Being married to someone with Asperger’s Syndrome is challenging.
Okay, that’s an understatement. Some people might go so far as to say it’s impossible. A quick internet search on ‘Asperger’s marriage’ will turn up plenty of horror stories.
Being married to an aspie is hard work. There are times when the neurotypical partner may feel more like a caregiver than a spouse, especially if the aspie partner’s symptoms are severe.
But if you’re in an Aspergers-neurotypical marriage, you didn’t get there by accident. You’ve made a deliberate choice to share your life in what is essentially a cross-cultural partnership. Like any cross-cultural exchange, an aspie-NT marriage can be a rewarding experience or a nightmare.
There isn’t a lot of self-help literature available for those of us in aspie-NT marriages, especially for aspie women married to NT men (the reverse combination is far more common). Beyond the usual factors that determine the success of a marriage, there are a few unique areas that can make or break an aspie-NT marriage:
- How severe the aspie partner’s symptoms are
- How socially skilled the NT partner is
- How willing both partners are to work on the areas they can improve and accept the ones they can’t
As a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who’s been married to a neurotypical partner for 25 years, I feel like I’ve lucked out in all three areas. I’m at the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum and my husband, The Scientist (as he’ll henceforth be known here), has solid social skills. Most importantly, we’ve become very good at both adaptation and acceptance.
It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes it’s been damn near impossible. More than once we’ve considered whether we might be better off apart than together. But we’ve also found some surprising benefits to our aspie-NT partnership. Hopefully some of what we’ve learned will be helpful to other couples that have taken on the challenge of making an Aspergers-NT marriage work.
In no particular order, here are 12 lessons that we’ve learned (often the hard way):
I have a good sense of my strengths and weaknesses. I’m good with organizing and scheduling. I suck at ironing. I have the patience to help with homework and sit through two-hour soccer practices. I should never be allowed to handle power tools. I enjoy the research involved in managing the household finances. The thought of calling up a neighbor to confirm that we’ll be attending a party causes me to procrastinate for days and need a nap afterward.
If you’re lucky, you have a partner with some different strengths and weaknesses than your own. Dividing up the household responsibilities accordingly makes life easier on both partners and addresses one of the biggest potential pitfalls in an aspie-NT relationship: the tendency for the NT partner to feel like a caregiver rather than a spouse or a lover. If the aspie partner has some clearly designated responsibilities at which she excels, delegating her weak areas to her partner can feel less like a failing.
Successful partnerships are built on a rational division of labor and a marriage is no different.
This is true for both partners, but especially for the aspie partner. There are times when it’s hard for aspies to see why something is hurtful. Get over it. It doesn’t matter if what you said or did was unintentional. It doesn’t matter if you meant well. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s silly or meaningless. Just apologize.
I know this can be difficult. My first instinct is often to say, “but that’s not what I meant” or “what’s the big deal?” This is a bad idea. If your partner is hurt by your words or actions, then it is a big deal. Ideally, your NT partner will be able to calmly identify what you did and how that made him feel: “I feel hurt when you point out in front of other people that I wasn’t paying attention to the conversation.” And then you can just as calmly consider his point of view and apologize: “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that would bother you. I’ll try not to do it in the future.”
Obviously, having this conversation calmly and lovingly can be a hard place to get to. For a long time, my husband thought I had a mean streak. After learning more about Asperger’s, he began to understand that my AS wiring is responsible for a lot of the dumb stuff that comes out of my mouth. Now he tries to calmly point out when I’m being insensitive.
We’ve both realized that even when he tells me that something bothers him, I may still do that something again in the future. I’ll try not to, but there’s no guarantee because Asperger’s makes it hard to generalize from one situation to the next. There’s a good chance I’ll say something similar without realizing it’s hurtful, because in my mind it’s not the exact same thing. It takes a leap of faith for the NT partner to give the aspie the benefit of the doubt when this happens, but this kind of trust may be one of the things that saves your marriage in the end.