15 tips for NT spouses

This article is based on reported firsthand experiences from thousands of neurotypical spouses in Europe, North America, Australia. A reference is also autism-help.org

A long-term relationship with an adult, who has Asperger’s Syndrome or high functioning autism, can be extremely stressful for the neurologically normal (neurotypical, NT) partner. Health injuries, similar to those seen by traumatic stress disorder, are common in the neurotypical partner. Here are 15 tips for you, who are an NT-spouse of a person with autism spectrum disorder (ASD):

  1. Liability

Most neurotypicals married to an adult with Asperger Syndrome /ASD feel great responsibility for their AS-partner. It is important that it is clear you have a choice. No one forces you to take responsibility for your AS-partner’s social behavior, tantrums or lack of oversight. Your spouse´s developmental disorder is not your fault. You are not responsible for your partner. You are however, responsible for yourself and your children. Nevertheless, if you assume a responsibility for your AS-partner, then make a careful decision as to what, how much and when. It is you, who must set the distinct boundaries. Never expect your AS-partner to do it. A relationship between an NT spouse and an AS partner will always have the essence of an adult-child relationship.

 

  1. Take care of yourself

Spouses of those with Aspergers often use so much time taking care of others, that their own needs are ignored – both by themselves and others. Decide what you need for yourself and how you can achieve it. For example: Where can you find support, validation and understanding? Who can you talk to? It is vital that you are often together with emotionally normal (NT) acting friends who can provide that emotional and intellectual feedback, you can´t get from your AS-partner. Tell people close to you about your spouse’s autism disorder. It is OK to tell the truth, and it is in the interest of all parties, including yourself. Would you not tell the truth, if your partner had been blind instead of having AS/ASD?

 

  1. Be clear in your statements

Leave no ambiguity in your statements to your AS-spouse. Do not expect that your wishes, feelings and arguments are understood, taken seriously or remembered the next day. Drop any hope of reaching a common understanding from conversation and discussion. Common understanding requires that both parties can listen interpretively to others and put themselves in the other’s place. This ability is limited when it comes to people with AS/ASD.

 

  1. Realize: It does not get better

It is helpful to realize that your AS- spouse’s developmental disorder never gets better. But the realization is also painful. Certain types of behavior may be modified so that cohabitation is less stressful for both of you. For instance, it can sometimes help by writing down agreed times and duties.

When you recognize the incurable condition of AS/ASD, you can experience great sadness and despair in addition to disappointment, anger and loss. It may be helpful to talk to a skilled therapist who supports you in understanding your feelings and choices. But be careful with the choice of therapist. If the therapist is not a specialist in NT-AS relationships and in Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (OTRS), the therapist can make things worse. Several NT-spouses recount sadly that their therapist advised them to take even more responsibility for the AS-partner’s behavior and comprehension. That advice leads with certainty to even greater health damage to you as the NT-spouse.

 

  1. You are not alone

You are not alone, even though it feels that way. There are a lot of other normally functioning (NT) spouses in the same situation as you. Embrace all the support you can get from support groups and others in the same situation. Tell your doctor, lawyer, priest and other relevant people about your spouse’s developmental disorder. Give them a print of the table “Impacts and Deficits in NT-ASD relationships”. Give them also a print of the article “OTRS, the burden on spouses and partners” (see Documentation on this site). These articles summarize significant facts. You cannot assume that professionals have insight into what it means to be a partner of a person with Asperger/ASD, although there will be some who do.

 

  1. What about therapy for couples?

Forget all about therapy for couples, if your spouse has AS/ASD. Couples therapy does not work when one spouse has AS/ASD. Asperger´s syndrome is a severe developmental disorder without the ability of insight into their own and others’ thoughts and feelings. Insight-based therapy, as used in normal couple therapy, is therefore useless when one spouse has AS/ASD. Your AS-spouse might immediately think that spouse therapy sounds like a good idea. Then he/she has shown “good will” and so can afterwards be left alone! But you will be left with even greater despair and frustration, when the nice words that were said and promised at the psychologist, are gone with the wind next day: along with the money for counseling.

If you need psychological counseling, find your own therapist.

If your AS/ASD partner is able to recognize his/her disability, he/she may benefit from consulting a specialist with knowledge of Asperger Syndrome. But it must be another professional other than your own therapist. The spouse who has AS/ASD can at best learn some practical ways to handle social situations. But do not expect that your AS-spouse will initiate a consultation. You will have to insist on this point. Otherwise, nothing happens.

 

  1. Write down

Your AS-spouse has difficulty capturing and understanding your need for emotional response and mutual communication. He/she can exhibit irritation and tantrums when you show emotions, including anger, no matter how justified it is. Instead, you can benefit from communicating your needs in writing. You cannot expect your AS-spouse to keep a promise or agreement, if his/her impulse the next day is going in a different direction. Agreements between you that are essential for you can usefully be written down.

 

  1. Have your own economy

Adults with AS/ASD may act irresponsibly in money matters to the detriment of the whole family. Some people with AS/ASD can spend the whole household finances on their particular and obsessive interests. Some may be treated for gambling addiction (ludomania). Money problems are well known in families where one adult has AS/ASD. It is linked to Asperger´s reduced ability for impulse control, extreme preoccupation with their own needs, limited oversight and weak executive function.

Be sure to have your own finances. Make sure that your AS- spouse is forced to contribute financially to the family’s common costs. Tell the truth to the bank. Some NT-spouses report that they have to have a security system in the household to prevent their Asperger-spouse from consuming resources that should go to the children, rent, heat, food and other fundamental costs.

 

  1. Avoid discussions

NT-spouses worldwide report, that they are being frustrated in conversational attempts with their AS-spouse. An Asperger’s person might be an encyclopedia when asked ​​factual questions of “who” or “what”. However, mutual problem-solving talks and discussions include the analytical word “why” or “how”. Here, the Asperger can’t interpret the point. Therefore, the conversation derails and leads nowhere, no matter how carefully you explain. A person with AS/ASD is limited in the ability to understand causal relationships, finds it difficult to learn from experience and can not interpret your motives and intentions.  He/she can not understand the nonverbal part of communication and therefore misinterprets.

Remember: That is not your fault. It is caused by the Asperger´s developmental disorder.

Drop the hope of achieving a ping-pong conversation with your AS-spouse. Drop the hope of reaching reciprocity and a common understanding. Instead, communicate your conclusions about what is important to you. Do not involve yourself in discussions, if you want to protect yourself against being misinterpreted.

 

  1. Talk to others who understand

Asperger’s syndrome is a complex developmental disorder in which the normal (NT) spouse’s situation is difficult to grasp for others. Persons with AS/ASD are good at masking their disability by role playing and copying other’s behavior. It is one of the most humiliating responses for NT-spouses, when they are not taken seriously by others. In some countries there are support groups where AS-partners support and validate each other. The value of being in contact with someone who understands cannot be overstated. Also, allow yourself to use humor! Seen through NT-eyes there is a good basis for humor in confident contact with other NT-partners, who are also familiar with the bizarre reality of a close relationship with an Asperger.

 

  1. Children and daily routines

Review the daily routines at home and consider how it might work best. It may, for example, relate to meal times and responsibility for certain practical things being done – and exactly at what time! Be consistent. If your AS-partner fails to comply with a time agreement, do not save him/her or cover for him/her. If there are children in the family, it must be clear that you – as the neuro-typically developed parent – has primary responsibility. You may have to bear all the responsibility alone for the sake of the children. Be extremely aware of the limited responsibilities, your AS-spouse can deal with alone.  Read more in the article “Children of a parent with Asperger’s syndrome “.

 

  1. Be wary of false guilt

NT spouses typically suffer from feeling guilty. Your partner´s developmental disorder implies that their lack of insight and immaturity means he/she will often blame you for their own problems and mistakes. You may also experience being unfairly blamed for negative intentions, you never had. If you have lived with an Asperger partner for many years, you can mistakenly come to believe that it must be “your fault”, if your partner gets tantrums or seethes with irritability. You may come to believe, that you should have been even more quiet/considerate/self-effacing! Or that you could have taken even more duties and responsibilities on behalf of your spouse upon yourself.

Drop feeling guilty. Your AS-spouse’s thoughts, tantrums, irritability, silence etc. is not your fault. You cannot make any difference. Get any idea of ​​guilt out of your mind. Protect your own perception of reality. Remember, that people with AS/ASD are not flawless supernatural beings. Persons with AS/ASD have good and less good character traits – just like everyone else. They can also lie and manipulate. “Passive aggression” is a way of manipulation that many Asperger´s people in particular master. When a person with AS/ASD has a tantrum (as opposed to “meltdown “), he/she also manipulates. During a tantrum the person with AS is able to regain control of himself – if he/she wants.

Share experiences with other NT spouses. It can help you to maintain a healthy perception of reality and navigate free of unwarranted guilt.

 

  1. Get knowledge

Read and get knowledge of Asperger’s syndrome. There is plenty of information available in the literature. However, almost all available information on Asperger´s Syndrome focuses on the person having the disorder, especially children and young people. There is extremely sparse academic and medical focus on NT-spouses and NT-children of adults with AS/ASD.

The greatest expertise in the affect of Asperger´s Syndrome in an adult relationships, is naturally found in the NT-spouses. This expertise and insight deserves to be recognized, validated and taken seriously.

 

  1. Take care of yourself

This advice is so important that it is mentioned twice. Trust your intuition and your own perception of reality. It will come under pressure in a co-habitation with a person having AS/ASD, who experiences the world quite differently than others.  Be true to your own reality. Do not be ruled by fear. Hold zero tolerance for physical violence and psychological violence.

 

  1. To end the relationship

All these tips can appear exhausting. And they are. There is no way to escape excessive burdens if you are the NT-spouse/partner of an adult with AS/ASD.

To end the relationship is always a possibility.

05.11.2013

© Copyright www.aspergerpartner.com

Also read:

The burden of NT spouses and children

Couple therapy doesn’t work when one partner has autism disorder

Help for NT spouses whose partner has Asperger’s / high functioning autism

The Impossible Conversation with an Adult with Asperger’s / High functioning Autism

 

 

 

 

 

17 comments for “15 tips for NT spouses

  1. Anonymous
    30. april 2016 at 18:09

    Thank you. Thank you so very much for this.

  2. Anonymous NT
    12. juni 2016 at 23:56

    Thank you. The burden after 30 years is too great. I am giving up. ‘The impossible conversation’ was especially true. I hope other partners realise what is wrong sooner than I did.

  3. Hunter
    25. november 2016 at 14:00

    This article helped me to get out of a new relationship that was becoming increasingly stressful, due to the highly intelligent partner’s “adolescent” unwillingness to respect boundaries (and my difficulty in setting boundaries). I realize now that my ex-husband probably had Aspergers. It was a terrible marriage that ended 40 years ago; I never remarried.

  4. Ruby2
    17. december 2016 at 12:19

    I’m so grateful for this article, it has been my awakening and I wept with the realisation of what has happened to me. I was married at age 17, it will be the 50 years anniversary next month and it’s taken me this long to finally realise why my husband treats me the way he does – the passive aggressive behaviour has nearly destroyed me.
    I feel like a prisoner who has finally got a release date after years and years of deep sadness and despair. I don’t have to be responsible for this person who has sucked the life and joy out of me and have realised that the emotional coldness and long, long days of silence are not my fault. Thankyou.

    • Liz
      12. februar 2017 at 07:37

      I have been in a 40 yr marriage like this since I was 19. So so sad for us. Too late to live those years differently and too intrenched to want to leave. So so sad.

  5. Shauna
    1. januar 2017 at 05:12

    I am a family physician and it has taken me 12 years to diagnose my partner. At first I thought it was early dementia. When I first tried to communicate my concerns to our now none existent mutual friends my concerns were treated as an exaggeration and a joke. I believe the important point in this article it that the partner must look after themselves. Like other partners with ASD I have thought that the problems were mine and like others have at times taken solace in alcohol. It is exhausting to be in a relationship where you sometimes feel that you have both the problems of living with someone and the problems of living alone. So to anyone reading this – look after yourself. If you are reading this then you have found an informative and helpful site. Don’t expect many people to understand, either health professionals, friends or family. Some helpful hints – other than drinking – give them their own room or space that they can clutter and either trawl the internet for hours and hours and hours. So that they’re not just in the same room as you hour after hour after hour. Take a leave of absence. Luckily I don’t have children but I do worry about leaving the animals in my partner’s care. Find something or people who engage with you so that you feel good about yourself. And seriously if that three cord rift that my partner has been playing for the last five hours over and over again continues who knows maybe I’ll watch a movie.

  6. Ursula
    12. januar 2017 at 18:38

    This article was indeed very helpful.
    I was aware of Asperger, having seen it first in neighborhood teenage children and then in more and more friends and colleagues. All of them are brilliant, have plenty to say and do well in their (quite specialized) professions.
    Last July, four years after the death of my NT(?) husband of 40 years, I fell in love with a friend and neighbor who has Asperger.
    Brainy was always very sexy for me. In addition, it turns out, he is a fellow mind reader and a soul mate of mine. A combination I am unable, as well as unwilling, to resist.
    So, ever since then we have made mad love between the stars. Favored by the fact that we started for our air show from separate continents, therefore could not touch in reality.
    But for a good part of the year we reside in the same town. When I returned there, I naturally tried to introduce the physical aspect of love to the air circus number.
    Well, no such luck! At first I thought that my seduction skills were somewhat rusty after all these years.
    In addition, many fellows over 50 start to mumble about little blue pills and are generally freaked out about relationships, not only the physical part.
    So I gave it plenty of time and space until I realized that the air show was perfectly satisfactory for “my” AS person.
    Not so for me.
    After lots of heavy hinting, he did take in that something is amiss and actually asked about it.
    We have a work date at my place in a couple of days. I was planning to make things clear then.
    Thanks to your article, I shall be talking definite Klartext and explain everything very precisely.
    I am not a very patient or selfless person my-self and shall be cutting Mr AS off the air circus number pretty swiftly, should it turn out that he finds the necessary second half for YabYam either superfluous, icky or whatever!
    Anyway, I do not need to live in his place or share his daily routine. Pretty hard to get through the door there anyway, thanks to the endless, well organised, clutter.
    However, he is kind to his animals, in his own way quite helpful towards family members and friends, of both of whom there are many.
    He has worked hard to have good relationships with his neighbors, including me. Therefore, should it be possible to combine body and soul, I shall work on this
    relationship a bit more because:
    First love is always painful. But last love can be a wretched, painful business too.
    The fear of being too late and seeing happiness appear suddenly on the road in front of you and disappear again before you can catch up to it.
    Thanks to the advise in this article, I shall not take the whole thing to serious, nor invest to much time in it. Under no circumstances will I feel guilty. Should it turn out badly, well, better a horrendous end then a horror without end.
    Wish us luck!
    Ursula

  7. Valentine
    30. januar 2017 at 04:21

    Shauna, It’s nice to read your post. Myself and his GF before were portrayed as the crazy ones. It is so true that people don’t believe you, the abuse we go through. I reached out to my guys six siblings, none got on board. They all stated the my letters came across as being erratic. While they were impassioned and no doubt emotional. My plea for help should have still resonated. I had one therapist beg me to leave him. She told me to talk to him like I talk to his 10 year old son. I couldn’t comprehend talking to a grown man like a child. In my mind, he needed to Man-Up. Stop lying, manage his time, organize himself and stop making me his indentured slave. I warn everyone reading this, pray you don’t get financially stuck while with these kinds of guys. Point #8 is so true! I had to take control over the finances to avoid losing the roof over my head. Meanwhile, he complained to his siblings that I had taken control of the finances and painted me as controlling. It is not controlling to be petrified of every car that pulls up in your driveway for fear of losing your home and taking control over something that was not being managed and controlled. It was my first step in liberating myself. I was able to get some clothes, get a meager job and pull myself out of hell! I had to sleep in a shelter when I left, but I had a job and I managed to put everything back together.

  8. Lyn
    11. februar 2017 at 01:40

    This is the most well written, succinct summation and advise I have read on this topic.
    I have been married for 22 years to an AS, and have brought my partner to counseling and therapy countless times over the years, read everything there is to read on the topic, and keeping the marriage and my family on tack has consumed every bit of my time, attention and emotional and physical energy. Progress has been made, but is has been slow and excruciating. And even still, he doesnt truly see, know, understand or appreciate all that I have done/invested. It is true, it feels like a parent/child relationship. And his tantrums, although less frequent, persist. One moment, sweet and engaged, and the next, yelling and ugly. It is like living with Dr. Jekly/Mr Hyde. The passive aggressive behavior has been a hallmark since the beginning. Boundaries and healthy relationships everywhere else in my life have been my sustenance and saving grace, along with seeing from the beginning, his bizarre behavior had nothing to do with me. He is a good, moral, hardworking person, and so it is nothing short of a tragedy that due to AS, our relationship will never reach its full potential.

  9. Marie
    13. februar 2017 at 02:12

    Lyn, you mirror my life. Counselling never helped, I was the one who was the baddie, Reasoning does not work, empathy is non existent, tantrams were like having a difficult 2 year old toddler, meltdowns worse, friends outside see the angel and I get the devil, the two rarely overlap. Others do not believe, they try to understand, but they see him as different and I come off as being the one with the problems. Forgot to smile, how l many years since I smiled at him, not allowed to laugh, not believed, everything contradicted, rarely speak, but he speaks non stop with others, isolated, don’t often entertain anymore, his lack of manners and social graces, but he is a good man, honest, hardworking, loves our animals. No empathy for me, never asks me what is wrong, why I am vomiting, feeling nauseous, -bad hernia problem – but he does not/cannot feel empathy. In pain, crying with it, sitting next to me, he never looks or comments. Angry, lack of patience, solitude are my life, 32 years of marriage, only six since I learned of aspergers and what a relief that was, as I ticked off the boxes, I found it wasn’t me, it was a medical condition, not mental, but medical, and no cure. Leans on me, but hates it, I tend to now talk to him as if he was a child. No fun, no love, people think I am so hard, but have to survive. But he was given to me for a husband and after death, I believe in life after death, this medical problem will be removed and I will see him as he should have been. That gives me hope. But it is good to hear of others who live with this monster in the marriage.

  10. Anonym
    7. marts 2017 at 16:25

    I’ve been married to a man with Aspergers for 20 years and never knew. My life was so isolated and he wrecked our personal finances. Took on very little to raise our daughter. On top that, there was compulsive lying on every level. Lack of social, financial, and professional boundaries – it was crazy! My family couldn’t relate to my anger and frustration, medical professionals had a difficult time understanding why a spouse of 20 years would do and act in such destructive ways. Two doctors of mine even prescribed anti anxiety / anti depressant medications just two years ago. My spouse’s comment in front of our young daughter when he learned, “Your mother is a drug addict. Let’s see if we can send her to rehab.” I am free now after a USD 20K divorce that had to go through the US family court system. He shares legal custody yet always has an excuse why he can’t see or or spend time with her. The list goes on and on. I am finally free and am making new friends and engaged in my community. Now I have a logical explanation for all of the disruption and negativity in my life.

  11. anon
    13. marts 2017 at 01:28

    Thank you. After four, very difficult years with my AS girlfriend, trying to find info about the NT side of things has been a challenge. I appreciate hearing these realizations in a direct manner. While they make me sad I can begin to process next steps.

  12. Anonymous
    14. marts 2017 at 20:19

    Thank you, I feel so lonely in my marriage and would feel disloyal talking to friends about my husband. I love my husband but I am also very resentful of his continous lack of empathy and interest in me. He wants me around all the time, but just in order to not be alone. He doesn’t really interact with me, other than talking about his favorite topic (monologues as I am not interested in this very specific topic, especially not on a daily basis, year in year out) or asking me to make coffee or about what I have planned for dinner. I’m lonely and would love to sepnd time with friends and family, but then he is upset when I am not around and he has no interest in hanging out with friends or family.
    I do feel bad for him, and I get it that he was born like this, and I truly love him. But there are times I would just like to walk out, and meet someone I can actually have an adult discussion with. To meet someone who will hold me in his arms longer than a few moments, and not squish that hard that it hurts and then just let go abruptly. Just a normal embrace, a normal, relaxed talk over dinner, a man who treats me like a woman and who doesn’t throw tantrums when things don’t work out as he wants them to. And I miss the validation and care, like this I feel like I just exist to serve a purpose, of keeping him happy and balanced. But of course there are happier days but tonight I am just really tired of it all.

  13. D.
    2. maj 2017 at 01:58

    excellent! thank you. really appreciate it, I have been in a relationship for almost 7 yrs. a couple people told me my boyfriend maybe has AT. What everyone has written was dead on. I can choose now to stay or not. Its been difficult with most of the symptoms covered. It is very sad. I want to live my

    • Annalize
      4. maj 2017 at 12:41

      I am in a NT/AS relationship 5 years now and pregnant, It is really hard… This article truelly helped me alot. Thank you

  14. Gall
    19. maj 2017 at 02:16

    I am in a NT/AS relationship, and I am exhausted. I also have a son (who I love and is amazing) with Autism. Everything is on point. I have tried to make my marriage work, but it is getting harder. He sees things focused on his needs. I am exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally. I am very seriously considering divorce and that makes me sad.

  15. Kikki
    6. juni 2017 at 21:32

    Det eneste som nytter er å snakke med noen i samme situasjon.

    Jeg ønsker å det kunne etableres en grupp som møtes 5-4 ganger i år og ellers kan holde kontakt på telefon for de som ønsker det. hva synes du/dere om det

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