Married…with Asperger’s

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Dec 17, 2008 in Books I'm Reading, Family Stuff |

So I haven’t posted all week then I post four (or is it five?) times in one day.  That’s the way things work when you’re flying by the seat of your pants.  I’ve been saving up all this stuff to say until I’ve actually had time to blog it.  And today’s the day I actually have time to blog it (of course, I am ignoring my list of other, less fun things to do like wrapping all the presents stacking up under my Christmas tree…).

As I’ve posted before, both my son Matthew and my husband Mike have Asperger’s syndrome.  I’ve been hesitant to post too much about Mike in this area because I wasn’t sure how he felt about going so public with it.  But Mike has just started his very own blog where he has started to talk openly about his diagnosis, so I guess it’s safe for me to do so as well.

I think Mike was inspired by John Elder Robison’s blog about living with Asperger’s.  John speaks very openly about his autism and how it affects relationships in the real world.  He was the author of the book, “Look Me in the Eye” that I wrote about last summer.

It’s only in the last year that we’ve realized that Mike has Asperger’s.  Once Matt got his diagnosis and we started doing some research, it was obvious that Mike has it as well.  This is apparently very common – once a child is diagnosed, the percentage of their parents who are also diagnosed is very high (I think I saw a number like 57% or so in some research).

As I posted back in July, once Mike received his diagnosis, he was very concerned about how marriages where one spouse is an aspie (nickname for a person with Asperger’s – don’t worry…it’s politically correct) are affected.  He found all sorts of very discouraging online ‘support’ groups where spouses were discussing how unhappy they were in these marriages.  Discouraged by the availability of online support, he recently went online and purchased some books that he thought might help us find ways of dealing with the unique marital issues we may face.

So I took the time to read the two books he purchased – Alone Together:  Making an Asperger Marriage Work by Katrin Bentley and The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome by Maxine C. Aston.

First of all, the title of Katrin Bentley’s book and the front cover are so discouraging – who wants to think of being “alone together” (how sad does that sound?).  And the image on the cover of the two hands not quite meeting each other…again – very sad.

But I read through the book anyway – and what I found was what sounded to me like a somewhat angry, bitter woman who was trying hard to make the best of things (but at the same time, she lets you know how hopeless and impossible things really are).  She can certainly assign the disorder blame for some actions, but when her husband starts to have an affair (mainly of the heart) and says that he “loves you [the wife and mistress] both the same”…well…it’s time to cut your losses and leave.  That’s a deal-breaker in my book – Asperger’s or no Asperger’s.

The other book by Maxine Aston was not as angry, but at the same time sounded hopeless.  Page after page said that basically, the non-aspie spouse will have to make all the sacrifices, changes and effort in order to make the marriage work.  As I read through the pages, my heart dropped and I began to grow sadder.

About 3/4 of the way through the second book, I closed the pages and told Mike that while I appreciated his efforts to help, I had decided to stop reading.  I told him that I really didn’t think things were that bad with us to start with but that these books were trying to convince me that they were.

I’m certainly not being naive – I realize that there are unique challenges we face and that there are some things that will never change and will always remain a challenge.  But by continuing to read these types of books, it cast a spotlight on the negative aspects of an Asperger’s spouse without focusing on the positive aspects that a diagnosis can bring.

At that point, Mike said that maybe I should write my own book.  I’m not a neurologist, marriage counselor or psychologist, so I doubt that a book that I write on the subject would hold any merit.  But I do have this blog and I thought maybe if I write a little bit now and then about my own aspie marriage, it might help someone else whose spouse has been newly diagnosed.

So…if you’re reading mainly to get some new craft ideas or for information about owning a goldendoodle, these posts may not be of interest to you.  But if you’re wondering what it’s like to be married to someone on the autism spectrum, maybe I can provide a little insight into what a happily married (although sometimes frustrated) non-aspie spouse is like.

So…here are a few examples of some communication breakdowns that are classic aspie moments…

While away on business travel, I called Mike and asked if he missed me.  His answer was that no, he didn’t miss me – he and the kids were fine.  As a non-aspie, this hurt my feelings – how could my husband not miss me when I’m gone?  But…from his perspective, he was busy with the kids, taking care of things around the house…he didn’t have time to miss me.  Sure, he was happier when I was home, but if he told me he missed me, that might make me feel bad for not being at home.  He wanted me to know that things were going well – that he was handling things just fine.  Here’s the problem – as a result of his disorder, Mike truly didn’t realize that saying that you don’t ‘miss’ someone can hurt their feelings.   Since we now have a diagnosis, I can explain the miscommunication to him, he and I can understand why he acted the way he did and he can make a note not to answer that again – the socially correct answer to the question, “Do you miss me?” is, “Yes” – even if you don’t. :)

Another similar example – again, I was away on travel and joked that things were going so well at home, he didn’t really need me.  Looking for reassurance, I jokingly asked, “You don’t need me, do you?” to which he replied, “No, I don’t need you.”  Again, as a non-aspie, you can see how this would hurt my feelings.  But similar to the other miscommunication, he actually meant that he was with me because he loved me and wanted to be with me, not because he needed me.  Since I now realize that he has a social disorder, instead of getting angry, I told him that I was hurt by that statement and that people actually like to feel needed.  I was still hurt…but with an Asperger’s diagnosis, even though those feelings are still there, we can at least better understand the reason for the miscommunication and learn from it.

Another frequent source of miscommunication is illness.  People with Asperger’s often have a lack of empathy – this is especially apparent when the non-aspie spouse is sick.  When we say that we don’t feel good, we expect a certain level of sympathy in a statement like, “I’m sorry you don’t feel well – why don’t you go lay down and I’ll bring you some chicken soup” (or aspirin or whatever the illness requires).  Then the person will check in on you every so often and see what you need, how you feel…maybe feel your forehead for a fever…but what Mike usually says is something like, “Go upstairs and lay down then” and I don’t hear from him or see him again until I’m well.  As a person with Asperger’s, Mike treats me exactly how he’d like to be treated when he’s sick – when he doesn’t feel well, he likes to go upstairs and be alone until he’s better.  He has no need for being ‘babied’ and doesn’t understand why anyone would need that.  We’re still working on this issue, but at least with his diagnosis, I have learned not to take it personally.  And if I need chicken soup, I now know to ask for it instead of assuming that he knows that he should offer it to me.

So it’s getting late and I think I’m done for now – I hope that I can continue to give examples that give some insight and hope to spouses of people on the autism spectrum.  It’s not all hopeless…there’s no reason to be bitter…and if you’re not having major issues, don’t read self-help books…they’ll only point out all the things that could be wrong.


Jul 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm

I lived with a man with Aspies for 15 years. The only reason it worked was because I wasn’t invested emotionally in the relationship once I realized he couldn’t be! I think it is wonderful that you are okay with your husband. I personally need the emotional give and take of a more normal relationship.

Brenda M.
Oct 29, 2014 at 4:51 am

Thanks so much for sharing your own personal struggles with being married to an Aspie man. I have been married to my Aspie hubby for 11 years now, and am so very depressed and frustrated from living in an emotional wasteland this long. Although I suppose I would be classified as NT, I also fit the Hypersensitive description to a tee, as well as ADHD and PTSD. Yes,…..what a lovely combination we are! Some days my husband seems more Aspie than other days,…if that makes sense to anyone. On those days, I find it almost impossible to be around him. Then there are days where he seems almost normal, which is wonderful. He’s a very sweet person, and admits that he’s clueless when it comes to the whole dance between a man and a woman,…and after all these years,…I can only accept that what he says is true. I’m all about communication,…but it usually ends up with me doing all the communicating and him just sitting there like a kid being lectured. All he does is say uhuh and yeah. I’ve finally realized it’s never going to change! That all I’m doing is wasting my breath, getting upset,…..while he falls asleep. Like some other women have said, “Had I known he was Aspie, I never would’ve married him.” It’s not his fault for having Aspergers, but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with. He is also type 1 diabetic,…a whole other set of issues that I wasn’t prepared to deal with. It does help to know that I’m not in this alone! Thanks again!

Susan P
Dec 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm

My husband and I have been married for 35 years, and I just learned this year that he is an Aspie. It rocked my world, quite frankly. It explained so much. I wish I had know from the beginning…if I had known then what I was getting into, I probably would have walked before I said “I do.” Dealing with his melt downs have beaten me down (verbally) and his “ticks” have taken a toll on me that I would not have chosen to live with. The outcome is that the stress of dealing with his AS has severely affected my health and left me with auto-immune disorders. The anxiety that I have experienced along the way took away my ability to earn a salary. I am in and out of major depression. I could go on, but it would be of no use. I can’t leave because I have no way to earn money for a place to live and for food to eat. He cannot fathom how his behaviors have affected my health. If it were not for our children, I would be in an even worse place than I already am.

May 8, 2015 at 8:47 pm

I am so, so, SO happy to have found this site! I’m in love with a man who exhibits many of the Aspergers traits, and I’ve gone through some painful experiences with him, because I didn’t understand. And lately God has been laying on my heart that he has AS. So relieved that there’s hope, and that you can have a wonderful, relatively normal marriage, as I, too, read some passages from the books you mentioned and they were awful and I came away depressed. Thank you all for your insites and wisdom…I’m sure many people are helped by your comments. God bless.

Nov 19, 2015 at 2:19 am

I am glad that you must not be in a relationship with a true aspie . . if you were you would understand that any woman would advise another to run . . run like the wind. They really have nothing to offer and you can expect to do everything in your home, everything socially and every single thing it will take to raise children . . except math . . they can help with math. .. other than that it is all up to you. Do not do it. Advice from someone in a 28 year relationship with an aspie. RUN and do not look back. If you are already in the relationship be prepared to suck it up buttercup . . no happiness , no spontinateity and nothing pleasant in the near future until you can get out of it. Sorry to say ~

Apr 5, 2016 at 10:41 pm

I am married to an incredibly gifted and intelligent man. He earns a wonderful living. I know he loves our children . . . Our relationship however is as cold as it can get. If I don’t initiate conversation we would never speak. If I would not initiate intimacy . . it would not happen. . after 25 years of this I finally went into counseling. . He made it seem like it was something I should do to fix me . . LOL!! It is a gift to be able to live that much within yourself that you have no concept of the fact that you have taken a wonderfully happy, content, intelligent human being and through your silence and neglect have driven them to the brink of alcoholism . . depression and not even caring if they lived to see their children grow . . .and when I say this I say it knowing he did not do this with intent to have any of these things happen. . . that is the sad thing about it. . they have no idea how impossible they are to live with . . how closed off they are .. how many times they shut you out and have no idea that they do it. . It is a no win situation with a human being that through no fault of their own . . does not care if you are alive or dead . . . Asperger’s is a horrible thing and I am afraid that it has been passed to my daughter . . and I just dread the thought. Life should be a joyous occasion . . you only go round once . if you are unfortunate enough to choose an aspie then you have chosen wrong . . . cause it will not be joyous . .



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