Spouses with Aspergers

Question

My husband was recently diagnosed with Aspergers. He graduated from college, but his self-absorption, social awkwardness and rigid behaviors have negatively affected our marriage. Is there hope for our relationship?

Answer

If there is one word that describes the reaction of a family member to the diagnosis of Aspergers (high functioning autism) in someone you love, that word is loneliness. Certainly it is not easy to bridge the communication gap that exists in the everyday life which you describe. It is important to look at the history of your relationship. You must have had good times together and shared positive feelings about each other. Try to recapture whatever glimmers of that you can of what brought you together. You may benefit from consultation with a mental health professional who is experienced in helping people in your kind of situation. Even if your husband won't go with you, you may gain some insight into the relationship that will help you regain some hope, and possibly change the chemistry of what is happening right now in your relationship.

It is often both a major relief and a major disappointment to be diagnosed or married to someone who is diagnosed with Aspergers. Your hopes may be dashed and it may feel worse right now, but the truth is your spouse is still the same man you have loved and married. There is no way out of the Aspergers diagnosis, but now that you and he know more about him and his sensitivities and behaviors, it is finally possible to find ways to compensate and learn and change and grow.

People can change. Since your husband functions at a high cognitive level, he will be able to use that to learn social behavior that is less awkward and rude. In order to work on this it will be important for him to accept his diagnosis. That is the next hardest step. After that, you and he can work on overcoming the hurdles and progress can be seen. He can change.

Once the diagnosis is made and then accepted, adults with Aspergers are able to move forward – not quickly and easily perhaps – but slowly and steadily. It takes patience and perseverance. You will both have to change some of your current understanding and expectations. In every marriage couples must make some sacrifices and compromises that they did not expect, and this often brings couples to a deeper more mature place in their love, marriage and commitment to one another.

In a marriage it is common for a husband and wife to have some disagreements. They may find little things that get on each others nerves. They may often misunderstand one another, but usually a couple can find a way to work things out in a healthy relationship. However, a couple affected by Aspergers may have larger issues. A wife may start to see a particular pattern in the actions of her husband or the way he avoids confrontation. She may not understand why he doesn't remember things or offer to help her around the house. She may wonder why he doesn't catch on to her hints for affection or let her finish a conversation. At first she may pass it off as laziness or stubbornness. For a couple not knowing of the possibility of Aspergers, it may soon lead to frustration, anger and hurt feelings.

Once husband and wife accept that Aspergers is going to be part of their lives, there are steps they can take to make their relationship work. They may have to accept the lack of spontaneity. They must realize they need to be more direct in their communication. It may be difficult at first, but there are many support groups and self help ideas that can be found on the web.

Here are some helpful relationship tips:
  • Ask your spouse to ask questions when he is not sure of nonverbal cues.
  • Be accepting of each others dislikes, quirks, or calming activities.
  • Communicate with your Aspergers spouse precisely and directly. Since Aspergers adults have trouble reading non-verbal cues, you will need to give full and complete messages. Do not speak ambiguously. Try different forms of communication, such as letters, lists and email.
  • Establish routines and plans agreed on by both partners.
  • Find help for yourself. Get involved with a support group for spouses of Aspergers adults. If you become depressed, don't hesitate to get medical assistance.
  • Prepare yourself to take on the majority of the parenting responsibilities. Many men with Aspergers have difficulty relating to children. It is usually up to the non-Aspergers spouse to provide a nurturing and consistent environment for children.
  • Recognize the traits of the disorder. Aspergers adults frequently have a lack of empathy and an inability to consider the viewpoints of others. They often prefer rigid routines that others find difficulty to follow. Do not see any of this as a personal attack -- this is part of the disorder.
  • Respond instead of reacting. This can be difficult when you're frustrated with your Aspergers spouse, but if you force yourself to remain calm, you will have a more positive interaction.
  • Seek on-going professional help for your spouse.
  • Set up times to openly listen to each other.
  • Set up to do lists, calendars, reminders.
  • Talk openly about finances. Aspergers adults frequently have poor money management skills. An Aspergers husband may want to spend lavishly on his hobby, yet be critical of normal household expenses. Using a third party, such as a financial planner, may be helpful.

Married couples affected by one or even both partners with Aspergers can have a happy, loving, and successful relationship. It may take a little work and a little extra effort, but it is possible and it is worth it. Couples that truly love each other can and will make their marriage work.

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