Lessons from an Aspergers-NT Marriage (Part 1)

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.

(By WordRidden via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.)

In no particular order, here are 12 lessons that we’ve learned (often the hard way):

Divide up household and family responsibilities according to each partner’s strengths.

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.

Apologize when you do something that your partner finds hurtful.

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.

—–

In part 2: bad days, social skill deficits and touch sensitivity

72 thoughts on “Lessons from an Aspergers-NT Marriage (Part 1)”

    1. It is hard. Sometimes it helps to phrase an apology as “I’m sorry that what I did hurt you (made you sad, angry, whatever is appropriate.)” Even if the original thing itself doesn’t seem like a big deal, I usually do feel horrible about making my husband feel bad, so I can be genuine in apologizing for that at least.

      1. This reminds me of a great list I read which should’ve been titled, “The Art of Apologizing.” I will share a link if one exists. It may have come from a printed book. Briefly, it involves going beyond merely saying, “I am sorry.” It includes an action plan of what one will do to avoid its happening again and about six other detailed steps.

        1. An action plan is an excellent idea. When I goof up, I try to understand what I did that was problematic and think about whether I need to avoid it in the future, and how to do that. If you find a link, please share it here.

          1. For me, a good apology contains the following: An acknowledgement that I caused harm in some way, an expression of remorse for causing said harm, an expression of understanding of how I caused harm, and a promise that in the future, I will engage in [action(s)] to avoid repeating said harm. Only the second and the fourth need to be explicit – the first and third can be implicit in the phrasing.

            What an apology should not contain under any circumstances is: an attempt to justify my actions, any minimization of the potential harm caused, or anything resembling an insistence that my perception of the situation is the correct one. I don’t have to understand why joking about [topic] is harmful to [person] when it’s not to me, I just have to understand that it is and that I shouldn’t do it again.

            Now, I achieve this in practice with varying degrees of success, but it’s what I strive for when I feel an apology is called for from me.

            1. I just found this page. Self suspected aspie hoping to get a second opinion after the first guy rushed me through and said I wasn’t. Also married to a typ (my nickname for neurotypical) for over 8 years.

              I think the apology rule should apply both ways. Just as typs may find things hurtful that aspies won’t, the reverse is true as well. I’ve said/done some things that have been upsetting to my wife that I never understood why, although I have tried to learn and avoid those things. The situations have also been reversed, and I’ve been very hurt with my wife not even knowing.

              To top it off, I had a history of previous relationships where things that hurt me but maybe wouldn’t bother a typ were brushed off when I brought them up. It took me a long time to overcome that instinct to keep my mouth shut and start opening up to my wife right away. It also took a long time to realize that fear of opening up came from a history of trying to be typ when I’m not.

              I may be a bit late in joining the conversation, but I figured I’d take from my experience and let fellow aspies know they have a right to their feelings and the acknowledgment of them by their spouse.

              1. Oh definitely – I totally agree that apologies should be made for hurtful actions both ways, with a few obvious exceptions – an abuse victim, frex, should not have to apologize for leaving an abuser. People in general should not have to apologize for setting reasonable boundaries to others (“Do not touch my computer, please. I have sensitive information on there.” should not require an apology, no matter if the other person is annoyed that they can’t use my computer).

                But in general, someone who hurts another is well advised to apologize for causing hurt.

                1. Totally agree about the abuse victims. My wife and I have both suffered abusive relationships in the past. Knowing that about each other, we’re very considerate of each other’s feelings and boundaries and very open to listen to each other. That way, if one of us is upset, even if the other doesn’t know why, we have an opportunity to explain what’s upsetting us and the other has a chance to make it right.

      2. Yes, it does sort of fit. You have my wife to thank for the link. She suggested it. 😉 The excerpt I’m looking for is much more detailed and it tastes like ugly but very necessary medicine It’s like a magic, healing recipe for all involved, the offender and the victim. Will keep looking for it…

      3. musings – you need to be a little bit careful of ‘apologising for the hurt’. If done genuinely it can be ok. But sometimes it can feel like a non-apology. Institutions do this all the time when trying to minimise their responsibility. “We’re sorry for the distress this caused” – oh, I see and you’re not sorry for losing my luggage or the medical error which caused my baby to die. (These are non-apologies I’ve received and seen in the news. Although I received a non-apology for the horrific care I received when my son was born, he didn’t die – thank goodness!!!)

        1. But isn’t that more because there is no personal connection between you and the person/organisation/institute doing the apologising, so you already know beforehand it won’t be as sincere as an apology from someone you’re close to.

  1. I have to disagree with one point: if you do something that your partner finds hurtful but that he shouldn’t find hurtful, you have no reason to apologize. It may be true that not apologizing will hurt the relationship. If it does, that’s for the best. Surely it’s better to be in a relationship with a person who isn’t unreasonably offended than it is to put unreasonable effort into maintaining a relationship with a person who is.

      1. u are right right or wrong is in the eye of beholder nobody can decide what is right or what is wrong even if u think u can decide what is right what is wrong but thats not true we are not god who knows all things

    1. I’ve learned that there is no “should” or “shouldn’t” when it comes to feelings. Feelings just are. Though its hard, I try to validate any feelings and examine my actions or words objectively and apologize if necessary (Sometimes later). In my teenaged years I had a trusted counselor use the expression “…but in the outside world (or “outside of your mind”), this is how things are.”, meaning: no matter what my instincts told me based on my own world-view filter, certain actions or behaviors just simply have certain effects on most of the world, regardless of my intention, and I don’t have to agree. I just need to accept that it is so.
      A good example is sexual harassment on the worksite. By law, it doesn’t matter how innocent one’s remark is or how well-meant. Certain words and specific comments are unacceptable and the only criteria in a gray area situation is how the other person PERCEIVED your remark.

    2. How do you know that your partner shouldn’t find this hurtful? My husband would often be ‘factual’ about my cooking. Such and such needs improvement. I’m kinda ok with that because I AM a great cook, he says I’m a great cook and in his mind he’s just trying to make it even better. However, when he does this in front of other people I find it extremely hurtful. He doesn’t see why, I guess. This is embarrassing to me and makes me look like I have a jerk for a husband and that I am so weak I put up with verbal abuse. He should apologise, it would do a lot to smooth over my hurt feelings. But instead he EXPLAINS, which hurts even worse because it minimises my feelings. So my relationship advice to you is that every time you feel the need to explain why you shouldn’t have to apologise, just apologise.

  2. So glad I found your blog! And surprisingly by searching for photos of hippity hops and sit n spins! Couldn’t have survived childhood without em! Can’t wait to read the rest. :0)

  3. Sometimes I apologize for the actions but not the fact it caused pain and sometimes vice versa! Because my feelings count too.
    It’s also important to remember that we get hurt by NT behavior that they would not get hurt by, such as them assuming our challenges are learned and therefore our fault if we can’t “get over it”. In the NT world, if you have negative behaviors or characteristics, all you have to do is just have some talk therapy and identify your behavior, get some childhood issues off your chest, maybe try a little positive affirmation- then over a relatively short period of time you’re “cured” of the unwanted behavior! Would that it were so easy for us!
    My husband is sure that if I just took deep breaths then got in a car and drove, then soon I’d lose my “unreasonable” fear of driving. He can’t comprehend that its not stage fright and its not a simple phobia. It’s based on very reasonable fears, given the size and power of a car, that bombard me throughout the drive and are partially caused by of all my sensory irregularities (depth perception, light sensitivity, poor spatial awareness, etc) as well as executive dyfunctions such as inability to remember directions, even if just read, so I have to constantly glance over at written instructions.
    He doesn’t realize that every “lovingly supportive” effort to change my feelings on this hurts me because I feel like he doesn’t care that I fear dying or killing someone else and I feel misunderstood.
    So HE thinks I should not find that hurtful.

    1. I love your description of NT therapy. 🙂 You’re right about there being a difference between irrational phobias and fears/hesitancy based on actual sensory and other processing issues. I think it’s as hard for NTs to understand how our minds work as it is for us to understand them. Weirdly, we’re the ones who always get hit with the poor theory of mind label!

    2. Oh my god, I have the SAME issues with driving. You’ve described it perfectly. Thank you. I am not the only one! I haven’t driven in over 20 years.

  4. I just came across your blog. I am about to be engaged to a wonderful man who I strongly suspect has (undiagnosed) mild AS. He can be such a beautiful person (kind, loving) but then a switch flips & he turns into a beast (never physically abusive, but can be verbally so). I have been struggling a lot with his meltdowns, although I have learned to predict when one is coming (it doesn’t make it any less painful to go through one w/him but I am learning to cope/deal with it and not make it worse). He’s also brilliant, but this can also be overwhelming as he gets fixated on certain things and can literally spend hours working on & perfecting it. He has a lot of the symptoms of AS that I’ve researched so far. I’m so happy I found this site! It offers me a lot of insight on how his mind is working, I hope to keep reading through it to gain knowledge on properly strategizing this. Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us!

    1. It’s great that you’re finding the site helpful. I wonder if it would be easier on both of you if you made yourself scarce when your boyfriend is about to have a meltdown? I know that my husband finds it really hard and frustrating to be around and we’ve concluded it’s okay for him to simply leave the room and I’ll come find him when I’m ready. That way he doesn’t have to feel like he has to comfort me (which is impossible) and I don’t feel like I have to be comforted or feel better so that he’ll feel less stressed. I think this might be especially important for your mental and emotional health if your boyfriend gets emotionally abusive during meltdowns. It’s something you could talk with him about when things are calm to see if there’s a strategy that might work for you both in the long term.

      I hope you’re able to find ways to strategize and discover what works for you as a couple. AS can definitely make relationships more challenging.

  5. Thank you for the advice! I actually have tried that in the past & most of the times it did work. I’ll keep reminding myself to keep with that as it does seem to be the best solution so far. But sometimes he follows me if I walk away from him & continues w/his meltdown. I guess I just need to constantly remind myself to not take it personally & to just walk away.

    On a lighter note, we just got engaged late last night!! 🙂 I’m so happy & thrilled to finally call him my fiancé & look forward to building a life with him. Also, I guess this site will be that much more helpful to me since we’ll be married eventually :-).

    1. Congratulations!!!! 🙂

      I know it can be counter-intuitive to walk away from someone who’s so upset, but it may be the best thing since your fiance probably has difficulty managing his own actions during the meltdown and so you’re in a better place to take action. You might even talk with him and agree on what you’ll do so that if you do it and he follows you, you can remind him that you both agreed it would be best for you not to be around to be the target of his meltdown.

      And yes, definitely try not to take it personally. It’s such an unavoidable thing for autistic people and so often not at all related to the current situation (so much as to a bunch of other things that preceded it).

      1. Thank you!!! 🙂 I was beaming all day lol, cannot stop looking at the ring, my fiancé (gotta get used to calling him that!! I keep saying boyfriend haha) keeps shaking his head! 🙂

        Thanks again for the great advice as well!!

  6. Day by day, I grow ever more grateful to people like you who put their lessons down in writing. As a therapist working with adults with Aspergers, I’m always on the lookout for quality material, especially material written by someone who themselves has Aspergers. Recently I watched a video on Autism Brainstorm with John and his wife, Maripat. They talked about how both partners have strengths and weaknesses. As you said, it can be extra helpful and extra challenging. But the differences can also be so rewarding.

    I’ve been sensitive to Aspies who at times have felt that most of the marriage books out there are written by NT’s for NT’s, and people with Aspergers often feel “bashed” on. What are your thoughts about this? And what is a solution? Maybe an Aspie needs to write a book for other Aspies: How to Cope with Your NT Partner 🙂

    1. I haven’t read any of the books by NTs because I’ve heard the same and don’t want to subject myself to that. The search terms that I see in my blog about being married to/in a relationship with an aspie are disheartening enough.

      I’ve read books by aspie/aspie and aspie/NT partners, but can’t say that I’ve come across any I really liked. I think as the literature continues to grow, we’ll see more well-rounded, sensitive works on this subject. (I hope.)

  7. I was so happy to read your blog entries. As I write I am just in tears, I need help and have no one to talk to. I know my husband is an aspie, as yet undiagnosed, but we’ve spoken with his family and mine, and they all agree that he is. He agrees he is, and then other days says he’s not. Our five year old son is an aspie. I suspect his mother and sister are on the spectrum, as well, to some degree. I fear we are coming to the end of our marriage – I just cannot take his brutal insensitivity any longer. He lies about where he spends his time, using drugs, etc. when I discovered he had lied to me for years about drug use, I was shattered. I suspected and asked him and he denied and denied, but I knew. I just knew. His personality has really gone down hill the last couple of years. He is mean, angry, defensive and getting worse by the day. He’d doesn’t care if her swears and erupts in front of our two kids or how scary I tell him he’s being. He always tells me how wrong I am for thinking or feeling certain ways, this is the big thing right now, that I am so WRONG for being hurt or whatever, my feelings or thoughts never count. I feel as though I am drowning in despair. He has always been different from other guys I have dated, but he changed profoundly when I was pregnant with my first, our son. At the time, I had no idea about Aspergers, zero, and because things between his family and I weren’t great, they didn’t share their beliefs about him when his nephew was diagnosed as moderately asd and generalized anxiety disorder and his parents began having suspicions about their son, my husband. I just don’t know what to do. My best friend has stopped contact with me I believe because of the years long problems I have had with him and the anger that has overcome me in being constantly hurt, rejected and ridiculed. I simply can longer see how we can stay together. Especially now. And we don’t have the money to get him properly dx’d. Even though I just know he is. Anyways, so sorry for ranting. Of it’s possible to save my family I would like that, but I can’t keep feeling like I mean nothing and have no value and validating my feelings are a joke to him. I will show him your blog, if he’s open to it, but there is never any real progress. Maybe two weeks, whatever he can manage, and we go right back to the bad of it all. Add to that my distrust from all his lies, then I’m in a real mess. He thinks it’s ALL me and that he has no fault, it’s very difficult to have a conversation with him. I know I do wrong things and have my own troubles, but I see now how he has polarized our lives and we need help so badly. I think I just needed to get this off my chest. Sorry to be a burden or negative. Don’t feel like you have to respond. Thank you for putting up your written pieces, they are very good. I will refer to them again.

    1. I’m sorry you’re having such a difficult time. Based on what you’ve said, that doesn’t sound like the typical profile for Aspergers or if it is Aspergers, there are a lot of other things going as well so I honestly don’t feel qualified to comment in any sort of specific way. I hope you find the answer you’re looking for though because it sounds like a very hard situation to be in.

    2. Teresa,
      I’m so sorry that you are going through such a rough time. I am not in any position to diagnose or offer advice, but I can tell you about my own experiences. I am self-diagnosed, and suspect that my father has a mild form of ASD himself. My father used to go into rages and point out the “flaws” in everyone else on a regular basis. Rather than seek professional help for his anxiety and anger issues, he self-medicated with alcohol. It had a very strong effect on me as a child, and as a young adult I finally found help for myself by attending Al-anon meetings. Alanon is for the friends and famIlies of people affected by the substance abuse of their loved ones. I learned that I can’t change my father, but I can change myself. Alanon hel

      1. Oops, my clumsy finger cut me off there.
        Alanon helped me immensely, and especially this time of year when families tend to be pushed together a lot and under extra stress. You are not alone. I wish you all the best.

        1. You’re welcome. I can see the situation from the point of view of Theresa’s kids and also Theresa’s husband (as an aspie). My father felt under a lot of stress between his job and having 3 noisy kids. He was very clear about his wanting us to be quiet. Looking back, I remember him trying to get some quiet for himself. He read a lot and tried to catch up in sleep (bad insomnia) through naps. I see so many of the signs of aspergers/autism in him now, looking back. We didn’t know what to call it then. As a child I remember him screaming at my senile grandmother and thinking I will never expose my children to that . I solved that problem by not having children. I was afraid that I’d behave like my father with children of my own. my parents stuck it out and have been married nearly 60 years. (i remember wanting them to divorce, but also not wanting to have to spend time alone with him as part of a custody settlement) My father is retired and his children are adults. Health issues induced him to quit drinking. A lot of the stresses in his life are gone now and his eccentricities are now chalked up to his age. But I remember when. My mother was a very strong person and I know that it has not been easy for her. I feel for Theresa and hope that her husband can find a way to accept himself and find help for himself.

    3. To be honest it sounds like he is bipolar. The two are easily mixed up when talking about adults. The lieing and denying and anger and all that. My second cousin is bipolar and he sounds just like your husband. I do not see from what you wrote that he fits to being an Aspie, but I am not a professional. I would recommend him def. see someone though to find out either way. Good luck.

      1. Hi – thank you so much for taking the time to write, I really appreciate it.

        It’s no secret that I have a had a hard time – and I’m not alone in that with him – his family, my family, and now starting with our kids as they get older.

        My sister is bipolar and although I can for sure see in my sad sack story that he might appear that way, I have never felt that to be the case. But I really appreciate your thought on it – when I wrote this story, I was truly at my wits end and just needed help. NOW! Thankfully things have settled (mostly) but I really am struggling most days (just because I am TIRED and I feel like he is my third child and that makes me, well, TIRED!).

        I saw a pyschologist who is the director of the clinic where I had my son dx’d as aspie shortly after I wrote this post. He interviewed my husband, who was willing to go (thankfully) and the Dr. told me that he is positive my husband has ADHD. Doh!! I thought this last Spring! I had really began searching out possible causes for his struggles, impulsiveness (which included lying to me but hadn’t learned that gem yet), sudden anger issues and the inability to connect with me on a great many issues. But when I approached my husband with it, he was VERY against ADHD as being the dx. OK, I thought. I’ll stick with asperger’s until I can figure it all out. Most of his family have asperger’s, they have been discovering over the last two years. Basically since my sons dx came out in feb ’12. His sister, his mother (explains a lot about how rocky our relationship can be, lemme tell ya!), his nephew and now his neice. Basically the only one of them that I have truly ever fully been able to connect with is his father, and he’s not on the spectrum. So, even though he truly has some strong aspie traits (hearing about his childhood would make your eyes roll and shake your head with ‘yep, sounds like aspie kiddo to me!’), he reallys fits all of the criteria of adult ADHD.

        And suddenly my life and journey with him make sense!!!!!! Doesn’t make it easier, just makes sense. Ya know?

        He is going for formal assesment later this month. I am very thankful. Somewhat hopeful. He needs to do this for his kids, at the very least. His relationships with them depend on it, and I think he truly knows it now. I hope so, anyway.

        In the meantime, I got brave and joined an ASD support group and that has been a good outlet for me.

        Thank you so much for writing.

        🙂

        1. So glad he at least attempted to be interviewed, too bad it wasnt for himself to get dx. ADHD does cause anger and frustration, I can see why they would think that too. So many “fine lines” when it comes to determining the proper dx. I did not read anything about his childhood so I was only going based on what I read above but if he does not like the ADHD then he should look into an evaluation specifically for Adults with Aspergers/Autism. It is hard to find specialists that focus on Adults as well as kids, some may be out of the area. May be worth it if he could get it and then find someone who specifically counsels people with autism. May allow life to be a bit more livable for everyone. I hope something comes your way and it only helps if he is in it 100% too.

  8. I am in a relationship with a lady who is at the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum.We have been together for six months and there has been no real difficulties.It has been a really great relationship and we both are very much in love with each other to the point that a possible engagement was on the horizon.I was going to propose to her on valentines day.Before we met she had(and although happy)confidence issues.A few months back whilst on holiday I made an observation that she said the word “nice”a lot when refering to things in a shop she liked.This was on my behalf half joke and half observation and I thought she took it as such.A couple of weeks ago we went to Camden market in London and it was her idea to go.The day was going well she bought me a lovely necklace that I was going to buy myself and I responded by buying her a really lovely dress which was very appreciated.We went on to another stall and she tried on some scarves and I commented that they really suited her and that they were really nice.This time I didn’t mean it as any form of joke or observation it just came out as a serious comment on the way the scarves looked.Last week she dumped me via a text message saying that she thought that I was deliberately making fun of her and that because of her confidence issues and her autism this made her unhappy.I love her very much and am incredibly upset and am heartbroken as to me she is the best lady I’ve ever met in my life.And we have never had any disagreements or arguments ever throughout the six months and we have an enormous amount in common.I know that I need to apologise to her but I don’t know how to go about it without maybe making things worse.I didn’t intentionally make fun of her as I am not that sort of person to do that.I would appreciate any advice that you could give me as to how I apologise given the circumstances thank you in advance.
    Tony.

    1. I’m sorry that misunderstanding caused your girlfriend to break off your relationship. It can be hard for people on the spectrum to know when someone is joking or not, so it sounds like she assumed you were when you actually weren’t, probably based on your previous joke using the same word.

      First, it’s important to remember that the idea of “high functioning” is deceptive, which is why we try to discourage its usage. Because someone is good at passing for neurotypical, doesn’t meant that they aren’t struggling a lot internally or that they don’t have communication deficits/difficulties that impact their life negatively and make social interaction hard.

      My advice would be send her an email or a letter to apologize. That way she can take her time reading it and deciding how she feels without you waiting for an immediate in person reply. Definitely explain to her all of the things you’ve said here about how you were sincerely complimenting her and didn’t realize that your compliment might be associated with your earlier joke until she pointed it out later (or you realized it on your own or whatever happened).

      Often autistic people are made fun of a lot, especially in childhood, and we can be very sensitive to even a hint of teasing so if you do get back together, it may help her to feel more secure if you promise not to joke about her habits or how she talks or anything that she might feel sensitive about. You could also ask her what else you can do to make her feel more comfortable or to avoid the same kind of communication snafu in the future. It may take some time to regain her trust, but hopefully she’ll give you a chance. Good luck with it.

  9. Thank you, thank you for this post. My husband just opened up about his Aspergers, which he’s been sure he has since he was twelve (not officially diagnosed because of his nutjob holistic healing parents but very obvious now that I’ve read about it) and while we’ve already naturally implemented some of these ideas (his apologizing even when he doesn’t get it, my trying to keep from touching him as much as I can) this was so so helpful. I’m so excited to share this with him later. Thanks again.

  10. I’ve been dating a great guy with aspergers for two years, although I’ve known him for over seven.

    when we’re great, we’re great- I myself have come a long, loooong way. I’m much more patient, self-aware, logical, and understanding. not just with him but in everyday social interactions.

    once we got past the honeymoon phase we would argue on a near daily basis, often because he hurt my feelings and I would end up crying in bed while he either threw up his hands saying “we’re just not compatible” or slept on the couch avoiding it altogether.

    this rarely happens anymore- when we have a disagreement I’ll reign it in the best I can so we can have a conversation, not a blowout, & 9/10 it works just fine. I want him to pick up after himself because I’m exhausted after a long day at work and he’s just been typing up his (seemingly endless) pile of notes at home all day? he disagrees- it doesn’t bother him, & he contributes in other ways. ok, cool. fair debate.

    however, I can be very sensitive at times. he will occasionally get very “passionate” about certain disagreements, in which he will raise his voice and get, well, passionate. also, I tend to cry when I’ve been pushed over my emotional threshold which is sometimes quite small (I was often verbally abused as a child by my stepdad). now, when this DOES inevitably happen, I will do my best to calmly tell him why I’m upset (as opposed to acting irrationally, & slipping into passive aggressive behavior) & he’ll “passionately” tell me that his behavior is completely normal, that is who he is, if it bothers me we’re just not compatible, etc.
    I will of course then start crying because it devastates me when he reacts that way- that of course just makes it worse because he’ll say “see? I always make you cry.”
    which of course is not true at all.

    I understand and appreciate the times he’s compromised for me, because I understand it’s that much more difficult for him. I know how emotional I can be but when I approach it in a logical way and even hint at the fact something he did hurt my feelings he becomes rigid & inflexible.

    I love him, and I know he loves me- that’s both the best and worst part of being with an aspie; I can always count on his honesty.

    is there a better way I can approach him on this issue? I mean, sometimes I just want an apology. a recognition of the fact that his actions hurt my feelings, & that it in no way is directly correlated to our compatibility or the strength of our bond.

    1. Is he open to apologizing even if he doesn’t quite know what he did wrong? (or doesn’t feel like he did something wrong or would rather close himself off and point out how he’s just making you miserable and be done with the conversation) It sounds like you’re in kind of a relationship rut where you’re both responding in a familiar pattern, him because he knows it ends the discussion and you because you’re concerned that your highly emotional nature will cause him to react more negatively. If I’m reading what you wrote correctly, that is.

      Sometimes, for me personally, it helps to hear the “why” of something that my partner is thinking. Not just what he wanted or expected me to do but why he wanted me to do it. Then I can see the “logic” in it and respond accordingly next time. But that’s just me and your partner’s way of thinking might be totally different. If you can’t get around this by talking, it might be a good idea to see a relationship counselor to get some objective third party advice.

  11. Thank you for this unbelievably invaluable blog. What a saddening and heartbreaking insight (for me at least) to come to the realization that some things I will NEVER be able to understand from a neurotypical’s point of view. It’s almost like you need to find a relationship where you both can agree to disagree where no abuse of any kind coincides, in order to have a functional partnership.

    1. You’re welcome. My husband and I have made a lot of progress since I wrote this series, but there are still some things that we both just have to accept that we’ll never quite understand about each other. That doesn’t seem to stop us from being mostly happy, though it sometimes makes life(and our relationship) a bit harder.

  12. We were thirty eight years into our marriage when I was diagnosed as being on the spectrum. Our marriage has always been difficult, but at the same time very rewarding. Before we met, we lived in very different cultures in different hemispheres and spoke different languages. She tends to be very pessimistic, while I’m forever an optimist. She tends to be the life and soul of a party, while I’m the wallflower. She tends to fly off the handle when upset, while I am more likely to shut down. I’m 6′ tall, while she is 4′ 10″. I’m sure we are living proof that opposites attract.

    Now that I know I am autistic, I’m learning as much as I can about the differences between autistics and allistics so that we can accommodate each other better. My wife isn’t interested to learn about autism as she is convinced that now that I know why I am “odd”, I can take the steps needed to make me more “normal”. We’ve been married for over forty two years, and although we both find living together can be exhausting at times, neither of us could dream of living separately.

    Making any partnership work requires give and take on both sides. The bigger the differences, the more give and take that’s required. On the other hand, the bigger the differences, the bigger the rewards. Your blog provides an additional confirmation that I made the right choice when I asked her to marry me way back in 1971. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

  13. Apologizing is my issue. My stance is “‘sorry’ is a lie if you do not do better next time” for both me and him, and I don’t forgive unless I see there is a genuine change. Drives him nuts. I’m working on it, begrudgingly. People don’t look that sorry to me when they keep doing the same thing over and over with no shred of remorse other than a half-hearted apology to cover their tracks.

    1. Totally agree with you. How is saying ‘sorry’ meant to undo the thing they’re ‘sorry’ for when the word is so overused? It’s like they think they can get away with whatever they want as long as they say sorry afterwards.

      1. Exactly!! It’s one thing when the offending party has a genuine limitation (like the hyper dog that keeps running into you and knocking you down, poor thing just doesn’t think clearly), but others like one woman I knew that would do some really immoral things on the weekend and was perfectly fine with it so long as she did the penance on Sundays? Yeah, gets really hollow really fast with the latter case.

  14. I’ve sent link to these to my partner, and it really helped us – our communication became much better!
    Your blog really helps me to understand myself and inspires me to write about my point of view on autism.

  15. I find your writing very helpful. My wife is an Aspie and yes usually it’s the male who is and the female who is Neurotypical. I used to believe that she used it as an excuse to be “crazy”. The thought of very competent and functioning people in the autism spectrum to me was something I never knew about.

    She is my light in this world and it has taken a whole lot of learning, patience, willingness, self searching, and critique of myself to make it a viable relationship. It hasn’t come easy and I’m still learning. It has also been a big effort on her part too and I commend her for it.

    I finally began compiling my journal entries online anonymously in hopes of helping other NT’s who are involved with someone in the spectrum.

    It really boils down to being willing to change. Neither one of us holds the key but as long as we both remain committed we can overcome any hurdle we may have to leap.

    1. “I finally began compiling my journal entries online anonymously in hopes of helping other NT’s who are involved with someone in the spectrum.”

      Would you mind sharing where they’re compiled?

      It would be very interesting — and potentially quite helpful — to read about a working male-female NT-Aspie relationship and what that involves spoken from the NT’s perspective.

  16. I’m am (self-diagnosed/probably) Aspie (female) in a long term Aspie-NT relationship with a NT male.

    When I read this section:

    —–

    “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.”

    —–

    …I was wondering whether you, or other Aspies reading this, have experienced the same phenomena in reverse.

    For example, communicating a sensory or social-interaction-overload trigger as overwhelming, but having the NT partner not realize that many similar situation are also overwhelming in the same way.

    I’ve had that lead to some amount of frustration and misunderstanding, personally.

    I’m curious what your, and other Aspies’, thoughts are.

    I’ve found that in my relationship experiences, many types of misunderstandings, when generalized like above, can occur strongly in both directions, albeit in noticeably different forms.

    -X

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