The burden on NT spouses and children, OTRS

Neurotypical spouses and children of adults with Asperger syndrome (AS) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) risk being affected by Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (OTRS).

What is OTRS?

OTRS is a trauma-based syndrome, which can affect people over a long period when they are subjected to repeated psychological traumatic impacts within a close relationship.

OTRS is a normal response in neurotypical (NT) people as a result of prolonged traumatic stress in an intimate relationship. Symptoms are similar to those seen in people who continuously, for a long time, are exposed to emotional and psychological torture, both mental and physical. The impact is more serious because the traumatic stress, OTRS, is suffered at home in an intimate relationship, and because the surrounding persons typically deny the reality of what is taking place.

The damage to the NT spouse and children occurs insidiously and can continue for decades.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of OTRS are stress-related health problems. They occur over a prolonged period as a result of violations and disregard of the spouse / partner who has Asperger’s syndrome / ASD. Symptoms may be physical illnesses, stress-related health problems, depression, fear, loss of self-esteem, doubt of own reality, loneliness, fatigue, involuntary social isolation, etc. Some of the symptoms are the same as those affecting spouses of sociopaths.

What is the cause of OTRS?

OTRS is due to the psychological trauma, the normal (NT) partner suffers from when living in relationships / family life with a person who has serious limitations in their ability to engage in reciprocal relationships in which they:

  • do not exhibit reciprocity;
  • do not show empathy or compassion,
  • cannot put themselves in the place of others,
  • have difficulty with mutual communication;
  • do not recognize the NT partner’s reality and attitudes,
  • cannot read others’ intentions and emotions
  • find it difficult to learn from experience
  • cannot assess complex situations,
  • cannot nurture a relationship,
  • cannot see his responsibility for own actions,
  • cannot negotiate, seek compromises or resolve conflicts;
  • is extremely busy solely for their own needs,
  • have inadequate capacity for adult impulse control

There is a secondary addition which aggravates OTRS when the surroundings – including professionals such as therapists and doctors – do not know about or do not take the bizarre reality of the NT partner seriously. The NT spouse will typically wait very long to initiate others in what is going on at home, because it is taboo to talk to someone about these things. It feels awkward and is not infrequently also associated with violence within the four walls.

What is Cassandra phenomenon?

If you, as a spouse of someone with Asperger’s syndrome try to tell others about it, you will typically experience no one believing you. “He (she)’s so nice!” Is the usual reaction, the normal partner typically runs into. It is not because the surroundings are superficial or indifferent. It has to do with the fact that Asperger’s are good at copying other people’s behavior so they do not “reveal” themselves, unless they are in unfamiliar situations. This worsens the load on the normal (NT) spouse when you are not believed and do not get support and help.

OTRS has the additional name Cassandra phenomenon. Cassandra was a woman in Greek mythology. She had prophetic abilities, who always spoke the truth and had the gift of foresight. But the god, Apollo, acting in anger when she spurned his advances put a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her.

From the frying pan into the fire

Asperger syndrome is a diagnosis that has first been recognized – and known – in the last 20 years. From the professional side the focus is on the person who has AD / ASD. This usually describes children and young people who are helped to compensate for the problems their developmental disorder causes.

There is limited professional focus on the situation of normal (NT) partners of adults with Asperger’s syndrome. Not many professionals have the training and the knowledge that is needed for providing proper support for NT / AS relationship. Some NT partners for adults Asperger’s tells us that therapists have advised them to adapt Asperger’s bizarre behavior and eccentricity even more.

This is directly harmful. The neuro-typical spouse often walk on egg shells in stress and fear of the Asperger’s eruptions and reactions. The Asperger’s lack of impulse control can get the whole family to live in constant fear. The family can be isolated because they are afraid of guests that disrupt the Asperger’s routines and egocentricity. The whole atmosphere in the home can be fraught with anxiety. There is no room for pleasure and spontaneity. This is part of the Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome.

Need for information and advice

Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome, OTRS was first described by Karen Rodman, the founder and director of FAAAS Inc, established in 1997. FAAAS stands for Families of Adults Affected by Asperger’s Syndrome and is a non-profit organization with contact to people in many countries. FAAAS supports and advises families of adults with ASD and works for education and knowledge of AS of the influence on NT spouses and family members. See

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Also read

Mental and Emotional Abuse of Children 

Intimacy and Romance in NT-AS relations

Help for NT spouses whose partner has Asperger’ Autism


6 comments for “The burden on NT spouses and children, OTRS

  1. Miss
    23. december 2016 at 18:06

    My husband of 16 years of marriage was recently diagnosed with AS. At first I felt relieved that I wasn’t going crazy noticing a lot of things we couldn’t connect on or feeling like a mom more than a wife. In our 20’s I dismissed it as males not maturing sometimes till later and thought he was a late bloomer. I am also 3 years older. I noticed he forgets important stuff like birth dates, appts and wasn’t engaged with our kids as much as I was.

    A couple of times I left to run errands and he forgot to feed them but feed himself. I know he can’t make doctor appts or remember to take them for checkups. We have 4 kids, 2 are from my previous marriage. Now one of them is an adult and moved out. This has caused strain on me because I feel like I was the mom
    of 5 but never understood why.
    My family has always thought he wasn’t friendly. He doesn’t talk to people and has very few friends (no close ones)and told me he struggles socially but said it was because he grew up in a small town and never had to meet new people.

    He had weird habits but him being an artists I wrote it off as him being eccentric. A lot of artists are which leads me to think some are struggling with other issues as well.

    Every time I would question it to myself I would remind myself that he graduated, got an associates and is an exceptional artist. He had a hard time keeping jobs and would get laid off once he had been somewhere around 2 yrs. I noticed it was a pattern. He was totally oblivious to it even though his coworkers never did.
    Art was always his strong point so he learned tattooing. He makes a really decent salary because his Art has always been amazing. It is the one thing he obsesses about.

    I’m so glad to find support and encouragement.

  2. A
    8. juni 2017 at 18:30

    This was the first website that gave me answers. Thank you so much!

  3. Feeling like Judas
    12. august 2018 at 15:55

    Thank you so much for this discussion.

    I ultimately went to a doctor myself to discuss what I suspected was Asbergers/Autism on the part of my husband. It was primarily when I became certain that several nieces and a nephew had it that I felt comfortable discussing it. I live in HIS country, not my own, so was already at a “trust” disadvantage. But the doctor was understanding and responsive. He confirmed what I suspected but said there was little use in having my husband tested as there was no treatment for someone in their 50s and it would be me who would have to adapt.

    It is so true that this is not something we spouses discuss openly. And even more true that we are treated, even by people in the field of social work or psychology, as though the experiences we describe are “overblown” or “dramatized” and therefore not true or worthy of consideration. In this way, I have actually lost some of my own family members because they didn’t believe me.

    But there, and here and now, arises the difficult question of whether it is healthy for someone in this position to CONTINUE in this situation when it is bad for our health and for our financial security as we age.
    Who cares about us in “the system”?

    • Emily
      18. august 2018 at 18:38

      I too am trying to work out whether I should stay (and expect my children to stay) with someone who expects everyone to flex to their inflexibility because they are incapable of changing and, more importantly, totally uninterested in changing.

  4. Anonym
    8. december 2018 at 22:49

    Such an interesting discussion. Thank you for acknowledging the reality of NT spouses. Sure does answer a lot of questions for me. First time I have come across something in support of me, the NT spouse. I have learned to subdue my desires but I feel sad knowing that my kids are missing out on a lot of attention from their dad due to his hyper focus on work. I constantly live with a sense of uncertainty whether I can live like this for the rest of my life and think of how much of my time is wasted consumed in these thoughts. I love my husband but I think his condition is worsening with age and he has never been diagnosed and likely never want that. Its becoming harder on me. I feel very stuck. Not sure how to improve the way I feel about all this.

  5. Anonym
    15. oktober 2020 at 18:23

    I am so thankful to have ran across this information. I can not express my initial relief. I have been loosing my mind trying to explain and understand all that I have been going thru. Finally a community that can relate! This is exactly what I have been living for 25 years. I hoping to learn how to navigate around his behavior now that I know I am not loosing it! That his behaviors truly are his… he has been an expert at twisting it all to make me feel bad and guilty for every emotion desire or need I have. I have not been allowed to feel or have an opinion. He makes me feel like I am being rude to him if I don’t agree with everything he wants. He knows how to manipulate the system for sure. He has lost jobs etc. but in the casual conversation no one suspects and therefore I have been so isolated. It’s so difficult to explain what I have gone thru even to myself. To see this written yes, yes, that’s it! This is everything I can’t put into words or explain. It’s a relief yet, I feel the same way I don’t want to loose myself. I compassionate caring loving passionate person. I love life and just wanted to so badly to share it with him. I have tried for 25 years running into this cement wall! I just wanted to love him and have a best friend. I couldn’t understand what am I doing wrong, why does this always turn into a fight. When my intentions were so pure. Of course I would get angry I see now why that never worked and never will. For several years I have worked on never speaking to him. I did come to a conclusion that he doesn’t care about my feelings or needs and sharing them to him only made me more mad when he didn’t respond. I feel more in control. I started thinking there is something wrong with you or you are an A hole! I just can’t decide. I ask myself am I going to put up with this? A diagnosis puts on a new light for me to ponder. I am feeling so much relief I told myself I wasn’t going to leave him for the kids sake. They are older now…can I really live this way until death?

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