Challenges and triumphs: they go hand in hand in any marriage. I accept this reality, and I cling to the triumphs as a means of coping with the challenges. After all, mine is a neurodiverse marriage, and I’m the spouse with the Spectrum profile. There is never a dull moment in my household, I assure you.
The idea to write about some of the more significant challenges in our marriage actually came from my wife. When she shared it with me, I told her that I thought this was a great idea in that the exercise could be therapeutic, and I promised to pursue it. Promises made, promises kept! My wife deserves that, particularly in light of all that she has done for me and for our son.
All of the challenges that follow are considerably easier to write about than to live up to, due mostly to an aspect of my Asperger’s profile whereby understanding what I should do in a given situation often does not translate to me actually being able to do it consistently when it matters most. Bridging this gap is an ongoing effort with which I often struggle, but I keep at it as best I can.
· Trusting my wife’s instincts the first time: I tend to cling to my own instincts and beliefs as to who to trust and how a given situation should be handled. And sometimes, my instincts are at odds with those of my wife. A month or two ago, she told me that I was getting sick and I didn’t believe her based on the fact that I experienced only one or two brief sneezing episodes that day. And yet, she turned out to be right, and I came around and granted her that, but not until after we argued over whether or not I was actually getting sick and after my cold symptoms began to intensify. Too little, too late! One of my personal triumphs occurred more recently when very mild cold symptoms re-emerged and my wife once again said to me that I was getting sick, and like magic, it occurred to me to simply tell her, “OK, I’m getting sick”, even though I thought that I probably wouldn’t fall ill. It turns out that she was right, again, though no argument this time around. What a great feeling. I was very proud of myself for knowing what to say in the moment.
· Listening and information processing are two different things. In other words, I could be listening carefully to my wife, as I often do, but if I misinterpret the meaning behind what she is saying, I will come across as having not listened to her. Case in point: I walk upstairs to our bedroom where I know my wife is hyper-focused on something important, simply to check on her and to bring some items downstairs for her. I open the door without saying a word, she says to me “just give me a minute”, I quietly and patiently sit on the bed until she finishes what she was working on, and then she says to me “couldn’t you see how busy I was? It would have been best for you to leave and come back up later. I could have used the space.” So, she ends up feeling unacknowledged and not listened to. Clearly, I did listen to her when she said “just give me a minute” but misinterpreted what she truly meant. I later explained to her that simply putting her hand up when I first entered the room, as she often does, would have clearly indicated to me that I should promptly leave, but she didn’t do that this time around.
I understand that it is unrealistic to expect my wife to use the same method of communicating “please leave” every single time she wants me to do so, though I also know myself well enough to understand how much emphasis I place on precedent. Because a non-verbal cue I’m accustomed to seeing from my wife was not used in this case, I impulsively assumed that she meant otherwise, and I was wrong. Unfortunately, these types of miscommunications often occur in my marriage. Without question, they stem from differences that exist between how my wife communicates and processes information and how I do so. I would imagine that this is a challenge with which neurodiverse couples often contend.
· “I didn’t hear you say that”: Tuning out, often for relatively long periods of time, is an inevitable attribute of my Aspie profile, and so I find myself saying these words to my wife more frequently than I would prefer. All it takes is a single important word that eludes me for a request from my wife to be botched, sometimes with significant consequences. My son has an Autism Spectrum profile one aspect of which is that he will pick at his fingers, sometimes until one or more of them starts to bleed, and at night after a long day we need to keep an eye on him during shower time to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. One night not long ago, my wife asked me to watch him while he was in the shower but I unintentionally neglected to do so simply because I did not hear her make this specific request. I did hear and follow through on her other requests, which I thought covered everything she had asked of me, that I should go upstairs with him and make sure he gets started with his shower routine in a timely fashion, but the request I missed was enough to lead to a bloody finger and my wife justifiably was not pleased. I mistakenly thought that she would be upstairs by the time our son got into the shower because this is a norm in our family that I have grown accustomed to, and my gravitation towards precedent when it comes to household routines may have been the reason why “watch him while he’s in the shower” went over my head. Thankfully, I have often been able to rebound from mistakes in my marriage, and I did so in this case. The next time my wife asked me to watch our son at shower time, I made it a point of asking her specifically what she expected of me, and it all worked out fine. Challenges, and triumphs.
· “We already discussed that”: I wouldn’t be saying this to my wife as often as I do if frequent reminders didn’t drive me crazy. I tolerate the reminders better than I used to, which to me is a triumph, though they are difficult to take if I feel that I am being reminded to do things that are obvious to me and which I have done on my own volition many times before. My wife feels the need to provide reminders and repeat herself when it comes to important tasks she wants me to attend to, largely because of my Aspie profile. My success in handling annoying reminders more gracefully nowadays stems from my newfound ability to consider my wife’s need to issue repeated reminders before I protest.
· Disunity: My wife and I are often not on the same page, particularly when it comes to parenting. I have found that this challenge is unavoidable granted my that ours is a neurodiverse marriage, not to mention gender differences, differences in how we were brought up, life experiences, etc. Case in point: one morning, my wife and my son are on a tight time schedule and my wife asks me to help get our son ready to leave for his basketball game. I move him along by reminding him to go to the bathroom, walk downstairs and get his jacket and boots on once he gets there, though at the same time, we are talking about something completely unrelated to getting ready, and as a result, he ends up getting ready to leave at a slower pace than my wife would have preferred. I’m thinking that all is well because the process of my son getting ready is moving forward nicely and stays on track, though my wife is thinking, and ultimately says in a frantic voice, “let’s go, why are you talking about this when we need to get out the door.” Later that day, she explained to me that the disunity between us bothered her, that when we are on a time schedule and trying to get on our way, she would prefer that we only talk to our son about getting ready and nothing else. Because I didn’t take this approach, my son notices that I’m the one who proceeds at a slower pace and keeps his cool while she is the one who gets frustrated and rushes out the door. I told her, in the spirit of marital unity, that I would remember this incident and that what she said makes good sense. My response to her criticism is actually a triumph in that it occurred to me in the moment to listen to her and acknowledge her feelings while refraining from getting defensive which is one of my worst habits upon which I have been trying to improve for some time.
· “It’s my problem to fix, not yours”: I know that this is not how a marriage is supposed to work, that my problems are truly our problems, though because of my Aspie profile, I say this anyway from time to time because a big part of me still thinks like a bachelor. This statement is often triggered when my wife takes care of something that I normally take care of and which I feel strongly should only be taken care of by me. My challenge in this case is to refrain from saying these words in defense of myself and instead consider that my wife may be taking care of something that I normally take care of simply with the intent of wanting to help me out.
I am more than happy to face all of these and other challenges in my marriage because doing so through all of our years together has helped me grow. I am stronger, smarter, more patient and more flexible than I ever was prior to meeting my wife. These are my greatest marital triumphs, and I thank her for making them possible. The value of personal growth to an Aspie is, without question, immeasurable!