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Stephen Borgman
Stephen Borgman
Asperger's Syndrome

Free Marriage Advice From Asperger's Adults

What your partner with Asperger's wishes you knew.

There was a time when my kids were so disrespectful! They talked back to me and refused to listen.

About this time, my wife pointed out to me that my kids didn't appreciate my singing.

I love to sing! I particularly enjoyed singing the ditties I'd made up about each of my kids.

But I was oblivious, especially, to my son, who is sensitive to noise.

Lo and behold, when I started reducing my singing, my kids became more respectful.

Until I became aware of my behaviors and started to work on them, the problems between my kids and I continued.

When I wrote What Everybody Ought to Know About Asperger's and Marriage, quite a few adults on the autism spectrum felt as though I had slanted the post in favor of an NT (neurotypical) perspective.

My goal in this post is to shift NT partners from labeling and trying to change their autism spouses, to better understanding the autism spectrum, and changing what's most within their control—themselves.

Marriage Advice for NT Partners From Adults With Asperger's

I've gathered these tips from my autism acquaintances at Wrong Planet and LinkedIn. I also read a long string of comments from adults with autism responding to What Everybody Ought to Know About Asperger's and Marriage.

Note: The block quotes are feedback from adults with autism for NT partners.

1. Avoid talking down to your AS (autism spectrum) partner.
You may not intentionally do this, but if your partner says s/he feels this way, ask how you can talk differently. It's often not what we say, but how we say it. If your partner feels like you're treating them like a child, or that you're calling them stupid, they're going to resist your feedback.

I'm uncertain (partly because my own romantic life has been so meagre) how anyone with AS could manage in a relationship with an NT, without feeling like a nuisance or the object of condescension. I'd hate to feel my partner always had to accommodate me. We both have problems and we both have to compromise and talk things out, and we love each other, so we're glad to do this.

I wouldn't want to think of myself as "sweet" or "special" due to AS. I'd always want to be thought of as an equal.

2. Take your AS partner at face value.

In other words, don't try to read too much into what they're saying.

Realize that the AS person, because they aren't concerned with constantly figuring out other people's thoughts and motivations, doesn't realize you and other NTs are concerned with such things. The AS person will very much just be themselves, and there's no need to over-analyze their every action and decide what their thoughts and motivations were.

Sometimes the biggest weakness in NTs is their over-assuming that they know what other people are thinking and saying. AS people aren't as focused on that. Keep in mind when you make constant assumptions about other people's thoughts and motivations, you're likely to be wrong some of the time. Having theory of mind doesn't mean you're always good at it. :)

3. Be clear and specific about your expectations.

Realise that AS (autism spectrum) people do not often pick up on expectations unless they are clearly voiced. It's better to ask for what you need rather than simply expect them to automatically know it.

4. Respect your AS partner's need for downtime.

Don't expect them to be a party animal all the time. When they step outside their comfort zone and go to a social event with you, do NOT just walk off and go socialize with your friends, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Your AS partner, just like you, needs a safe place to decompress from overwhelming stimuli at times.

If I say (or more likely scream) "Leave me alone!" take me at my word. Don't keep following me, shouting at me. Just back off, and let me process. This also goes for parents, siblings, and friends, though I've never had to say that to a friend before.

5. Understand yourself and your partner

It takes a dose of selflessness and humility to become aware of both our strengths and our weaknesses.

Think of marriage as an opportunity to learn and grow who you are as a person.

Also, make the effort, please, to learn and understand as much as you can about the autism spectrum, and why living with autism can be stressful in a majority-NT society.

Do this, not as a way to label and judge your partner, but rather as a way to better understand your partner.

I think the best thing non-Aspies can do, whether or not they're NT, is understand themselves, and us. And by the same token, we also need to understand ourselves, and them.

6. Stand up for your partner

Have my back. If someone were to physically attack you while your back was turned or you were otherwise vulnerable, you better believe I'd have yours. I'm small, but I'll fight to the death to protect those I love. This is also true for parents, siblings, and friends. If you perceive something I don't, if you catch warning signs I miss- voice tone, body language, some subtle social slight by someone who's socially sophisticated, or outright verbal abuse, don't just expect me to catch on or capably defend myself, at least warn me. If I'm not picking up one of those "things that don't need to be said" and reacting in the socially expected manner, let me know (kindly) that next time I might want to _______ or you think they wanted me to ___________.

7. Be willing to translate neurotypical language into more precise terms

Autistic minds tend to be precise and literal, processing words and terms at face value. (Read Do the Thing, by Musings of an Aspie, for an example.)

Take my questions seriously. They're serious. I'm asking because I really don't get it.

When I come to you with a problem, don't just offer comfort or a solution. Most of the time I need both. I came to you because I trusted you enough to be vulnerable in front of you, I'm really overwhelmed, and I have no clue how to fix it. Even if the answer seems obvious, offer it, but please don't make me feel stupid when you do.

Closing Thoughts

Marriage between two human beings is complex. But it can be a wonderful thing. When blending two neurological styles, think of NT-Asperger's marriage as a cross-cultural adventure.

For Asperger's adults who are reading this article, please realize that marriage is a both/and proposition. For marriage to work well, each partner must be willing to be selfless, and to learn and grow.

But for NT spouses, especially, I've written this post so that you can do your part to learn, grow, change, and appreciate the positive characteristics of the autism spectrum.

Now it's your turn! What other tips would you recommend for NT spouses to be better partners to their AS wife/husband?

About the Author
Stephen Borgman

Stephen Borgman is a psychotherapist who frequently works with neurodiverse children and adults.

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