I love you. You are unlike anybody I’ve ever met. I want to continue to be a part of your life, and I want you to continue to be a part of mine. I do not want our marriage to end. I want us to raise our children together and be a family. Most of all, I want us to love each other.
Just like the song that played at our wedding, “When I said I do, I meant that I will, ‘til the end of all time…”. But then day to day life played out and we had one disconnect after another. And as more major life events happened, we experienced more and more frustration with each other. I became annoyed when you did not do things for me that I assumed all good husbands do for their wives, like give control of decorating the house over to me, offer me massages, give me gifts on special occasions, or do anything romantic. But, I figured you’re a guy and guys don’t always know to do those things. So instead of expecting things or even dropping hints, I told you the things I liked and what I wanted you to do. Then I became angry and resentful when you did not do them. It seemed the more I asked of you, the less I got. Many times I could not believe how you just didn’t get it – did not understand at all what I wanted and needed, and did not recognize the sacrifices I made for you. I did not think so then, but now, I believe it is very likely you felt the same way towards me.
Then there were your quirks – your insisting things be done a certain way or placed in a certain location, your aversion to any new or different smell, your avoidance of social situations and loud noises. I never saw anyone use earplugs in church or wear sunglasses inside. I know you did not mean for it to be, but a lot of what you did came off as rude, especially where it concerned my family. And then, it started to affect me directly. It annoyed me that you put off redoing the nursery for a whole year after Nina was born. You had a meltdown when I put together the entertainment system while you were away and it was not set up the way you liked it, and another fit when Mom and Gayle rearranged our bedroom furniture. Then you gave me the silent treatment, only talking to me to give me instruction and criticism. It put me under so much stress that I could not function on a daily basis to take care of our children. I began to lose control of my emotions and my temper. I had tolerated the control and abuse for as long as I could, and I felt myself beginning to snap. I felt stifled, suffocated. I had to get out, away from you, to be able to breathe again.
And I did. I left and spent some time in Brackett with friends and family. I have an entire support group here and they have helped me take care of the kids and have given me encouragement, and most importantly, time to do things for me. As a result, I can think much more clearly now. And though I hated the situation I was in, I still love you. I have done a lot of thinking, praying, and reflecting. As I muddled through memories, both good and bad, I just could not understand how you could be so awesome, such an amazing, loving, enthusiastic person in one moment – like when you bought Mom a car, when you patiently helped Kristi prepare for the baby shower when I was pregnant with Nina, how you worked so hard on Sam’s car and drove her north for a camp she had to go to, when you changed my brother’s oil for him, when you went with my family to Nacogdoches for Christmas and did so much for my mom and siblings – but then you can at the same time make comments about where they park their cars, move things around, or even how they help clean up around the house. Those actions seemed so contradictory; I couldn’t understand how one person could act in two totally different ways. And I couldn’t understand how you could love me so much and say I was the answer to your prayers and yet constantly critique everything I do and show no interest in my interests. None of it made any sense to me. So much more negative than positive was going on when I left that I thought you just didn’t love me anymore – you just were using me to get one your life goals, a bunch of kids. I felt I had no value to you as person. But I knew from earnest things you would say about our future plans together, like building our house, and things you wanted to do as a family, like travel the country, that you really did want to experience things with me and share a life together. So you couldn’t have meant to be callous and abusive – but then if you still really cared about me, why would you act that way? If you really still loved me, then what was the explanation for your behavior?
You don’t know why you behave the way you do. I realize that now. I know you are truly sorry for all the things you did to hurt me. And I know you honestly did not intend to. Usually you had no idea you were doing anything wrong, or that I had any other expectations for how you should act. At first I blamed you for not knowing what to do for me. I accused you on the phone of never paying attention, and of not caring. And I blamed your parents for not teaching you better social etiquette and how to treat women. But blaming people doesn’t solve anything, and it does not explain the contradictory behavior, nor the fact that so much of it was not intentional. I felt so confused trying to figure out what went wrong. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong – you told me so all the time. And I knew you didn’t mean to do anything wrong – and it wasn’t really true that you didn’t pay attention. You always paid attention to certain details, like making sure I was drinking enough water. So what in the world was going on?
I knew this was bigger than me. And how I proceeded from that point was too important to base it only on what I wanted. At that point I believed I could never have what I really wanted anyway – a thriving family of successful individuals who support each other, where the mother and father stay together and the children grow up happy - so whatever I chose, to leave you for good, or to come back, I would be unhappy. I didn’t want to raise our daughters without you. I didn’t want to be alone. But I couldn’t thrive and be happy the way we were going. I knew that unhappiness was not in your plans either; you had wanted us to work, too. I just couldn’t understand you. So I turned the whole thing over to God.
I didn’t ask why. I just prayed that God’s will be done. I sat in mass with the twins (your mom had Nina) one Sunday morning and prayed that God would make His will known to me. I told Him I would be completely obedient in whatever He wanted me to do. During the Eucharist, I felt Him very clearly ask me “Are you sure about that?” I thought for a moment about how happy I had been since I left – the help with the kids, the support and encouragement I received from my friends and family, the prospects and freedom I had to pursue my interests in Brackett, and never having to deal with these issues again. But then I decided God knows better than I do. He knows me – and you – better than we do. He knows what would truly make me happy. So I said, “Yes, whatever you want me to do. I don’t want to make this call myself. I can’t screw this up.” His response came “Even if that means staying with T.D.?” “Yes, even if you want me to stay. I will do WHATEVER you want me to.” And that was all. He left me with that thought.
After last weekend, I received an explanation for our situation. It was simple, and it fit so well.
You are different. I have always said I never knew anyone else like you. You are in a category all your own, one in a million. Well, now, it seems that actual figure is more like one in three hundred.
I discovered that there are other people who have your same set of traits: an intense passion and focus for one special interest, paired with an odd list of idiosyncrasies and seemingly rude tendencies. Good news for you, since you always said you wished there were more people who thought like you. There are. And they are affectionately known as “Aspies”, because they have something called Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a very mild form of autism. It has a spectrum with varying degrees of severity. Those who are less affected by it are often just seen as weird or rude. They often go undiagnosed or are not diagnosed until much later in life, after their marriages, careers, and other interpersonal relationships have been through many hard times. Aspies have average or above average intelligence. Many have PhD’s. They are brilliant, passionate people with clear focus and unique insight into the world around them. They don’t play mind games, don’t lie, and don’t hold back what they think or feel. But they have trouble expressing their emotions and picking up on others’ emotions. Also, they like to feel in control of their environment, and as a result they have an aversion to change. Things that others may not even notice drive them completely nuts. Most Aspies don’t have a clue and don’t care about what is popular or in style. So they often do not put much effort into their wardrobe, hair or makeup. Appearance is not as important to them, and while that can be a disadvantage in certain situations, the flip side is, they see past all that and do not judge people the way non-Aspies, or those who they call “neuro-typical”, do. Not all Aspies are autistic in the way most people think of autism. They do not all look and act like Rain Man. They just have trouble relating to other people. Sadly, for those Aspies who get married, 80% of them end up divorced.
T.D. I know you. I know a lot of things about you most people don’t. And as I have read and researched Asperger’s over the past week, it was as if everything I read about it was written about you. I believe you have Apserger’s.
From our very first interaction, I knew that you were different. You were in Brackett for the weekend and had come to the youth Bible study. I was a little surprised to see a college guy at a high school youth group, but then your brother was there, and I thought you were cute, even though you were a little overly competitive at bucket-ball. As luck would have it (or maybe you did it on purpose ), you were in my small group. I was a little annoyed that you were rustling through some papers and flipping through your bible while I was trying to facilitate group discussion. I thought you weren’t paying attention. But when I looked to see what you were doing, I was pleasantly surprised and greatly flattered to see that you were copying quotes and verses I had written in the back of my Bible. That got my attention. I thought “this guy is worth getting to know”.
We started dating, and I was attracted to your enthusiasm and your focus. You had a very clear idea of what you wanted in life – a good wife, a house full of kids, and the freedom to pursue your passion for renovating houses. You had this surety about you that was more than just confidence in yourself - it was this faith that things would work out in your favor, even if you didn’t know exactly how. You had this excitement about life that was just contagious, and I found that very attractive. It seemed to me that for you, success was inevitable, and that made me want to be a part of your life.
You never try to hide who you are, and over the last seven years, I have learned a lot about you and we have been through a lot together. I loved the anniversary card you sent me saying that you’d do it all again, the good times and the hard times. And I’m not mad you didn’t know to get a card or anything else until I said something. I’m not mad you didn’t get me presents on certain occasions, or didn’t go to Kristi’s wedding with me, or lots of other things I thought you should have known to do. I forgive you for those things and for all the things we have talked about and that you have written letters about. I know you are sorry for all the ways you hurt me, and I realize now, that you honestly did not know what you were supposed to do in many of those situations.
I understand now. You think differently. We are physically wired to view the world in different ways. And that will make our marriage a challenge. But with God all things are possible. And it will be hard, but with His help, I can do it. I am up for the challenge.
I like that you are different. You are so much more passionate and aware than the average person. You see things others don’t. More importantly, you see past things that aren’t as important to the bigger picture. I realize now that your idiosyncrasies are not something you can change, and that your needs are hard to express in language that a neuro-typical like me would understand. But now that we have this explanation of why we just keep missing each other on so many things, we can learn how to work through our differences.
Asperger’s is a lifelong condition. There are no drugs or any kind of treatment. There are only certain strategies we can use to cope with having been wired differently. These strategies are worth pursuing if we plan to be in the 20% of undivorced Aspie marriages. I have found a plethora of resources on Aspie relationships, especially marriages. I ordered one book on Amazon and downloaded and read another e-book that was very helpful. I used many of the recommendations for conversation found in the book when I spoke with you about taking Nina this past week. It was hard for me to do, because I had to try very hard to suppress my natural reactions to what you said. But I was able to do it with the understanding that you understand things differently. And though it was hard, the conversation was productive and in the end, positive. I hated that I had to spell out for you just how anxious I get about my babies and the terrible thoughts I struggle with concerning their safety. That is an issue I try hard to hide, and I do not like discussing it, because I can never do it without crying. I just see all the images I did not ask to pop into my head the first time come rushing back to me, so clearly and so horribly terrifying. But that conversation made think about it and consider that maybe that sort of anxiety is not normal, and I may need to get help dealing with it.
I knew our marriage, and this situation was bigger than I thought; I just didn’t realize how much bigger. When I first considered the possibility that you had Asperger’s, I was mad at God for the first time in my life. I had never been angry with Him before, but I just couldn’t understand why He would make some people in such a way that they had so much trouble understanding other people, especially since we were all created for relationship – to love and to be loved, by God and by each other. I had felt so enlightened, as though I had discovered some great truth, when I started reading about Theology of the Body and realized that the context of the Bible and of God’s plan for mankind was covenant, the highest form of relationship, and that our interpersonal relationships are designed to tie into his greater plan. That’s why there is so much history in the Bible. Who did what with whom matters. What we do in our life to affect the lives of others matters. How could God create people for relationship, and then give some of them an emotional disability that handicaps their relationships? But then I realized I was looking at this from my own limited perspective. And God is limitless. He is so great and His mystery encompasses depths we cannot fathom. He created both neuro-typicals and Aspies for the same reason he created both men and women. He wants us to be different. He is not one, easily defined being that our mind can put in a box. In His infinite wisdom, He makes plans outside of time and conducts our history to bring about his glory and our redemption. He wants us to understand things in different ways so that we can better understand Him. He wants us to learn to think outside ourselves. It was then I realized that you having Asperger’s is not what has made things harder for us, but both of us not being able to understand each other is what has made things harder for us. And though we have both tried to understand each other, we have failed. I found my own limitations, and beyond them, I found God.
So now, I have given my will completely over to God. You do the same. You told me you would do WHATEVER it takes to make our marriage work. I will, too. Now let’s find out what that is. The first thing we need to do is go see a specialist, someone who is more familiar with Asperger’s Syndrome, and get a diagnosis. I believe you have Asperger’s, and if you do, that will greatly change our approach to marriage counseling. I want us both to know for certain that is the case so that we can get recommendations on the best way to build OUR marriage (ours is not typical, and so that’s why typical counseling has fallen short) and do what we need to do to make it easier to love and understand each other.
I love you.
Adults with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism - Support Group