- A person with Aspergers has challenges understanding or predicting the consequences of his/her behavior on others. Therefore, the Aspergers spouse may see the neurotypical spouse as irrational or illogical.
- Aspergers adults, because they have a hard time separating boundaries at times, may hear criticism of a family member (e.g., father, mother, sibling) as a criticism of them, and they likely will not be willing to tolerate it.
- Aspergers men in particular may find conflict almost intolerable. They may hear a difference of opinion or an attempt to explain a different perspective about a situation as conflict or a criticism of who they are.
- Neurotypical women especially tend to want their spouse to understand them and their feelings. However, they need to realize that this is something they may not be able to get from their Aspergers spouse. Some change may be possible, but the neurotypical spouse may need to adjust his/her expectation, and find other places for support without being unrealistic about what they expect from their Aspergers spouse.
- The most basic elements of speaking and hearing are the most important issues that the Aspergers-Neurotypical couples may have. Aspies often have a very difficult time hearing negative emotions expressed by their spouse. They may refuse to communicate, but then end up lashing-out in a very hurtful way later on.
So what can Aspergers-Neurotypical partners do to maintain their relationship. Here are some important tips:
- Both spouses must make a serious commitment to making the relationship work. However, the neurotypical partner is going to have to understand that it will feel to them that they are the party making more accommodations. Even if the Aspie accepts and understands their diagnosis, the truth is that your brains are wired differently. As a neurotypical partner, you will need to shift from "what is wrong" about your spouse and the relationship, to "what is right." You will need to build on the strengths, and value the differences, versus seeing your spouse as insensitive and uncaring.
- Both spouses need to have an in-depth understanding of Aspergers and how marital relationships are affected.
- Conflict is normal, even healthy. Differences between you mean that there are things you can learn from each other. Often conflict shows us where we can or need to grow.
- Couples often derail a resolution when they try to acknowledge the other spouse's position, but then add a "but" in their next breath and reaffirm their position (e.g., “I can understand why you didn't pick up the dishes in the family room, but why do you think I'm the maid?”).
- Defending yourself, whether by vehemently protesting your innocence or rightness or by turning the tables and attacking, escalates the fight. Instead of upping the ante, ask for more information, details, and examples. There is usually some basis for the other person’s complaint. When you meet a complaint with curiosity, you make room for understanding.
- Develop the self-discipline to set limits on your anger and your behavior. If either of you resort to physical force and violence in your relationship, seek professional help. Acting out your anger in aggressive ways violates the other person’s boundaries and sense of safety. Each of us has a right to be safe and free of abuse or physical danger in our relationships.
- Fighting ends when cooperation begins. Asking politely for suggestions or alternatives invites collaboration. Careful consideration of options shows respect. Offering alternatives of your own shows that you also are willing to try something new.
- For both “neurotypicals” and “Aspies”: Become students of each other's culture. Pretend that you are learning a new language from a new country. If you are an Aspie, remember that, in many ways, your spouse is from another planet, the neurotypical planet. And if you are a neurotypical, remember that your Aspergers spouse is from the Aspergers planet. Celebrate the diversity and the differences.
- For the Aspergers partner, reconsider your perception of your spouse and of yourself. Consider that, because of the differences in the way your brain works, a lot of what your spouse is telling you about your role in problems is probably right.
- For the neurotypical partner, shift your focus from what you are not getting from your Aspergers spouse to see and value the strengths he or she brings to the relationship.
- Forget that adage about always resolving anger before going to bed -- and let someone sleep on the couch. Going to bed angry is often the best choice. It allows spouses to clear their thoughts, get some sleep, and make a date to resume the fight (which might seem less important in the light of day).
- Friendly fighting sticks with the issue. Neither party resorts to name calling or character assassination. It’s enough to deal with the problem without adding the new problem of hurting each other’s feelings.
- Global statements that include the words “always” and “never” almost always get you nowhere and never are true. When your spouse has complaints, ask to move from global comments of exasperation to specific examples so you can understand exactly what he/she is talking about. When you have complaints, do your best to give your spouse examples to work with.
- In the heat of an argument, threatening to leave the relationship is manipulative and hurtful. It creates anxiety about being abandoned and undermines your ability to resolve your issues. It quickly erodes your spouse’s confidence in your commitment to the relationship. Trust is not easily restored once it is broken in this way. It makes the problems in your relationship seem much bigger than they need to be.
- It is best if the diagnosis of Aspergers is made and accepted by the Aspergers spouse. One of the best things that can happen is for the couple to seek help from a therapist or marriage coach who understands the unique differences between Aspies and neurotypicals. If the therapist does not understand the unique differences, all that will happen is the couple going back and forth, arguing for their own view of the situation. And the Aspie will have a hard time understanding his/her impact on the neurotypical.
- It’s pointless to blame each other. Blaming your partner distracts you from solving the problem at hand. It invites your partner to be defensive, and it escalates the argument.
- Putting your spouse down or criticizing your spouse’s character shows disrespect for his/her dignity. In sports there are many rules that prevent one player from intentionally injuring another. In marriage and relationships, similar rules must apply. When you intentionally injure your spouse, it’s like saying, “You are not safe with me. I will do whatever it takes to protect myself or to win.”
- Small concessions can turn the situation around. If you give a little, it makes room for the other person to make concessions too. Small concessions lead to larger compromises. Compromise doesn’t have to mean that you’re meeting each other exactly 50-50. Sometimes it’s a 60-40 or even 80-20 agreement. This isn’t about score-keeping. It’s about finding a solution that is workable for both of you.
- Stay in the present and resist the temptation to use the situation as an occasion to bring up other issues from the past. It’s discouraging to keep bringing up the past. You can’t change the past. You can only change today. You can look forward to a better future. Try to keep your focus on what can be done today to resolve the issue at hand and go forward from there. If you get off-topic, on to other issues, stop yourselves and agree to get back on track. You can always come back to other issues later.
- Taking a 1-minute break can help a couple push the reset button on a fight. Stop, step out of the room, and reconnect when everyone's a little calmer.
- The louder someone yells, the less likely they are to be heard. Even if your spouse yells, there’s no need to yell back. Taking the volume down makes it possible for people to start focusing on the issues instead of reacting to the noise.
- There almost always are parts of a conflict that can be points of agreement. Finding common ground, even if it’s agreeing that there is a problem, is an important start to finding a common solution.
- There are two things that derail intense fights: (1) admitting what you did to get your spouse ticked off, and (2) expressing empathy toward your spouse. This can be difficult, but typically is extremely successful. Letting down our defenses in the heat of battle seems counter-intuitive, but is actually very effective with couples.
- There comes a point where discussing the matter doesn't help. So couples need to just hold each other when nothing else seems to be working. Reconnecting through touch is very important.
- Use words that describe how you feel, and what you want and need, not what your spouse feels, wants, or believes. It may seem easier to analyze your spouse than to analyze yourself, but interpreting your spouse’s thoughts, feelings and motives will distract you from identifying your own underlying issues, and will likely invite defensiveness from your partner. More importantly, telling your partner what he/she thinks, believes or wants is controlling and presumptuous. It is saying that you know your partner’s inner world better than your partner does. Instead, work on identifying your own unmet needs, feelings, and ways of thinking and describe these needs and feelings to your partner.
- When one speaks, the other should be really listening, not just planning their rebuttal. Take turns speaking and listening so that you both have a chance to say what you need. Have you ever tried to work through a difficult issue when your partner was talking over top of you and interrupting you? How did you feel? Consciously remind yourself about this when you feel an overwhelming urge to interrupt or speak your mind.
- When people feel strongly about something, it’s only fair to hear them out. Respectful listening means acknowledging their feelings, either verbally or through focused attention. It means never telling someone that he/she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It means saving your point of view until after you’ve let the other person know you understand that they feel intensely about the subject, even if you don’t quite get it.
==> Online Group Therapy for Couples Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder
• Anonymous said... Great article.
• Anonymous said... I know EXACTLY how you feel. This is my life in a nutshell. One thing that helps me is to write my thoughts and feelings down, then have him read them. This gives me time to calm down and think about how I want to say something. Also, you need to give logistical reasons for things, at least I do. "I need you to take out the trash because I'm cooking dinner." "It upsets me when you ignore me for video games because it makes me feel like you'd rather play games than be married to me. I'm asking for help because I can't do everything myself." "You cook, I clean. This is our agreement." "You can't be around chemicals, so you have to sweep, vacuum, and do the laundry." Getting emotional usually frustrates and/or shuts my husband down. Once I learned to take a step back, breathe, and think of a reasonable argument in a calm, low tone, things got SO much better. I'm a hot-tempered Texan, so it's not 100%. Ask him what he needs. That really changed my relationship. Also, try reading "Five Love Languages". There's a quiz you can both take that will tell you your love language, which was crazy eye-opening for me and my husband.
• Anonymous said... Just try to hang in there.
• Anonymous said... Read everything about it, have someone to talk to, have your OWN free time and try to be as rational as you can when you talk to him which you have to do when you know he is in the "listening mode". I'm married to adhd and asperger for 13 years Not easy but very possible!
* Anonymous said... My husband says I am his dream girl and he wouldnt change a thing about me. Sure we didnt know I had as when we got married or for years but it sure helps to know and learn how to communicate better.
* Anonymous said... I'll talk from your hubsnd's perspective, if you'll permit. Although a person with AS can tell they've angered or disappointed you, they rarely understand why. I'll assume that your husband has the normal high IQ common amongst folks with AS, and if so you can use that to your benefit to help him learn how to relate to you and "behave" in a more neuro-typical way. No one with AS wants conflict or strife, as it only serves to worsen the anxiety and depression that is so common in this disorder. Take the time to explain how his behavior made you feel, and most importantly tell him EXACTLY what you want him to do differently. Try to do so calmly, and at a time that both of you agree is appropriate to discuss the concern. Right when he gets home from work, or just before bed, would not be ideal.
• Anonymous said… "am finding myself slipping into feelings of resentment quite often" if you love him.. This comment wouldn't bother you or even spew out your mouth or even come as a thought in your head... that's what true love is.
• Anonymous said… Everyone's wired differently and marriage is a journey, a struggle and hard work but also a fantastic experience. The key is two people who want to keep trying.
• Anonymous said… Find a support group. It's easy for people to say "everyone is wired differently" but let's be honest - that puts the burden on the non-aspie partner to figure out how to deal because the aspie really cannot contribute to resolving the language barrier that happens in this situation. And there is a significant amount that is lost in translation leaving the non- aspire partner feeling not understood, not cared for and even unloved. My support group was the best thing that ever happened to me. Women who understand what it's like to be married to someone with Aspergers - no one else can even begin to understand the challenge. Many of the people at the adult Asperger's support groups I go to comment that their diagnosis made their marriages to their NT partner much happier. I think the linked article is pretty balanced. It points out that both people in the relationship need to work at understanding the other. The challenges are not because ONE partner "is wired differently", it's because TWO people have brains wired differently to each other. BOTH people in the relationship need to be willing to understand and adapt to each other's outlook.
• Anonymous said… I completely understand the feelings. She is asking for advice. She didnt just up and leave. This is an example of true love. She is trying to understand and reach out for help. I agree with David Iverson.
• Anonymous said… In my case my wife died before I got my diagnosis. We managed OK for 16 years but a lot of things fell into place in hindsight once I had the diagnosis. There were some arguments that I now understand were down to mutual misunderstanding from our brains being "wired differently" . Or times when we both felt a little unloved or uncared for because we didn't recognise the way the other was expressing their love. I can collate some of those things and ask the guys at the support group for their experiences to get something together.
• Anonymous said… It also means being willings to understand what each person needs. That should be made very clear at the outset. This is not about right or wrong....just differences ....and what you can live with and what you can't.
• Anonymous said… My partner has aspergers and honestly its not much of a relationship. Its a struggle & he doesn't care.
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