Marriage, for me, is many things. As somebody with an Asperger’s profile, challenging, though a challenge that has been well worth the effort. Alongside fatherhood, one of my greatest accomplishments. An experience that has both strengthened and humbled me. A job that demands nothing less than all that I have to give. That which has helped mold me into who I am today and which has enhanced my sense of what it means to love others and to love myself. As a result of being married with a son, I have become convinced that the connection I feel towards my spouse and my child can truly conquer all! When the going gets tough, we always find a way to persevere and continue on because we all understand how connected we are to each other, how much we need each other and how much we love one another.
After almost 18 years of marriage, I continue to adapt to its realities, and in all likelihood, I may never be done adapting, simply because I never intend to stop learning and growing. At this point, I have come to accept that marriage is a mixed bag of not yet resolved challenges, triumphs, dealing with my own and my spouse’s personal vulnerabilities and benefitting from my own and my spouse’s personal strengths. I’m sure that this is true not just of my marriage but of any marriage whether neurotypical, neurodiverse or involving both spouses on the Spectrum. At the end of the day, my wife and I are human, and all humans are fallible, are prone to intense behaviors when under lots of stress, have character quirks and idiosyncrasies, are critical of other people and carry emotional baggage. Conversely, my wife and I are also resilient, smart, strong, patient, loving and committed parents, and good at heart. It’s a mixed bag. If you are married, you are much better off having this understanding than if you do not.
As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have found that my most prominent marital challenges stem primarily from the reality that my Asperger’s profile often makes it difficult to be the kind of husband I want to be and the kind of husband I know my wife deserves. I am very fortunate that my wife is a very strong and patient woman. She works very hard at putting herself in my shoes and at acknowledging my sensitivities, and it has been an ongoing challenge for me to truly put myself in her shoes and to acknowledge her sensitivities. Furthermore, I have needed to work hard at not succumbing to the role of the victim who has been treated unfairly and must defend himself when my wife gets upset at me for not understanding or acknowledging her in a given situation. After all, marriage is not just about me. It must be about us!
A few examples come to mind when I think about what I have had to work on the most and what I continue to work on in my marriage:
- My gravitation towards defensiveness: for me, as with many on the Spectrum, defensiveness is a coping mechanism which I resort to when I feel like I am “under the gun” during an argument. When I get defensive, it is an impulsive, involuntary reaction over which I have been working at having more control, with some success. In a way, I am caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to defensiveness because when I am able to hold it back, I am silent, and during an argument, neither silence nor defensiveness help to resolve the argument.
- Learning not to take everything literally and to understand non-verbal communication: My Asperger’s profile is such that I function best in the midst of structure, predictability and logic, and that I don’t always function well when I am expected to “read between the lines” and understand the abstract. As a result, I have tended, for the better part of my life, to literally interpret what I hear being said by other people whether I should do so or not, and I have struggled with tasks like interpreting other people’s body language and making sound assumptions about what others are thinking or what they may say or do next with less than concrete information at my disposal. These challenges have not served me well in my marriage, though thankfully, over the past few years, I have made good progress in these areas with help from my speech language pathologist and from my wife. For example, I have learned that emotional responses do not always make sense and therefore cannot always be taken at face value, I have come to understand that how something is said means a great deal more than what is said, and I am more adept at interpreting my wife’s non-verbal communications than I used to be.
- Coping with differences and getting on the same page: My approach to this challenge in my marriage is to leverage the “yes, dear” strategy as often as I am able to for the sake of marital unity and tranquility. However, I have also learned that there are boundaries associated with this dynamic, particularly granted the strength of my beliefs and convictions, my tendency to adhere to my own view of things and personality differences that exist between my wife and me. As a result, I am not always in a position to say “yes, dear” when my wife deserves that from me, and marital disunity ensues. For example, in comparison to my wife, I am relatively laid back and not always consistent when it comes to certain parenting skills with which my wife is exceptionally consistent. Parental discipline is a good example of this, and friction sometimes occurs when my wife observes disciplinary inconsistencies in me which don’t do right by our son. Conversely, I tend to be anything but laid back when it comes to how we spend our money such that I often make decisions which only take into consideration how much something costs. Arguments arise from time to time when I get too caught up in the financial aspect and overlook other important considerations while my wife and I are discussing whether or not to invest in something.
My Asperger’s profile is such that I will unintentionally take a prolonged, haphazard and roundabout approach to achieving certain goals and completing certain tasks. As a result, mental mistakes happen and I frequently end up getting it right the 2nd or 3rd time instead of the 1st time and, with respect to more challenging goals, I am still working towards achieving these goals to this day, even after years of work and a multitude of trials and errors. Thankfully, my wife doesn’t struggle with this nearly to the extent that I do, and she works hard at tolerating my more roundabout methods, though it is not fair to her for me to expect this of her all the time, particularly when the mistakes I make affect our son. I have been working for quite some time to mitigate my “getting to it” habit by working at developing the habit of thinking things through before I act or speak.
- My attention deficit: “tuning out” is unfortunately a key attribute of my Asperger’s profile. When this happens, my wife understandably does not feel acknowledged or listened to. I am working on being more attentive to my surroundings by repeatedly rehearsing “pay attention, be in tune” in my head. In this case, the challenge is having it occur to me to rehearse this often enough so that I can make tangible progress at it. Writing down and storing reminders on my smart phone both help with this challenge.
- The chasm that exists between my ability to understand new ways of doing things and having them occur to me in the moment so that I can implement them when the time is right: the journeys of marriage and parenthood demand that you grow as a person along the way. There is much to be learned as you develop and improve in these roles. I expect this of myself, though I have found that meeting this self-expectation is quite difficult. The challenge for me, by virtue of my Asperger’s profile, does not lie in my ability to understand new and better ways of being a husband and a father, but instead in my ability to break away from yesterday’s habits and put these new learnings to work when it matters most.
- Dealing with the “bachelor state of mind”: to some extent, I have been able to learn lessons and change behaviors for the better since having married my wife, though I have discovered that those ideologies and habits that I formed during my youth are the most difficult to modify or conquer. Many of these ideologies and habits are rooted in what I call the “bachelor state of mind” which is residual from the days when I was on my own, and though I am married with a son, I still unintentionally gravitate to this state of mind more often than I should because I was in this state of mind for the better part of my life, and because of my Asperger’s profile. For example, making decisions that disproportionately benefit me over others, not being consistent and not always following through with respect to disciplining my son (because, as a bachelor, I didn’t have to take care of or worry about any children) and being too laid back when it comes to matters that affect my family because they were not of concern to me when I was single. As a father, I feel a measure of guilt over my “bachelor state of mind” challenge in that I am sure that my son has paid a price for this, largely because some of the good parenting habits I have had a difficult time developing because of this challenge are intended to help my son grow and develop good habits for himself. Thankfully, with hard work and solid advice from my wife, I have been able to improve my parenting skills over time and help my son learn and grow in ways that I had wanted to help him earlier in fatherhood. Better late than never, I suppose.
In closing, as a husband and father with an Asperger’s profile and a neurotypical wife, I have found that the keys to a happier marriage lie in my desire to do better, to stay strong, to not let my mistakes and challenges get too far under my skin and to never lose sight of the importance of making decisions and acting not on my own behalf but on behalf of our family as a whole. There will always be more to learn, more changes to cope with, and more chasms to cross. The journey continues on…