“My husband has many positive qualities, but his ability to interact properly with family and friends is missing. It’s a rare occasion that he doesn’t say or do something that raises a few eyebrows whenever we are out in public. When I try to point out to him what he said that was perceived as inappropriate – and why – he just gets defensive and throws it back in my face. Why is he so resistant too simply work on some conversation skills? It’s embarrassing, so much so that I purposely avoid certain outings, especially large family gatherings.”
Adults with Asperger’s need to decide for themselves when they will work on their poor people skills. It can be tough for the neurotypical wife or partner to sit back and watch their “Aspie” man struggle in the social arena, but they should try to let things play out on their own time. To charge-in and assert to the man that he “needs to work harder on developing some social skills” will only add to his low self-worth and sense of being “a bit quirky.”
Oftentimes, adults with Asperger’s are not in a frame of mind where they are ready to make changes based on their partners requests (but as they age, many of them start to feel differently).
Here are some reasons why Asperger’s husbands/partners may not be up for addressing their social skills deficits:
1. Men on the spectrum may be particularly unenthusiastic about the idea of accepting help or criticism from their partner. Also, if they view their partner as someone who is parental, authoritarian, or “impossible-to-please,” they will be even less likely to welcome “assistance” (well-intentioned assistance usually downloads in the Aspie brain as criticism).
2. These men may fully believe the messages that their insecurities are telling them, and they may not think there is any hope of improving. Their self-talk may go something like this: “I'm just not good with people” … “You either have it or you don't” … or “There's no way I can just chit chat with people – it’s too mundane.”
3. They simply may not view themselves as awkward – just “different.” On those occasions when they are accused of being “inappropriate” by their partner, they may not see anything wrong with their behavior (usually due to the “mind-blindness” issue, which is an Asperger’s trait).
4. They may realize they have some things they need to work on, but don’t feel those things are a priority at the moment. Plus, “trying to change” would be too much work.
5. They may recognize they have some social problems, but are ashamed of them. Some would rather try to hide their social skills deficits and save face – even if that means losing out in the present.
6. Some men on autism spectrum feel superior from an intellectual standpoint, and may have the attitude that their wife doesn’t really know what she is talking about – especially when it comes to their social life. They may think their wife simply doesn't understand what they are going through. Even when other people agree with the wife regarding the Aspie man’s inappropriateness in certain situations, he may still think his wife is clueless.
7. Due to “theory of mind” issues, many adults on the spectrum are somewhat unaware of the fact that they have social challenges. They may know on some level, but for the most part, they are very content with their current attitude and behavior.
8. Most men, with or without Asperger’s, don't like to think that they fail to measure-up in their partner’s eyes. Even if they see no problem with their poor social skills, they may still feel like they are disappointing their partner and be reluctant to bring the topic into the open or accept their partner’s help.
9. In some cases, the lack of social skills may not have cost these men enough (yet). For example, the man who feels like he is being constantly berated by an unhappy wife may simply choose to spend most of his free time avoiding her by being on the computer excessively. As a result, he is not losing much by being in a discontented marriage – especially since he is not that interested in socializing anyway.
10. In most cases, it’s not that people with Asperger’s experience social anxiety. Most can easily hold a conversation with relatives, friends, or even complete strangers – as long as it has something to do with their areas of special interest! Small talk is meaningless and boring to them. As a result, they tend to tune people out, which can be perceived as indifference, rude and unfriendly, or simply “odd.”