Navigating any romantic relationship can be challenging, but that is especially true when you and your partner experience the world differently. Understanding and listening to our partner’s perspective is always important, but critically so when your partner is on the spectrum. Without taking the extra time to learn how they experience and perceive the world, you may struggle to resolve or even understand your conflicts.

In today’s post, we’ll explore some helpful tips for understanding your partner and improving communication between you.

Approaching the Spectrum

Man and Woman Sitting on Bench
Autism presents differently in many people. Your first step in understanding your partner is recognizing that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some people may struggle more from a sensory perspective—feeling anxious or stressed in noisy or chaotic situations. Others may feel anxiety around social situations. In some cases, going to a busy grocery store may be challenging. For others, it might be attending a casual work function or meeting your friends for the first time.

Understanding their Experience

As is often the case, asking questions is the best way to start learning about your partner’s experience on the spectrum. This doesn’t have to be a high-stakes conversation—approach it as you would any other interesting subject or curiosity you might have. It’s quite likely that their experience is very different than yours, but by asking questions, you may be able to make new connections or understand old conflicts better.

Here are some questions you can use to help understand their experience on the spectrum:

  • What situations make you feel more or less comfortable?
  • How does being on the spectrum impact your day-to-day life?
  • Were they diagnosed on the spectrum? What have they been told about it?
  • Are there routines or structures that are important to them?
  • What social interactions or situations confuse or upset them?

In addition, you may ask them to describe sensations that are alternately upsetting or comforting. It may surprise you to learn that your partner feels on edge around people eating crunchy foods, for example. Many autistic people will attempt to suppress or mask those symptoms for the comfort of others, at the cost of their own comfort.

Establish Structure & Routines

We all benefit from structure and routine, but this is often especially true for those on the spectrum. Helping your partner feel at ease by providing a sense of what to expect from you on a day-to-day basis or regarding an upcoming event or function that may make them nervous will help.

Some easy ways to do this include:

  • Create and stick to timelines.
  • Schedule chores & hobby time.
  • Make a shared calendar of events.

It’s also beneficial to give them a signal they can use to let you know they’re feeling distressed. This might be a particular gesture, a phrase, or something else. Knowing there’s a code they can use to make an emergency exit from an uncomfortable situation may help put them at ease.

Communicate Intent

Your partner may struggle to understand the meaning behind your actions. You might bring them a gift or schedule a fun surprise only to find that it distresses them. You need to state your intentions and the meaning behind things. Be clear and concise in your communication, and invite your partner to ask you clarifying questions.


Most things in life boil down to practice. Navigating your relationship is a skill that can be developed and honed over time. Reach out if you want to learn more about couples therapy and how it can help you build strategies for a stronger foundation with your partner. We would love to help you better understand your partner, so that the two of you work together as a team. 

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