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Cassandra Syndrome and Marriage to an Asperger’s Spouse

“I’m married to a man with AS (17 years), and I think that I may be suffering from Cassandra Syndrome. Have you heard of this? Is this common for NT wives who are married to an emotionally unavailable (abusive) husband with AS?”

Cassandra Syndrome (CS) is basically the neurotypical (NT) spouse’s experience of emotional suffering that results from distressing interpersonal relations with a spouse who does not understand, empathize with, or validate the NT’s pain and sorrow. Many NT partners are negatively affected by a number of Asperger’s traits (e.g., lack of empathy, mind-blindness, alexithymia, etc.). 

Over time, the NT spouse may begin to feel isolated, invalidated, and even ‘held hostages’ in their own home. A common phrase expressed by many NTs is, “I’m simply not important to my spouse.”

The emotional distress felt by the NT usually occurs when the Asperger’s partner:
  • exhibits communication problems
  • has an inability to be intimate
  • is emotionally distance
  • prefers to relate to the NT partner from a distance (the Asperger’s partner fails to realize that he/she must be intimate, vulnerable, and empathic in order to truly “know” - and cooperate with - the NT partner)

The NT wants a deeper, more personal and satisfying relationship (of course), and therefore “pushes” the Asperger’s partner to “step up” and participate more fully in the marriage. However, this pushing and pleading results in further difficulties, because the Asperger’s spouse now views the NT as being increasingly bitchy, irrational or hysterical. Thus, the Asperger’s spouse distances himself/herself even further for anxiety-reduction purposes.

Symptoms of CS may include any of the following:
  • avoidance of going places (e.g., social events) with the AS spouse because it “always ends badly”
  • being easily irritated and angered
  • difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • emotional numbness
  • feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • intrusive distressing recollections of past encounters with the AS spouse that were perceived as him/her being selfish, uncaring, and insensitive
  • markedly diminished interest or participation in previously-enjoyed activities
  • persistent and distorted blame of self
  • persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself
  • persistent anxiety, anger, guilt, or shame
  • persistent inability to experience positive emotions
  • depression
  • suicidal ideation
  • severe resentment

As one NT wife stated: “I've grown to utterly despise him, and then, of course, hate myself for despising him because he ‘can't help it’. Living with an AS spouse is living with an abusive spouse. Period.”

It’s usually both a blessing and a relief when an NT partner learns about Asperger’s and realizes that there is an explanation for the Asperger’s spouse’s “hurtful” behaviors. In this way, the NT realizes she is NOT crazy, and that she may have taken a lot of things personally that were in fact part of the disorder. If you’re an NT spouse experiencing such difficulties, know that you’re not alone – and that this plight is indeed recognized in the literature (i.e., CS).

In a nutshell, a relationship that results in CS is one that lacks “emotional reciprocity.” Emotional reciprocity exists when partners provide empathetic support to each other. It's a mutually beneficial relationship with balanced levels of “give and take.” With CS, one partner does most of the “give” with very little “take” in return.

Note: It’s not uncommon for the NT spouse to feel lonely, anxious, and depressed because he/she has tried to tell others (e.g., family members, friends, coworkers) about the Asperger’s-related marriage difficulties, but receive little-to-no validation or empathy from others – or be viewed as melodramatic and whiny. This is due to the fact that the Asperger’s partner often presents himself in quite a different light in the public eye (i.e., appears “normal,” kind, composed). But he/she is a very different person at home behind closed doors.

The Main Reasons People with ASD Are So Anxious

"Mark, you say in many of your YouTube videos that people on the spectrum are almost always suffering from anxiety. Why is this?"

Individuals with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism are especially vulnerable to anxiety for several important reasons. The affected individual experiences this intrinsic feature of the disorder due to any – or all – of the following:

  • a breakdown in circuitry related to extinguishing fear responses
  • specific neurotransmitter system defects
  • an inability to make accurate “social judgments” 
  • sensory sensitivities
  • past trauma that results from being victimized, rejected and teased by their peers – without possessing the ability to mount effective socially adaptive responses
  • an insufficient grasp of situations to recognize that others “get it” when he/she does not 
  • social challenges that make it difficult for the person with AS to develop coping strategies for self-soothing and/or controlling difficult emotions
  • limited skills for autonomous social problem-solving  
  • limitations in the ability to grasp social cues
  • a highly rigid personality style that craves routine and structure (i.e., strong dislike for change)
  • repeated “social errors” 
  • limitations in generalizing from one situation to another

Other issues that can significantly raise anxiety levels involve:

Resources for Neurodiverse Couples:

==> Online Group Therapy for Men with ASD

==> Online Group Therapy for NT Wives

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples 

==> One-on-One Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism  

==> Online Group Therapy for Couples and Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder

 ==> Cassandra Syndrome Recovery for NT Wives



Is Your ASD Partner Exhibiting Traits of the Disorder - or Purposely Being Insensitive and Uncaring?

Stress-Management for People on the Autism Spectrum

There are a number of techniques you can try to manage your stress. What works is different for everyone, and it can take time to find the ones that work best for you. Here are 10 tips to try:

1.    Be good to yourself. Remember that you are NOT your stress. You are not a feeble weakling. You are not a second-rate person. You simply have a mental health condition called “chronic stress.”

2.    Be aware of your self-talk. How you think directly affects how you feel. Stress makes you overestimate the danger in a situation -- and underestimate your ability to deal with it. Think of different interpretations to a situation that’s making you stressed, rather than launching to the worst-case scenario. Look at the facts for - and against - your negative thoughts being true.

3.    Fully understand your stress. Keep a diary of when it is at its worst – and best. Look for the patterns, and plan your day to proactively manage your stress.

4.    Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Stay active, eat well, go out into nature, spend time with family and friends, and do the activities you enjoy. These are all effective in reducing stress and improving your mood.  

5.    Learn from other people. Talk with others who also experience stress or are going through something similar. This can help you feel less alone.

6.    Set aside time to worry.  No one can stop worrying entirely, so set aside some time to humor your worries. Take 5 minutes each evening to write them down and go over them in your head. This will help stop your worries from taking over at other times.

7.    Utilize progressive muscle relaxation. Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and slowly tense and then relax each of your muscles from your head to your toes. Hold the tension for 5 seconds, and then release slowly. This will help reduce the feelings of muscle tension that often comes with stress.

8.    Incorporate slow breathing. When you’re stressed, your breathing usually becomes shallower. Deliberately slow down your breathing. Count to 5 as you breathe in slowly, then count to 5 as you exhale slowly.

9.    Try to stay in the present moment. Stress can make your thoughts live in an awful future that hasn’t happened yet. Bring yourself back to where you are now. Meditation can help with this.

10.    Attempt small acts of courageousness. Avoiding what makes you stressed provides some relief in the short term, but can make you more stressed-out in the long term. Thus, approach something that makes you somewhat fearful (even in a small way). The path through stress is by learning that what you’re afraid of isn’t likely to happen. Even if it does, you’ll be able to deal with it effectively.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA

When Your Asperger's Husband Suddenly "Detaches" from the Relationship

"How can a man [with Aspergers syndrome] just switch off his emotions seemingly overnight? Something happened a few weeks ago [I’m not sure what it was exactly] and my husband has changed for the worse… has no interest in sex… no interest in talking to me… no interest in going anywhere with me, etc. Has anyone else experienced this where your AS husband turns into a completely different personality all of the sudden and doesn’t know why? He’s not even aware that he has shut me out. How does this happen? I’m so confused! Is he cheating on me perhaps?"

In counseling couples, it has been my experience that when this happens, it is frequently the case that the husband with AS no longer feels safe in the relationship. In most cases, the relationship difficulties between the two partners/spouses have been going on for several years with no improvement in sight.

Thus, the NT wife has repeatedly registered numerous complaints and concerns about the relationship (in hopes of getting to some kind of a resolution), and the list of concerns and hurts keeps growing.

So, now the husband feels as though there is no way he can redeem himself. That is, the list of problems is simply too long and deep to address at this point (in his mind). Therefore, he feels like he cannot truly be deeply “in love” with someone who has this colossal litany of unresolved issues with his past behavior.

In other words, the AS man in this case feels that he is in a very vulnerable position and would be putting himself in “harm’s way” if he were to “stay in love” with someone this “threatening.” He dials-down his love, affection and connection in order to avoid getting hurt in the event that his NT wife registers more “painful” complaints – or worse yet – leaves him. 

He’s afraid to have attachments to someone who may abandon or ridicule him. And he uses the wife’s “criticisms” as evidence that abandonment is highly probable – and even imminent. This is (unfortunately) a survival strategy (i.e., a way to avoid feelings of shame and the pain of loss).

Of course, this is not the only reason an AS husband may suddenly "detach" from the relationship, but it is by far the main reason I have witnessed in counseling couples affected by the disorder.

Resources for Neurodiverse Couples:

==> Online Group Therapy for Men with ASD

==> Online Group Therapy for NT Wives

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples 

==> One-on-One Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism  

==> Online Group Therapy for Couples and Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder

 ==> Cassandra Syndrome Recovery for NT Wives

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