Every relationship faces its own unique challenges. We all have our own unique internal landscape; a combination of our own personal history, as well as the way we perceive and interact with the world around us. Communication is critical in any healthy relationship, but for neurodivergent relationships it poses a special challenge. Because neurodivergent people may have a different perspective than others, there’s increased opportunity for miscommunication and misunderstanding

In today’s post, we’ll explore steps you can take to improve communication in your neurodivergent relationships—whether they’re with a romantic partner, a coworker, parent, or child.

Map the Terrain

happy coupleThinking of your relationship as an exploration of sorts, your first step is to map the terrain. This means taking the time to develop a clear understanding of the role neurodivergence plays in both of your lives. Instead of being frustrated by the fact that we see things differently, we can celebrate those different approaches and begin to understand how they impact us, and how we might need to work around them.

  • Do you struggle to understand or express yourself around certain topics?
  • Are there specific environments, or situations, that make you uncomfortable?
  • Do you feel safe asking clarifying questions about communication?
  • How does your neurodivergence affect the way you express affection?
  • What are your preferred ways of showing and receiving affection?

During this process, the focus should be recognizing that we are all fundamentally different. We show love and receive it differently. Wanting someone to attend a family gathering with us is natural; but it’s important to understand that social events like that might be intimidating or threatening for someone who is neurodivergent.

Check-ins and Signals

One of the best tools you can use to help improve communication in your neurodivergent relationship is established regular check-ins. Neurodivergent people experience the world differently. In particular, many neurodivergent people process sounds, smells, textures, and other sensory input differently than other people. Something like a concert might be an extraordinarily stressful experience, or soothing experience. Noisy crowds may be difficult for one person to process, while the reverberation of the music through the floor may be euphoric for another.

Start by implementing a schedule of routine check-ins throughout the week—and then go a step further. Create some nonverbal cues or signals that can be used between the two of you as a way to make sure you’re alright, or to signal that you need to make a hasty retreat.

Structured Communication

Many neurodivergent couples and families benefit from increasing the structure around how they communicate. Going a step beyond scheduling check-ins, consider scheduling time for big picture conversations. Take some time before these conversations to think about some of the following items:

  • What is our goal for the conversation?
  • Do I feel like we made progress toward that goal?
  • Are there any specific tasks that need to be done?
  • Should we schedule time to touch base on this again?

When going over chores and tasks that need to be done, consider incorporating technology and other tools to keep things on target:

  • Chore Calendars
  • Written reminders via text
  • Scheduled email reminders

In order to make sure you understand what the other person is saying, make it a habit to paraphrase their words back to them, or ask clarifying questions. When you’re communicating something to your partner, be clear and concise in your language: oftentimes we hint at our needs, without really expressing them.


Conflict and miscommunication are common in relationships—but with the right guidance, we can keep those problems to a minimum. Neurodivergent people often feel pressure to conform to other people’s expectations—but that can be an impossible task. Instead, it’s important to manage and set expectations, create clear rules for communication, and focus on understanding each other’s perspective.

If you’re interested in building a plan to improve communication in a neurodivergent relationship, reach out to schedule a consultation for couples therapy.

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