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Married to Asperger’s: What Has to Change?

couple eating in painting room
 

A client of mine whose son had recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s (AS) asked me, “Who will love my child when I am gone?” This is a very profound question that reflects the long-term fears and concerns of parents that have children with AS. All parents want to experience the happiness and well-being of their children. Intimacy, relationships, and love are integral parts of this process, especially as children grow into adulthood.

Many parents and society in general believe that because of the social difficulties faced by children with AS that they will never experience love or have deep intimate relationships. Marriage is typically viewed as even more of an impractical goal as this commitment typically requires a lifelong commitment to interpersonal communication and deep emotional expression.

Although marriage would seem to be a lofty and impossible goal for individuals with AS, the reality is that there are thousands of individuals with AS who get married each year. Some of those with AS will marry what are referred to as neurotypical (NT) partners, while others will find spouses who also have AS.

For those that choose to take this journey there is the realization that marriage may be made more complicated by a diagnosis of AS in one or both partners. However, if two people are truly committed to each other and willing to work to have a strong marriage, anything is possible. Thus, even though there are no hard and fast rules regarding what works to ensure the success of an AS marriage, there are some basic concerns that AS couples contemplating marriage should consider.

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Building Understanding

Regardless of whether a marriage occurs between two people with AS or AS and NT individuals, the reality is that both members of the couple need to be build a foundation for understanding. Clearly, this will be more challenging for NT/AS couples as NT partners will need to learn about how their partner views the world.

Partners with AS will also need to work on understanding how a partner views the world in order to ensure that the partner’s needs are met. Promoting understanding in the relationship can help the couple recognize when important supports are needed and when each person may require some “alone time”.

Understanding also requires partners to recognize that there are certain aspects of their marriage that may not be as fulfilling. For instance, most neurotypical women want their husbands to respond to their feelings. Partners with AS may not be adept at picking up on social cues indicative of a spouse’s mood. As such, the NT partner may find this aspect of the relationship frustrating.

By promoting an environment of understanding, partners can recognize their limitations and the limitations of their spouses. This can go a long way toward reducing frustration and improving the marriage.

Building Commitment

Also integral to marriage for individuals with Asperger’s is building commitment. Once understanding has been forged, marriage partners need to recognize that the challenges of AS will have a direct impact on the relationship. This realization should serve as the foundation for creating commitment between partners.

It is as if both partners need to confirm that they are aware of the difficulties caused by AS and must affirm their willingness to work through these issues. By creating this foundation for commitment, couples should be able to cope with problems that arise in the marriage that are directly related to AS.

Focus on Strengths

Much of the conflict that arises in AS marriages stems from perceptions of one partner regarding what they believe they are missing in the relationship. Drawing on the example provided earlier, NT women may become frustrated because they believe that they are not getting the support that they need from their partners.

While these feelings are valid, the female partner may be better suited to focus on the strengths of her partner and what her partner brings to the relationship. When these issues become the focus of attention, strengths can be used as the basis for fortifying the relationship.

Moving Forward

For parents of young children with AS or young adults with the condition, marriage should not be viewed as an impractical goal. Rather, the challenges of marriage must be recognized and addressed just like any other problems that arise for a couple.

By recognizing that love, intimacy, and marriage are possible, parents of children with AS can embrace the potential for their children to live fulfilling lives as married adults. While marriage for individuals with AS is not without its challenges it is not as impossible as many people believe.

© Copyright 2014 by Michael Clatch, PsyD, therapist in Glenview, IL. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Tabitha March 29th, 2014 at 6:30 AM #1

    Just like the rest of us I think that the biggets key is that they have to find the right person to love and understand them for who they are and what they have to offer and to give. We are all looking for that one perfect perosn who loves us for who we are and not for what we could be or for what they want us to be and people with AS are no diffeernt. Yes it might take someone who is a little more understanding and patient but isn’t that what we are all searcing for?

  • nina seymour March 29th, 2014 at 11:57 AM #2

    No matter who you are and who you are married to marriage is always going to be a challenge. Having Aspergers is going to present its own unique set of challenges, yes, but there is not ever going to be any relationship, nor has there ever been one that has been without a few bumps in the road. If this is someone that you love then you will find a way to make it work.

  • Maggie W March 30th, 2014 at 4:35 AM #3

    This would definitely be something that you would want to educate yourself about before jumping right in, just to make sure that you are fully aware of all of the consequences and that you are ready for all of the things that could come up as a result.

  • jordyn March 30th, 2014 at 4:24 PM #4

    When it is real love, it is real love. Some things don’t really matter all that much when you are in love with someone. So they may have some little quirks that could bug you from time to time, but we all have that regardless of whether we have something wrong with us or not! That’s the way of being with someone- it’s all a little game of give and take and I guess the best advice is to know just how much you are willing to give and just how much you are able to take!

  • Jocelyn C March 31st, 2014 at 3:42 AM #5

    This is something that is huge to undertake when you have no experience in how difficult someone with AS can be. All I ask is that if you find yourself in the middle of something that involves someone with any kind of disease or illness, that you go into it with your eyes wide open. Please don’t be delusional that you can change them or that love alone can get you through this because this is a hard undertaking even for those who are seasoned vets.

  • Clark March 31st, 2014 at 10:34 AM #6

    Something that was mentioned here and that would serve all married couples well is to remember to focus on the things that are good and work well within the relationship and not on just the things that you perceive are worng or bad.

    You cannot compare your relationship and what you have to that of others. That is not how reality works. Your relationship is yours, unique and special, and you should savor what is special about it so that you can hold on to those things that are good for the times when things are not so good.

    Rely on each other to point out what those strengths are, and be proud of being able to hold together a relationship that others may not even on a good day be able to manage!

  • Nicolas March 31st, 2014 at 2:42 PM #7

    Overall I think that there simply needs to be a broader awareness and understanding of Asperger’s and how those who live with it are affected by it. This means realizing what it is and how it manifests itself in others. This could mean knowing the symptoms as well as becoming familiar with how it specifically affects the one person in your life who could be very important to you as everyone could have a unique experience with AS. Any kind of awareness means more education and more undertanding, less judging and shaming.

  • bill April 1st, 2014 at 3:43 AM #8

    Why should it seem to be so lofty and impossible for someone with Aspergers to marry? There will be people on all ends of the spectrum from mild to moderate to severe and there is no reason why those hwo have things a little better under control cannot reasonably expect to live life pretty much normally.

  • Michael April 2nd, 2014 at 9:27 AM #9

    Actually your statement can be argued for anyone. Marriage is complicated for anyone. As far as the disease reference…Please remember that AS is not a disease or an illness. It is a diagnosis label. Calling us diseased or I’ll is actually quite offensive.

  • Lorna April 2nd, 2014 at 9:53 AM #10

    On the one hand I would almost think that this would be more do-able if both partners had this so that they could better understand the ongoing experiences of the other.

    Then I think about it from another angle and think that this could actually be a terrible disaster if two people with this sane disorder were together. They might actually drive each other to insanity with their little quirks! What bothers one could soothe the other and that might make for a terrible relationship chemistry.

  • michelle b April 3rd, 2014 at 3:42 AM #11

    Believe me, I love my husband but I am the NT partner and he is the one with AS and… well, let’s just say that there are times when I think that we could both walk away and be okay, but at the heart of things we do love each other so we always try to find a way to work it out

  • Sascha April 5th, 2014 at 5:14 PM #12

    As long as you have faith in your children their lives can be just as magical as anyone else’s!

  • Monica April 14th, 2014 at 1:42 PM #13

    Don’t be deluded, it is extremely difficult to be a caregiver to your Autistic spouse and multiple children who inherited a spectrum disorder from their father. Thus, it is extremely important for someone considering marrying an individual with a spectrum disorder, to evaluate how the symptoms of the disorder create its own unique challenges and difficulties. All individuals deserve love in spite of their difficulties, but entering into a relationship with someone that has defects in their social and emotional (reciprocity), and other capabilities guarantees a life of more giving, consideration, patience, and tolerance. As a parent and ex-spouse of individuals on the spectrum…I would not describe my life as magical. But, I love my children and I care for their father, so I work at helping them overcome some of the most debilitating aspects of their disability.

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