Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you in a relationship with someone on the autism spectrum? Are you struggling emotionally, socially, spiritually or otherwise? Then you've come to the right place. We are here to help you in any way we can. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile...

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Anger-Control Problems in Adults on the Autism Spectrum

“My boyfriend [with ASD] has a lot of anger issues. I don’t know too much about how he was brought up or how his parents treated him. I’m guessing this is something that came from childhood. Or maybe anger is prevalent among people with ASD in general. I don’t know. But he is very sensitive about certain things and I never know for sure what is going to set him off. He’s never violent with me or anything close to that, just his bad mood, gets frustrated easily, etc. Ideas?”

Many adults with ASD (high-functioning autism) will admit that they have an anger-control problem. It’s not uncommon for them to experience an array of negative emotions (e.g., anger, anxiety, depression). 
There are many possible causes for this. It may be due to genetics, environmental issues, childhood-related issues, personal choice, low-frustration tolerance – and of course, due to the disorder itself. Most likely, negative emotions are the result of a combination of these factors.

Here are some examples of things that may contribute to anger-control problems in the adult on the autism spectrum:

1. People with ASD can be extremely sensitive to loud noise, strong smells, bright lights, and other troubling environmental stimuli. This can be a challenge in relationships, because they may be limited in where they can go, how well they can tolerate the environment, and how receptive they are to interpersonal interactions.

2. Frustration and anger is prevalent in ASD when rituals can't get accomplished or when their need for order and symmetry can't be met. Aggravation (usually over little things that don't bother others) may lead to a “meltdown” – and even physical violence on rare occasion.

3. Many adults on the spectrum were physically and socially awkward during adolescence, which made them the frequent target of school bullies. Low self-esteem caused by being rejected and teased by their friends and classmates often made them susceptible to anger, depression, and anxiety –  and they may carry the scars of that past abuse into adulthood.

4. Most adults on the spectrum develop a special interest that may be unusual in focus or intensity. They may become so obsessed with their particular area of interest that they may get upset and angry when something or someone interrupts their activity.

5. Poor “adaptability-skills” is yet another issue. When structure and consistency are disrupted in the person's life, the world becomes confusing and overwhelming – thus launching him into a less than optimal response. The disruption of structure can be obvious (e.g., having to get up at an unusual hour, not being able to engage in a favorite activity, being made to go a different way to work due to a traffic jam, etc.) …or it may be hidden (e.g., sensory sensitivities, subtle changes in the environment which the person is used to, etc.). Many of these “triggers” may be out of the control of the person on the spectrum. Thus, it’s important to remember that low-frustration tolerance and similar behaviors are not cases of “rude behavior” necessarily, rather they may simply be natural reactions to various unwanted stimuli.

6. Most of these adults suffer from “mindblindness,” which means they have difficulty understanding the emotions others are trying to convey through facial expressions and body language. The problem isn’t that they can’t feel emotions, but that they have trouble expressing their emotions, as well as understanding the emotions of others. “Mindblindness” often gives their partner or spouse the impression that they are insensitive, selfish or uncaring.

7. Part of the problem stems from a conflict between longings for social contact and an inability to be social in ways that attract friendships and romantic relationships. Many ASD men, for example, have a desire to date and procure a steady girlfriend, but their “odd” attitudes and behaviors prevent them from doing so. This, of course, is both frustrating and disheartening for the individual such that he often stops trying to establish romantic relationships in order to avoid disappointment.

8. Social conventions are a confusing maze for adults on the spectrum. They may take jokes and exaggerations literally, struggle to interpret figures of speech and tones of voice that “typical” people naturally pick up on, or have difficulty engaging in a two-way conversation. As a result, they may end up fixating on their own interests and ignoring the interests and opinions of others.

9. Some adults on the spectrum have what is referred to as “low-frustration tolerance.” In other words, they have a short fuse, are easily irritated, and do not tolerate even the most minor frustrations well. When the frustrating event occurs, they may have a thought or some belief that increases their frustration level (e.g., "This is too much" …  "Things must go my way, and I can’t stand it when they don't" … "My partner/spouse should stop doing things that annoy me" … "It shouldn't be this way" … "It shouldn't be this difficult" … "I can't wait that long" … "I can't take this" … "I can't stand being frustrated, so I must avoid it at all costs").

10. The typical person on the spectrum tends to rely on routine to provide a sense of control and predictability in his life. When there is an unwanted change to his routine, he may become anxious and upset.

Some adults with Asperger’s have been misunderstood and/or mistreated to one degree or another throughout their life. The mistreatment started as bullying in school, and continued in the workplace. So, their anger is understandable (but doesn’t give them license to be abusive to others in return).

Anger is triggered by people, events, or circumstances that make the person feel vulnerable in some way. He may lash out in anger to prevent others from becoming aware of his vulnerabilities. But, once his anger has run its course and he returns to his rational state of mind, he is left to deal with the repercussions of whatever situation triggered his anger. In the world of Asperger’s, sometimes these repercussions are grim and life-changing (e.g., job loss, separation, divorce, jail, etc.).

Why “Neurotypical” Wives Are Unhappy in Their ND Marriage

“Why does it seem that so many women in relationships with men who have ASD harbor a lot resentment and anger about the neuro diversity in the relationship?”

Some spouses who are married to men with ASD do indeed experience a significant amount of dissatisfaction in their marriage. Not everyone reacts similarly, nor do all couples experience the full range of potential problems.

Being in a marriage to a spouse on the autism spectrum affects the relationship in a number of ways, most notably in the areas of emotional “give-and-take” and communication. Incorrect assumptions (due to the mind-blindness phenomenon) made by the “Aspie” often lead to self-protective strategies that include distancing himself entirely – and then not responding at all to his spouse. An emphasis by the so-called “neurotypical” (i.e., non-autistic) spouse on expressing feelings is likely to lead to frustration and disappointment.

In the beginning stages of the marriage, the neurotypical spouse may be O.K. with doing most of the “emotional work” of the relationship. But, once children arrive, further problems may come about as the ASD father has difficulty effectively engaging and empathizing with his children.  If the wife expresses frustration at this lack of affection and intimacy, her ASD husband is often puzzled by the complaint. Thus, arguments and discontent may result.

ASD is a lifelong developmental disorder, and usually manifests in the inability to successfully relate emotionally to others during everyday interactions. A lack of awareness in interpreting social cues manifests itself. Given that inability, it can be very problematic for the wife of a person with Asperger’s to cope with many of the behavior patterns typically exhibited.

If the husband exhibits many – or most – of the traits associated with ASD, but is undiagnosed, it can be particularly frustrating and demoralizing for his wife. She may even blame herself for the decline in the relationship (e.g., “I’m not attractive to him anymore”). Once an effective diagnosis is made, at least there is some understanding for the wife as to why her husband behaves the way that he does.

When a spouse is diagnosed with ASD as a result of the child within the family being diagnosed, it can come as a "double whammy" to the wife. This is particularly the case when the father and child are diagnosed at the same time, because the woman is now in the position of dealing with two family members affected by an autism spectrum disorder.

The difficulties in understanding the emotions of others and interpreting subtle communication skills (e.g., eye contact, facial expressions, body language, etc.) often leads to the wife’s perception that her husband is simply being rude, uncaring, cold and selfish. While this is understandable for her to feel this way, it is a false assumption. Asperger’s is a genetic, neurological condition that renders the affected person mentally unable to readily understand and interpret the emotional states of others.

Unfortunately, even when diagnosis occurs, some ASD spouses refuse to go into therapy or accept available assistance, because they don’t believe that they have a problem. One woman that I counseled had a husband with the disorder and was relieved to finally discover the reason for his emotional aloofness, but was devastated when he refused to go to counseling. He simply asserted, "There's nothing wrong with me!"

So, one does not have to stretch his or her imagination very far to see why some women married to men on the spectrum are at their wits-end.

Are there any options for the neurotypical wife other than (a) staying in the relationship and accepting her partner for who he is, (b) staying in the relationship and continuing to try to “fix” her man, or (c) leaving the relationship?

Fortunately, couples counseling (preferably by a therapist who has some expertise in working with clients on the spectrum) can help. Also, there are many support groups – both online and off – where these women can go for advice and encouragement -- and to simply vent their hurt and anger over the situation.

More 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


•    Anonymous said… If you can't handle being in a relationship with an Aspie, that's on you. You knew what you were getting into even before you got married.
•    Anonymous said… Not always. It's now clear my dad is autistic but he would never seek a diagnosis. I didn't know I was till my daughter was diagnosed so my husband had no idea either.
Most adults are undiagnosed.
•    Anonymous said… Exactly, I didn't know the reasons behind my husband's behavior until my daughter was diagnosed and then he got the diagnosis. And no one knows what they're "getting into" with anyone (diagnosis or not), people have different experiences before and after living together.
•    Anonymous said… Past generations did not look for ASD kids. If u were diagnosed; you kept it a secret. It wasn't until the TV show "Big Bang Theory" & the acknowledgment of "nerd" intelligence, that ASD people came out of the shadows. Most people over 40 now, had no clue that they or their spouse are on the spectrum. The baby boomer generation was surprised by ASD.
•    Anonymous said… It's a very difficult path in a's sad for everyone involved.
•    Anonymous said… No, often they have no idea!!
•    Anonymous said… I know two who kept it a secret.
•    Anonymous said… Wow such compassion. And no, many of us did not. And once children are born and lives entangled things aren't so black and white.
•    Anonymous said… Because Hollywood promised us a "happily ever after" But it turns out to be lots and lots of lonely work sometimes.
•    Anonymous said… Understanding, respect and acceptance is what matters, just like with a neurotipical spouse
•    Anonymous said… I did not know, and am still undiagnosed. But we think my wife is aspie, too.
•    Anonymous said… bad dressing, sincerity exacerbated, lack of social bullshit with her family, particular interesting and hobbies...
•    Anonymous said… Aspurbugers doesn't have to be genetic . I am an aspie. My son does not have it at all. Seems like this is only a problem in a marriage where the husband is the aspie. I don't have that issue. My husband is an RN very understand . Also has some ADHD himself so not completely Nero typical himself. In fact it insults him when I call him a Nero typical when I get made at him.
•    Anonymous said… Because they take too many little things personal. Your husband has a medical issue, much like epilepsy, he can't control some aspects. If you wouldn't get pissed off at an epileptic having a seizure, you shouldn't get upset by you significant other having an Aspi lapse. Learn more, pay attention more, love me.
•    Anonymous said… This is exactly what the past 19 years has looked like. We're both getting counciling, and it is helping us understand our differences. Yesterday we were able to talk through a huge misunderstanding without a meltdown. A couple light bulbs went off in his head. He didn't realize that celebrating our anniversary was a big deal compared to a date night. He also realized that starting out first thing in the morning acknowledging the milestone is huge for me. We celebrated 19 years yesterday! The day ended well with a lovely dinner after we communicated to each other how we saw the day (it wasn't an easy talk). We were able to enjoy the evening after that, and it kept us (mostly me) from being hurt further. He said 20 years is a big anniversary so he will be planning ahead.

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