How To Survive An Asperger Marriage
Updated August 27, 2019
Reviewer Dawn Brown
Marriage is contentious under the best of circumstances. Committing your entire life to someone is an enormous undertaking, and is not without plenty of risks and possibilities for failure. Adding a complication such as a neurological disorder can further exacerbate the difficulty of marriage, and may prove too much for one or both parties to handle.
Asperger's is no longer a diagnosis, according to the DSM 5, but instead falls under the heading of "Autism Spectrum Disorder." Newly-diagnosed adults with Asperger's will likely receive an ASD diagnosis, while men and women who have known about their condition for many years will likely still operate under the diagnosis of "Asperger's." Regardless of the terminology used, there are challenges and strengths unique to ASD that can be difficult to navigate within marriage.
What Is Asperger's?
Asperger's is a neurological disorder falling under the heading of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. An Asperger's diagnosis typically means the individual in question is a high-functioning adult on the spectrum and does not experience as many of the severe qualities of autism as someone who is considered low functioning.
Typically, men and women with Asperger's are marked by difficulty understanding social cues and expectations, a tendency to develop intense focus, a lack of empathy, and a tendency toward obsession. Before diagnosis, these individuals might struggle with making or keeping friends, and might not be able to understand the difference between carrying on a conversation and delivering a soliloquy.
Asperger's is treated primarily via therapy and medication. Therapies geared toward ASD or Asperger's usually include speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapies, all of which encourage people on the spectrum to develop life skills and learn how to interact with others and the world in a safe, healthy way. Some medications can help individuals with Asperger Syndrome develop better focus and may even target some of the sensory difficulties people with Asperger's hear.
How Often Do People With ASD Get Married?
Although there are no definite statistics regarding autism and marriage, one study found that just over 32% of people with ASD reported having a partner, compared to 50% of the typical population. Both diagnosed and undiagnosed people with Asperger's have found success in romantic relationships. There are some resources available to both individuals with Asperger's and partners of people on the spectrum to assist with romantic relationships, including therapy and support groups.
Different Types Of Marriage Within Asperger's
There are different types of marriage within the Asperger's community, including a marriage between two people on the spectrum, and marriage between someone with Asperger's and someone who is neurotypical (NT). Each type of marriage can present some difficulties, and each can have its strengths and assets.
Marriages between two adults with ASD are common, the partners citing understanding and common interests as the most likely reason for choosing their partners. These relationships can be more comfortable ones, as two people with Asperger's are more readily able to communicate and understand one another's experience of the world and all of the sensory input it offers. These marriages are further helpful for people on the spectrum, as they might not carry the same social and romantic expectations a marriage with a neurotypical peer might.
Marriages between someone with Asperger's and a neurotypical person may come with more struggles, as partners might experience greater difficulty in communicating and comprehending one another's needs, experiences, and flaws. One of the greatest strengths of an ASD/NT marriage is the ability to learn from one another and balance out one another's strengths and struggles. One of the greatest pitfalls, however, is the possibility for miscommunication and dissatisfaction from both parties if constant, consistent communication and self-care is not engaged.
The most common source of difficulty within an Asperger's marriage is communication. In both types of Asperger Syndrome marriage, communication breakdowns can be a huge source of tension. Between two people with ASD, for instance, communicating wants and needs of both parties can be extremely difficult-or missed entirely. In a relationship between someone with Asperger's and a neurotypical partner, the NT partner is more likely to experience unmet needs as a result of gaps in understanding.
Affection can also prove difficult within Asperger's marriages. While both parties might have some touch aversions or some difficulty expressing emotions outwardly in a marriage where both parties have Asperger's, an NT/ASD marriage might encounter larger margins for error in this arena, as many people see affection as an expected part of a romantic relationship.
Another common source of contention is the different ways people with Asperger's view of the world, and the way a neurotypical person views the world. In most cases, men and women with Asperger's rely more upon demonstrable logic than emotional appeals, and might not pick up on emotional cues put forth by their partner. Understanding that this is a neurological difference and not an intentional slight can help both partners reach an awareness of one another's needs and limitations to avoid unnecessary pain or confusion.
Keys To Success
The most important key to success in an Asperger's marriage is the same as the most important key in a typical marriage: communication. Each partner goes into a marriage relationship with certain ideas and expectations regarding their partner, their life, and their decision-making. If these expectations are not brought to light, discussed, and agreed-upon, resentment can begin to fester in both parties quickly. Although there may be some initial stumbling through communication between a partner with neurotypical development and a partner with Asperger Syndrome, consistent practice and straightforward discussion can alleviate many of the challenges associated with communication breakdowns and damaged expectations.
Another important factor in making sure marriages between individuals with Asperger's is therapy. Although not every single couple will absolutely require a therapist to sort out any difficulties or sources of dissatisfaction, keeping the lines of communication open regarding the possible need for a therapist is essential. Both couples and individual therapy sessions can help partners understand one another better, understand their own needs better, and more effectively make sure their own needs are met-very often by meeting those needs, themselves. Therapy can be a weekly appointment, or can even be used as a source of marriage maintenance, wherein couples see a therapist every few months or once a year to receive some objective mediation for unresolved conflicts or concerns.
An open mind is going to be pivotal in making sure an Asperger marriage survives. Although preconceived notions can be useful in predicting some of what is involved in a marriage relationship, walking into a lifelong commitment with a prescribed set of demands is a recipe for disaster in any marriage-and more so for a marriage between two people with vast neurological differences. Keeping an open mind to new ways to communicate, new ways to connect, and even new ways to show attention and affection can go a long way in making sure an Asperger marriage is not only successful but thriving.
Surviving An Aspergers Marriage
Marriage, as a whole, is a challenging enterprise. Two people uniting two lives are paved with possible roadblocks, pain, and frustration, as well as incredible support, strength, and beauty. The difference between the two lies in how devoted and committed two parties are to one another, regardless of whether or not Asperger's is thrown into the mix.
That being said, there is no denying that adding Asperger's to the already-rocky terrain of marriage brings a new level of strain. Between communication differences, sensory differences, and overall functional differences, people with Asperger's and their neurotypical peers must be sensitive to one another's needs to keep harmony firmly in place in a relationship.
The partner with Asperger's must learn to read signals and cues that are not always readily apparent. This can be achieved through the therapy, to learn how to determine social and emotional cues more accurately, or can be learned through trial and error with one's spouse, provided that one's spouse is willing to put in the work. The ASD partner must also be willing to reside in discomfort at times, as living with and loving others requires a lot of hard work and can be loud, overwhelming, and confusing.
The NT partner must recognize that their experience of the world is not the only one and that something that may seem innocuous to them can be downright painful for their partner. Also, NT partners must learn to develop a thick skin; what might seem like cruel or hurtful language (or lack of language) may not be a personal slight, but a simple matter of lack of contextual understanding or social norms.
Working together, couples in an Asperger marriage can experience the same joy and fulfillment found in a neurotypical marriage. With plenty of understanding, patience, and perseverance, couples can learn to love and accept one another's strengths and weaknesses and celebrate their differences, rather than letting their differences interfere with a lifetime of commitment to one another.