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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.

4 comments:

  1. As someone on the spectrum, I can tell you that I have feelings, and write-ups like this hurt.

    First, let's remember that this thing is a spectrum, a continuum. Sure, there are some folks so far on this side that they can't rightly function alone or in society. But are there not are also people who are so consumed with others' perspectives ("empathetic") that they can't think straight? I prefer to refer to the "human personality spectrum" in all seriousness.

    Now I gladly identify with the AS community, albeit I think I'm a relatively mild case. But reading this still hurts. I'm hurt and angry.

    This is so slanted! For instance, if my condition is no fault of my own, why is AS referred to as a disorder? It feels derogatory in places like this. Why not refer to CS as a disorder as well? (Please don't. I'm just making a point.)

    And what about my depressed and "suicidal" mindset, knowing that this person whom I love (or at least honestly think I love) is suffering at my hand? And then you carelessly call it abuse! You're lumping me in with bad actors, when I'm fully aware that my consistent non-action is the problem. Should I look in the mirror and call myself abusive? What about when my wife keeps pressuring me to become different, calling me a punishment... Is that abuse?

    And one more thing. I want a meaningful relationship too. I realize my preferences differ from my wife's, and so I don't pressure her to become like me. You might say that my mere presence is pressure, but try expanding that beyond this discussion - see if it works. I really try not to pressure, try to compromise, but it's never enough.

    The point is, her and I are both suffering, and to frame it in simplistic abuser/victim language is both unfair and inaccurate.

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    Replies
    1. I hear you!
      I have been married for over 25 years with Chris who a year ago discovered he has Aspergers.
      As you can imagine our marriage has had many stages! Suffering included. As an artist and highly community minded person I have tried to keep myself emotionally balanced.
      Recently I have discovered that my suffering came because I was not loving him unconditionally. Once I decided to accept that he has a developmental reason for being how he is our relationship is taking on a new light. I have asked him to think about our relationship as a task he is required to attend to. I am reading and listening to any material out there that can assist us in reshaping our marriage. I hope you and your partner can turn things around for yourselves too. Cecilia in New Zealand ����

      Delete
  2. I didn't read the whole article . When I came upon , the quote :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.” I stopped reading be she is right ...aspergers are VERY abusive , but what this woman and almost all NT's think are that the aspie can't help it , and this is simply not true. Yes the are abusive and they know it . They are by no means unaware of what the do. Why do you think they are always so good , romancing, catering to us and doing things we like BEFORE MARRIAGE? ....tHE ANSWER IS EASY , BE CAUSE THEY DO KNOW HOW WE FEEL ...THEY ARE NOT UNABLE they simply wear the mask , of a good person until they marry us and then they don't care anymore. They have most of the world tricked into believing that they cant change because they are unable , the truth is they can just like they proved to us before we married them .They don't want to change. The truth is they don't care and they don't care that they don't care. . Most wives because of being stuck and not wanting to admit it , buy into this. RARE is the Doctor or Psychologist that knows anything about Aspergers. Beware of ANYONE calling themselves an expert. It was only discovered in the nineteen fifties and people how can we have any experts when nobody has studied them . Nothing has been discovered about them in human relationships ....its just been a few years that we have found out that NT woman married to an asperger man is abused and suffers, and this fact with an exception here and there is a fact. .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 100% correct. Us fellow aspergers abuse survivors need to continue to speak out like this to protect each other from the narrative that has been constructed around these abusers. The last few sentences of your comment are dead on: do your own research, ladies - the pathologization and protective classification of this behavior all falls apart under closer inspection. Trust your intuition.

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