A Happy NT/AS Relationship

My ASP and I just had our 18th wedding anniversary! We’ve been together for over 20 years now. ASP said to me, “18 is the age for an adult, so I guess our marriage is an adult now.” This was so sweet. We’ve been through SO much together; there were years when I never would have believed our relationship could be happy and mature like it is now.

Another thing he said was, “What can I do for you?” which is something I hear a lot from him. He’s very attentive to my needs, is very affectionate, and is expressive about his love for me.

Doesn’t sound like an Aspie, does it? I assure you that he’s an Aspie through and through. I once had Cassandra syndrome, depression, an auto-immune disease, and was so miserable in my marriage, I felt so trapped, that I wanted to end my life. I think it was hitting bottom that convinced me to set aside all of my pride and treat ASP the way he needs to be treated, even though he definitely didn’t deserve it. It felt like more punishment at first, but I was willing to do anything. The pay-off has been so worth it! It was the best decision I ever made.

Here’s some background on my decision. Both of our children, ds age 16 and dd age 13, have Asperger’s. I watched them grow from happy, loving, normal toddlers into, well, Aspies. Watching them and ASH led me to believe that Asperger’s is largely an anxiety disorder. Most of the Aspie behaviors that were a problem seemed to be built as a defense mechanism, a wall erected to keep others from hurting them. They are terrified of strong, negative emotion. The other big fear they have is of failure. They are naturally competitive perfectionists.

I thought about how these fears would apply to an intimate relationship. ASP wouldn’t want to be too affectionate or loving or attentive because this would make him vulnerable. He wouldn’t initiate sex or a date or anything else because he was afraid of being turned down. He’d disappear into video games at every opportunity to escape the possibility of upsetting me, which to him feels like punishment. I don’t think he was aware of the reasons for his behavior; the Aspies I’ve known don’t understand themselves or their emotions very well. But I was convinced that I had figured him out.

So here is what I did: I decided to do all I could to lower his anxiety. I didn’t raise my voice, I didn’t criticize him, I didn’t get upset about him in front of him, I minimized using sarcasm, and I was generally patient and tolerant of him. It took me a while to get the hang of all this, but I did (never perfectly though).

Another big help was that he went to a psychiatrist and got medications for anxiety, depression, and ADD. The anxiety medicine was so helpful! I am so grateful that he was willing to get help. He hates taking medicine and is now back to being med-free. He was medicated for about two years.

ASP’s anxiety became manageable. He started telling me how he really felt about things because he was no longer afraid that he’d upset me. We had long talks about his fears regarding me, and I did a lot of calming and reassuring him that I did love him and I wouldn’t leave him no matter what. After so many years of me wanting to leave, it took about a year for him to believe that I was staying. Once he had that straight, he really started to change. He started to hold my hand, kiss me spontaneously, and tell me he loves me. One night he confessed that he had been miserable in our marriage too, but he just had no idea how to make it better.

So much is better now, but not everything. He still lacks theory of mind. He has no idea what I’m thinking, what I want, or why I do the things I do. This kind of sucks. I want my partner to know me and anticipate my thoughts sometimes. But in the bigger picture, this is a small thing. And he’s learned to do some things to let me know he wants to meet my needs, like frequently asking me what he can do for me. He used to be so inconsiderate that I wouldn’t have believed he was capable of considering me before he acts, but he is and he does!

I now have a husband who pampers me and puts me first in all things. If I want anything from him, I just have to tell him, and he’ll do it. He’s loyal and devoted. He loves me like no NT could. He never resents anything he does for me or the kids. And now that he’s made these changes, I know they are for good. Once he makes a rule, he sticks with it, and now, thanks to some sacrifice on my part, he has lots and lots of rules to please me. It’s wonderful!

I wouldn’t trade my ASP for a normal guy ever. He’s the best, and he gives me so much that only an Aspie can give.

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Cassandra Syndrome

I wrote this over six years ago. Since then, I’ve learned to follow the Aspie Way and am happily married to my ASP. It amazes me that my loving and attentive husband is the same man I wrote about here:

I was an emotional wreck when I met him, I was 25 and divorced with an 18 mo daughter. He represented the security I longed for. He was the strong silent type, good-looking, the perfect husband. So what if he was a little cold and distant? I figured this was the price of security. Emotional guys are losers, right? I’d learned this the hard way. Before we married, I fell in love with his idea of what family life looked like: Loving, protective father, stay-at-home-mom, a few kids. I already wanted to be a sahm, so I felt fortunate to marry a guy who not only supported that dream, but shared it. So I made the biggest mistake of my life: I put complete trust in my spouse and quit my career.

The first couple of years were okay. I gave up my friendships and spent all my time trying to be Mrs. Cleaver. I kept house, catered to his every whim, and all was well. The problems started when our baby was six months old and couldn’t sit up. That began several months of hell for me. I was told my sweet baby boy might never walk or talk. And to make matters worse, dh was completely unaffected. He didn’t miss a minute of work for any of the many tests, doctor appointments, or therapy sessions our little boy needed. He didn’t seem to care at all.

My little fantasy of our perfect family fell apart. This began years of rocky-marriage with constant fighting. I did most of the yelling and screaming and the only crying. He always seemed so calm and rational that before long, I believed him. I was the problem. He was normal, rational, and strong. I just needed to be more like him. We’d fight and I’d feel so worthless. I talked to my family about it, but even they didn’t see the problem. Even they thought I was the one who needed to change. The stuff I complained about was dh just being a regular man. All men can be self-centered, all men get obsessed with games (or sports or whatever), all men have trouble communicating, all couples fight about money and sex and parenting and household chores. I just needed to accept him, this is what dh said and this is what everyone else said too.

So I tried. And to be honest, I did learn a lot of good stuff during those years. I learned to process my emotions and gain some control myself. We had another child, and I agreed to homeschool our kids rather than go back to work or school as I’d wanted. As dh was quick to show me, all the research shows homeschooling is best for the kids, and my sweet little boy couldn’t function in a regular school setting. Both our kids have sensory processing disorder and we now know that ds has Asperger’s. Dd might too but it’s harder to tell with girls. I reached out to a local church community and have developed friendships and a spiritual life (alone of course, dh stays home to play video games). But these choices and improvements came at a great cost: my health.

Have you all heard of Cassandra Syndrome? It’s worth Googling.

The stress of being married to him all those years with no one understanding what was going on made me sick, leading to Cassandra’s Syndrome: depression, terrible self-esteem, and ultimately, physical disease. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis four years ago. I am partly disabled and couldn’t go back to work now, even if I felt I could put my special-needs kids in the school system. I am completely and totally trapped. Stuck. Smothered. Miserable.

After ten years married to an Aspie who didn’t know he was an Aspie, and after years of trying to explain to people why I was unhappy, telling people that dh isn’t the super-great perfect guy everyone thinks he is, I left Tony Attwood’s book in the bathroom. I was reading up on Asperger’s for our son and was sure that dh had it too but he wouldn’t listen to me about it. The ploy worked! Dh picked up the book, read it, and said, “Hey, I have Asperger’s Syndrome.” At first, I was thrilled. “Finally! He’ll realize that everything is not my fault! He can learn about his disorder and we can make some progress!” I was so relieved. I have a degree in psychology and used to see myself as a very intuitive person who could solve any problem with communication. After a decade with my Aspie, I’d lost all confidence in my skill-set. Now I could regain my confidence, now I could be validated! I was also upset to be right because I knew that it meant dh would never be the loving, romantic, empathetic guy I wished for. But at that point I was desperate to be validated; I was ready to settle for just about any improvement.

That was two years ago and things are worse than ever. I’ve received no validation. The only significant change is that his behavior is more extreme, like he doesn’t have to try anymore. The worst part is the tantrums. He admits he has Asperger’s but can’t see how it affects his day-to-day behavior. He’s still as inflexible, obsessed, self-centered, self-righteous, and cold as ever (except when he’s yelling and screaming during a meltdown, the only time I see any emotion from him). I’ve changed so much that I’m often the calm rational one now, which seems to only make him worse. It’s like he doesn’t hear me if I don’t yell and I’m tired of yelling. Mostly, I’m just tired. I need my energy to take care of myself and my own disease, my kids and their special needs, and, if I have anything left, I’ve got a big house, a garden, and several pets to take care of. I just want him to go about his business and let me go about mine, but, when I least expect it, he flies off the handle and slams me right back into hell.