Much has been written about the experience of raising children on the Autism Spectrum, but less has been written about living on the spectrum as an adult, and very, very little has been written about being married to an Aspie. Kathy Marshack’s book Living with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going over the Edge? is an excellent resource for families and practitioners.
Marshack highlights difficulties with concrete thinking, black and white perspectives, and difficulties expressing empathy, complete with real life examples. The examples are heart wrenching, at times difficult to read, and an accurate portrayal of living with an adult Aspie, particularly one who has yet to be diagnosed.
To be fair, I have adult clients who are well aware of their symptoms, very much want to understand their partners, and work hard to promote positive communication with family members. These partners work hard to understand the perspective of others, solicit feedback, and work with mental health professionals to gain skills. I have also worked with partners where one adult was recently diagnosed with ASD, and this was a watershed moment for the couple allowing them to heal, develop perspective, and learn new skills. These clients are not represented in this book. (So to my clients who fall in this category, I remember you! I heard you! I think you are doing a great job!!)
I have also had the occasional domestic partnership where it is clear that the neurotypical (NT) partner is done with the marriage and looking for a way out. In these relationships there is much anger and confusion, with the NT partner feeling emotionally isolated, and the Aspie partner feeling heavily criticized and misunderstood. This unpleasant experience is highlighted in Marshack’s book.
Marshack leads us through multiple scenarios where rigid thinking can escalate to verbal and physical violence, where the NT partner looks like they have PTSD or are co-dependent, “covering” for their Aspie spouse, and where the NT partner feels substantial levels of anxiety and depression.
On the one hand, this was a challenging book to read: Marshack is very real about her observations, and is rather blunt when holding partners accountable for their behaviors. On the other hand, living with this level of bluntness is an everyday experience for those living with someone on the spectrum, and very direct language tends to be part of the solution.
Compelling reading, practical advice, and real examples are all things I’m looking for when recommending a book. Although uncomfortable at times, Marshack’s book is a must-read for those in relationships with adults on the spectrum.
If you are in a relationship with an NT-Aspie pairing, it can be challenging, and your partnership can be successful. Contact me if you would like support in finding success.