Michael, a young man with Aspergers, was cute with his boyish good looks and child-like antics. Nancy loved Michael – Aspergers and all – because he made her smile and he wasn’t afraid to show his vulnerable side by crying on her shoulder about past hurts.
For the first few years, life was filled with so much fun and adventure that Nancy didn’t even notice that all the “adult responsibilities” seem to always fall on her. But one day, it hit her: “I am more like a mother to Michael than a wife!” Nancy became discouraged and began yearning for a man rather than an adult-child. What was charming in the beginning was annoying now.
Every spouse has mothered her man on occasion …you made him some chicken soup when he was sick with the flu …you reminded him to take out the trash …you picked up his dirty socks from the living room floor …and so on. But having to constantly mother a child-like man soon gets old.
Most females are born with a nurturing gene that can’t resist a man who needs her. There’s comfort in knowing your spouse finds refuge from the world in your arms. A child-like man brings a carefree attitude toward life that lifts your mood, which can be refreshing in today’s pressure-filled world. But, life does have its adult responsibilities. Someone has to pay the gas bill or remember to renew the auto registrations. The grown-up world gets burdensome when you have to shoulder responsibilities for two (or more if you have kids). This isn’t what you signed up for. Marriage means having a spouse to help out. So what is a frustrated wife to do?
Here are a few ways to help your Aspergers husband “grow-up” and start to shoulder more responsibility:
1. Accept your Aspie for who he is. There are perks to being married to a child-like man. It’s less likely that he will be controlling or domineering. He’ll be playful and fun. Life with your partner will not be boring. Let your own inner kid come out to play with him. Use your own adult strengths to fill in the gaps as necessary.
2. Allow your Aspie to take on some adult responsibilities – even if he doesn’t live up to your standards. Sometimes an Aspergers husband will step aside and let his spouse take over because she wants things done her way. That is not letting him “grow up” if you insist on being the ultimate decision maker or judgment caller. He may struggle and even fail a few times, but that’s the learning curve.
3. Audio or videotape your arguments (with everyone’s approval) so you both can hear yourselves communicate. Some couples are surprised to hear how juvenile they sound, and they change their communication styles quickly.
4. Create visual cues. Chore charts and budget sheets sound so childish, but he may need a visual reminder. We all have information overload with too much to do and remember. Even neurotypical men do better when you hand them a “honey-do” list. If he’s tech savvy, have him enter items in his Blackberry.
5. Don't assess - or redo - his work. If you want a job done by your Aspie and his work doesn't meet your expectations, do the job yourself and don't ask him to do it in the first place. The problem may just be your expectations and not your spouse.
6. Don't come across as “bitchy.” It's an issue of stubborn will and you will not break him. The more you bitch, the less he will do. Just ask once and leave it that.
7. Don't tell your Aspie to do more than one thing at a time. Tell him one thing he can help you with and leave it at that. Understand that some Aspergers men are genetically wired to reject lists. If that describes your man, then don’t give him a list of things to do – under any circumstances.
8. Encourage your Aspie to hang out with male peers with grown-up attitudes. He could learn from good male role models. It’s said you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.
9. Give your Aspie adult respect. You can’t expect him to be an adult if you treat him like a kid or a second-class citizen in your home. Defer to him and consult his opinions. Don’t correct him, boss him around, criticize how he does things, or override his decisions in child-rearing or anything else. That will only reinforce the fact that you are “wearing the pants” in the family. Treat your Aspie like the “man of the house” (or at least like an equal half of your partnership) and he’ll begin to fill that role.
10. Let your Aspie be the hero. A male loves to do heroic things for his spouse. The problem with childcare and housework is your spouse doesn't understand how important it is to you that he helps. In many cases (especially if you work), day-to-day childcare/housework is incredibly tiring and draining. It's a burden. Your Aspie doesn't see the slow burn of exhaustion as easily as he may see other threats to your well-being. For him to truly understand your difficulty, you need to make a point of explaining your predicament, not in a condescending or angry to tone, but in a manner that conveys your predicament and desperation.
11. Let your Aspie decide the timeline. This may sound counter intuitive, but it works. Males need to be in control. The minute they feel threatened – they flee. If your Aspie runs, then there is no way he will ever complete the job. Besides, when he completes the job, his pride will be surely let you know that he did it before the time elapsed.
12. Notice what your Aspie does – not what he doesn't. Imagine if your spouse pointed out all of the flaws in your appearance and never noticed your good points. You would eventually break down and stop caring about your appearance. It's the same way with Aspies and childcare/housework.
13. Seek counseling to learn the underlying cause of your Aspie’s childish behavior. Subconsciously, he may be avoiding adulthood. Maybe he harbors some fears or past trauma that need to be addressed and healed. A professional can help him discover how to be more fulfilled in his life as a grown-up.
14. Stop mothering your Aspie. No more doing all the care-taking things you do. No more taking on too much responsibility. He probably loves it when you treat him like a child, but if you want him to grow up, stop mothering. Let him take the fall when he falls short.
15. Talk with your Aspie about sharing the load. Don’t nag or belittle him, or he will shut down. Talk about fairness and how many hands make light work. Less stress and work for you means that you’ll have more time and energy to be more relaxed and to join in on the fun with him.
Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples