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
- 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.