Living with an Aspergers Spouse

The public and professionals are becoming more aware of the impact of Aspergers on families. Aspergers (also referred to as high-functioning autism or ASD level 1) is a subtle, almost paradoxical, disorder that seems to adversely affect men slightly more than women.

It was believed by some professionals that most males with Aspergers do not marry, but this is not the case and the more able people do form relationships, marry and have kids. They are often capable workers and are highly qualified but nevertheless have great difficulties in personal relationships.

Diagnosis is problematic because of disagreements about criteria, but also because of a convergence between "macho" male characteristics and many traits associated with Aspergers. There are obvious dangers in confusing the two.

Research supported by the National Autistic Society into the intimate relationships of couples where one partner is affected by Aspergers shows that males with the condition tend to choose spouses who are maternal, strong, and with nurturing qualities, often older than themselves. Females are attracted to males who appear to be kind, gentle and slightly immature, and who flatter with obsessive attention.

Although males with Aspergers can have relatively high status occupations, including engineers, computer specialists and university teachers, problems can arise when they are married. Attwood1 describes a spectrum of Aspergers behavior, from the passive to the arrogant and aggressive, and it is likely to be the latter who perpetrate domestic violence. 

Also, the whole responsibility for the relationship rests with their spouses, who report a feeling of "going mad", and who frequently become depressed and may take medication, yet are reluctant to separate because of concern about how the person with Aspergers will cope. Living with the condition is stressful for the family, particularly if both spouses work. It might be less so in traditional families with role differentiation by gender and greater overt control of kids.

Having a diagnosis can be helpful and whole family interventions can be developed to manage everyday life. Also, having Aspergers does not make a person abusive, but it can make them controlling.

However, if the partner with Aspergers is in denial, he may try to deflect his problems on to his partner and the kids, and there are anecdotal reports of stalking, intimidation, manipulation of kids, and domestic violence. There is an added danger that in such situations males may appear to be calm, in control, and shocked to be accused of abusive behavior when approached by the police or social workers. It is important to stress that many males with Aspergers do not harm their families, but some of the key features of Aspergers make it more difficult to address any such abuse.

Consequently, the syndrome presents challenges for service providers, because the psychodynamic model which underpins social work and mental health traditions does not help in understanding a disability which is organic. Also, there are still many misconceptions; for example, that autism is caused by poor parenting - although bad family experiences undoubtedly make problems worse.

Meanwhile, there are deficits in skills, training, and service provision. People with Aspergers are likely to present to mental health services, often through civil or criminal court action, and the condition is easily confused with psychosis or personality disorders. There has been criticism of the failure of psychiatry to learn about Aspergers, and although more progress has been made through the assessment of kids by special educational needs services, what happens when people get older?

Any serious strategy to assist families must start with the principle of protecting kids from significant harm, as well as the unacceptability of violence and intimidation. But what else could be done?

The National Autistic Society published Ignored or Ineligible, which set out the parameters of an effective service. This emphasized collaborative planning between statutory spouses, users, care-givers, kids and voluntary organizations. Also, educational models of the management of kids with Aspergers have been developed and could inform clinical practice and family counseling.

In addition, families affected by the syndrome have a special insight and can tell us about their needs. They must also be part of the solution. Meanwhile, local routes for assessment, diagnosis and clinical support should be established so that GPs and psychiatrists routinely consider Aspergers and can refer people to specialists who can confidently diagnose and offer management strategies. This service need not be medically-led and psychologists, caregivers of people with learning difficulties, and speech therapists have a significant contribution to make. 

There also needs to be a network of services available, from care management, family counseling and employment support, to help for spouses and kids as care-givers. Links between youngster and adolescent mental health services and adult mental health services are crucial. Then front-line domestic violence agencies, including the police, Female's Aid and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) need to build up their knowledge base, as should family lawyers.

Currently, social work awareness of Aspergers is poor. There is some knowledge in teams working with learning difficulties but they are highly targeted and most people with the syndrome will not receive a service. Also, the identification of Aspergers is undermined by the focus of social work assessment in kid's services on mothers rather than fathers.

Nevertheless, those in children's services should be able to screen, using the assessment framework, although the ability of people with the syndrome to camouflage their problems and of spouses to protect them should never be underestimated. The taking of a full history is essential. Similarly, listening to kids and spouses is crucial, though direct accounts in the early stage of a relationship may be hard to obtain. 

Schools, health professionals and extended family members might also give clues about parental behavior and its impact on kids. Because of the relationship dynamics, legal intervention to protect the kids (and the partner) might need to be undertaken at an early stage. Finally, practice managers should be trained so the possibility of Aspergers is considered during supervision sessions.

The danger of conflict also needs to be recognized. Anger, threats of violence and litigious complaints are features of the behavior of some people with the syndrome. Intimidation of workers is a real possibility. To deal with threats to families or workers, clear and consistent messages need to be given that this behavior is not acceptable, using the courts and the police to protect families and workers if necessary.

Aspergers presents gender politics in families and between social workers and users at their crudest, and a key question is whether there are educational interventions which can influence adult behavior in an intimate relationship. We would be interested to hear from any practitioner who has developed methods for working with kids or adults with Aspergers who would like to contribute.

Aspergers facts:
  • It is an autistic spectrum disorder.
  • Special interests are often pursued obsessively.
  • The key diagnostic features are social relationships, communication and imagination.
  • There is a strong genetic link.
  • There is no cure. 
  • It can be managed through recognition, support, medication and structured counseling.

Problems reported by spouses of people with Aspergers:
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Irrational blame of others
  • Kids over-controlled and emotionally abused
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of executive control over life
  • Problems in socializing
  • Selfishness
  • Sexual problems
  • Unpredictable outbursts of anger 

Resources for Neurodiverse Couples:

==> Online Group Therapy for Men with ASD

==> Online Group Therapy for NT Wives

==> Living with ASD: eBook and Audio Instruction for Neurodiverse Couples 

==> One-on-One Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by ASD

==> Online Group Therapy for Couples Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder

==> Cassandra Syndrome Recovery for NT Wives

==> ASD Men's MasterClass: Social-Skills Training and Emotional-Literacy Development

Best Comment:

I spent most of this summer seperated from my husband after enduring so much emotional abuse that I could no longer function well enough to care for our children on a daily basis. We have a two year old and a set of infant twins, all girls. There were several emotionally traumatic events that ocurred in the latter of part of my pregnancy. The emotinonal stress culminated and finally manifested as physical trauma when I fell after getting so worked up about TD just shutting down one night. I was throwing things, cussing him, anything to get some acknowledgement and help from him. And he didn't seem to even notice. He was too inconsolable about the furniture being rearranged. The fall left me unable to walk for two weeks. But he took care of me until I recovered and had his mom watch our two year old. I was back to normal before the twins were born, and luckily I was stil able to have them at home as planned.

But then the emotional abuse escalated after I recovered from having the twins. We slept in different rooms and I cared for two screaming babies by myself. He went days without talking to me except to say "The card board trash goes in this container to be recycled. I've told you that four times now." or "If you do your dishes as soon as you are finished eating, the food will not stick to them." Then he decided that the dryer used too much electricity and unplugged it so I couldn't use it. When I plugged it back in (it's not easy to move a dryer after having twins), he took the door off of it and hid it. And finally, after avoiding the discussion about my fall for two months, I finally addressed it. I told him how hurt I was, physically and emotionally, and how scared I was that I might lose both our babies just weeks before they were supposed to be born. He told me it was all my fault - that if I would learn to control myself it wouldn't have happened, and that he was mad at me for being so irresponsible. So the next day, June 27, I packed as much clothes and diapers as I could fit into three duffle bags, and I left. The twins were only 6 weeks old.

For two months, T.D. only saw his children two or three times. We both went to religious counselors in different cities. And we went together to see my counselor once. Being away from him, I was finally able to think clearly and review what was going on. The more I thought about everything that had happened the past year, as well as the entire five years we were married, the less sense any of it made. It was easy to see T.D. loved me and our children and took care of us, but why did he treat us so indifferently and not seem to care about anyone but himself? The only thing we could figure out from counseling was that we needed more of it, but it didn't seem like we could make any progress on any issue I brought up. At first TD didn't see any problem with our marriage and could not understand at all why I had left in the first place. Then he seemed to realize that he had hurt me, but said he had no idea his actions were hurtful, and didn't really seem to know what he should do differently. I felt like I'd hit a brick wall.

Then my aunt mentioned that she had seen a documentary about Asperger's Syndrome back in April or May and thought the symptoms fit TD well. So I started researching AS online and I found your YouTube video and then your website.

I downloaded your ebook, Living With an Asperger's Partner, a few weeks ago. I read it in shock of how accurately all the issues you addressed described my current situation. I began to use some of the communication techniques when I spoke with TD on the phone. It was difficult for me to rethink everything I said, but in the end, it was very productive. The more research I did on AS, the more I was convinced TD had it. So I wrote a 5 page letter to my husband reviewing our current situation and the events leading up to it. I told him about Asperger's and why I thought he probably had it, and I implored him to get tested so we could know for sure and get the counseling that we both needed. I emailed the letter to his counselor. On Monday, August 22, we went to see his counselor together. The pastor read the letter out loud as we followed along on another copy.

After that session, I went back to my mom's. T.D. called to ask for more online resources and I sent him some links. He took a few online self diagnosis tests. All of them said he may have a mild case of AS.but to go to a professional to be sure.

I have convinced him, at least in theory, that getting a diagnosis is necessary. He of course, doesn't care if he has it or not, but he concedes that it would be a waste of time to continue with counseling that doesn't help us. And we can't know what counseling would help us until we know if he has AS, another condition, or just bad communication skills.

I have been home with him for a week now, and we have gotten along very well. I just have to make sure the issues we had before don't overtake us again. In her book, Alone Together, Katrin Bentley called AS "Beauty and the Beast Syndrome". TD is being a prince right now, but I can't commit to moving back in until I know how to tame the beast.

So now I am looking for someone who can give us a diagnosis and possibly counseling, or at least resources.

We live in San Antonio, Texas. If you have any contacts or can make any recommendations for someone in our area, please let me know ASAP.

He misses me and the girls, and I miss him too. But I have to know what I'm up against before I can come back.


If you love a man with Aspergers, you might want to consider using word pictures to help him identify what’s going on inside. A word picture uses a story or object to simultaneously activate the emotions and intellect of the hearer. As a result, he experiences your words rather than just hearing them.

It’s important to realize that helping your husband learn to express his feelings will take time. You might have to use several examples or try for several days, weeks, or even months before he is able to feel and share with you what’s in his heart. And until he reaches that point, he won’t be able to connect with you on an emotional intimate level.

I’ve found that a woman’s definition of intimacy is very different from a man’s. Consider the following lists:

What women mean by intimacy—

A sensitivity to know immediately when feelings are hurt
Ability to cry easily and together at emotional moments
Closeness of the heart and soul
Daily time hearing the heart of the one you love
Daily time sharing your heart
Deep emotional connection
Understanding each other’s dreams and goals

What men mean by intimacy—

A sensitivity to know when physical needs are present
An ability to communicate physical needs
Deep physical connection
Hand-holding, hugging, kissing
Physical time alone together
Understanding each other’s physical needs

One of the reasons men may be more focused on physical closeness is that men aren’t as sensitive to physical touch as women are. In other words, it takes more physical touch to meet a man’s physical needs. In the same way that a woman has twice the daily word count, a man has twice the need for physical stimulation.

The point is this: Women often feel unloved because their emotional needs aren’t being met, and in the same way, men often feel ignored because their physical needs aren’t being met.


Anonymous said...

I split up unintentionally with my undiagnosed interstate partner 3.5 months ago. Despite me apologizing for my frustrated outburst to aid I've noticed that you don't touch me except when you want response of course! The more he said nothing, the more I tried to get a reaction, as even after eight months, I still had had no signs to show me that he cared. All too familiar?
He knows he is dyslexic, but I think has no idea he is Asperger. Mind you, I didn't know either! I was told that he was very shy. Last November, when his ex wife, who left him 3 years before,found out that he was dating me, did an attempted suicide and a rape allegation when she was 11. She drove him mad with text messages for six months, which made him understandably stressed. I became very wobbly and fearful that they may get back together, as I had fallen in love with him...for the first time in my life. I am 61 and have 25 year old twins who I have raised on my own since they were four. So you can glean that falling for this man was a momentous occasion for me!
I have just phoned him, and told him I think we had a big misunderstanding, that I had no intention of splitting up with him, I apologized yet again for my outburst of frustration, and said I'd like to think that we could forgive each other. That everyone has misunderstandings,and you need to communicate.I said I would like to see him again...he said he wasn't sure and that he was still going through a difficult time of trying to organize himself and get things done.
At no stage did he ask me how I was or say he was sorry too or that he missed me. He did keep lapsing into conversation about what was happening in his life and did not return to the talk we were having.
I got off the phone and thought wow this is one hard nut to crack!!
You said you may be able to help. Any suggestions? I am wondering if this is just way too hard to get myself back sure makes me wonder what I am attracted to !! But like in your e book you say how boyish and honestly naive and loyal, intelligent and handsome...and he is all of that!

Boy is this ever confusing...I find it so hard to know what to do. I would love your advice!

Mark said...

The best approach would be the honest approach.

He will not be very "connecting" -- but he will probably be honest.

You can say things like,

"Do you miss me?"
"Do you want to work things out?"
"What are you feeling now?"

...and so on. You get the idea.

Remember, you have to be direct and concrete with Aspies (shy people too).

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Hutten,

Thank you for your wonderful book. I wish I had read it about 15 years ago, before I married my husband in 2000. I believe my husband has Aspergers. I am a physician myself who has worked with many children with DD and have also been reading every book I could find on the subject since I realized Aspergers was likely the cause of my husband's odd behaviors. For a long time I thought it was his upbringing --with selfish, distant parents, or me, that he wasn't in love with me, or I was too emotional and needy. He doesn't like to make eye contact, unless it's an overly direct, almost aggressive stare, and pulls away quickly after a stiff hug. He is very intelligent in some ways, especially about mechanical and electrical things and political topics, and oddly off base about very basic aspects of pleasant human interaction. I have been driven into a rage more than I care to admit by his rudeness, and into despair, near suicidal, living with someone who has so little empathy. He absolutely refuses to accept he has Aspergers. He even took an online test where I felt he basically lied so that it would not come out as Aspergers. His parents are the same-weirdly rude and unemotional and isolated and very intelligent. Who knows-maybe Aspergers is the evolution of our species. But I am not there. For me, love and joy and art and music are more important than anything else. If I had parents or other family members or friends I could rely on for love and emotional support in my life, perhaps I could stand this marriage. But we have gotten to the point of no return. We have been to 3 different marriage counselors, I have been to counseling alone, and I have read dozens of books (he has read none as the only problem he sees is my dissatisfaction with him!) I have told him I am sure I want a divorce and his main concern, appropriately, is that he gets enough time with our 6 year old daughter. Inappropriately, he has suggested I sleep on the couch and let him come to the home for visits, have him continue to live here but in the basement room, and has had coffee to discuss the divorce with a divorced father with whom we are only distantly acquainted through our children in the same neighborhood. I know he is dependent on me for his social and family life, not to mention finances. I want to continue to have him as a friend, and will continue to help him. He is tall and attractive and self-confident so I expect he will find a new partner much sooner than will I. I also want to be happy, and especially to give my daughter a peaceful household. I am hoping you have some advice to get through a divorce and set up a healthy "after marriage" with your ex-Aspergers partner.

Very Sincerely,


Mark said...

We have been taught that marriages are 50/50, but this really isn't true – they are 100/100. How you treat your husband will often influence how he will respond to you. That makes you 100% responsible for the presence or absence of love in your relationship. Your husband is 0% responsible because he is merely responding to whatever you say or do. But the reverse is also is also true. How your husband treats you will influence how you're going to respond. That makes your husband 100% (and you 0%) responsible for the presence of love in your marriage. In other words, each of you is 100% responsible for the presence or absence of love in your marriage.

Unfortunately, we seldom recognize our 100% responsibility. All we see is what our partner does to us. We then blame the partner for the conflict, and everything we say about him or her is the truth – that individual really is 100% responsible. The problem is that when you focus on your partner’s 100% responsibility, you make yourself 0% responsible. When you are 0% responsible, you have 0% power. By blaming your partner, you make yourself a victim. You can only reclaim your power by accepting 100% responsibility for your role in the marital problems. If you're responsible for the problem, you can also be responsible for the solution. Now, you can put water on the fire instead of adding more fuel.

So… take a moment and examine your marriage. Find your 100% responsibility for the loss of love. Notice how judgmental and critical you've been, how much you may have hurt your husband, and how you may have forced him to resist you in turn. Keep working with this until you can see that you single-handedly destroyed the experience of love in your relationship.

Of course, your husband is also 100% responsible, but blaming him doesn't change a thing. You can't force him to change – even if it's for his own good. The only thing you can change in your situation is your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Once you're willing to see yourself as a powerful being that created the situation (rather than a helpless victim) the next step is to heal your hurt and to let go of your automatic resistance towards your husband. Your goal is to end the conflict, heal the hurt, and restore the love in your relationship – not necessarily as husband and wife, but as one spiritual human being to another.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mark,
Thanks for such a quick response. I see that I am responsible for my own anger and resentment and criticism, and the response it has provoked in him. I feel terribly guilty about that. But I also see that he will never be someone who will hug me spontaneously, kiss my cheek when I am crying, grab my hand when we are walking, look me in the eyes and truly understand emotionally what I am going through. Not sure I can live with that in a husband, although I can love him as the wonderful father of my child that he is. Do you understand that?
Very Sincerely,

Mark said...

Re: Do you understand that?

Sure do! You don't need to defend yourself. And you deserve to be happy :)


Anonymous said...

The problem is that we are already separated. I'm in Arizona and he's still back in Michigan.

Have you dealt with Asperger's folks who's parents are ultra controlling and possessive? He comes from a nightmarish family that never accepted me even though I did the best job care taking him and was the best woman he has ever had. I know that I did a great job and so did my 11 year old son. I did everything and anything to keep the marriage going but his parents were jealous of me and Kent's happiness as well, so they poisoned him with negative talk about me that is just not true. Being a disabled person he probably didn't have the sense to not listen to them even though he admitted to me on several occasions that his family was 100% crazy. I have no doubt that they had been coaching him to leave us because back in February his dad came with him to our house to move him out (without giving me any warning).

So here I am with my precious son and no hubby. How can a wife compete with a spouse's parent? I feel helpless and hopeless, even with your communication techniques because I'm afraid that his parents will continually try to break up our marriage. His dad told his mom that he does not want Kent to be happy. It's sickening to watch them continually ruin his life by not letting him live it on his own without their control.

Do you have any ideas of what we can do? My son and I thought of sending him an email this Thursday about watching the brand new office episode since we'll be watching it at the same time at our house. We used to always watch The Office together as a family so it would be something to connect us, we thought. I know we are supposed to be together but I couldn't move back to Michigan since his unstable family lives there. I would need him to move out here if he did want to get back together. We have had very little communication since the split (a few weeks ago). My dad did yell at him and told him he would have Kent arrested if he continually emotionally abused me anymore (Kent was blaming me for all kinds of untrue things at the end of the relationship. He also struggles with bipolar and was having paranoia. He would not go to the doctor even though I encouraged him to). My dad told Kent he better not ever bother me again after I moved out here to AZ, so I think he really scared Kent into not calling us.

We have a tough situation because I feel deeply that we should be together but I'm up against his medication issues (not taking his health seriously), his family, and his fears of my dad.

Anonymous said...

I am a 45 year old AS man married to an NT woman for the past 17 years. We live in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada and have 2 teenage daughters. My wife and I self-diagnosed me almost a year ago. The initial suspicion entered my wife's mind when she first met my father (17 years after we first met) whom she suspected immediately to have AS. She ordered some books on-line in an effort to help me understand and resolve and some of my childhood issues growing up with him. However, I wasn't very far into the first book when I realized that it was describing our tumultuous relationship and the effect it has had on my wife which has been called "Cassandra's Syndrome". So in my case I didn't immediately associate myself as an AS man but definitely recognized the effects an AS man can have on his NT wife. From there is was not difficult for both of us to accept that I had AS - albeit not in many of the text book stereotypical ways used to characterize AS men and in a very different way than my father exhibits his AS.

My wife started exhibiting physiological symptoms of Cassandra's Syndrome a couple years ago and it has gotten to the point where she is anxiety ridden and unable to handle traffic, crowds let along get on a plane to attend an AS workshop. Her inability to cope with everyday things has hampered our progress and is testimony of the problem our relationship brings to her. It has gotten to the point where she often concludes that change is impossible and that leaving me is the only solution to her well being - something I have been hearing for 17 years now but am finally starting to sympathize with. Luckily, we still love each other, are devoted to our children and have always been fully dependent on my self-employed income - typical reasons couples stay together. However, this doesn't seem to be enough anymore now that the initial elation of diagnosed AS is over and very little has changed in our marriage.

Anonymous said...

I am a non-aspergers male, married to a self diagnosed aspy female. We have been married for 14 1/2 years and I am really struggling. Struggling with the whole aspy thing as well as her reaction to my 16 year old son who came to live with us 1 1/2 years ago. Is there anyone out there like me? I'm sinking fast...

Anonymous said...

My husband is a total workaholic, never allowing himself time for fun, Because of him, I missed some great concerts over the years, such as Queen + Adam Lambert & Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band.

Aspie said...

I can relate to your situation. At 41 and being with my NT wife for 13 years I got my diagnosis of ASD, and we were elated at first. It put many of our problems into context, but as that inital releif of discovery wore off we were left with the problem of what to do about it. In addition to Mark Huttons relationship articles and ebook, we found videos by aspergerexperts on youtube and their website to be helpful, especially regarding the "sensory funnel". Maybe some of these resources will help you as well, best of luck.

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