix of the DNA molecule. The two uprights are parallel and won't converge, and the strength of the molecule depends on the strength of the bonds that hold the uprights together. Two partners are held together by the strength of their ability to communicate effectively and to understand and accept each other.

My role is that of a translator in order to help you do just this. Our work together is an exploration that results in clarity and increased intimacy. As you develop more effective communication skills, and learn to acknowledge and accommodate your differences, you won't need me any longer.

As a licensed therapist and as a coach, I specialize in understanding and guiding couples in which one partner is or may be autistic.

I am also a high intelligence specialist.

Sarah Swenson LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor

State of Washington

Click here to see my professional profile on Psychology Today and on the images below for further professional information