By Karin Friedemann, MMNS
Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome is a neurological disorder considered as high-functioning autism. Individuals with this syndrome have difficulty with social aspects of intelligence. This manifests itself as a notable lack of â€œcommon sense.â€ The presence of Asperger in children is getting more attention now, but the undiagnosed adult is not yet well recognized. Because these types of brain disorders seem to be more common in men, many times wives have trouble getting the support they need.
The shortcomings of adults with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome have been camouflaged beneath layers of coping strategies and defense mechanisms. Their behavior often gives the impression of someone perhaps a little eccentric or odd – but passable because of their high or gift in an area or career, such as engineering.
Life with an AS spouse is very isolating. Since the AS person in public often appears normal, others do not understand the spouseâ€™s suffering. Spouses of people with Asperger Syndrome play an abnormally large caregiver role. Even when AS people are successful professionals, their families cannot rely on them to participate fully in family life since they typically donâ€™t do their share of chores or provide emotional support to other family members.
Although people with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome do feel affection towards others, relationships are not a priority for them in the same way that it is for people who do not have Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome. People with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome generally seem to be more focused on a particular interest, project or task than on the people around them.
Because the person with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome does not have the same relational needs as the non-Asperger partner, he or she is mostly unable to recognize instinctively or to meet the emotional needs of his or her partner. Marriages can thus form seriously dysfunctional relationship patterns. The denial, the complex and multi-layered coping mechanisms and defensive strategies make it difficult to live successfully in a relationship with someone who has Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome. Often the afflicted will deny there is a problem, since one of the disorderâ€™s main characteristics is the lack of ability to imagine someone elseâ€™s point of view.
People who do not have Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome enter a marriage with the normal expectation that the priority of a marriage relationship will be about togetherness, mutual terms and meeting of needs, but in reality the relationship ends up being more one of practicality and convenience for the person with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome than for the loving and meeting of emotional needs of the marital partner.
In many cases, the Asperger partner analyzed the partner prior to marriage and assessed them as being capable of filling a compensatory role for his own deficits. The non-Asperger partner then unwittingly fills the role of personal assistant. In the privacy of their relationship, the spouse who does not have Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome will more than likely be physically and emotionally drained, working overtime to keep life on track for both of them. Perhaps the relationship has taken on more of the characteristics of a business partnership or arrangement.
For those who had normal expectations of the mutuality of marriage, there will be a sense of betrayal and a feeling of being used and trapped. Instinctively they know that their partner needs them, but feelings develop that the relationship is about the needs and interests of the person with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome and that there is not even room for their own voice. Many partners feel that they are daily sacrificing their own sense of self to help fulfill the priorities of the partner who has Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome. They begin to feel that they are entirely defined by the role they fill for their Asperger partner. Thereâ€™s a sense that there is no mutuality, no equality, no justice.
People married to someone with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome continue to hope for the mutual meeting of emotional needs within the marriage and resent the reality of living on terms dictated by the needs and priorities of the partner with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome. In effect, their flexibility is exploited by the inflexibility of the person with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome. This prompts an extremely manipulative behavior pattern, with the neurologically typical spouse going overboard to prevent stress. Living with someone who sees only his or her own viewpoint cannot help but damage a spouseâ€™s self-esteem.
The neurotypical spouse must thoroughly evaluate all the issues before deciding if there is enough of value to make continuing the relationship worthwhile. Those who stay in a relationship with an Aspergerâ€™s-afflicted mate should do everything possible to be independent socially and financially. In most cases, the afflicted spouse will not be able to make substantial changes, so the neurotypical spouse must be able to accept that. Knowing what to expect will make the marriage more predictable and manageable, if not easier.
Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women.