Saturday, November 26, 2011

Loving Your Introverted Husband with Asperger's

My husband zones out if too much is going on!
He's always focusing on details other people don't care about!
It's like he needs to hibernate after a party!
Am I the only one with social needs around here?

My name is Cary Terra, and I work with lots of couples on the spectrum. Of course I'm generalizing with the title of this post - many of my clients with AS are female. For the sake of simplicity (for this entry, at least) let's assume our Aspie is male.

So many partners enter into therapy feeling alone and exhausted. Often socially anxious themselves, they are tired of toting the social line alone. Without their efforts, I'm told, no holiday gifts would be sent, no brithday cards mailed, no housewarming parties attended. And I believe them. Their Aspie partners are often happy to hole up at home, friendless and isolated. There's only one problem: it only seems to bother ONE of them - the partner! Often the adult with Asperger's seems content, not only with his number of friends, but with the quality of his relationships. This can serve as a constant source of frustration to the more socially inclined partner, who feels building anxiety as the social circle shrinks over time.

So what to do? Can an introvert be coached to behave as an extrovert? Can your introverted Aspie husband be trained to enjoy cooking classes, weddings and the lindy-hop?

My a resounding NO!

There is a new trend amongst therapists, one of acknowledging the benefits and realities of introversion. Often passive and accomodating (though not always, of course), many men with AS will force themselves through work lunches, daily meetings, kids' birthday parties and holiday celebrations without acknowledging - even to themselves - their own anxiety and exhaustion. The truth is, socializing is not for everyone. Introversion is not pathology. Social anxiety is a reality for many, many adults - both introverted and extroverted.

In fact, many of my couples experience similar levels of social anxiety - with one member pushing through it (extrovert) and one less likely to (introvert). Unfortunately many introverted clients come to treatment convinced they have a fundamental defect, even shame and guilt. It is crucial that partners, despite frustration and sometimes social embarassment, resist the urge to shame their introverted partner. Husbands with AS often have few sources of emotional support, leaving them vulnerable to partners' guilting or shaming.

So why do partners guilt or shame their introverted partners? Sometimes it's out of loneliness, or a sense that things look "off" to neighbors or friends. Sometimes it's just being tired. But herein lies the key: the extroverted partner can meet her own needs by connecting with friends and maintaining relationships, all while respecting that her partner does not share these needs - and this might be part of what she found attractive in the first place!

While this concept may seem simple, it does often mean adjusting your idea of what your relationship should look like. What expectations do you have regarding your social circle? What fears do you have regarding being isolated? How much responsibility do you take for your own social life? Are you holding your husband responsible for your own hidden social anxiety?

Partners of adults with Asperger's often benefit, as much as do their partners, from learning that it is OK to be introverted: to pass on holiday obligations, to limit time at parties, to set boundaries on family time. In fact, such habits may be crucial to resource management for your relationship and for yourself.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Cary, this is the right post at the right time. :-)

Cary Terra, M.A., LMFT said...

Oh that is so nice to hear! Thank you for the feedback. Cary

Anonymous said...

Introverts unite! this is a great blog post - thank you from a shy person who often feels forced to go out to often.

Anonymous said...

As the partner of an Aspie, I understand his challenges and respect them. But after years of marriage, it just gets exhausting to be the only one to do anything about every holiday, special occasion, birthday, trip, outing, gift, and all the other normal activities. I've given up. The holidays, Valentine's Day, wedding anniversaries, and even my birthday aren't fun when you have to pull all the weight all the time.

Anonymous said...

As a 'newbie' to the fact that my spouse is a mild apsie - I am just connecting all the dots in our 5-year marriage. Holidays are a major sensitive spot for him and I will now look for ways to celebrate them, without stressing him out. I have been scaling them down as much as I comfortably can - but I live the ritual of holidays. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Assuming the partner is male actually makes the post harder to read rather than simpler because I have to keep switching genders in my head to follow along... just sayin'.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

As a male Aspie partner married to an NT, I must say that social demands can be extremely exhausting. To paraphrase anonymous above, "The holidays, Valentine's Day, wedding anniversaries, and even my birthday aren't fun when you have to be social and deal with others."

I'm sorry that holidays and parties and social events don't really mean much to me.

I'm sorry that I find it extremely difficult to deal with social situations beyond one-on-one.

I'm sorry that I have sensitivities to light/sound/crowds/etc.

I’m sorry that I get too involved in my special interests and forget the world around me.

I’m sorry that I only like to eat certain foods, or wear certain clothes.

I’m sorry that decisions, even simple one, like what to order in a restaurant, can sometimes be agonizing to me to make.

I’m sorry that my brain seems to work differently than most other people’s.

I'm sorry that I am the way I am, but I refuse to feel guilty anymore!

I can’t change who I am no matter how I try because all of this is hardwired into my brain and nervous system.

But I’m willing to try and meet you halfway when I can.

I’m willing to try and be more present and attentive.

I’m willing to try to do things in small steps when I can.

But it takes 2 to meet in the middle. So please don’t try to put the guilt feelings on me, because that will just drive me deeper into the hole that is my Aspergers. And you will never know what that is like to me.


Anonymous said...

NT Ladies, it is possible to go to social outings with an Aspie husband if you limit the duration to an hour, 90 minutes tops, and you tell him what is expected. Such as...when we go to my family, don't pick up a book and leave the room. Sit with my mother and talk to her, and nod, and respond, even though you might get bored. And, we will limit interaction to an hour so you do not get tired, Ok?

I get a Christmas tree...he'll help me get it and put it up, but does not want to decorate it. That's OK. I get a Thanksgiving dinner and invite his family over (I'm an American expat). He doesn't particularly love the ritual, but will do it because I make him some favourite dishes in the meal and keep things low-key, and he knows it makes me happy. And we always celebrate bonfire night (5 November for American readers)...he loves fireworks and putting on an awesome display for me...we must have the most brilliant one in the neighbourhood.

It is also possible to tell your Aspie husband...hey, birthday's are important to me, so put it on your "to do" list..."buy wife card and gift on birthday". Guess what, I get a gift and card on my birthday, and he never forgets. He even suggested we go away for a long weekend every year on my birthday...Great! Makes me happy, he's happy. I say..Christmas cards are important, so let's divide them up...I write up a little Christmas newsletter, he designs it on his computer.

I want to go on holidays, but we do it in our caravan and I let him plan the drive and what we'll do in exquisite detail which he loves to do with lots of maps. Bonus, we never get lost and we both have fun. We also limit our times in big cities with crowds, and instead take walks in the countryside, visit small museums, that sort of thing. He has amazing hearing, and point out all sort of things I would little mice and birds and hedgehogs in the bushes. That's magic.

After a lot of patience, I get kissed, I get my hand just took some time and effort and lots of small steps. We are now patiently working on having him tell me that he loves me...doing things for me is great, but telling me is important too.

What do I get out of it, you may ask. My engineer husband is so brilliant that I NEVER have had to call a workman in the seven years we have been married. My husband can fix any machine, and is fantastic at carpentry and woodwork. He's honest, faithful, and accepts me as I am, has been supportive of my doing my rather strange academic job, and he has a few very dear friends who like him and accept him. When he says he will do something, he does it. He is admired and liked at work because he is a fantastic industrial designer with a lot of patents, and he loves his job and is happy. I love him to bits. Yes, he is wired differently, but that is one of the reasons I love him so much.

If you want holidays, you just have to ask, nicely and logically, and do things in small steps.

Anonymous said...

Its feels less lonely as I read everyone's words. thank you. I have come to realise that my husband has aspergers after 16 years of marriage. Last year we saw a film where the central character had Aspergers. As we left the auditorium both of us felt individually how much he reminded us of my husband. I am neurotypical and have felt we’ve lived our lives on seperate islands. We have both struggled and experienced mental anguish in the absence of a ‘functioning us’. My longing for this has heightened my feelings of loss for the sense of ‘us’. Whereas my husband for a long time did not know what I meant by an ‘us’ and my need for an emotional connection. Thinking back to a counselling session we had I recall him genuinely asking the counsellor what 'emotional connection' means'. Looking back in retrospect I realise now he genuinely didn't know what it meant. In the absence of knowing about the Aspergers we have have been in the dark and have misunderstood each other and made all so many wrong assumptions about each other. There are so many things Ive said that he has taken literally and missed the implied meanings. Sadly at times I have blamed him out of frustrations for twisting everything I tried to say. . I guess both of us have been imprisoned in a way with each other. Not through any fault or blame but just in terms of our lack of understanding of what our respective handicaps (dare I use such a word) have been, which have impacted on each of us in different ways. I do not view Aspergers as a disability nor do I view being a neurotypical a disability. The disabled part of this challenge is in the absence ‘us’ in a world where for me one of the riches is in the sharing of human experiences. Both of us face separate and individually unique challenges when engaging with the world. Some of the challenges faced by Aspergers are similarly faced by neurotypicals albeit not to the same extent. It's a lonely place to be. After 16 years of marriage members of my family on seeing my unhappiness feel strongly that I walk out of this relationship. Despite the difficulties I still love my husband and feel a strong emotional attachment to him. When I feel a tremendous need for support from the family it's no longer there. I feel that now at the time of discovery of the causes of our difficulties I need their support even more so. It's so uplifting to know that others are facing similar challenges and learning to convey love. Thank you so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I realize that you are an Asperger's therapist, but it seems to me that this blog puts a lot of blame on the NT partner, who is only expressing more average (I refuse to say "normal") human emotional needs.

Why do we have to blame anyone?

As the NT partner, I feel like I am starving for oxygen, but being chastised for needing it...

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above. Every book or article I read about NT/AS relationships says that it's possible for the relationships to be good as long as the NT partner conducts the relationship with a logical and businesslike approach.
That makes sense to me in a work relationship or a casual social relationship, but for me, the primary purpose of marriage is to share that sense of intuitive/feeling "we-ness." If the NT is a Myers-Briggs thinking/sensing type, that rational approach might work, but what if you're neurologically wired to be a feeling intuitive? I do think that many Aspergians (through no fault of their own) are initially attracted to empathetic feelers because we seem safe and compassionate, and then avoid the stress of dealing with our feelings at all cost later...but where does that leave us NT feelers? In my experience, empathetic feelers generally need for ourselves the same type of EXPRESSED kindness that we give. After 14 years, I AM STARVING for it. For example, NT's are advised to simply instruct AS partners to buy a card or a gift if a gift/card is desired. Well, I don't need a birthday gift for itself (I can buy things for myself.) The real gift...for me the ONLY the cherished feeling that someone cares enough to think of it unprompted....The object (the physical gift) is just a symbol of the feeling. On the other hand, I feel that the gift my husband most want from me is my absence. He seems to want a vague, warm backdrop of family life without the particulars of who I am or what I feel. I must mute myself to live peacefully. It hurts deeply. NTs are told not to take it (or anything) personally. If a relationship is reduced to the point where there is nothing personal to take, then what IS the point? Perhaps I can choose not to take a particular incident personally, but what about the deep hurt of a life spend in a vacuum in which nothing really seems to matter and I feel interchangeable with anyone else who might fill the household role of "wife." NT spouses are advised to get their social and emotional needs met elsewhere. I'm sorry, but I am not finding that working. In my case, the denied need for the NORMAL closeness of marriage has turned into an unhealthy neediness that is unattractive to friends. It's really inappropriate for me to expect my friends (all married with children themselves) to extend to me the kind of closeness reserved for their families. I have inadvertently driven good friends away because and my need for companionship and empathy is too high. I pull back from people to keep from burdening them.
This causes sadness and depression...not attractive attributes for making new friends. Also, we live in the sort of conservative small town (moved here kicking and screaming against my wishes for my husband's job) where most social life is conducted among couples, tight-knit extended families and friendships going back generations. I have occasionally tried to go to events in the evening alone, with a couple, or inviting another female friend and it has mostly been awkward (for others as much as to myself). Although I am an NT, I am more introverted than extroverted in that I will never be the life of the party sort of person that attracts a lot of people. I like solitude, but also warm, deeply interactive, caring, feeling friendships ...It is daily torture to know I will never get that in this marriage and the friends that I cherish and prioritize cannot and SHOULD not prioritize me because, correctly, they have husbands, children siblings, and parents that must come first. I don't know what to do. I cannot find any information about Asperger-sensitive marriage counselors in my region of the country even though I would be willing to drive a few hours.

babyteeny said...

I've read all these and it's definitely my relationship. But he has found a social setting that he is a part of... guess what? He doesn't include me. So he's finally broken the ice socially, but now it's without me.

Anonymous said...

I feel for the above two comments. I am in the same position. I don't know what to say except that I am fed up with my AS husband. Most of his family are AS. My MIL, him, and FIL. His one bro is NT and lives here but has been aspergated from living in it so long and his other Bro lives in another country married with two kids one child is clearly an Aspie/Autistic yet no one talks about it. But this bro is aspergated too. Seems like I am the only one who knows about this family and I married into it. Yuck. Holidays birthdays Anniversaries Halloween Thanksgiving Christmas i have to do all the planning gift buying and effort and he AS husband criticizes me sits with a long face starts arguments in his calm loud voice in front of my 5 yo son EVERY holiday. I am wrung out, SAD and in disbelief. I have to spend my own little money I earn because I left my city and friends and safety net so he can help with their family business which I am not privy to. Yet it's me keeping it together so he could run it. I hate being in this family trapped and getting it from the 3 of them. I am an older mum who looked young beyond my years still do but my inner spirit which is neglected feels used and have my personality mimicked stolen by these 3 AS's I am nothing but a shell now. They all never celebrate anything never any music never any deep connecting conversations never leave their homes nothing. Do sad. I heard of homebodies which i can be but they are sedentary! To the outside world I appear young healthy vibrant and social, but I am dying inside, hanging on a thread and feel utterly TRAPPED. I look at myself and I am aging and my soul is aging and I am not the person I set out to be. This man should never have married or had kids. He is a horrible companion and spouse. He moved downstairs to the spare room and is happy with all his clothes in heaps. Not one on a hanger. I feel so embarrassed to my 5 yo son. I am trying to teach him values and responsibility and to teach him how to give gifts and to think of the less fortunate and this AS husband does the opposite. SO frustrating. I am planning my life without him and hope I can manage financially. I am looking for work outside the home and want to stop pushing this boulder uphill. I can't take it anymore nor see myself alone with him in this fake marriage. This person fooled me and changed almost immediately after marriage. He knew that he had AS and mentioned something to me earlier in the courtship but dismissed saying what never wanted to talk about it and never gave me the opportunity to say no THANKYOU. They are manipulative and know how to act normally. He buys gifts for his staff and family but NEVER for me or his son. Yet I buy for him for my son and I never get anything. What message does this teach our children caught in this mess of a fake marriage? There are NO articles about how to explain THAT to kids from an AS /NT marriage. What do you tell your young 5 yo and older? Is there anyone who can offer suggestions? Thank you for the opportunity to post.

melissahatesjazz said...

I really feel for some of the people who have posted. My husband has aspergers and we have been together for 9 years. He is in no way a partner to be more a difficult additional child. He used to try to make an effort but now lost completely within his special interest. Myself and my daughter are just like annoying inlaws come to stay. One day I will leave him but he probably wouldn't even notice.

Anonymous said...

I love my Aspie husband and after 15 years we have finally found a balance. He is kind, loyal and loving. I am allowed to share his motorbike obsession, which also doubles as our social life. I have a weekend with my best friend every school holidays( I'm a teacher) and a three week holidays alone with my family each year. I am content. The only downside to our loving relationship is his drinking. He drinks to quiet his brain, it is constantly moving and drives him to distraction. What strategies can I give him to slow his thinking down. Drinking isn't healthy and I'm worried about losing him too soon.

David said...

I know this is a really old post but felt I had to reply. To the Anonymous comment above, you sound spectacularly selfish. Its all "I want". Sounds like you treat him more as a child than an equal.

Anon said...

Totally agree!

Anonymous said...

I totally understand and empathise with Anonymous (14 years married). I have some of the same issues with my spouse. I wish I had the magic answer, but I don't. It does help somewhat to understand that others are in similar situations, however.

Anonymous said...

This is my life! It's as if you are a fly on my wall. I am just waking up to the truth after 20 years. Sigh. Where do I go from here? I've been "STARVING" for so very long. What have you done? What has worked for you?

Anonymous said...

I'm in a similar situation, married to an Aspie for a long time. It's a very sad life for the person married to the Aspie. He'll do nothing on holidays but sit around, he seems to have no joy or desire to celebrate. He thinks holidays 'cost' money and does nothing.
I feel so dead inside living with him all these years. All my happiness is gone, taken away by his endless recriminations, his inability to feel anything but anger. He's a blank personality who cares only for himself first, and loves no one. He sees no point in charity or helping others, he has no desire to do any good in the world, that would mean thinking about someone else. Leaving his obsession, and having to pretend to be someone he's not. He says horrible nasty things regularly, any time I show emotion of any kind be it sadness, happiness, excitement in the past he thinks it's fake, not real. Because he feels nothing, emotion frightens him.

That's why I think of him as a blank person, I've begun to feel nothing either, I see no point in living a long life, what for, if this kind of life is all I have, one of endless nothingness.

Female, 45 said...

This is an old post, but well-written from someone who is giving solid, specific tips. I've been with an aspie for 8 years and I really appreciate the "meet in the middle" approach.

My aspie hubby is a scientist. He is so dedicated, dependable, etc and I am thankful for all of his qualities that make him special.

Anonymous said...

My Aspie hubby was only diagnosed when our son was diagnosed with non verbal autism at 2... that was 13 years ago. As hubby grows older the "not care" about socials and friends changed into a distrust and even hatred toward family and friends, leaving us isolated. He is no longer able to keep a job as the negative emotions get in the way and he no longer trusts anybody. As our son grows older ( now verbal, but still with many issues) the misunderstandings between then grow bigger and are now a real problem in our son's development - when he was smaller Dad was his best buddy - not the opposite is more true as Dad is now a "bully ..... how do you distinguish between a aspie dan and son's needs and where do you draw the line ???