Married to an Aspie?
Quite regularly I receive requests for therapy for couples, where one person is on the autism spectrum, and the other is not. Tricky business. Generally, these requests come from couples who have been together for a long time: mature couples who deeply care about each other, but also couples who get pretty upset with each other, suffer miscommunications, and feel misunderstood and hurt. Often, these couples have been seen by other therapists in the community and the person on the spectrum has been labeled “uncaring” or “not trying hard enough.”
On the face of it, sometimes people on the spectrum do appear uncaring. There is that classic lack of eye contact that therapists interpret as not following along, or (gasp!) disrespect to the therapeutic process or the therapist/spouse. There are the uncommon ways of showing love or empathy, ways that are not generally recognized by the neurotypical population. There is that need for solitude (labeled as withdrawing and being emotionally unavailable). Finally there is the talking “at” people about special interests, often when feeling emotionally uncomfortable (sound like couples therapy, yet??). Yep, couples therapy is hard enough, but add in a dose of ASD, and your couple and your therapist will be working overtime!
What to do? First, if you are a couple with one or both partners on the spectrum, please find a therapist who actually understands people on the spectrum. Optimally, you would find a therapist trained in couples work AND trained with spectrum work. (I know, right?! If you find that singular person, please tell me where to find this person!! I have referrals!!). Next best bet seems to be finding someone who understands ASD and can sort out the communication issues. My last option is generally a traditional couples therapist, as that is where my clients report the most problems (the blaming, the finger pointing).
While you seek that highly trained professional, try reading some books. Here are my two favorites:
- Asperger Syndrome and Long-term Relationships by Ashley Stanford
- A great read, full of poignant examples and quotes from actual people. The author uses a pseudonym to protect the privacy of her family, and then admits to all sorts of personal shortcomings, strong emotions and the like. A great read! Grab the second edition, updated with DSM 5 content.
- The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, And One Man’s Quest To Be A Better Husband by David Finch
- A humorous (and accurate) book written by someone on the spectrum. Mr. Finch is very motivated to stay married and improve his behavior within his marriage. His insights are extremely helpful. Multiple clients have said that this book saved their marriage.
Take heart: partnership is hard, and being on the spectrum can be a challenge; putting those two together can be overwhelming or delightful. Find what you need (skills, support, a break!) to make it the latter J