Being married to someone with Asperger’s syndrome can present a unique set of challenges, but a better understanding of the condition can improve communication.
At the core of any healthy marriage is communication. When partners can communicate their needs, feelings, and interests to each other, married life can be very rewarding. But what happens when those partners see the world differently or communicate in different ways?
How do you improve your communication and marriage when your spouse has Asperger’s syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is a diagnosis that was once given to describe a form of autism that has since been updated and removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) in recent years.
But while this term is used less in the mental health field, many autistic people still prefer to use the term to describe and identify where they are on the autism spectrum.
The DSM-5 describes autism at three levels based on how much support an autistic person needs in their everyday lives. People with AS are on the end of the autism spectrum, requiring the least amount of support daily.
In general, people with AS may find social interactions challenging but don’t require any additional support in their daily tasks. Of course, these social challenges can lead to some relationship or marital misunderstandings due to the different ways that partners communicate.
Understanding these differences and how they can impact your marriage can make it easier to navigate and even improve your relationship as the spouse of an autistic person.
Marriage is an intimate, social connection, so it makes sense that a social difference like Asperger’s syndrome could affect your relationship. Examining these differences can help give you more empathetic insights into your partner’s point of view.
Communication and misunderstandings
If your partner has AS, they may miss some subtle nonverbal communication cues that you may be sending them, like body language and facial expressions. They also may not recognize vocal qualities like pitch, volume, and speed as easily in your conversations.
For example, if you’re feeling emotional and it seems like your partner doesn’t seem to care, it may be because they don’t realize you’re upset.
Vague language can also be confusing for people with AS, which is why it is essential to try and be as clear as possible when discussing your needs or expectations.
An example of this would be If you wanted your spouse to help put the dishes away, but in vague terms, you just tell them to help clean the kitchen. You might come home to spotless countertops but with the dishes still in the drying rack.
Using vague language in your conversations, your partner may respond in ways that seem like they don’t care or didn’t hear you correctly, but it’s actually because they didn’t understand what you wanted.
Differences in sensory reactions
Autistic people often have different
Your spouse may react differently than you to sudden touch or increases and decreases in noise or light. This means that if your spouse refuses your suggestion to go to a concert, it might be because the high volume is painful for them and not because they don’t want to spend time with you.
They may flinch or pull away from your hand if they are sensitive to touch. As much as it may feel personal at the time, it’s a reaction to the external stimulation rather than a rejection of you specifically.
There can also be sensitivity to food textures or aromas. Your favorite family recipe might be uncomfortable for them to eat, but that doesn’t mean you’ve prepared it poorly or that they’re being critical of your cooking.
Rigidity with daily routines
Routines are very predictable, which can be comforting for people with AS. If you ask your spouse to change their regular schedule, you may not realize at first the level of anxiety this can trigger for them.
If your partner refuses a change of plans, it may not be not because your wishes aren’t important to them — they may simply be trying to regulate their own stress.
Understanding and regulating emotions can be a challenge for autistic people. They often have a low tolerance for frustration and may need specific guidance in this area or help in frustrating situations.
This means that your spouse may become frustrated, feel overwhelmed, and
Most married people are familiar with telling the occasional, well-intentioned lie to protect their partner’s feelings. But your spouse with AS may not be as inclined to spare your feelings when you ask them for feedback and honestly share their opinion with you when asked for it.
These truthful tendencies can sting on occasion, but it can also be one of their strengths, too — if there’s an issue on which you really need the truth, there’s no one you can trust more.
Sometimes the best way to foster a positive relationship with your spouse is first to practice your own self-care. Taking care of yourself means having the energy and resilience to work through many tricky issues with your spouse.
Eat, sleep, and exercise
Nutritious food, restorative sleep, and regular exercise are foundations of well-being that improve your physical and mental health. By establishing a regular sleep routine, a balanced meal plan, and a practical exercise schedule, you should be able to practice self-care more consistently.
However, you may find that your autistic spouse has a restricted diet due to their specific food aversions or sensory issues. This doesn’t mean you both have to eat the same thing. You can still enjoy your meal choices based on your preferences.
Creating a regular schedule for sleep and exercise may also have some unintended benefits. Autistic people often value the predictability of a regular schedule, and your spouse will likely appreciate your new plan.
Sometimes you will need to advocate for yourself in a difficult situation, and you can’t expect your spouse to automatically pick up on your nonverbal hints. This might mean using clear and specific language to tell your spouse exactly what you need.
But if you start to feel overwhelmed at times, it might be worth asking a close friend to be a listening ear or scheduling time to speak with a counselor or other mental health professional to help you sort out your thoughts and feelings.
If you want to find mental health support, our online resource, How to Find Mental Health Support, can help you get started.
Connect with others
You sometimes might feel like the only person with an autistic spouse and that your family and friends won’t understand your situation at home. It can feel isolating at times, which is why you may benefit from looking into online or local support groups.
Few things will boost your spirits quite like knowing you’re not alone. Joining a support group of people in the same situation will help you feel less isolated. Meetings and online discussions with other partners of autistic people can help connect you to a supportive community where you can learn and gain strength from each other.
If you’re interested in trying a support group, consider browsing the National Alliance on Mental Illness support groups page to find a group in your area.
Asperger’s syndrome can add some challenges to your marital relationship. Still, it’s important to remember that the issues the two of you face aren’t a reflection of how loving or caring your marriage is. Every marriage will face bumps in the road, and the work you do to improve your marriage is the true reflection of its quality.
Couples counseling can also help you and your partner communicate better and find new ways to support each other. Or, if you would like to try individual counseling first, the American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator tool can help you find a counselor near you.
Understanding why your spouse acts and feels the way they do will help you better understand the person they are. By practicing clear communication and empathetically approaching their needs, you will be able to better support your spouse, who can, in turn, better support you as well.