Help, My Husband Has Been Diagnosed With Asperger’s Syndrome. Is There Hope?
Question: My husband and I have been married 10 years with 2 small children. We’ve never had a good marriage, and it’s only getting worse in spite of years of marriage counseling. Recently, our counselor suggested he be tested for Asperger’s Syndrome, and it turns out that he has it. I am feeling rather hopeless with all I read. I doubt that we will ever be able to have a normal marriage. Do I stay and keep trying or do I leave before my children are negatively affected?
Answer: First, before I answer your question let me define, or better describe Asperger’s Syndrome for those reading who may not know what it is. Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder along the autism spectrum in which an individual may be very high functioning and intelligent but lacks in social awareness and processing. The brain of a person with Asperger’s works differently than someone without it, especially how it processes language and social cues. He or she processes language literally so he often misses or misinterprets what someone is saying. His focus is in the details of something and he has trouble connecting the dots to gain the big picture.
Individuals with Asperger’s lack social awareness and aren’t able to pick up on people’s non- verbal cues or intentions. For example, most non-Asperger or neuro-typical individuals (NT as they are referred to) would clue in when someone they were talking to was bored or disinterested. A person with Asperger’s would not. Asperger’s individuals have a difficult time perceiving people’s intentions, needs, feelings, or motivations and therefore often respond inappropriately in social situations. They like routine, and have trouble managing their own emotions appropriately; especially when something unexpected happens or they are under stress. Describing or labeling their feelings can become a challenge for them.
Because a person with Asperger’s syndrome has a hard time being aware of other people’s needs or feelings, he can be seen as selfish and uncaring. He often has problems managing anger and can appear rude, insensitive, and indifferent although he is usually shocked when someone accuses him of this because from his point of view he does care. He just can’t see where what he is lacking. He is neurologically unable to see things from another person’s point of view. His brain speaks a different language than a NT (Neuro-typical) person’s brain does.
Being married to someone with Asperger’s syndrome presents challenges and opportunities. So does being married to someone with cancer, muscular sclerosis, blindness, bi-polar, or a host of other difficulties. Therefore, it’s important for us to remember that all successful marriages take hard work. No individual, no matter how talented, intelligent, or spiritual, has all 52 cards in their deck. Therefore, all marriages require that we learn some fundamental lessons about acceptance, forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness, love, sacrifice, and speaking the truth in love where necessary. Otherwise, Asperger’s or not, the marriage will not thrive.
For you, the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome must come as a relief after so many years of no progress in your counseling together. You and your husband have had 10 years of misinterpreting each other’s behaviors and motives. Perhaps you’ve seen him as selfish and uncaring. He’s seen you as critical and invasive. Those perceptions are tough to undue once they’re locked into place. Now you have a different paradigm in which to understand each other but the difficulties of communicating clearly remain.
Your biggest challenge as to whether or not you and your husband can make your marriage work will not be the Asperger’s diagnosis itself but what your husband does with it. Will he use it as an excuse to continue to hurt you and your marriage? Will he go into denial, refusing to admit that there is anything different about his thinking processes or his social responses? Or, will he be willing to learn all he can about how this syndrome has resulted in differences and deficiencies and is he willing to work with professionals who have expertise in helping individuals and couples with this problem so that the two of you can develop a healthier, happier relationship?
You too have some work to do if you want to move forward in a positive way from this point. Many people who discover that their spouse has Asperger’s Syndrome feel gypped and deprived of a full functioning partner. They will have to grieve some losses and let go of their desire for the deep emotional connection they longed for. However, some people with non-Asperger’s spouses also feel that loss or never have that connection either.
Your husband will continue to struggle to “get” you and you will probably feel that you’re working harder than he is to make the marriage work. Again, I’m quite sure that women who are married to men who do not have Asperger’s feel the same way at times. But in any marriage, but especially one with special problems, your anchor must always be in God, not your husband, not your marriage or your own happiness. If you can trust God through this, then you will grow and thrive through this season, even if your marriage doesn’t.
Recently a new book came out written by a husband who was diagnosed with Asperger’s and wanted to do all he could do to win his wife back. It’s called, The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch. Another resource for you is A Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood.
For those who might be wondering if they or their spouse might have Asperger’s syndrome, there is a free test for it at www.aspergerstestsite.com
Friends, those of you living with an Asperger’s spouse, what do you do to cope? What resources have you found helpful? What encouragement can you give this woman?
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