A client of mine whose son had recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s (AS) asked me, “Who will love my child when I am gone?” This is a very profound question that reflects the long-term fears and concerns of parents that have children with AS. All parents want to experience the happiness and well-being of their children. Intimacy, relationships, and love are integral parts of this process, especially as children grow into adulthood.
Many parents and society in general believe that because of the social difficulties faced by children with AS that they will never experience love or have deep intimate relationships. Marriage is typically viewed as even more of an impractical goal as this commitment typically requires a lifelong commitment to interpersonal communication and deep emotional expression.
Although marriage would seem to be a lofty and impossible goal for individuals with AS, the reality is that there are thousands of individuals with AS who get married each year. Some of those with AS will marry what are referred to as neurotypical (NT) partners, while others will find spouses who also have AS.
For those that choose to take this journey there is the realization that marriage may be made more complicated by a diagnosis of AS in one or both partners. However, if two people are truly committed to each other and willing to work to have a strong marriage, anything is possible. Thus, even though there are no hard and fast rules regarding what works to ensure the success of an AS marriage, there are some basic concerns that AS couples contemplating marriage should consider.
Regardless of whether a marriage occurs between two people with AS or AS and NT individuals, the reality is that both members of the couple need to be build a foundation for understanding. Clearly, this will be more challenging for NT/AS couples as NT partners will need to learn about how their partner views the world.
Partners with AS will also need to work on understanding how a partner views the world in order to ensure that the partner’s needs are met. Promoting understanding in the relationship can help the couple recognize when important supports are needed and when each person may require some “alone time”.
Understanding also requires partners to recognize that there are certain aspects of their marriage that may not be as fulfilling. For instance, most neurotypical women want their husbands to respond to their feelings. Partners with AS may not be adept at picking up on social cues indicative of a spouse’s mood. As such, the NT partner may find this aspect of the relationship frustrating.
By promoting an environment of understanding, partners can recognize their limitations and the limitations of their spouses. This can go a long way toward reducing frustration and improving the marriage.
Also integral to marriage for individuals with Asperger’s is building commitment. Once understanding has been forged, marriage partners need to recognize that the challenges of AS will have a direct impact on the relationship. This realization should serve as the foundation for creating commitment between partners.
It is as if both partners need to confirm that they are aware of the difficulties caused by AS and must affirm their willingness to work through these issues. By creating this foundation for commitment, couples should be able to cope with problems that arise in the marriage that are directly related to AS.
Focus on Strengths
Much of the conflict that arises in AS marriages stems from perceptions of one partner regarding what they believe they are missing in the relationship. Drawing on the example provided earlier, NT women may become frustrated because they believe that they are not getting the support that they need from their partners.
While these feelings are valid, the female partner may be better suited to focus on the strengths of her partner and what her partner brings to the relationship. When these issues become the focus of attention, strengths can be used as the basis for fortifying the relationship.
For parents of young children with AS or young adults with the condition, marriage should not be viewed as an impractical goal. Rather, the challenges of marriage must be recognized and addressed just like any other problems that arise for a couple.
By recognizing that love, intimacy, and marriage are possible, parents of children with AS can embrace the potential for their children to live fulfilling lives as married adults. While marriage for individuals with AS is not without its challenges it is not as impossible as many people believe.
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