Neurotypicals. You’ve been surrounded by them your whole life; and you’ve had to figure out how they function as a means of survival. Getting into a romantic relationship with an NT takes things to a whole new level, though.
NTs have a lot of to offer as romantic partners. They can be supremely nurturing and understanding. Their ability to manage complex social situations borders on magical. On the other hand, they can come across as needy and irrational, leaving someone with ASD perplexed and frustrated.
Much of my perspective has been shaped by my communication with Aspies on blogs and in forums. I’ve learned a ton from them.
I’ve done extensive reading on the differences between how Aspies and NTs think and behave; but most importantly, I am a Neurotypical who has been in a mixed relationship. A writer on the spectrum wrote a great piece that goes over the concept of ememes and what the term means for Aspie/NT relationships. You can check it out here.
Admittedly, my observations here are biased toward the male Aspie/female NT relationship. I am more familiar with that dynamic, so I can speak to it with more authority. Despite this, I hope that some of the material here will benefit ASD women who are in relationships with NTs.
While I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience, this is a formidable task. I’m relying heavily on my own perspective to describe what motivates NTs, and why we think and act the way we do.
It is challenging to stand back and look at oneself objectively, especially when the way you react to things is automatic and feels natural. Still, I will try my best and hope that I’m successful at explaining things in a way that is understandable.
Finally, one last disclaimer. This article is full of generalizations. It is not my intention to stereotype or label Neurotypicals as this or that. I hope to relate general traits that most NTs have. Just like those of you on the spectrum, we NTs are varied and unique.
Why Does My NT Misinterpret What I Say?
We know that Neurotypicals read social cues easily. NTs rely on cues more heavily than on words to discern the REAL meaning behind a message.
You might assume your NT understands the things you say- that she hears your words and comprehends the point you are trying to communicate. It’s more complicated than that. She doesn’t rely on words alone. She incorporates other clues, like gestures and tone of voice, to interpret your message.
This is hard-wired into her brain. It’s automatic and unconscious.
If you make a facial expression that we read as contradicting your words, it will throw us off. This is how NTs can easily misinterpret your intentions.
It’s as if NTs have a mental template that we use for communicating with others, and we automatically apply that template to communication with you. Inevitably, that template doesn’t fit your style.
You may be speaking from a completely sincere place. You may be saying exactly what you mean, but if your NT partner goes on autopilot. If your tone of voice or facial expressions don’t match what she expects should align with your words, expect a serious misunderstanding.
If you’ve been with your NT for a long time, you may have learned enough about each other to cope with this misfit in communication styles.
How Does My NT Read Social Cues?
An NT brain can read so many clues simultaneously. They don’t have to make an effort to do this. It comes naturally.
We can be in a group of four other people, picking up on tension between two people who aren’t speaking, listening to a third tell a joke (and notice him insecurely look at the others for a laugh), fake-laughing at the joke to make him feel better, realizing the 4th person is sexually attracted to the joke-teller, and attempting to distract from the tension between the first two by changing the subject to something we assess as interesting enough to capture everyone’s attention, yet not be offensive to anyone.
Did that example make your head spin?
I see it like this. People have an aptitudes for certain subjects. Many people I’ve met in IT have a natural ability in that field. So many are self-taught because systems make sense to them on an intuitive level. They just “get” computer stuff. NTs intuitively read social cues like a computer whiz makes his way around a system.
Why Does My NT Want to Know How I Feel?
Emotions are a large part of NT communication. There are several reasons why your NT asks you how you feel.
#1 They care about you.
Your partner doesn’t want you to feel sad or anxious. If their NT antennae perceive that you might be upset, they will ask you how you feel so they understand what’s on your mind. Because NTs want reassurance when they are feeling bad, they assume you want the same thing.
They need to know how you are feeling, because if you are feeling bad they want to make you feel better.
#2 They want to know if there is a problem.
Is there a problem with the relationship they need to address? Let’s say you are indulged in your special interest. The NT may interpret your intense focus as distance from her. She will likely take it personally.
She will assume that she has done something wrong or you aren’t happy with her. She will ask you how you are feeling to determine if you are angry with her or otherwise dissatisfied.
#3 They are trying to be supportive.
NTs need people to hear how they feel and to have their feelings validated. Validating someone’s feelings is basically listening and communicating that you are listening. It’s a way of showing you care about the person, even if you don’t care about the subject matter or you disagree with it.
#4 They are curious.
Your NT is picking up on something they can’t read. They aren’t sure how you are feeling, but they are sensing something that feels off. They may ask how you are feeling to see if they are reading you right.
#5 Your mood affects theirs.
When an NT feels connected to someone, we may absorb that person’s emotional energy and it affects us. This is particularly true for ultra-sensitive types who actually feel others’ emotions.
If you are angry, your NT may feel uncomfortable until your own anger has dissipated. If you are nervous, your NT may feel anxious. Because your emotional state affects ours, naturally we are going to want to know where you are in terms of your mood state.
Why Does My NT Get Easily Offended?
We get easily offended because we misread your intentions. If you say something that triggers an area that’s sensitive for us, especially if we misinterpret your tone of voice or facial expression, we will feel hurt.
Each NT will have her own area of sensitivities depending on her history and past experiences. Let’s consider a few examples that seem ridiculous on their face, but they aren’t off the wall if you understand the root of your NT’s reaction.
How does someone jump from an innocent question about the gym to he’s saying I’m fat!? It all starts with how the NT feels about herself, based on previous experiences and her mood at the moment. In other words, she is triggered by insecurities she already grapples with. Those insecurities probably existed long before she met you.
I believe there’s another relationship dynamic which encourages this type of irrational interpretation of innocent comments. In general, Aspies don’t compliment as often as NTs are accustomed to.
The act of complimenting your partner acts as an immunization against her taking your benign comments as critical. Without the reassurance of compliments, your NT partner is more vulnerable to believing those false ideas about herself.
There’s a funny bit by the comedian Whitney Cummings. She talks about how women are crazy and walks through how a woman makes up stories in her mind.
She describes waking up in the morning, thinking her boyfriend looked at her in a weird way, having a fight over what she thinks her boyfriend would say, and then breaking up with him in her head. This got a lot of laughs because the majority of NT women can relate!
Why Does My NT Get Angry about My Special Interest?
At their core, NTs are “needy”. There are a few reasons she may get upset when you spend a lot of time on your special interest.
#1 She feels ignored.
NTs need a lot of attention and if long periods of time go by without getting your attention, the NT will feel neglected. She will feel as though she’s not important to you.
She will interpret the amount of time you spend with your special interest and away from her as a sign that the interest is more important than she is. NTs need to feel they are the most important thing to you.
#2 She feels disconnected from you.
NTs need to connect with their partners through conversation, sharing an experience or physical proximity. If your attention is elsewhere, she will eventually begin to feel a chasm developing between the two of you.
You may not experience this, but she feels it, so it is real to her. Feeling disconnected from their partners can make an NT feel destabilized.
#3 She’s bored.
There are a couple possible solutions to this. Getting her involved in your special interest can help to maintain that connection. She will feel included; therefore will not feel ignored by you. Be aware, though. You can’t force her to love what you do. She may have no interest in your passion.
If this is the case, I recommend you ask her about her interests. Get to understand them better. Maybe try them out with her. You may not love it yourself, but showing the effort to care about what she likes shows that you care about her.
In an NTs mind, the two are interconnected. When you show an interest in something that’s important to her, she feels cared for.
Finally, perhaps there is an offshoot of your special interest that would interest her that the two of you can explore together.
Why Does My NT Care What Others Think?
We NTs are highly influenced by what others think, even those of us who seem quite independent and confident.
There’s a great book that speaks to this called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (I wrote a review of the book here). Ruiz discusses how human beings are “domesticated” from birth to behave in a socially-approved manner.
This is accomplished by giving rewards (acceptance and praise) and by doling out punishment (disapproval). Clearly, the need to be accepted by our social group is an extremely strong motivator. This is particularly true for NTs.
Why Does My NT Want to “Process” Things?
I say “process”. You say “beating a dead horse”.
After an argument or other incident that causes your NT distress, she will want to discuss it, perhaps ad nauseum. An NT may want to continue discussing a situation after you believe it has been resolved.
This isn’t an intellectual exercise for her, but an emotional one. It relieves an inner pressure and brings back her equilibrium.
In order for your NT to feel secure again, she needs to have the reassurance that everything has been addressed. She wants to make sure your relationships is still good, that you still love her, and that things have been worked out. She doesn’t want to leave anything hanging, so to speak.
Perhaps it is distressing when your NT insists on talking about an incident too soon after it has occurred. Maybe you need more time to recover and regain a sense of balance after a heated exchange.
Your NT should be able to understand your need to regroup – that you need some time to recover before tackling the issue that caused the conflict. It’s best to explain this when things are going well between you two. Don’t wait until right after an argument.
As long as you are committed to eventually discuss your conflict, when you are feeling more centered, your partner should respectfully be able to wait until you are ready.
Why Does My NT Need So Much Reassurance?
This need will vary among NTs, but most will seek reassurance when feeling insecure about themselves, even those who have a strong sense of self-acceptance. We have fragile egos. It’s true.
As the most important person in your NTs life, your opinion of her is of primary importance. You have the power to heal a hurt. That also means you have the power to wound her, though it’s certainly not your intention to do so. A simple word or facial expression that she misperceives is enough to trigger an NT.
Because she values your opinion of her, you have an incredible opportunity to help correct things when she feels wronged, either by you or by others. You can reassure your partner through “emotional validation”. Validation is a healing experience for the NT.
Imagine your NT partner is talking about something that’s important to her. She’s either upset or excited about a situation. She’s feels passionately about it.
During the course of her story, she makes a statement that is verifiably false. You may feel the urge to interject and correct her. DON’T DO IT. We are in emotional zone now, where facts are not appreciated.
If you interrupt her story to correct her and she’s upset, you will cause her to become more distressed. If she is excitedly telling you something she is passionate about and you decide to correct an error, you will deflate her- like the air being released from a balloon. That’s what it feels like! For an NT, this experience feels like someone stealing your joy.
That’s not to say facts don’t matter, but there are times when an error is not worth pointing out. First, consider whether or not it’s really essential to make the correction. Secondly, if you absolutely must correct the falsehood, save your comment for later.
The practice of validating someone emotionally does not come naturally to Aspies. In fact, because of their tendency to focus on facts, they may inadvertently make their NT partner feel worse.
Giving someone validation is something you can learn. It’s a pretty simple process but may feel awkward and fake, but I can promise you your NT will appreciate it.
For more detail on emotional validation check out our article Emotional Validation: A Powerful Gift.
Why Does My NT Need Constant Compliments?
Giving and receiving compliments and affirmation is a regular element in NT communication. They expect to exchange affirmation during the course of communication with others.
It would be out of the norm to not receive verbal affirmation from those they care about. As a result, if we aren’t receiving compliments from our partners, we think something must be wrong with us.
There’s a book called The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts that reviews the different ways people experience feeling loved. One of those is verbal affirmation (e.g., compliments).
Many NTs fall into this group. They need verbal acknowledgment. If they don’t receive it, they will feel neglected and unloved. If you don’t give your NT partner compliments, she will very likely come to the conclusion that you don’t love, admire, desire, or appreciate her.
From what I understand, giving compliments is a challenging task for people on the spectrum. At the least, it doesn’t feel natural. Aspies I’ve spoken to have described it as feeling insincere. On top of that, it just doesn’t make sense to some of them; and it’s hard for an Aspie to do something that doesn’t make sense to him.
Even when something is foreign to us, like your NT partner’s need for compliments, we can still accept it as true and honor the need our partner has. This need will vary from person to person, but as a general rule NTs will feel deprived if they aren’t given verbal reassurance, and given it frequently.
If it feels awkward to say out loud, you may consider writing your feelings and thoughts on paper or by text.
I’m sure I’ve touched on only a minority of the issues that NT/Aspie relationships face, but I hope my attempts to explain your NT partner’s quirks are helpful in gaining a better understanding of why she does what she does. I believe a little bit of mutual understanding and a lot of dedication can go a long way!