Living with a mate who has Asperger Syndrome is fraught with stress. You love them but, quite frankly, they are unpredictable. You never know how they’ll react to an ordinary situation. Whether your Aspie rants, or melts down into a rage or torrent of tears, or gives you a blank look and walks away, you often are left feeling rejected, confused and abused.
It’s not surprising that many neuro-typical spouses or partners report a variety of psychosomatic and immunodeficiency illnesses, such as migraines, arthritis, gastric reflux, and fibromyalgia. When the body is regularly thrown into a state of alarm, the overproduction of adrenalin and cortisol wreaks havoc with the body’s natural defense mechanisms. These alarm systems are designed for short-term emergencies, not for the daily crises.
A healthy family life when you have a partner with Asperger, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, requires caring for yourself first. In the chaos of family life, it may seem impossible to create time for you. It is possible, however, if you learn the art of detachment.
Detachment is learning to protect yourself from all of those not-so-ordinary moments. It doesn’t mean you stop caring about your loved ones. It simply means that you:
- Stop taking it all personally.
- Stop worrying if you’ve covered all the bases.
- Stop beating yourself up for your flaws.
- Stop expecting more from your AS spouse than he or she can deliver.
When you learn the art of detaching, you actually free up some energy to care for yourself. And that creates the energy to make better decisions instead of flitting from crisis to crisis. Detaching helps you psychologically step back and allow others to solve problems for themselves. If you’re also parenting with an Aspie partner, isn’t that what you want for your children? You need to model what it means to be independent, self-sufficient and ready to roll.
There are two methods for achieving detachment. One is emotional self-care and the other is cognitive self-care.
Emotional self-care is doing all of the healthy feel-good things you can fit into your day. If you notice that you’re drinking, eating, or smoking too much, you need healthier self-care. Make it a point always to plan healing rest and recreation in your day. I know it’s a lot to ask when you’re juggling so much, but if you don’t take care of yourself, who will take care of the family?
Attend to the priorities you must and drop the rest. Avoid the vicious cycle of failure and depression. Some simple “take-a-break” ideas are walking the dog, getting a manicure, calling a friend, doing some deep breathing and yoga stretches.
Cognitive self-care consists of education. Lack of information is a major cause of stress. When you can’t fathom what’s going on with your Aspie, and they’re accusing you of things you didn’t do, stress increases exponentially. It’s bad enough to be misunderstood. It’s quite another to have no frame of reference for the misunderstanding. Even though it’s work to read a book and to attend psychotherapy, knowledge is power.
Clear up the mystery around your Aspie’s thinking and behavior by educating yourself about autism and Asperger Syndrome. There are many great websites, books and support groups where you can learn about ASD and find supportive people who have been there, done that.
When I was learning to deal with family members with ASD, there weren’t that many resources. So I founded a Meetup group, Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD that has helped many cope as they connected with others living the same crazy making life. It’s become a fantastic resource for educating and supporting neurotypicals (NTs).
Remember you’re doing the best you can in a tough situation. If you’re a parent your kids will gain more self-respect and personal strength if they learn to tackle life as it comes. So cut yourself some slack and spit-giggle and wear your jammies more often. Since you’re going to be out of sync with the rest of the world anyway, you might as well enjoy it.