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Challenges Facing Wives Who Are Married to Aspergers Husbands

The challenges facing some women who are married to a man with Aspergers (high-functioning autism) can be difficult to navigate. These challenges may be completely hidden to other family members, friends and co-workers. No one seems to understand what the wife struggles with. Her husband may seem to be a “good guy” who appears perfectly "normal" to everyone else.

Being married to a man on the autism spectrum may be filled with a predictable progressive pattern that goes from joyful to puzzled to irritated to angry, and finally, to hopeless. In the beginning, the wife may have been swept off her feet and ravished with affection and attention. She was the primary focus of her boyfriend's life. His “obsession” with the relationship felt romantic and intoxicating. But, after a few years of marriage, this feeling may have faded.

The waning of affection is not conscious on the Aspergers husband's part. He is most likely not even aware that this has happened. However, as time goes on, the wife may experience certain negative emotions associated with her husband’s need to find interesting activities in places outside of the relationship. Examples of these emotions include:
  • Hopelessness: When the wife’s best effort to resolve the ongoing relationship difficulties goes nowhere, a lack of hope may permeate the relationship and lead to a separation or divorce.
  • Rejection: Men on the autism spectrum are often consumed by their "special interest." They may be chronically distracted by this interest and find it difficult to pay attention to their wife. This may lead her to feel neglected, or it can be misinterpreted as disinterest on the part of her husband.
  • Resentment: This emotion becomes prevalent when the wife feels ignored, disregarded, disrespected, and alone in the relationship. Some wives will respond to this by becoming very angry and yelling at their husband, while others will shut down and block all emotions (with the possible exception of sadness and depression). 
  • Extreme fatigue: As the wife tries to compensate for the lack of equal sharing or follow-through in responsibilities, she often feels exhausted. In her mind, no amount of effort appears to resolve the problems that continue to plague the relationship. Due to the inconsistency in her husband's willingness take responsibility for things, feelings of being burdened with more than her fair share of tasks (e.g., chores, child-care, bills, etc.) creates more feelings of exhaustion and tension.
  • Feeling devalued: Wives of Aspergers husbands often get the feeling that all their good suggestions and advice are not taken to heart. This may cause the wife to come to the conclusion that her ideas, opinions, wants and needs are worthless to her husband.
  • Disappointment: In the viewpoint of the wife, the same kinds of problems keep presenting themselves over and over again. She has tried to discuss the issues in question, and she has tried to make herself understood, yet the same problems persist.
  • Feeling isolated:  Because her husband seems disinterested in what she has to say and appears to ignore her, it easy to understand why the wife may feel lonely.

Since the Aspergers husband may not even be aware that the marriage has changed for the worse, he doesn't understand why his wife is always so demanding and "bitchy." Her increasing dissatisfaction, resentment and complaints only further damage any chances of communication and intimacy because the husband feels that he can “never do anything right.” He may even feel unloved.

The negative, downward spiral that we just looked at may be avoided when both spouses understand the way Aspergers symptoms are affecting the relationship. It is VERY possible to learn different behaviors to heal these kinds of wounds.

Relationship Skills for Couples Affected by Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Asperger’s Adults and Blue Mood

For the purposes of this post, the term “blue mood” is used to describe a mild form of depression, but one that is chronic (i.e., lingering through the life-span). For the person with Asperger’s (high-functioning autism), a blue mood often begins in adolescence due to his or her lack of social skills and inability to fit-in with the peer group, being criticized, teased, bullied, and ostracized – all of which usually result in low self-esteem and a preference for social isolation (i.e., preferring to be by oneself).

Ridicule and rejection often takes its toll over the years, resulting in not only a pervasive blue mood, but also an element of paranoia in the mind of the “Aspie.” In other words, he or she is so used to being mistreated (emotionally and/or verbally) that he or she comes to expect it. Being highly suspicious of others, preparing for an attack of some kind, and jumping to defensiveness very quickly is not uncommon in adults on the autism spectrum. In addition, it is not uncommon for the “blue” Aspie to use drugs or alcohol to try to relieve his or her despondency and other unpleasant emotions.

Oftentimes, autistic adults’ paranoid tendencies result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, their “expectation of ridicule and rejection” leads them to say or do something that provokes the very negative response from the other person that they so dread. For example, in anticipation of a critical comment, the Aspie may deliver one first, inciting the other person to return the criticism. This, in turn, convinces the Aspie that others and indeed “out to get” him or her.

Unfortunately, many people with Asperger’s not only had to endure various forms of social stress throughout the school years, they now experience much of the same at their place of employment. Many have reported bullying in the workplace.

The main venue for the Aspie’s retaliation against others for past hurts tends to be online (e.g., in chatrooms, forums, etc.) where he or she can chastise others, yet remain fairly anonymous. The typical Asperger’s adult does not have the confidence or social skills to stand up to the “offending party” face-to-face.

As adults, Aspies with a blue mood experience little joy in their lives. They tend to take life too seriously, and to take other’s comments and behavior too personally. In fact, many Asperger’s adults that I have worked with are unable to remember a time when you felt happy, enthusiastic, or motivated. They often report feeling as though they have been in a one-down-position their entire life.

These individuals tend to be rather irritable, gloomy and negative much of the time, usually expecting the worst possible outcome when uncomfortable challenges and struggles arise. They tend to be inactive and withdrawn, worry frequently, and are critical of themselves. Most have a hard time enjoying things and having fun – unless it is a solitary activity, usually one that involves their “special interest.” As one man with Asperger’s stated, “My social skills were and still are, reasonably poor. I have never been able to like myself. I have never cared about my appearance, having long ago decided that I was ugly and unattractive anyway and that grooming and clothes would make no difference to the obvious. Even though I was able to marry a very beautiful woman who loved me deeply and many have assured me that this is not the case at all, inside I have always felt it to be the truth.”

A blue mood appears to affect more women than men. Many of these women report feeling mildly, yet chronically depressed to the point that it seems to be a part of their personality. Kara, a female with Asperger’s, had this to say: “Well I have AS and people are always telling me that I need to change who I am to become more outgoing and social. I don't think there's a problem with me. That's just my personality, part of who I am. Unfortunately there's not much out there in terms of books and things that give dating advice to people with AS. People just assume that we like being alone and don't desire to date, but this isn't necessarily true. I want to feel emotional attachment. I'm just kind of unsure about how to achieve it. I don't really have the social skills to form lasting relationships with people.”

Having a blue mood may be associated with the presence of personality disorders (e.g., avoidant, dependent, histrionic, borderline, and narcissistic). However, it is difficult to determine the extent to which a personality disorder is present since many of the long-term problems of having a blue mood affect interpersonal relationships and how the Asperger’s individual perceives him- or herself.

If the Asperger’s adult finally seeks treatment, it is not uncommon that he or she has had this problem for a many years. Because a blue mood tends to develop in adolescence, the Aspie may believe that it is normal to always feel this way. He/she does not realize that the quality of his/her mood is anything out of the ordinary. So, it often goes unnoticed and, therefore, untreated. The symptoms of a blue mood tend to be chronic, yet the affected individual often does not seek treatment unless he or she develops major depression. Having a blue mood increases the risk of developing major depressive disorder. 

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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