Married with Undiagnosed ASD: Why Women Who Leave Lose Twice

Woman sitting on sofa, head in handsAuthor’s note: A caveat before we get into the substance of this article: couples counseling with a skilled therapist can greatly help couples in which one partner has the symptoms or diagnosis of autism spectrum (ASD)/high-functioning autism. This article describes the path followed by many women whose husbands are not diagnosed and who did not have successful couples counseling support to help them understand their differences. I write here about heterosexual married couples because these are the couples I see most frequently in my practice, where most often it is the man who exhibits the characteristics of ASD. This is not meant to imply only heterosexual couples face these issues or only men can have problematic ASD.

When a neurotypical woman is married to a man who has the behaviors associated with autism spectrum (ASD), several things typically occur. Over the course of her marriage, she experiences herself as gradually disappearing. In the place of her former self emerges a person she barely recognizes. She is so lonely. So hurt. So … angry. She feels isolated, as her social connections have gradually diminished. She feels misunderstood by everyone who knows her, so she has learned not to talk about her “problems.” She starts to feels crazy. She also feels guilty, because her husband is a good man.

This result can be seen in the following modified example from my psychotherapy practice:

A woman in her mid-50s came in for her first appointment. She seemed unsure of herself, eyes downcast, behaving as many women do when they first arrive. I recognized the familiar look of bewilderment, explained by others before her as wondering whether they are going to make sense when they begin to speak, of whether I will view them as whiners, or whether they may be wasting my time.

Before taking a seat, she handed me her curriculum vitae. Many pages long, it was heavy in my hand.

“This is who I used to be,” she said.

At a glance, I could see that among other things this woman had successfully argued a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Sinking into the chair in my office, however, she appeared too meek to look me in the eye as her tears began to form.

“I think my husband has Asperger’s. I don’t know, though. Maybe it’s me. Maybe there’s something wrong with me,” she said. “We have been married for 20 years. I don’t mean to say anything bad about him. He’s a good man. But I need a divorce. And my children think I’m a crazy person.”

Then the tears came in earnest.

“It’s such a relief to be here. People don’t believe me. I stopped talking about this a long time ago.”

I have seen this many times. On one occasion, a woman told me, “My husband has Asperger’s.” Then she began to cry, could not stop, seemed uncomfortable for not being able to compose herself, and left the office without uttering another word.

There are women who work with me for several months and can still feel blindsided when something comes up at home that they misinterpret from a neurotypical (NT) perspective instead of considering the implications of ASD. They continue to be surprised at the gap between themselves and their husbands. The pain they feel when they recognize this gap catches them like a stab to the stomach.

What has happened to these women? It’s difficult to see the process while it is going on, just as it is difficult to see the effects of water drops on granite minute by minute. But changes that are negligible day to day are incontrovertible over the long term. With time, granite that once held the characteristics of a unique natural form is visibly reduced to a smooth, monolithic surface.

What has happened to these women? It’s difficult to see the process while it is going on, just as it is difficult to see the effects of water drops on granite minute by minute. But changes that are negligible day to day are incontrovertible over the long term. With time, granite that once held the characteristics of a unique natural form is visibly reduced to a smooth, monolithic surface.

Instead of drops of water, women married to men on the spectrum are struck by pain from unrelenting moments of being reflected inaccurately in the place they look most often for reassurance: the eyes of their husbands. And over time, they begin to interpret what is reflected to them as a reliable representation. They try to alter their own perspective, their own aspirations, their hopes and dreams, to bring them into line so they are consistent with the way their husbands treat them. The lonely process of love and guilt and shame rips them apart.

It starts like this: a man on the spectrum (most often undiagnosed) marries a woman for all the qualities he admires, but once the wedding is over, those very qualities become the things that spark the most unsettling experiences for him. She is outgoing socially, has interesting things to talk about, and is engaged in intriguing professional activities. She is well-regarded, confident, and kind.

For her part, she finds his thoughtful attention and his stability comforting. She is also drawn to what she takes to be his reticence. She admires his ability to maintain his focus so intently and to be so successful in his work.

To a man on the spectrum, however, living with a person who has these qualities may be predictably uncomfortable. Where he seeks equilibrium in order to feel he understands the world around him, she seeks—and represents—novelty, as a result of the very curiosity that made her the woman he initially admired.

His constant anxiety related to living in what feels like an alien culture is soothed by predictability. This would be facilitated by the presence of a partner who complies with his view of reality. This is not because he sets out to manipulate her. It is because his fundamental concepts are threatened by hers. His anxiety grows with his fear of doing “something wrong” because he is never quite confident about what the “right thing to do” might be.

From her perspective, his thoughtful attention may have disappeared the very day of the wedding. He quickly became self-involved and aloof. The stability she admired slowly shows itself to be profound inflexibility. The reticence does not point to the underlying wisdom she assumed was present; she now sees that it comes from his not knowing what to do or say. And his inability to focus on her has come to mean she exists outside his field of interest, where he is apparently content to relegate her.

Mommy’s Birthday Doesn’t Matter

We can look at birthdays to explore the dynamics common to interactions between partners in an ASD/NT couple. When he does not acknowledge her birthday, and she asserts that his behavior has upset her, he may respond that he did not mean to upset her; therefore, she shouldn’t be upset. Or he might tell her that because birthdays come once year and everyone has them, they are no big deal and she should stop making such a big deal about them. Or he could tell her they celebrated her birthday last year. Or that birthdays are for children. In other words, he may hold her to the same idea regarding birthdays he holds himself. He may criticize her to the degree that her feelings about birthdays differ from his. He will miss her distress.

As a result, she doesn’t have the opportunity to celebrate her birthday, something which is generally understood as a common social convention in our culture. She also feels rejected by her husband over the belief her birthday is worth noting in the first place. She asks herself why such a little thing as a birthday seems so important to her. She wonders whether she is being juvenile, as he suggested. She sees he doesn’t care one way or another about celebrating his own birthday, after all.

She decides he is more mature than she is and attempts to comply with this idea of “maturity” by trying to ignore her own birthday. It doesn’t work. All her friends and family members mark their birthdays in some way. She sometimes has to explain to them why hers was overlooked. On occasion, she makes up stories about her birthday so people won’t feel sorry for her. She feels rejected, as well as foolish for being immature.

Overall, she is sad and lonely, still wondering why she can’t seem to make a point on her own behalf that she’d enjoy at least a card acknowledging her birthday, even though birthdays may not be important to him. But over time, she has learned further discussion is hopeless on a subject like this. She won’t say anything else about her birthday. She has learned such a conversation isn’t a discussion at all. It feels more like a pedantic correction of yet another one of her stupid ideas. And it will leave her upset, possibly in tears, with nowhere to go but inside.

She continues to celebrate his birthday. She makes certain the children’s birthdays are acknowledged and celebrated. She is now operating from the notion that her own birthday is a nonevent. It does not get mentioned because she does not bring it up. Her children, even though they are young, are noticing mommy’s birthday doesn’t matter, however. Daddy’s does. Theirs do. Mommy’s doesn’t. They do not understand it is Mommy herself—and without help from Daddy—who makes all the other birthdays happen. By complying with her husband’s view of things, however, in order to avoid the pain of being criticized about it once again, she has taught her own children that Mommy’s birthday doesn’t matter.

It is fair to wonder why a woman can’t decide to celebrate her own birthday on her own terms, regardless of what her husband thinks about it. In most cases, this would be a valid point. When ASD is present, though, the calculus is different. She can celebrate. She can bake a cake. She can buy herself flowers and even make reservations to go to dinner that evening. If she does, however, her husband’s attitude will be clear to her and to the children, whether he says anything with actual words or keeps his silence. It will be obvious to all concerned that he does not approve. He will comply to a minimum degree. He will participate begrudgingly. He will damn with faint praise. He will stonewall, which means he will say nothing at all, when she suggests (even mildly) that he participate. She has become accustomed to his stonewalling, which Dr. John Gottman, relationship expert, believes can kill a relationship because it denies communication and denies opportunity for the relationship to grow.

The Children Are Watching

The children are watching everything, interpreting it from their limited perspective and understanding. Mommy isn’t thinking of this at the time. She is not thinking the children learn how to treat their mother by observing the way their father treats her. She is operating on the assumption her children know her and love her and they see she is a good person. She is unaware that negative lifelong attitudes toward her are being formed in the young minds of the children she loves so dearly, and that these attitudes can come at her later to hurt her every bit as much as the behaviors she suffered from her husband, their father—the very behaviors that instilled these attitudes in the children in the first place. She is not thinking about the fact the children will likely remain unware they hold these subconscious notions regarding their mother, regarding how to treat her, regarding what she “deserves.” They watched how their father treated her. They learned. As adults, they may ignore their mother’s feelings and question her judgment, just the way Daddy does.

She is also unaware that in doing all the work and providing all the energy toward celebrating Daddy’s birthdays and the children’s birthdays, she is showing the children one more example of taking on both roles, Mommy and Daddy. She does it because it is important to her, for example, that the children’s birthdays are celebrated. She wants them to have fun. She wants them to have one special day a year that is all about them. She sees this as normal.

Daddy doesn’t agree, so he doesn’t participate.

Mommy does it all, from the planning to the present buying to the cake decorating, at home or at the bakery. She chats with all the parents who bring their own children to celebrate. She cleans up after the party. She is exhausted. She says so. Her husband may respond by saying, “Well, you’re the one who had to have this big party! You asked for it.” He may not help with the cleanup because, well, it was “her idea to have the party.”

The children are watching as Mommy cleans up and Daddy retreats to his study. If they get wild or misbehave, a distinct possibility after having the house full of friends and their tummies full of birthday cake and ice cream, it will be Mommy who has to enter the fray and settle things down. If she’s tired and feeling lonely and rejected by her husband, she is at her least resilient point, and she can snap unintentionally at the children. She looks like the bad guy, the parent who is “always angry.” This is how it may seem to small children.

The children are also susceptible to misunderstanding another basic fact they observe regularly. They see Mommy being strong. They see her as the one in charge of all the daily life of the family, and of all the extras (such as birthday parties, ballet lessons, soccer games, play dates), and they wonder where Daddy is. Because the reality of the situation is impenetrable and inaccessible to the children, they may create their own narratives. They may believe Daddy is a good man, yet Mommy seems to want to do everything. They determine this is because Mommy has pushed Daddy aside in order to control everything herself. Mommy doesn’t let Daddy help. Poor Daddy! Mommy is really mean.

Time to Make a Change

The years go by. The children go off to college, graduate, create their own lives. Mom couldn’t be more proud of the young people they have become. She decides she can no longer survive the relationship with her husband, however. It is not unusual for women to leave these marriages once the children are at least in high school, but often the marker is when they leave the house for college. This is not an easy decision for a woman. In fact, it is brutal. And it often makes no sense to anyone who is looking in at the marriage from the outside, including the couple’s children. She must give up everything in order to save her sanity. Yes, it has come to that.

This woman has lost a partner, lost a marriage. She has also lost her dreams, her hopes. She has lost her fundamental sense of who she is. She has to mourn these losses. She then has to heal. And she has to re-create herself.

The woman by this time may have few friends, few confidants. She has learned to refrain from discussing her marriage difficulties, because the friends she has have always seen her husband as such a “nice guy” and because he is undeniably a good provider. She stopped trying to talk about it because she got tired of hearing “all marriages have problems,” she is “expecting him to meet all her needs, which is impossible for any one person to do,” and she is “misinterpreting things.”

When she finally does go through a divorce, she discovers it will take her years to sort things out. She will think she is doing well immediately afterward because it feels so good to be free from the constant state of stress and criticism. This can be exhilarating. But gradually, she learns it is a phase. And it reveals a miscomprehension of how much healing she really has to do. During this time, before she reestablishes her new self, she may do things that seem rational and make decisions that seem logical. However, it is in looking back from a vantage point of several years after her divorce that she is likely to begin seeing just how separated from her true being she was during these years of healing, and of how much more healing she had to do, and still faces.

This woman has lost a partner, lost a marriage. She has also lost her dreams, her hopes. She has lost her fundamental sense of who she is. She has to mourn these losses. She then has to heal. And she has to re-create herself. It can take a decade or more to sort these things out and to become strong on her own. If she enters into a relationship with another man before she gets her bearings, she is likely to face additional confusion until the dust settles. This is not to be dismissed as the normal post-divorce phase of a woman’s life. It is an epic battle for reconstruction.

A No-Win Situation

By this time, the children see her differently. She is the woman who did not deserve to have birthday parties, remember. She is the woman who appeared to have pushed their father aside, so he was unable to be part of their daily lives. She appeared to have been the one who rejected him, and who instead of involving him in their lives, inserted her own agenda and goals. She is the one who spent all the money, because she had to manage everything and make all the decisions without her husband’s input. She is the one, most importantly, who broke up the family. Her selfishness caused the divorce, and the children were left to sort it all out.

Dad is the victim. Mom is the witch.

Mom has given her life to be both mother and father to the children because their father, on the autism spectrum but undiagnosed, was incapable of being involved emotionally and practically in the daily lives of their young family. Patterns were established. Mom continued to give. She finally left the marriage for her own sanity. She loses her marriage, her husband, her intact family. She appears to be the agent of the demise of the family, but she is not, because in running from abuse (regardless of the fact it was not necessarily intentional), she is running from a burning building in order to save her life. A fire set by intent, an accidental fire—what’s the difference to the person inside the house who must flee if she wants to live?

The woman loses again when she begins to understand her children treat her the way their father always treated her. They don’t respect her. They keep their distance. They blame her for everything they ever felt was wrong in the house when they were growing up.

The woman coming out of an ASD/NT marriage loses twice. She loses her husband and she loses when her children treat her the way their father treated her.

And to attempt to tell her story to her children is wrought with landmines invisible to her and unimaginable to the children. She feels she cannot convey the reality to them, regardless of her attempts. And even after all these years, she does not want to disparage their father, because she understands ASD is not his fault. She still treads carefully, even though he is unlikely to extend the same grace toward her. The children do not see this. Too much time has gone by. Too many patterns are set. They see only criticism of their father if she mentions she had to heal, or that she had to rediscover who she was after the divorce, or that she may have made decisions in the early years following the divorce that were not ultimately consistent with the person she now knows herself to be. She is, once again, judged and criticized—this time by the very children she exhausted herself to nurture.

If she is fortunate, she has found a good therapist along the way. She has had the opportunity to talk without feeling crazy. She has cried the bulk of her tears, though they still come when she thinks of her children, of how she loves them, of how unfair this has been to them, to her, to her former husband.

She has herself. She has friends. If she is fortunate, she has learned to re-create herself in such a way she has a career or an involvement in the community that allows her to experience herself in her competence and to be acknowledged by others as a person worthy of attention, worthy of friendship, even worthy of a birthday party.

Postscript: This article is a composite of what I have seen in my practice over the years among neurotypical women who have emerged from marriages with men who exhibit the behaviors consistent with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (formerly called Asperger’s syndrome, high functioning autism). As a psychotherapist, I work with ASD/NT couples. I work with individuals affected by ASD. I work with women who are or were married to men with ASD. My role can be described as that of an ASD/NT translator, essentially, and my goal is to help both partners understand the world as seen from the other. By writing this, I do not mean to disparage or judge anyone. This article reflects my experience as a therapist, and I offer it here in this form to help women understand that their experiences are valid as well as to help their friends and family members understand what these women have been struggling with—and what they may well continue to struggle with for some time to come.

References:

  1. Gottman, J. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. New York, NY: Harmony Books.
  2. Silverman, S. (2015). NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. New York, NY: Avery Publishing.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC, therapist in Seattle, Washington

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dahlia

    April 20th, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    But I would think that all of this could somehow be different if you enter into the relationship with knowledge of a diagnosis?

  • Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC

    Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC

    April 20th, 2016 at 12:13 PM

    Hello, Dahlia – yes, and with a diagnosis, good counseling support is very important because of the very nature of the differences between the two partners.

  • Teresa

    April 20th, 2016 at 12:51 PM

    Is it possible to save a marriage under these circumstances? If intervention comes early enough?

  • Mari

    April 20th, 2016 at 1:19 PM

    On the one hand, this is so very well written and detailed. Sad but more true than not. I can see some of this in my situaion. No birthday for Mom. Mom matters last. The kids learned this. That part isn’t aspergers maybe. Mom hasnt’ been number one to anyone in many many years. Mom is said to be stronger than some but Mom is alone way too much and Mom does not have living family anymore. And Dad is an OK provider but not like some. Mom learned to appreciate things that have nothing to do with money. To add to it, Mom has always been very honest and shy. A trait combo that has not worked for Mom, even though Mom filters more than most people do.. Any thoughts??

  • Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC

    Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC

    April 20th, 2016 at 4:11 PM

    Hi, Teresa – Some couples have success with counseling when both partners are open to learning about and understanding the very real differences in the ways they experience the world. I work with many couples in which one partner has the traits or diagnosis of ASD.

  • Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC

    Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC

    April 20th, 2016 at 4:14 PM

    Hello, Mari. It sounds as if you might want to consider codependence as a possibility for understanding the situation you describe. Sometimes, individuals give too much for this reason.

  • Sara

    April 20th, 2016 at 9:42 PM

    How often does someone with ASD actually want to acquire the skills and attitude that are needed to be in relationship? I say “actually” is because it is a lot of hard work to resolve relationship problems, even for people whose wiring inclines them toward relationship. I figure someone whose brain is geared away from relationship would not be interested.

  • Jill

    April 21st, 2016 at 7:19 AM

    I have thought for some time that this might be what’s going on with me and my partner of 15 years. As I read this article with wide eyes, I am even more sure now. Therapy probably isn’t an option for soooooo many reasons, including the cost. We don’t have children but I am stuck for other reasons. I moved to a completely different part of the U.S. with him after graduating 4.0 with an M.S. from a prestigious university. I haven’t been able to find a job though, probably due to both age discrimination (I am 55) and the effects of this relationship dynamic. I have never felt more isolated. I feel my identity dissolving more every day. I would leave and go back to where I came from but I would need a job waiting for me in order to support myself. I certainly have a history of supporting myself and being confidently independent, but I’ve lost so much of that ability since I moved here. I’ve gotta get out of here before the rest of it is gone. My intent was to live WITH him till I got on my feet and then live NEAR him. We both agreed on this but I can’t find a damn job and expenses are higher than I anticipated. What a mess I’ve gotten myself into.

  • Jill

    April 21st, 2016 at 7:31 AM

    P.S. About 7 years ago, my partner re-connected with and had a short affair with a woman who had a severe case of ASD. He said he was drawn to her. I thought it was curious but didn’t put two and two together. However, through the years I have suspected over and over (my B.A. Is in Psych) that he might fall somewhere on the spectrum. I feel like light bulbs are going off. I am completing a second master”s degree right now (a very rigorous fellowship) that’s eating up all my time. It’s paid for with a scholarship but I still wouldn’t/couldn’t just pick up and leave. Besides, he has supported me financially and given so much. I will feel so guilty if I leave him out here all alone.

  • Sophia

    May 4th, 2017 at 9:44 AM

    For me it’s been almost 35 years. Seems at times like a good marriage, but I am feeling small and unimportant and immature, like the article mentions. I need friends but so down on myself, I wouldn’t want to be around me. Almost left after 25th anniversary went largely unnoticed. And now 35 is coming up, feel like it’s just another non event to him. I was raised by a Narcissistic mother, always thought it was all my fault. Will look for counseling, but sometimes feel it’s too late at 56. He was my first love, very handsome, loyal, but we haven’t had sex for years. Thanks for the article.

  • Lori

    April 21st, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    I am wondering how someone could go that far through life and have never had someone to tell that that look, something is off here and we need to see about getting you some help. I would just hope that I was far more attentive to my child than that although I know that at times things can be very subtle so I guess you just come to accept and believe that this is normal even though the person very much struggles with acceptance and fitting in.

  • TMG

    August 19th, 2016 at 8:56 PM

    I’ve thought this so many times. It actually makes me angry. Why am I the first person to actually confront his behaviors as not acceptable?? Too many people just walk away or look the other way. So for me to suggest ASD sounds absolutely ridiculous to him. He thinks I’m the only person who thinks there’s anything wrong….

  • lisa

    August 21st, 2016 at 4:08 AM

    I have recently left my asd partner after 10 years. I felt resentment towards his dad who would witness his treatment towards me and the children and accept it. He of course is on the spectrum too. He did once say (then denied saying) that they always knew he was different. Mental health issues have been ignored for so many years. The symptoms are very subtle. My son is 9 and I am convinced he is affected too but not one professional will agree.

  • Diane M

    August 22nd, 2016 at 6:21 AM

    Hi Lisa, as a mom if you are concerned about your son, you are probably correct. When my son started school, the teachers said he might have ADHD. That was 25 years ago!!! My husband is an undiagnosed AS. and I believe my son is also. My son is now 29 and is still a big challenge . Go with your gut, I wish I had when my son was young, instead I let my ASH convince me there was nothing wrong!!!! I am dealing with two Aspie’s, father and son, , it can be hell on earth at times!!!! I believe if AS is diagnosed early, they might be able to modify their behavior and be more adaptable. I wish I knew then what I know now!!! I might have been able to help my son, I certainly would have communicated very differently with him, he is a good person, but very immature for his age, which causes him to make bad decisions.

  • Wife

    January 5th, 2017 at 7:07 PM

    That is a great question, Lori. Do you know how many times you can reach out to people for help and get ignored? A million. “Look, something is off here and we need to see about getting you some help…” Except that there is very little help available for adults married in a neurodiverse (one ASD and one NT) relationship. No one will listen. This is called Cassandra Syndrome, or Ongoing Relationship Trauma Syndrome (ORTS) because the neurotypical person suffers living in a relationship with someone who has serious limits in their ability to have a reciprocal relationship. People outside of the relationship can’t see it because the person with ASD runs scripts and has a persona outside of the home different from their home life. They can mask their symptoms and “pass” while with others, but it is often only when you live with someone day in and day out that it becomes obvious that there is something “off”. You can’t quite put your finger on it… I happen to be married to someone with ASD and I have a degree in psychology. It took me 13 years of marriage to finally put my finger on that never ending sense that something was “wrong”. You reach out to others for help. They think you’re being petty. You reach out again. They think he’s so amazing. Your concerns get ignored, so you try to make the best of things and work on having a good attitude. In the meantime, you end up exhausted ALL THE TIME. Extra bonus points for mother in laws that try to diagnose you with all manner of psychiatric disorders because they need someone to pin the blame on for their own inability to have meaningful, connected relationship with their son. Even as they ignore the history of their own failed marriage to their son’s father who also has ASD.

  • Diane

    January 6th, 2017 at 9:03 AM

    You have expressed it very well!! No one outside of the marriage can begin to understand the abuse that a NT suffers. I have been married 44 years to an AS just diagnosed last year. I knew something was off from the get go, but in 2014 it got so bad I had to research what was going on. It’s the daily devaluing of us as a spouse, the criticism, the neglect, not being heard, understood, the constant circular arguments. It starts subtly and increases over time to where I just stopped all communication, I realized I was not dealing with normal. The complete lack of an emotional connection over decades is enough to drive us mad!! Bottom line, an AS cannot give a NT spouse anywhere near what it takes for a healthy long term marriage. Intimacy stopped for me over 20 years ago, there was no intimacy, no emotional give and take, it became so routine and boring I just couldn’t take it anymore. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is any kind of joy in an AS/NT marriage, it’s impossible. If we stay married, it’s because of finances, children, grandchildren but never because it’s a good marriage.

  • emily

    June 1st, 2017 at 4:36 PM

    I could not have said it better. And the mother in law statement is spot on. She is the one who I think also has an ASD. Two peas in a pod. My husband takes up for her and you cannot have a discussion about your relationship. He turns everything around on me and acts like I am attacking him. He turns every statement I make about him around back on me somehow. Very odd, I have never seen anyone so completely unable to see their own faults and quirks. It is exhausting as mine is very financially controlling too, so I feel like leaving the relationship is impossible.

  • Amy

    April 21st, 2016 at 9:04 AM

    Excellent article. An accurate representation of NT/AS relationships. What becomes more toxic is when the family of those with AS did not teach appropriate coping skills and basically abused the person with AS. (Even when diagnosed early) I know many women in AS/NT relationships who have at least one parent of their spouse obviously has AS and just couldn’t handle the meltdowns. Now the New family has an AS father with a written formula of “when you are overwhelmed you punish”. So then comes the choice for those with little kids: do you leave to show the kids a healthy way to live or do you stay to intervene between the kids and the father. Because as Long. as the abuse is not that bad(breaking things and furniture, posturing, yelling, driving recklessly), the most the husband has to do is take an anger management course to prove to the courts that shared custody should happen. Tough choices.

  • Kathy Marshack, Ph. D.

    August 21st, 2016 at 6:48 AM

    Thank you for your insightful article. I have written two books on the subject of partnering with an ASD mate, but in just a few pages you have captured the essence of this life. In particular the subtlety of the disrespect is important. I have lived all of my life with Aspies so my spirit was crushed when I was a child. It is not surprising that I married an Aspie and even adopted an Aspie child. Trying to free myself from this disrespect was futile until I understood who I was dealing with. I needed to leave the burning building, regardless of whether my Aspies intended the disrespect. It took twelve years to escape because of the hostility heaped on me. I managed to salvage some of the material things and my career, but lost my children. I haven’t seen the Aspie child (age 29) in eleven years. I haven’t seen the younger daughter and my grandson in three years. Both accuse me of being an angry, abusive, crazy person. . .just as their father has done. I guess I will never be forgiven for filing for divorce, even though he put us all through incredible grief. Thank you again for nailing the part about disrespect. No sense going through life seeking respect from those who cannot give it.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    August 22nd, 2016 at 4:54 PM

    Thank you, Kathy. Your story is painful, like the stories of all the women who have taken the time to write here in this thread, and those of the women we work with in our psychotherapy practices. I believe that the diamond in the rough of such pain is that our personal experiences inform our work and help us support our clients with humility and depth. I just bought your book and look forward to reading it. Best wishes to you!

  • Joanna

    February 12th, 2017 at 11:52 PM

    Thank you Sarah for this well written article which so articulately describes so many of our experiences – and Kathy, for your website and books, which I have read over the past few years.

    I do believe that for many NT (male as well as females) with AS partners, there can be ways to stay in those relationships with degrees of success – but only once AS being ‘in the mix’ is recognised and acknowledged by both partners. I set up Different Together three years ago purely to help NT partners learn, understand and support one another in their relationships, including those that choose to leave.

    Thank you again for the article – I hope it’s ok to add a link to it on the Different Together site?

  • Cheryl

    April 21st, 2016 at 12:49 PM

    Yep, what a mess. That is what it is. I gave up on trying to find help. My panel is not ‘ working for me. I certainly do not want to give up but time needs to be spent elsewhere. I have 3 kids at home who need me.

  • Candice

    April 22nd, 2016 at 12:53 PM

    Why is the mother to blame if she is only searching for a way to make her life more enjoyable and liveable?

  • Amy

    April 22nd, 2016 at 7:21 PM

    Because she did what she thought she should do, filter and redirect the father’s behavior towards the children. Sometimes she does such a good job at this that the children see mostly what the mother wanted them to see: a bit of normalcy. The problem comes when the wife can’t take it anymore, that shielding the children from the truth comes back to bite her in that they didn’t see the father as that bad of a guy. This gets amplified when the mother says things like, “oh, it’s okay, I don’t really like to celebrate my birthday anyway.”

  • Maxine

    April 23rd, 2016 at 8:39 AM

    I wonder what the correlation is to these same relationship issues and a husband being raised by covert and overt narcissistic parents. I have experienced so many of these same types of scenarios. My husband is so aloof at at home. He’ll be in the room, but not “present” in the moment. He also worked so much when the children were young and resented they looked to me so much for care, nurturing, and love. He often remarks that they don’t respect him and has blamed me many times. His inability to overcome his past abusive parents does impact his relationship with his children. While he now knows his parents are narcs it isn’t any easier to accept their lack of parenting. We’re went no contact about 6 years ago. It hasn’t been an easy road for any of us. I am very expressive, open, and transparent. I tackle problems head-on. I’m not a pussy-footer by any means. Honestly, this is one of the things that attracted my husband to me. He despises his mother’s covert manipulation and his father’s overt abusive manipulation. I think he feared we would become them. I believe aT times the familiarity of them is what he wanted. He tried to suppress me, to warp me, to bend my will. He/they almost won. My health failed-my thyroid became hard as a rock and stopped functioning. Mentally I was on the edge of a cliff, getting ready to jump to my death with thoughts of suicide. My strength (God’s strength) was too great. I got help. I researched, I talked, and talked, and talked until I was sure my reality was indeed, “my reality”. After years of being denied, devalued, and then discarded, I finally woke up.

  • claire

    April 23rd, 2016 at 10:25 AM

    must be a difficult position to find oneself in

  • Marissa

    April 24th, 2016 at 2:09 PM

    from experience
    I can say
    that you spend so much of your time
    ensuring there are no blips for the other person
    that you start forgetting
    to take care of you

  • Cheryl

    April 24th, 2016 at 6:11 PM

    The blame is always there. I hated it for years. Sometimes I notice it less.The other thing that is horrendous is the he knows it all thing. He is right and does not ‘ let the family be right. It is a sickness to think you are always right. The said part is that so many times ihe is close to ignorant. Very very close minded. I can be very open minded. But I became too much of a people pleaser who gets walked on.

  • Vickie

    April 25th, 2016 at 2:18 PM

    I don’t know if my husband has Asperger, but we have very little communication, he is 63, all he wants to do is be on the Internet and read, till 3 or later in the morning, and doesn’t get up till a 11:00 or later. His side of the bed is so piled up with books, magazines, newspapers, he doesn’t want to throw anything away. The note stand is full of cards he gets from every restaurant, drs office, etc. and cups you get your drinks at stores from. He has over a thousand packages of pens that have never been used, a and continues to buy more. Can you tell me what this sounds like. Thank you.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    April 25th, 2016 at 2:20 PM

    Dear Vickie,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but we do encourage you to reach out. If you would like to talk about this or any other concern with a mental health professional, feel free to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Leigh

    April 28th, 2016 at 8:01 AM

    But any of these are things that could potentially happen in any marriage!

  • SueC254

    August 18th, 2016 at 4:48 PM

    Leigh, no, sorry. The way things work in an AS/NT marriage is substantially different to how a NT/NT relationship works. There is no space to explain here, there are now many books on this topic. The AS partner literally cannot see the other person’s viewpoint at all; cannot read subtle emotions; cannot read non verbal communication; cannot resolve conflicts but instead seeks distance in order to maintain the status quo and the emotional distance they need. It’s very isolating and invisible to outsiders. AS men are very rule bound, very literal and follow scripts for social situations. They have limited capacity for a lot of things. Their special interest comes first and is constantly in their thoughts, it’s a kind of emotional selfishness. They can be quite cold and can’t see the effect they have on you at all, and none of it is intentional. It’s like being the victim on unintended abuse by emotional neglect. The NT gets into the habit of being in charge all the time in order to avoid fixing up all the stuff-ups, and the AS husband becomes “prompt dependent”, like a parent-child relationship. Also, most of these relationships end up being devoid of sex because the wife cannot cope with the mechanical form of sex that is all they get. AS men put in a lot of effort to woo you then when they have the prize the effort stops. Literally after the honeymoon, or even before. They see that marriage has benefits, but hey have no idea whatsoever as to what is required of them. Normal marriage couselling techniques do not work for AS/NT relationships because it requires insight into the other person’s feelings and experience. It requires specialist pyschologist’s training.

  • Diane M

    August 19th, 2016 at 5:20 AM

    Sue, you have said it in a way that I have tried to express, but couldn’t do it in such a very clear manner. It is exactly the way it is!!!!!! Thank you!!!!!

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    August 19th, 2016 at 9:10 AM

    Hello, Sue – your reply is very well expressed. I agree that this relationship can benefit tremendously from the help of a therapist who understands both sides of the relationship. It is imperative that the emotional life of the neurotypical spouse be honored and validated. It is precisely a matter of emotional abuse without intent to abuse. This is a key point to understand. However, the effects of this behavior, as you clearly understand, are real and the consequences to the NT spouse are real in terms of self-respect and mental health. Best regards to you.

  • Anna

    September 12th, 2016 at 2:23 PM

    It became apparent at the early days of my new relationship with a man (6 months) he probably has Aspergers. At first it was like a fairy tale romance. I had been single for over 10 years. He seemed so decent and gentle and attentive however I was still aware my intuition was on edge ? He recently has been off hand with me and displayed many of the behaviours mentioned by others here. We are in our early fifties. He was married 20 years now divorced 9 years but he has had couple of relationships before we became friends. Do I persevere or run as is advocated by many here? We still haven’t had full sex his choice. II felt hurt last weekend by his indifference and this weekend after further sarcasm and his off handedness I felt shocked & upset and now empty. Im feeling a little stronger now after back at work and live alone so not in his company. Thank you

  • Diane

    April 23rd, 2017 at 4:57 PM

    This is a very accurate assessment of the whole situation. I have lived this for 44 years!

  • Tina

    May 12th, 2016 at 2:30 PM

    This is my life story, 23 years with husband I guess I always knew something wasn’t right just couldn’t put my finger on it,this was a challenge to live with. But found out 3 years ago he has aspergers. Then a switch went off he is completely different. I have no family no friends, he bought house in the middle of the woods 8 years ago so can’t move. I need someone to talk to so bad. No therapist in area understands what I am going through. The loneliness is killing me, Almost 4 years of isolation. I have tried the internet to talk to people but just not the same when you need human contact If people just used the phone more.

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    June 10th, 2016 at 1:43 PM

    Hello, Tina: I understand your loneliness and frustration. Your location is not necessarily a barrier to getting help, though. In my case, for besides practicing as a licensed psychotherapist in my state of Washington, for example, I developed an international coaching practice to work with individuals who live elsewhere. We work online with video sessions and also on the telephone and via email. There are others like me who offer these services, and I am confident that you could find someone with whom you would like to work. You don’t have to go through this alone. I send you my best regards.

  • Amy

    May 14th, 2016 at 8:42 PM

    Tina, there is an awesome support group on meetup.com I know that it is still online, but it is something. It is called ‘Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD’. It is run by Kathy Marshack, an amazing resource on NT/AS marriages. She actually hosts video conferences, some for free, some for low cost. I believe she will also meet via Skype for kind of a therapy session. Consider thinking about a few things you used to like to do before you were isolated, and pursue on of the things that involves meeting people somewhere near you. Even if it means you volunteer as a segway into forming connections with others.

  • Diane M.

    June 3rd, 2016 at 2:26 PM

    You might have been writing about my marriage, from beginning to the end. I have been married to an un-diagnosed Aperger for 43 long years, I decided in October 2014 I had had enough abuse, not only by my husband, but also,my sons. THIS IS MY STORY!!!

  • Diane M.

    June 4th, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    How do you begin to get help when the partner with AS sees absolutely nothing wrong with his behavior. How do I communicate with someone who only wants to be right, cannot take criticism, but can only communicate by dishing it out, sees everything in only black and white. It’s autism, he is wired that way. Is there something that will change that thinking?

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    June 10th, 2016 at 1:35 PM

    Hello, Diane: I hear this question – and I sense the inherent frustration – frequently from women who seek counseling in my office. Generally, my goal is to help my clients understand that they can learn a great deal about autism and about ways to consider interpersonal communication in light of ASD that might have an effect on conversational outcomes. I encourage them to discuss this with their husbands and, if it seems appropriate or likely to be helpful, to then suggest that they come in for some sessions as a couple. My role then is akin to that of a translator: I work to help each partner understand the perspective of the other, which is often masked in vocabulary, history, and emotion that has concretized over the years. This is an ongoing process that can help re-establish mutual respect that has most likely suffered as years of miscommunication have accrued. From this point, new ways of understanding each other can be possible. It is important to remember, though, that ASD is a neurological difference and not a psychological issue. Therefore, expectations for change must be seen in light of this framework.

  • Diane M

    August 19th, 2016 at 5:27 AM

    Sarah, you must not be married to an autistic man. You CANNOT have a meaningful discussion about anything personal. IMPOSSIBLE!!!!! They take everything as a criticism, as a personal attack. The only people who will understand what I am talking about is a women married to ASPERGER!!!! Trust me we have tried every which way to connect, will not happen. We can only either leave or accept that we live with little boys, not a real man!!!!

  • SueC254

    August 18th, 2016 at 4:36 PM

    Many of us didn’t know about AS until after we were married. AS wasn’t in the textbooks until 2 years after my wedding. I believe that if I had been forewarned I would not have gone ahead. This article is absolutely accurate, and is my life story up to a point – I am still in the marriage, and have only survived this far because I have had access to an AS partners’ support group for over ten years. I really fear the loneliness ahead when my children leave home, and it will be even worse when my ASH retires – I don’t think I could stand him being at home all the time – he will do even less than he does now. Lately I have been thinking about how to get back my old self and my former interests whilst still in the marriage, and asserting myself more. As described in the article, it’s me who spends all the money (and gets blamed for it), maintains and improves the house because no-one else will do it! I feel like I am single anyway, but with my hands tied. I will be reinventing myself and if he doesn’t like it, then I will know to consider ending the marriage. I had a friend whose adult children turned against her as described in the article. They blamed her for everything and sided with their AS dad. Eventually they saw the truth and had started to reconcile but it was too late. My friend got a diagnosis of terminal cancer and died within months. She insisted that her husband not come to her funeral. She was still hurt and angry. She was my friend and shared a lot of wisdom about AS and I miss her. Ladies, life is short and you only get one shot at it.

  • Diane M

    August 19th, 2016 at 5:52 AM

    Thank you Sue for your honesty, only those men or women married to autism will ever understand the depth of pain inflicted over years, decades. It is subtle, like a slow drip of daily sucking the life out of us. It took me 40 years to figure out I was living with autism. I always knew there was something, but what as it!!!! Now for almost three years I have had to come to terms that this man never loved me, not in a way I thought I married for!!! Not in a meaningful, caring, sharing way. Autism is extremely SELFISH and one sided. It now all makes sense to me, he doesn’t even know me after 43 years. He can’t help the way he is, but it doesn’t change the fact that we whom are married to them suffer in silence, no understanding from the non AS/NT community!!! It’s like losing a little bit of oxygen daily!!!

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    August 19th, 2016 at 9:00 AM

    Hello, Diane – It is not my place here to discuss my personal experiences in my private life, as you can imagine. I will have to ask you to trust that I understand your frustration more than you might be able to imagine. I deeply understand the relationship between a person on the autism spectrum and a neurotypical person. I also know and I tell my clients that it is not possible to change a person on the spectrum. Instead, I advocate for education. This is always the goal in sessions with my couple clients. Such education about what it is like to be the other can be enlightening. It does not change anyone inherently, but it offers the possibilities for a more hopeful pathway toward future decisions regarding staying together or moving apart. There are no miracles, but their is relief and there is compassion. Facing the grief of lost dreams and crashed expectations then becomes the work of individual counseling, either in therapy or with your pastor or anyone else you can trust to offer sustenance through a grieving process. There are no simple answers, certainly. But there is hope for reducing pain and moving forward. I send you my sincere best wishes.

  • Becky

    August 19th, 2016 at 10:10 AM

    After many years of losing myself I had to put my foot down and just let him have his fit. He had some awareness that he was sucking me dry so at least there was that. I told him that none of this was up for debate. I had a right to my interests and pursuits. Sometimes these will make you feel badly but that doesn’t make them bad and they will continue. I am not an extension of you. I am my own person and from this point on will be my own person.

    It took about two years of struggle and repeating this for him to adapt. That’s OK. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

    We engage is a sort of toddler like side by side play now. He does his thing. I do mine. He has learned that life is nicer when we can both talk about the things we enjoy. Right now I’m enjoying a very engaging hobby. There is a contest for my hobby coming up so I’m putting a lot of time in. To help me my husband has been fixing the meals for the last couple months. This isn’t entirely altruistic…he has a food special interest…however, it’s appreciated. It used to be he’d sulk if I didn’t fix a meal he wanted to eat.

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    August 19th, 2016 at 3:28 PM

    Hello, Becky – it sounds as if you and your husband are well on your way toward discovering a workable plan for staying together. In the future if you hit bumps, it might be worthy of consideration to enlist the help of a therapist who truly understands the AS/NT relationship in a way that comforts and supports you both. Best regards to you.

  • Becky

    August 22nd, 2016 at 1:40 PM

    Thanks Sarah. It was because of therapy that he was diagnosed in his mid 40’s. I told him to go, or else. Like I said, he had some awareness that he was sucking me dry and he agreed that he had issues to work through. When he was diagnosed it was such an eye opener, a relief in many ways.

    At that point he was open to change but change comes slow with Aspergers. Through therapy, boundaries on my part, and a low dose anti anxiety medication, we aren’t doing too badly.

    His last meltdown was over his health. I mentioned he has a food special interest. That has caused obesity, high blood pressure and pre-diabetic symptoms. I told him he was a walking heart attack and now it was time to lose weight. This was a three day bender for him but he processed and agreed he was unhealthy. I taught him how to use a weight loss app where you count calories. Once he learned that he could eat what he liked, not just rabbit food, as long as he budgeted it in, he’s done very well. He’s lost nearly 40 lbs. So he’s cooked meals and enjoyed that immensely.

  • Linda

    August 18th, 2016 at 7:44 PM

    This article so describes my life; in solo therapy because I thought I was going mad; the stress is overwhelming and I’ve decided not to talk about it anymore because , if you don’t walk in my shoes, you don’t understand😢

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    August 19th, 2016 at 3:16 PM

    Hello, Linda, many women in your position decide finally not to discuss the issues in their marriages with partners on the spectrum because as you describe, it is extremely difficult for others to understand if they are not familiar with the particular dynamics in the AS/NT partnership. However, you might find it helpful to work with a professional counselor who specializes in this area. It is asking a lot of yourself to hold this bottled up within you. Best wishes to you.

  • Jennifer F.

    August 19th, 2016 at 5:15 PM

    Linda.. I know how you feel…so hard when you can’t talk to someone..unless they are in the same situation…I live in Australia….and I joined a support group….WOW..so many….of us….

  • Molly

    December 13th, 2016 at 7:14 AM

    Hi, what support group is that ? I need some help finding someone who understands and doesn’t just diagnose me with postnatal depression!

  • Diane M.

    August 21st, 2016 at 5:55 AM

    I hear you Linda, and so does every other man and women married to a partner on the spectrum. You cannot talk to your partner about it, he or she are a GREAT part of the problem !! You will only harm yourself more and become psychologically hurt! We call that circular arguments that go NOWHERE, he can’t hear you or see you. It mind blindness . But there are other forums that totally GET you, I sure do!!!!!!!!!! Seek help from outside your relationship !!! The best to you!

  • Jennifer E

    August 18th, 2016 at 11:07 PM

    For years I felt as though it was all my fault..not good enough, not smart enough…had a mastectomy/chemo…don’t look good enough…..I always cooked cleaned..took him on with HIS 3 girls..and I had 4 kids of my own..HE SAW what a great mum.cook/housekeeper I was…but ..then would slam /ridicule me for being so!! HAD to see a Psychologist..who has told me..THIS IS NOT MY FAULT….but….that little demon pops up every so often..makes you feel so unworthwhile…I can’t afford to go elsewhere..and this is my home..I travel alone…interstate…..but..when HIS family around…all MR NICE GUY…..”spew”” I told my in-laws about him..they have to know..( plus he is Diabetic Type 1) I have saved his bloody life so many times..BUT FORGETS all of that! PLUS he has Narcisstic personality disorder..ALL MY diagnosis!1 HE told me when we first met..tha the had ”strange ways” and I had to get used to them…I just thought it was any man’s ;;funny ways”” OHH NO…….PLEASE give me strength..please talk to me..

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    August 19th, 2016 at 3:17 PM

    Jennifer, you’re no doubt right when you say, “It isn’t my fault.” I hope you can find a trusted counselor who understands your situation to offer you support and guidance. Best wishes to you.

  • Rose

    August 19th, 2016 at 12:10 AM

    Wow – it felt like someone watched a movie if my life there. It’s terrible. After decades of marriage and a caring for a child with life threatening illness I find that AS husband has been involved in disgusting sexual activities with prostitutes and in groups. Of course he is gone but I can’t understand that behaviour in anyone AS or not. It’s almost like a psychopath. Surely that behaviour isn’t attributed to AS??? What I couldn’t understand is why AS is a licence to be a pig.

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    August 19th, 2016 at 3:18 PM

    Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard of this kind of sexual behavior from a husband on the spectrum. Oftentimes, it doesn’t mean to him what it means to the neurotypical spouse. Nontheless, it is experienced rightfully as a devastating betrayal. I hope you can find good counseling support. I wish you well.

  • Rose

    April 24th, 2017 at 2:09 AM

    Sarah,
    a year after separation I am still angry because nothing is resolved. There has been no contact whatsoever and there is at last relief and peace in my home – but what I want to know – is WHY AS can just ‘get away’ with their behaviours and actions? There never seems to be any consequence for the hurt they cause – intentional or not…surely. otherwise intelligent people cannot be allowed to behave this way. The little counselling we did have was so softly softly on the AS partner it was almost validating the behaviour – I don’t get it!

  • Marion

    May 10th, 2017 at 10:55 PM

    Yes – devastating betrayal, when I was so very trusting – but he was eyed by other women and couldn’t say “no” or “I’m married” then married my friend – she married him….

  • Jen

    August 19th, 2016 at 7:53 AM

    This articles does describe me. My kids are 16 and 13 and have each pulled me aside and told me that their father treats me poorly. With those declarations, I feel I have more confidence to leave, with support and a different outcome to your article. It’s a chance I have to take. They see their father’s lack of involvement. They see how he stonewalls when things don’t go his way. They see their father for who he is. Am I lucky? I don’t know. But what else can I do than hope?

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    August 19th, 2016 at 3:24 PM

    Jen, you are fortunate. You might consider finding a skilled therapist for you and your children to work with on this. You could also consider bringing him with you to family sessions, if he is willing to pursue this. Oftentimes, the partner on the spectrum is not willing. You know your husband best and you know what he is likely to think of such a suggestion. If he is unwilling and you and the children pursue counseling together, it would be important that there is no sense of “ganging up on Dad” perceived by your husband. Best regards to you.

  • Marion

    May 10th, 2017 at 10:58 PM

    Great comment. At break-up, its too easy to delay this sort of therapy – so much else to do and consider, and then the children can feel neglected. Mine also saw dad’s ways, but were later persuaded to his thinking.

  • Diane

    April 24th, 2017 at 7:03 AM

    Hi Jen, I have found that therapy with an AS present is no good at all!! In my case it only served for my AS partner to find out more about me, he used it against me time and time again. Therapy has never helped him one iota, in an AS mind it’s always your fault, he has zero ability to see his behavior and the hurt and pain he causes. Therapy for you and your children could be beneficial in helping them see their fathers as having a serious disability. I feel sad for your children, but they seem aware and that is a good start. Let your AS wear his own behavior, never cover up for him, if you do you look like the one that has the problem. In my 44 years with my ASH, I found the only way it can be bearable is to make no excuses for him. I am sick and tired of the medical profession making this our problem. We give and give of ourselves with little in return emotionally.

  • Carol G.

    August 19th, 2016 at 3:21 PM

    Thank you for such a fabulous article Sarah and Good Therapy. I write about the AS/NT relationship too, having been in one myself. I run ASPIA in Sydney (Australia), a support group for partners of adults on the spectrum. I will be glad to pass your article on through our group etc. It was actually shared in a facebook group by one of our members. It will be of course extremely validating for partners, but also particularly helpful for those who are still trying to explain to their therapist, or others, what’s going on for them. I often say it is difficult to put words around what is not there, what is missing – because most people in society have assumptions about what is “normal” and taken for granted in any relationship at a basic level, and much of this just isn’t present, but we’ve no words to describe it. Thank you again. Carol G. OAM, ASPIA Inc (Australia).

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    August 20th, 2016 at 11:55 AM

    Thank you Carol. We are so glad you enjoyed it!

    Wishing you the best,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Carol

    April 23rd, 2017 at 3:26 PM

    Yes , but I need a divorce, have a meditation lawyer who will not grasp it. 35 years of marriage and business partner as well !

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    August 22nd, 2016 at 4:36 PM

    Thank you, Carol. I’m happy if my words soothe a troubled soul in any way, and I am grateful to you for passing along my article in Australia. Thank you also for taking the time to write a note here. Best wishes to you in your work as well.

  • Ruth

    August 20th, 2016 at 12:21 PM

    This sadly was my experience over 20 years and 8 children. We finally divorced when the youngest two were 15. I lost everything. He was the wronged victim. I was the evil witch. Only my youngest two and my two oldest speak to me now. I am a grandma, but have never seen the baby, my daughter married and did not invite me. My other daughter graduated but I was not allowed to go. My mum died and I was blanked at her death bed by my daughters. My ex got everything I worked for, the house I bought, my children’s loyalty and his freedom while I continue looking after his two youngest ASD boys.

  • Diane M.

    August 21st, 2016 at 5:26 AM

    I am so sorry Ruth for the pain you are suffering . Autism, whether high functioning is a serious disability. Not for themselves, but for the families that are exposed to them day in and day out. Unfortunately all therapy and information is one sided. Until there is more exposure to the HARM they do we will suffer great consequences. The damage is done so slowly over such a long period of time!!!! THEY need to be exposed!!!! We the NT must tell our stories. If there was some kind of disease out there causing so much harm, it would make headline news, why not THIS disability!!!!

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    August 22nd, 2016 at 5:14 PM

    Diane, you make a very good point. Therapists who are not specialists in working with both the individual on the spectrum and the neurotypical partner can inadvertently appear to “side” with the partner on the spectrum, which becomes an additional source of anxiety and distress for the NT partner. Many couples have shared such disheartening previous counseling experiences with me. However, please do not give up hope. All therapy and information is truly not “one sided,” as you describe it. There are therapists whose life work derives from understanding both realities – AS and NT – and whose heart-felt goal is to help partners build new bridges. This is not possible, as you clearly describe, without strong therapeutic support. That is why in so many of my comments above I have advocated finding a therapist. It is very difficult otherwise to break the dysfunctional and often abusive long-term communication patterns which tend to concretize in AS/NT marriages even more so than they do in other marriages. In effective couple therapy, both partners have equal voices. Best regards to you.

  • Chasity H.

    August 20th, 2016 at 1:54 PM

    My partner and I have two boys with asphergars. I read this artical and it’s totally what I go through with him. I feel crazy and alone. I don’t know what to do. I do everything and if I say something it’s my fault and he fights with me about it. What do u suggest. My boys are five and eight right now. It’s crazy at my house.

    Chasity

  • Diane M.

    August 21st, 2016 at 5:01 AM

    Hi Chasity, don’t make the same mistake I did, I put myself last in this marriage, just saying that word “marriage” makes me cringe, because it is so far from it. Your boys are still young, they are teachable. Let him wear his behavior, don’t EVER make excuses for him. Treat yourself with dignity and respect, he won’t !!!!! He can’t!!!! you do not exist for him other than a provider!!!! Show your boys you are VERY important, they must see that from you , it will not come from their father. Any bad behavior you husband does in front of the children call him on it in a non aggressive way, state it and disengage, walk away!!!!!

  • Jenny

    September 10th, 2016 at 4:12 AM

    Chasity, it does not get better. You have two boys with ASD, there is only so much stress and loneliness one human being can withstand. Your life is worth something and you have a right to be heard and to be loved and supported. Had I known this when I was your age I would have moved away from the stressors I could have walked away from and moved towards love and respect and kindness and support. It is the oxygen mask thing…..you can’t give something you aren’t getting yourself and there is only so much one person can take. Choose you at every opportunity you can. It is not selfish, you have a right to matter too.

  • Vivienne

    August 22nd, 2016 at 11:00 PM

    I found this article very helpful. In the absence of a counsellor who understands couple relationships where the husband has AS, can you recommend anything to read that will help more. I have read many books but they only take you so far. My husband has a diagnosis.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    August 24th, 2016 at 9:30 AM

    Hello, Vivienne, Thank you for your reply. If you’d like to email me through my GoodTherapy.org profile, I’d be happy to respond. Best wishes to you.

  • Melody

    August 23rd, 2016 at 7:20 AM

    I do think it helps to know that my hubby of 16 years is an Aspie, but it’s not always enough. He is undiagnosed, but it’s obvious. Two of our sons are also on the spectrum at varying degrees, and the third son will be evaluated soon. I often feel invisible. I handle everything for the boys: therapies, school, doctors, activities, money, car maintenance, mowing, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and I work part time. I do see a lot lack of respect from my sons, and I am afraid to try anything new anymore because I am tired of criticism. I am a shell of my former self and I do try to align myself with his ideals because it is easier. I don’t ever see myself wanting a divorce, but Autism does make for a culture shock, of sorts, for both partners. There really is a need for more books to be written on this subject. Your article hits the nail on the head.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    August 24th, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    Hello, Melody – thank you for writing. “Culture shock” is often a pretty good metaphor for what you’re describing: each partner might feel dropped into a new country with no map, no cultural understanding, and no language skills. I hope you can find a way to voice your distress, either with a counselor or another professional who might understand and be able to offer you support. Regarding a book on this topic – I am in the middle of writing one, and I hope it will offer tools and comfort to anyone who reads it. Best to you.

  • Jenny

    September 9th, 2016 at 3:07 PM

    I cannot believe that my story is here in black and white and that the fact that it is makes it clear that this is not just my story but a never ending story of misery and lives lost. I lost everything being married to a man with ASD. My beautiful home with gardens I lovingly created, my dreams, my hopes, years and years and years of never being loved, never being heard, never mattering. But the final and most devastating loss of all was the slow realization of the fact that, just as you describe in this story, my children were lost too. Two have Aspergers themselves and barely know I am alive, let alone worth anything, and the other has been so hurt and so lost and has learned as you have described that I am not worth anything. It is not his fault, it was just the reality that formed his view of the world and of me. I am 54 years old and after 30 years of the worst misery I can describe, I now find every dream was utterly shattered. I would never, never have done this if a diagnosis had been available back then.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    September 15th, 2016 at 8:12 AM

    Hello, Jenny – your note is so poignant. I send you my best wishes for healing and reclaiming those dreams which have languished for so long. I encourage you to note the resilience you are demonstrating by moving forward in your life. That is no small feat.

  • Cara

    September 9th, 2016 at 11:58 PM

    Yep, this is me, right down to certain things that were said. My birthday was never ignored, because he has it in his automatic notifications on his smart phone. He always gets me something er other. But it always feels like an obligation. Often, when he gets me something that he feels is something I’ve mentioned before, he’ll pat himself on the back by saying, “See, I listen!” We both skipped our 19th anniversary this year. I knew he would forget, and I just didn’t feel like buying anything for it. The trouble is that reading the rest of your article, from the point where she leaves him, terrifies me. Our last daughter (we have three) is in high school now. I won’t deny I have wondered if when she leaves high school it might be time to move on. It makes me sad, and scares me, but sometimes just the idea that there might be someone out there that actually cares about me, that might put me first, that might want to share life instead of putting up road blocks and telling me why anything I dream of doing is “unrealistic”….but the idea that my children might turn on me is terrifying. My youngest daughter most likely has Aspergers as well, and she is often just like her father. I can imagine her blaming me for the end of the marriage. I’m not so sure that would be true for my oldest and middle daughters, who I have talked honestly with and confided in over the years about their father’s behavior. But my littlest one, I have protected her more from what was going on, and she is the most like him.

    Another thing is, how do you leave someone who has drained all the joy of life away from you, and killed your dreams, and made you into someone you don’t even recognize..but who is still kind and funny, and sometimes quite sweet? He does those things sometimes, but for multiple reasons there has been no sexual relationship for 15 years. When he discovered he had low testosterone, he had no interest in doing anything about it for 8 years. It tore me apart. He didn’t seem to care one bit that I was miserable, instead asking me why I couldn’t just accept him for how he was. No amount of logic from me did anything but get the silent treatment.

    But how do you leave someone when you still love them. I feel he and I are friends, and that’s all. And I feel strongly that my leaving him would really hurt him. He would say he couldn’t help being Aspergers and couldn’t help his testosterone levels. Maybe some of it, but not all.

    I’m so confused. 19 years of feeling like a sack of potatoes, and wondering what happened to who I used to be. I think I lack the faith in myself to even do anything about it now.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    September 15th, 2016 at 8:15 AM

    Hello, Cara – this is the bind many find themselves in: painful recognition of their own sense of fading away with lost dreams and crushed hopes, while loving their partners and not wanting to leave. If both of you want to old on to the marriage, supportive counseling with a therapist skilled in understanding the interior lives of both partners can offer significant insights. I wish you well on your path.

  • Kf

    September 14th, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    This has been my life! Finally looked up and smelled the coffee and asked husband of 24 years to move out when he got physical with 13 year old son. What a waste of my life, having to comply with all his ways or he would rage, feel like my kids think I am the one to blame as he has such a martyrs way about him. He is so irresponsible, even tonight he was asking me to pick my son up as it is too much for him and too much for petrol! He picks him up twice a week, and drives 2 miles!! I said no, that I ferried them around 7 days a week and looked after them 24/7!!!! I wish I had woken up years ago but as a devout Christian I didn’t think leaving was an option, what an idiot and mug I have been. It is so good to read this to validate my experience, thank you !!

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    September 15th, 2016 at 8:18 AM

    Hello, KF – thank you for posting your note. Please don’t consider yourself “an idiot” for wanting your marriage to match your hopes and dreams. You did the best you could throughout those years, given what you knew then compared to what you know now. With time, perhaps you will see how resilient and loving and utterly competent you have always been, as evidenced by all the juggling you have done well for so many years. I wish you well in your discernment. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.

  • Anna

    September 14th, 2016 at 11:38 PM

    I made a spontaneous invite to go out for food after work as weather was beautiful. He agreed we went and then went aspie on me at the table ‘checked out’ daydreaming even though familiar restaurant and no others in the restaurant.! Hello where are you ? Realise no substance behind my handsome selfish man so do I just get used to having one sided conversations with myself?

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    September 15th, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    Hello, Anna – How frustrating for you! I wonder whether you have done much reading about Asperger’s. The reason I ask is that autistic behaviors which are not intended as selfish often appear that way due to problems related to understanding the emotional reality of another person (to the chagrin of the neurotypical partner) and the “checking out” you describe can often be a response to feeling anxious and overwhelmed by multiple stimuli, which could happen in places (such as the restaurant you describe) which may feel perfectly ordinary and otherwise pleasant to someone who is not on the spectrum. It is so complicated and often difficult to understand because the behaviors can be so hurtful, even if they are not intentional. Also, understanding these things doesn’t make the hurt go away on its own. Your pain is legitimate, as are your concerns. If your husband is amenable to such an idea, maybe reading about Asperger’s together could be helpful. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it backfires. Ideally, you could find a skilled therapist who understands you and understands your husband as well. Best regards to you.

  • Anna

    September 18th, 2016 at 1:16 PM

    Thank you Sarah, I have spent the last few days reading some online articles, books and a couple of forums similar to yours re Asperger and am gaining of an understanding of what this relationship will entail! Many women on various on forums suggest run don’t look back! I am trying to empathise with how he feels constantly – no wonder the grumpiness is surfacing! We are obviously coming out of the new phase as now nine months in to our new relationship. The hurt in my gut is strong this weekend as he has been trying to multi task which is obviously a No no however i have tried to show understanding as he was uncharacteristically offhand and cool with me! I am not aware if he is diagnosed or aware so eventually I just said that ‘we seemed to be at cross purposes as he was speaking to me in a way that we are not used to in our new relationship’ I explained I love him being so ‘kind and gentle and the way we are in our bubble although I know it’s still new but that I really need us to stay being kind and supportive of each other’ I explained I feel our bubble is where things can be dealt with as a couple as still in our ‘togetherness’. I feel I understand why I need to protect myself with me time as now I’m home my own usual ‘ok ness’ in my gut is flat which I recognise is from feeling sad emotionally. Do I need to just keep reading about this condition? I have read I must not take things he says personally! How do I do this ? I agree it is like learning a new language but with the need for prirection around my heart and solar plexus! Would appreciate advice please thank you x

  • Kf

    September 15th, 2016 at 12:03 PM

    Thank you Sarah for your kind words. I am trying to be more positive every day and help the boys grow up as well adjusted as possible. Thanks for this site, it is comforting to have supportive and understanding people.

  • Marion

    September 15th, 2016 at 5:06 PM

    What a remarkable and affirming article – about the best since I became aware of this elephant in my family in mid 90’s when the topic and condition was raised in media, following which I attended Attwood conferences and joined FAAAS. I have lost twice, and its been monumental refinding myself after divorce 15years ago. My children commented on their father’s traits, were hurt by some of these, but struggle with my truth. My oldest son seems accepting, and remains loyal and loving, but his sister who studied humanities and is a counsellor, is estranged. By now, I wonder if I would worsten the situation, or throw light on it by sharing this article.Your thoughts? Dr Joshua Coleemn had also been a useful source.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    September 15th, 2016 at 10:44 PM

    Hello, Marion – thank you! I am glad this article was affirming for you. One thing you might think about if you’re wondering about sharing it with your children is whether you think it might be prudent to present it to them as something that is particularly meaningful to you, something that you’d like them to read in order to understand you better. At the very least, they will be learning something about their mother. There is always the chance that they will see more than that, however, and consider how the whole picture relates to them, their mother, and their father. Children often have their own reasons for denying autism in their fathers. Sometimes they themselves are also on the spectrum; sometimes, it just feels too painful to look into the matter too carefully. I wish you well on your path toward healing.

  • Anonymous

    September 18th, 2016 at 3:03 AM

    The majority of behaviour described here sounds like my NT ex-partner of many years. Thank goodness there were no children involved. I wasn’t diagnosed when we first got together and had absolutely no idea, but it was he that originally suggested that I might be AS. He was extrovert, talkative, and a “larger than life” character, and in our private lives he used those characteristics as part of a broad pattern of bullying. He would want to talk and talk and talk, usually about nothing constructive, but would go from one topic to another endlessly for hours, to the point where I was completely exhausted and really needed to be alone with my thoughts for a bit to recharge my batteries, but he would insist on bombarding me with yak and asking my opinion about topics I knew too little about to have a conversation about. When all I could do was acknowledge politely he would get angry and say I wasn’t listening. He would use any devious means possible to deprive me of time to sit on my own and follow my special interests, which I found exhausting. He would demand tenderness and comfort from me when he was shouting at me and I was feeling frightened rather than loving. He would insist we did the household chores “together” although I worked a busy full time job and he was on benefits, and anyway it was his apartment. Everything was nitpicked and if I did the dishes he would do them again because I allegedly hadn’t done a good job because of my “attitude” towards the home and the relationship. I was terrified of driving but he made me do it and then yelled at me. He said I was a klutz, but flip-flopped between not letting me do things in case I messed up and angrily forcing me to do them to teach me how to be “practical”. Everything had to be done at break-neck speed; he was so impatient I think he would have flunked the marshmallow test. He accused me of making him fat because I needed “constant feeding” but I have to eat at regular times because of blood sugar issues, it’s not a ritual as he liked to frame it. He used to speak to me like a two year old. In the end I had to leave because the bullying was spilling over onto my family members, some of whom have similar AS traits to mine, and this used to get him riled up as if our wire-up job was somehow a personal attack on him. I can’t believe I spent nearly a decade of my life nursing a man with both physical and emotional issues, working a pay the bills job instead of developing my career and keeping my ambitions for higher education in abeyance while getting no support for my own ideas, interests and ambitions, and rarely any display of thanks. There are a lot of “poor me’s” here, but has anyone considered things from the other side of the story?

  • Liz M

    September 21st, 2016 at 12:35 AM

    Dear anonymous,
    Sounds to me like you are/were not dealing with a psychologically stable NT. Just because he isn’t AS certainly doesn’t preclude him from some other DSM diagnosis. There seems to me no doubt that you are suffering emotional and psychological abuse. Your partner is not healthy and you might need to consider running away, real fast, from this guy. I hope you haven’t begun to blame or hate yourself yet. So sorry. I hope Sarah has some good advice…. yours seems like a very damaging situation.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    September 28th, 2016 at 8:17 AM

    Dear Anonymous,
    In a word, yes. I consider the world from the point of view of the individual on the spectrum all the time in my work. In fact, if I have a personal mission it is this: to help couples and individuals understand that there are neurological differences between those on the autism spectrum and people who are considered to be neurotypical. These differences manifest most strongly in the intimate relationship, where the demands on the AS person are experienced as most complex and significant. Helping to build a bridge between these two ways of being in the world is my life work. Your story is heartbreaking to me because it exemplifies so strongly the price the AS person can pay when in relationship with a person who has no understanding whatsoever of the interior life of a person on the spectrum. Yes, it cuts both ways. There is pain in both sides when understanding of differences is lacking. Both partners are capable of excrutiatingly insensitive treatment of the other if they view differences as intentional behaviors designed to hurt or baffle the other. That said, there are often other complications at hand, since besides our neurologial status, we are a combination of many other factors, including our personal histories, our tempermants, our personalities, and our intelligence. This includes the possibility of mental health compromises, of course. Seeking counseling with a skilled therapist who understands both sides of the partnership can be a life-saving decision. I send you my best wishes for healing.

  • Pink nails

    October 15th, 2016 at 6:55 PM

    I do not want this for my life. I have 3 children 6 and under. The oldest has Aspergers and the middle sensory and anxiety issues. The only reasons I have for not divorcing at this point is fear of the stress as I am already completely overdrawn and that I do not trust my spouse with the children for any more than a couple hours. I feel that to save myself I would be leaving my children to deal with his invisible disabilities without my help and protection. Ug. I would not get full custody as he is a “good guy.” In the case of a divorce he would make it his next big projet to cause me problems.
    My mom had an empathy disorder (cluster B) and that led me to this relationship. I am so completely done dealing with zero empathy relationships. Life is too short. I remind my girls constantly to think of others hoping I can instill empathy into their neurology. Love matters. Love requires empathy.

  • Anonymous

    October 17th, 2016 at 9:06 AM

    Dear Pink Nails, I am sorry about your mother, but I was concerned about your comment that you wish to “instill empathy into their neurology” with regard to your daughters. I think I have a responsibility to set the record straight. You have admitted yourself there are sensory and anxiety issues, and you need to understand that those are the problem, NOT a lack of empathy. For us, other people’s emotions are like being at a Death Metal concert. There is already too much going on to process! If you then try and speak softly, it won’t be heard above the din. Rather than metaphorically grabbing us by the collar to get our attention, the solution is to move to a calm environment where our senses aren’t being overloaded. My family tried to go overboard with that whole “think of others” rhetoric. You know what? It was years before I learned that my needs were important too, and that sometimes I had to put myself first. Be careful of the messages you give someone who might be prone to taking you exactly at your word.

  • Marion

    February 9th, 2017 at 8:21 PM

    I wonder if modelling empathy is better than bashing their ears about others’ feelings? Of course everyone is on a different part of a spectrum – so degrees of awareness would vary? I have a son who displayed autistic/sensory issues when young, but is now giving hugs, not shrugging them off. He is very affectionate with his fiance. My heart sings, since he asked why we do these things when he was about 4 or 5years old, and it was a little painful watching him then mimicking – eventually giving crushing hugs, and now lovely gentle ones.

  • Penny

    January 29th, 2017 at 3:31 AM

    Sarah, I am interested to know what you and the other readers think about how you would deal with children and their exposure to their AS fathers behaviors? I suppose I am sheltering them and not making his behaviors seem odd to them – should I tell them as it is. For example, my husband has chronic snoring and this was going on through our relationship (his mother is the same and was diagnosed with sleep apnea). I eventually could not take it anymore so I said that he needed to get it sorted. His solution was to move to the spare room where he has remained since (1 year now). He has not mentioned it since – I suppose this is his solution for getting it sorted. My question is obviously the girls know he is in another room (they are 5 & 6) but I told them it was cause Daddy’s snoring is very bad – but should I be truthful with them and say ‘Daddy needs to go to the doctor to see if the doctor can fix his snoring’. I am thinking after reading your article that I am taking the blame for him refusing to do anything about it. This is just one example. Thank you!

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    February 8th, 2017 at 12:16 PM

    Hello, Penny – I wonder whether you might consider working with a counselor who can help you sort out these questions. It is complicated with young children who are watching everything and forming their own impressions and ideas about why mommy and daddy do things. I understand your desire to care for your children and offer them explanations that make sense and that are accurate. Their developmental stages and awareness are part of the formula for determing how best to do this. I send warm wishes to you in the hopes that you can find support.

  • Kara

    February 16th, 2017 at 10:30 AM

    You are the first, (I cannot say this more empthatically)… the FIRST person to sound like you have the capacity to actually help those in an NT/Aspie relationship. I value your insight and I truly wish I had chosen orders to Washington in lieu of Illinois, just so I could give one more chance to a therapist that could be that “translator” for my marriage. A translator that grasps both ends and has no stake in either side; THAT is what we really need the most if we want to see positive changes for the future. My husband and I have come incredibly far in our efforts to bridge the gaps, but there are still many gaps to overcome. 9/10 times, it is a translator we need in our midst to promote forward mobility. It is near-impossible in the beginning (and in general) for either side to hear the other person’s perspective because both are engulfed in emotional turmoil when words begin to spew from their mouths. It took years for me to find the means to begin shifting our spiraling marriage and it was certainly not through the assistance of a “licensed professional.” You bring a humbling sense that perhaps all hope (in the mental health profession) is not lost for Aspie/NT unions. It was incredibly obvious to me from the moment I began reading your words that you have lived in an NT/Aspie dynamic. Most therapists who claim to have the skill set to assist a grieving spouse either lack the personal experience to be of any help, or have a biased mindset against the Aspie (husband) because they have not be privy to successful bridge-construction themselves. I will be seeking your guidance in the future, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for giving me hope in a community I had turned my back on. Your “Life’s Work” is one of unimaginable value and I look forward to what’s to come. On a side note to those readers asking about their children and including them in the knowledge of AS and why mom & dad behave the way they do: I can only speak from the perspective of a mother who has an incredibly empathetic teenage daughter. She was barely 10-years old when John entered our life and had already suffered the loss of her own father to suicide, so I was very afraid of sharing what I knew of AS in the early days. I chose to not shield her from anything after I let the dust settle from the initial explosion of grief that followed my realization of what “I had gotten myself into” and what I “was up against.” I chose to not allow her to grow up worried about me or thinking her stepfather was a cruel man. I was terrified she would think less of me for remaining by his side, or adapt a subconscious belief that she should endure a seemingly abusive relationship because she had watched her mother suffer and stick it out in one. In the end, she was afforded the information that she deserved to know. She struggles with him still (as an older teenager), but she has a foundation of understanding through reading and open communication with myself that has enabled her to open her heart up and not take all of his behaviors personally. She has also opened that same heart up to those young Aspie children in her schooling; those who endure the very social alienation that often leads to our adult husband’s defensive hostility and poor coping skills in our marriages. While I still carry guilt for putting her through such a challenging childhood, in my heart, I know my daughter is a far more compassionate young woman now capable of identifying those with AS in her future interactions; from school to casual encounters, and likely in the profession she chooses as an adult. Considering HOW MANY individuals (I believe) have AS in our society, I strongly sense that my child is at a great advantage to navigating through interpersonal dynamics appropriately with those who often present the greatest challenges to NT individuals in life (from students, to teachers, to acquaintances, family members, or even random daily encounters with strangers). I believe she is better equipped to handle appropriate dialog with compassion in general now and that she will continue to grow as a leader and advocate for the neuro-diversity we all exist in. I don’t believe you are going to harm any child by being honest and kind in the way you openly communicate the dynamic they are already fully aware of in their home. They are not blind and they cannot be shielded (try as you might). Whether an AS child or NT… how can empowering them with the knowledge they need to navigate through their own life and future ever be a poor choice? Just my food for thought. Thank you again.

  • Dorothy

    May 23rd, 2017 at 8:46 AM

    Your thoughts resonated with me as I spent over 20 years with my Aspberger spouse and like others who knew separating was ultimately the only option, waited until our youngest went to college to file for divorce. My husband’s limitations were well known among myself and our kids and the emotional deprivation that life with him presented. Compounding his self absorption and alexithymia was his unwillingness to accept that anything was wrong with him and could be monosyllabic with little eye contact for days. If you and your kids tend towards the neuro typical, then you have to divorce in my opinion for the kids’ sake. It’s a terrible life model to witness in your home, especially where there is an audience of assorted family members. Our three kids seem bewildered, sad and angry about what happened but because I am the functional parent in the equation and am reliable, resourceful and able bodied, they understand who has their back and who has earned their respect. I do worry about alienation with them when they are older but I ultimately chose my mental health- my spouse had no interested in working on the relationship and cultivated a new community of peers as the marriage deteriorated. My ex seems engaged in his new existence and has little contact with any one in the family. I’m sure in his mind, he is giving us “space”. It’s been a huge slog to wrap my mind around what happened, and others’ comments on ideating suicide, the many mornings I felt utterly hopeless, even now, despite for better or for worse, my numerous accomplishments, I have to prop myself up to press forward because of the darkness that the marriage cultivated inside me due to the economic instability, neglect and lack of foreseeability that I experienced in my marriage.
    I do wish we had better information on the range of personality types concurrent in our society- particularly in the high functioning world. That psychology was a required subject in high school. That we all had mental health screening at the appropriate times in our development as kids to catch those who could benefit from help. I do think in my husband’s case, there was generational childhood neglect, he really was incapable of deep connection unless he was around animals or exercising. Us humans held little interest for him at the end of the day and life is too short to condemn myself to such an existance.

  • Sarah

    February 28th, 2017 at 8:16 AM

    This article is so spot-on. I grew up with an Aspie Dad and an NT mum and her behaviours were exactly like this. I spent my childhood being very internally scathing about her and adulating my Dad who I saw as clever and funny. Then in my 30s I married an Aspie guy myself. I am leaving him next month – the kids are 11, 9 and 3 but I finally can see clearly that the person I am, while I try to placate and contain their dad, is not the strong, capable, happy mum they deserve. This article made me feel very reassured because I feel, very strongly now, that waiting for another fifteen years or so until they all grow up, won’t be a good thing for any of us. I am a strong and capable career woman but at home I behave ‘in submission’ to keep the conflict at bay, and I know in time my kids and particularly my girls will regard that decision with the same contempt I regarded my own mother. And I also really, really want to break the cycle of marriage to Aspie men. I want my daughters to know the potential joy of an NT/NT union.

  • Dorothy

    May 23rd, 2017 at 8:51 AM

    Dear Sarah,
    Your comment reinforces why I finally left my spouse. I am the functioning NT partner and I couldn’t let my daughters and son bear witness any longer to a relationship where mom is ignored for the most part but runs circles around self absorbed dad to keep things going. I do think, despite the nuttiness of forging this new solo path, my kids have more respect for me because I chose myself, my health and my happiness.

  • Alexis

    March 15th, 2017 at 2:09 PM

    Ignored, criticized, stonewalled for 15 years. I invested all of myself, my resources in him in our family only to lose everything because I trusted him. He had no concern for our family’s stability, wellbeing, basic needs. I finally left with the kids because he would not stop drinking, the obsessive video game playing, pornography, I had slowly lost myself became isolated and depressed literally left to save myself when I had no money left of my own, no home anymore because he forced me to short- sale it relocate for his career, give up my career, grad school, my home just to see our quality of life diminish. Family thought he was wonderful, counselors invalidated what I was going through. It took 5 years to divorce because he didn’t respond to paperwork and I was focused on survival as we became homeless because I no longer had a decent career and couldn’t rent a home. I used to own a home I worked hard to provide the down payment and every paycheck to pay more than my share of bills and all the logistics, responsibilities at home in addition to working. I bought and assembled furniture, did all the heavy lifting, spent my retirement, savings then my inheritance making things work bailing him out. Asked him one fathers day as he was immersed in his hobbies ignoring us “what does father’s day mean to you?” He answered, ” It’s my day”. After spending many hours and tens of thousands of dollars repairing his credit I asked why his score was so low when he has a family. He said he had “no use for that number”. What a waste of those years of my life what a waste of my children’s childhoods when we could have had a nice normal life he derailed my every attempt to create a stable normal life pulled the carpet out from under us and said “it doesn’t matter” when I voiced concerns over consequenses of his selfish decisions on my career, our quality of life, our finances, our basic needs being unmet as we all had to sacrifice to cater to him.

  • Leslie

    May 10th, 2017 at 10:22 AM

    To be honest being a recently diagnosed female married to a NT man, with 2 kids on the spectrum, I find most of this article and many of the responses to be one sided. Married to an autistic person? Bash them here. The message is, the autistic person isn’t really a person, but just someone to be dealt with and more than likely someone that is going to make your life hell. I didn’t read one sentence that showed any understanding of why the autistic person would behave how they did, just that they were being uncompromising or lashing out etc. And you NEED to understand that, because autistic men and women, have autistic kids, and as mothers, you do NOT want your kids to be in a situation where their wives are speaking about them with so little understanding and selfishness as has taken place here. If you’re married to someone with autism, or your kid is autistic, then yeah, you better have the fortitude to put in the time to learn everything you can, because the autistic person is dealing with anxiety and stress that you can never understand, and it comes out as them being uncompromising, or any other number of the bad qualities that were stated. My kids though? They have a ton of really great qualities, and as a mom, coming here today was a little soul crushing to think that this might be their future.

  • anonymous

    May 22nd, 2017 at 10:17 AM

    That shows maybe the level of empathy of the writer? I have this thought experiment, ‘Imagine’ you would meet an alien, Could you emphasize with this alien? Even if its brain was wired totally differently. Could you emulate this aliens thoughts. Can you you even decide who’s process of thought is the right one? If you would assume your train of thought is the one. Are you than somehow right? And emphatic? Do we understand the brain?

  • Natalie

    May 22nd, 2017 at 3:38 PM

    Leslie,
    I totally hear where you are coming from. I’m NT with ASD LTR & two kids. If I may: what you are perceiving as a lack of empathy in this thread is actually a deeply safe space that Sarah and commenters have created for NTs dealing with this intensely difficult situation and related Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Stress. Which is very significant to all facets of our health, capacity to live our lives, and to parent; and which many of us posting are only just realizing we are dealing with for the first time. So, BIG stuff here for sure, I’d say on the order of a death or divorce, emotionally. Which means that what you are seeing here are very normal NT expressions of, in some cases extreme, grief, anger, paralysis, outrage, overwhelming sadness and heartbreak. As mothers we all are complicated and emotionally nuanced, with deeply resilient hearts after going through all this: so we know how to to seek out this safe space to express something immense, with others who’ve been facing the same issues, and with professional support (bless you Sarah), while also at the same time, being able to reflect this new reality and deeply care for our children in the face of such an emergent situation, which we are clearly still processing & grappling with. Your perception of a lack of empathy is not what’s actually going on here at all. This is a space where people can empathize with each other over a unique and intensely painful experience, that our spouses are literally neurologically unable to experience in any shared way, or with shared reality. For some of us, this may be *the* most painful thing we’ve ever confronted. I do appreciate you chiming in, bc it helps me consider how the ASD father of my children may perceive my emerging pain about our (so far) undiagnosed relationship. And it also helps me consider more clearly how I want to frame this with our children. I hope this helps illuminate this thread better for you.

  • Carol

    May 22nd, 2017 at 5:53 PM

    Too soft, have you read everything about Asperger’s, do you know the affects of his behavior for 35 years to his wife. I do not EXIST! Never have existed! Not one photo did he take of me! He is a photographer and has just used me for ideas. I have no record of my life and our photographic business together !

  • Dorothy

    May 23rd, 2017 at 10:03 AM

    Dear Carol,
    Your comment really resonated with me. I am a professional photographer and there are very few pictures of me with the kids but a ton of priceless images of him and them over the years. He is very able with the camera and it hurt how little interest he expressed about documenting me. Weird!!!! You have my most profound sympathies!!!!!

  • Natalie

    May 24th, 2017 at 1:01 PM

    Question: Does anyone here have insight on a tendency towards “urgency to repair” in ASD/NT relationships? I’ve been with my ASD guy for 25 years, just starting to wake up to the reality (he’s getting evaluated soon), and besides making all of the NUMEROUS pains & challenges of those years together make total sense, one thing I notice that seems especially important to my own emotional health, is that for all those years I’ve been the one to rush in and attempt to “fix” whatever seems off when there’s a conflict (which is often, for all the reasons above, as I’m beginning to finally realize). This urgency to repair, now not only seems toxic to me personally (in terms of its impact on my own self worth), but it also seems like yet another almost predictable response to being with an ASD spouse— there’s ‘no one there’ in the sense you expect there to be, and which I evidently was expecting there to be for more than two decades. No matter how hard to tried to repair, it was never going to get to that place of mutual emotional safety/intimacy and being seen/known. We did have a taste of that recently, after a near divorce when he realized he had not only me to lose, but any sort of effective co-parenting relationship, so he started employing active listening skills. But once we “got there-ish” it slid away within months, and I was back to being forced to reach out and engage and work my bum off to solicit any sort of closeness again. Always on his terms, when he was ready or available. (Don’t get me started on what happened when I needed a biopsy.)
    Anyway, I’d love input from folks on that “urgency to repair” if others have had that experience, or what any professionals would say about the impacts of that on my own health moving forward. BIG THANKS TO SARAH and everyone commenting here. Sarah: out of the dozens of articles I’ve read in the last few months, yours speaks most clearly and directly to what I didn’t even realize I’d been experiencing my entire adult life. I can’t thank you enough.

  • Jonathan

    May 24th, 2017 at 8:57 PM

    Well said Natalie.
    My heart goes out to you NT women married to ASD men, seriously..
    I have been with my wife for 27 years, whilst I have been unexposed to so much overt abuse that I read that ASD men can dish out, the loneliness and isolation is crushing, brutal and unremitting. I don’t see the word ‘selfishness” used much in relation to Aspergers individuals but for me it is relevant. I suspect Aspies are selfish due to anxiety about their deficiencies. As a man I have had to endure much manipulation and control. I have had an ache in my heart (loneliness) for 27 years and am now reaching a point where I might have to consider leaving for relief?
    – Loved the article Sarah, very succinct.

  • Cassandra

    May 26th, 2017 at 4:40 AM

    Dear Sarah,
    Your article had me reading in tears as it resonates so painfully. I’m empathise hugely with all you NT’ women and the huge struggles you have faced or are still facing, whilst married to undiagnosed AS men.
    After 19 years together and 13 years as a “single parent” I started divorce proceedings 14 months ago to save my sanity as an individual and as a devoted mother to my now 12 and 14 yr old kids
    My struggle through the British legal system right now is to remain the primary carer of my kids and for my case to continue to be dimissed by magistrates as “just another high conflict divorce where the parents need to put aside their differences for the sake of the chidren”. The court cannot count on my kids expressing their true wishes and feelings as my son has Asperger’s so he sees the conflict as nothing to do with him as long as his needs are met. (I’ve always been the one to ensure they are met) and my daughter is emotionally torn apart by divided loyalties, (She knows deep down who has always been her primary carer, but her Dad has promised her a dog and a pony) His aim to have more than alternate weekends is simply to reduce my contact – it’s a blaming and punishing game, because I dared to divorce him when “he has done nothing wrong” Gaslighting was and still is a very familiar theme throughout all my years with him to the point that I constantly had to check with friends whether I was crazy of whether they too agree that his behaviour was vicious, controlling, lacking in empathy and inappropriate as a parent. (e.g. recently told my daughter he wouldn’t return the garden fork for us to continue our gardening project together, claiming it was his (even though he has no garden to dig in his rented property). Then a few minutes later he asked me for the loppers as he had to prune his tree !!!!” – Another time he returned the kids back to me late after going on a sponsored bike ride with his new partner (kids left behind with his elderly grandparents for the day) and asked if I wanted to sponsor him ?!!!!
    Mediation didn’t work because compromise is never on his agenda. I want to find myself again, to be the person I once was and to be that person for my kids but unless the court and the legals can understand me I’ve no hope of reducing contact to what would be best for the kids and regaining some degree of sanity. I just want to be free and sane enough to continue to be a devoted mother to my kids.
    Thanks to Sarah and anyone out there who is able to relate to any of this and add any words of support

  • Cassandra

    May 26th, 2017 at 4:44 AM

    correction: for my case NOT to continue to be dimissed by magistrates as “just another high conflict divorce where the parents need to put aside their differences for the sake of the chidren”.

  • Lili

    May 30th, 2017 at 4:07 AM

    Thanks first of all to to everyone who has commented here, no matter what your perspective or position, NT, aspie, non-labeled. I am a 48 year old type A alpha female who has just been told by my recently diagnosed husband of 2.5 years (diagnosed about a year ago) that he is “not in love with me anymore” and no longer wants to be married to me. Many, many other factor exist, I have a problem with alcohol, I am a mean drunk who has struggled for years (sucessfully sober for stretches of 3 to 5 years, yet within the past 3.5 year of our relationship I went to a place of weakness I’d never experienced with my own issues of alcohol abuse. I don’t blame him, and I’ve exposed him to as much pain and abuse (or more since I often would black out and not recall the horrible things I did and said) yet I’ve always been a highly functioning “ill” if I’m gonna call it that….I have always held a high paying, professional job, had a career, worked my butt off. We were married a little over two year ago and he was obsessed with me. Wanted to always be around me, highly affectionate, touchy, although had sexual performance issue which I have read relate to Asperpergers, yet I believe also relate to his lack of self esteem and extreme drug use that started in his teens. I am also 17 years his senior. Yes, add oil to fire right? I apologize if my language or direct communication is offensive to anyone reading this, yet I gotta get it out. I am by no means perfect. He and I were were really close, almost too close of “just friends” for the first year we knew each other and hung out because I resisted due to the age difference. I then went through probably the most challenging time in my life relating to custody of my only child who is now almost 15 and is really the love of my life and he “swooped”. He helped me through this time. He was solicitious, supportive, overly kind, basically took care of me and I’m a person who has never allowed a man to take care of me. I have alway made more $ than any man I’ve ever been with, basically “dumbed myself down” to make things work. I have two undergraduate degrees and two post-graduate degrees and I have alway been able to “BOUNCE BACK” and be that “strong womyn” (HA) that can say, OK, this is the universe kicking me (usually in direct reaction of my own actions – self knowledge, ah yes, to what we aspire) and now how will I fix and overcome this new challenge I’ve created for myself. Well this one was basically a dry gulch. And I have had a life where I was taught to never do harm but to protect myself and the only time I have ever physically attacked another human being with the first punch, etc. is when they are coming at me, i use my words and warn and then take them out first. Its the way of my world. Tangent, yes, yet HE is the first person who dry gulched ME and I had not idea for a few years. He was diagnosed with Aspergers approximately a year ago. Cognitive Behavior Therapy for him was prescribed by the Asperbers psychiatric specialist. He never went. Made appointment and never went. The psychiatrist also diagnosed him with Adult ADHD which I understand can go hand in hand and anxiety, etc. He was put on Adderall. And that was where if fell apart, at least for me. The adderal helped him and made him more confident and more fully functioning and seemed to help. Yet he has a history of addiction to opiates, other drugs you name it that started in his early teens (he’s only 32 now) and he pretty quickly started to abuse the adderall, taking double the dose, running out with over two weeks left until he could refill his prescription. And that was approx 6 months ago and that was when Dr. Jekyl / Mr Hyde appeared. I dealt with it until approx 4 weeks ago but I have a 14 year old daughter who he started to expose to the lunacy. I tried to get him to go to couples therapy. I expressed my concerns about his abuse of the adderal and soon after he got up one morning as we were discussing a constant issue I’ve had of him not doing his share of housework and starting projects (such as painting my daughters room, putting in new flooring, doing dishes part of the time…etc, etc., you get the idea….) and told me he “wasn’t in love with me anymore and wanted out” and proceeded to retire to our back studio garage, moved there and began drinking heavily, doing whippets and other drugs, blasting music and completely cutting not only myself and my daughter from his interactions but also his elderly father who lives in the separate apartment in the lovely victorian we lived in and overpays him to do the most basic caregiving for him. I feel like I’ve lost my train in this post and I apologize. I’m not really looking for help. I’m heartbroken, I moved myself and my daughter out 4 weeks ago and two days ago she made a serious suicide attempt. She has no relationship with her biological father. We will be OK. We are OK. I am heartbroken and bereft and I completely identify with much of what was written in this article. I am a strong, independent, highly educated, intelligent woman and the time with him broke me in a way that I’ve never experienced. I’m seeing a therapist and now my daughter will be too, thank goddess. We plan to move out of the area in 6 months so that we never have to see or hear from him again. Yet I still have love and empathy for him and am of course, still in the process of mourning the death of the relationship that I believed would be my last and the fact that I never knew him at all and I totally agree that Aspies often have no real empathy for others, are completely narcissistic and self-absorbed yet think they are the kindest, most giving peeps in the world Yet the crux is that the dark side, when it comes out, resents all that. Aaaaaagh…thanks to anyone who reads, is listening, I think really just posted this instead of journaling which is stupid yet life’s an illusion and no one get out alive, we just keep on going to the next adventure and keep on learning . Peace to all….

  • Ann S.

    June 2nd, 2017 at 8:01 AM

    That was a beautiful comment, very well written, and I love you to pieces for writing it. You are fierce.

  • meg

    June 7th, 2017 at 5:13 PM

    I am so sorry this is happening for you.

  • smist

    June 1st, 2017 at 7:18 PM

    I am living in this 24/7 and its very disheartening

  • Jennifer E F

    June 2nd, 2017 at 6:05 PM

    OHHH so much of this I certainly relate to..although I do nothave children to my husband..we are a joined family..I had my 4 kids and he had 3kids….His family..although they know he is a ‘little weird” think he is fine..cos h e talks to them..my 2 boys think he is okay..but my2 daughters, one especially….does not like him….OH dear what a mess I am in. In the beginning, he begged me NOT to leave him; and my mother-in-law….used to apologise for him…and also begged me NOT to leave him….:( I am so lonely in this marriage…but too afraid to be ”literally’alone.

  • Joanna

    June 5th, 2017 at 6:13 AM

    Lili, you’ve been through so much. Well done for sharing it here. You and your daughter will be fine out of/the other side of this. I can tell that you are stronger than even you believe. A happier life awaits!

  • Ethel

    June 11th, 2017 at 12:30 AM

    Thank you for writing this. I have been married to an undiagnosed Asperger man for 22 years. We have a 19 year old son who WAS diagnosed at age 14. We are struggling right now and this article expresses exactly how I am feeling. I have gone to therapy, but never have thought about some of the things mentioned in your article. We are hitting some walls right now. He refuses to go to therapy and thinks he can “fix it” by DOING things. Working on the yard to make it look better, fixing the leaky faucet. I have begged and begged to just spend time together, go places, do things together. He says he will but it never happens. Everyone thinks he is “such a nice guy.” He is a good provider, a CPA, but he rarely gets me gifts for any holiday, says “Christmas is for the kids” so he doesn’t get me anything. He has no desire to see my perspective (or can’t) until I get upset and then he says I am over-reacting.
    I told him yesterday I wanted a separation. I AM the woman in your article. I was very successful in my job. I feel like I have lost my way, my sense of self, my drive to move forward and succeed. I am working, but my confidence is shattered. I need to find myself again. I don’t know how.

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