WHEN YOUR NEUROTYPICAL WIFE SAYS SHE IS LEAVING YOU… FOR REAL THIS TIME.
As I struggle to get my posts up over the next few months (wrapping up this time-consuming job and moving on to one that affords me time to write); I wanted to share a comment from a reader that is all-too familiar to me. I receive a lot of personal emails from men (and women) with Asperger’s syndrome who are faced with the reality that they are going to lose the love of their life… their NT-e wife. Each time I get emails, I read them and place them in a specific grouping so I can ensure my future posts are centered around the important questions we all want answers to. Although I do not currently have the time to write each person back, please know that you are being heard and I will not forget your important story or question as I move forward.
This man’s unfortunate (and heartbreaking) situation is one that I have heard often, and since he allowed for others to read his struggle when he commented under the post: ASPIE HUSBAND: WHY AM I SO ANGRY? I have opted to share his message and address it today, in lieu of having to wait for me to get the time to address his pain down the road. While this is directed toward the man who posted his story, I am responding to all of the men currently standing in his shoes as well. I hope this helps a little…
Aspie hubby wrote:
I read this link sent to me by my wife as she tells me our 27-year marriage is over because she can’t cope anymore and reading this I thought she wrote it, it’s pretty much spot on. But I didn’t realise what I have been doing to her over the years. We have 3 wonderful children had various business’s together and work well, all seems to have taken its toll on our relationship now tho. I feel really bad, I have never had my heart broken before and it’s changed me inside. When you were pre kids you could watch a film and not cry and post kids you can’t help yourself, well the same thing is now happening to me all over again. Starting to grieve the loss of my father who has been gone 16 years at the time. I was sad but never shed a proper tear, now my heart is broken, I can’t stop crying; not just about the relationship but kids cry and it starts me off. This never used to happen, I’d just say man up and get on with it. I still can’t believe this is happening to us after all these years. Financially we are nearly sorted, no mortgage or credit cards, just owe the family a few quid, but we should be enjoying ourselves not splitting up ……….. I think I can now see the error in my ways but I’m not sure it’s repairable anymore. –Sad and lonely aspie hubby.
(I made a few punctuation changes to help the readers understand the gravity of your personal struggle, I know you were writing from the heart so I hope it is ok that I did this…)
DEAR ASPIE HUBBY:
Thank you for writing, it means a lot to me for many reasons, but most of all because I know you are not alone. Your willingness to open-up about something so personal and painful (and with such honesty) is an often-overlooked example of how much those with Aspergers feel and experience the same level of emotional turmoil as those deemed neurotypical. As you pointed out, you have possessed the ability to “man up” and suppress many of your emotions for much of your life. While you likely thought you were doing the best thing (perhaps for yourself and your family); those emotions always find their way out at some point. While you (and so many other men in general, including my husband) think it is the proper thing to do (to not show great emotion), most NT-e spouses begin to think that their husband is devoid of the very thing they want to see him openly express. Neurotypicals, especially those with extreme amounts of empathy, communicate with emotions and learn that the absence of them is to be viewed as an absence of care and/or concern for others.
I believe your comment is going to help many other men and women (Aspie & NT alike) who are struggling to make sense of the painful situation they currently find themselves in.
When I decided to write this blog, I opted to post on anger before any other topic because my sole intention was to reach out to the women (like myself) who felt ready to pull the plug on their marriage and walk away permanently. It seemed imperative that I be brutally honest about how hopeless I felt if I was going to get a single woman to believe that things could get better and that they have reason to hang on to that hope a little longer. When it got closer to the inevitable end I saw on the horizon, I found myself searching things about Aspergers and anger more than any other topic.
Anger seems to be the emotion that ignites the drive to act, since sadness and confusion often leave us feeling depleted of energy altogether. As many men with Asperger’s syndrome come to realize as adults… anger is just easier to use as a mask for all the other emotions that are just too damn painful to confront. It does not surprise me that this specific post IS the one that receives the most views; what breaks my heart is that all the others fall short of this number by 25-50%. This tells me that not enough people get to the posts that begin to help make sense of the overwhelming anger, sadness, grief, and hopelessness we are all experiencing. For this reason, I have placed a link to the post I find most beneficial beneath the post on anger; I hope that helps more people continue reading the optimistic and positive side of the angry world they are currently finding themselves in. Thank you for bringing this to my attention; I hope that you and your wife managed to find your way beyond this specific post.
I truly believe in the depths of my soul that once anger has solidified itself into the mind of an NT-e spouse, the only thing keeping the door from coming unhinged is her incredibly profound sense of hope. It is this hope that keeps us clinging to a life that causes emotional agony when everything in our marriage (and that society tells us) suggests that our husband cannot possibly love us.
Hope is always the very last thing to go for an NT-e spouse. I think the simple fact that your wife sent you this link suggests that she still has hope in her heart. She may not consciously even realize this is the reason she sent it (and I could certainly be wrong), but to me, no woman who has lost all hope would ever waste the effort of sending this link to a husband they have lost hope for.
For so many years I tried to get my husband John to read things, to listen to me, or to just acknowledge anything I was saying about the emotional state of mind I was in. He had an automatic shield up toward the information I tried to force on him; information that I believed could benefit our relationship. John never once appeased me in my efforts. He did not read anything I wrote him, or open a single email with links to webpages or articles I thought were beneficial. He did not ever appear to consider the things I suggested worthy of his time, nor did he ever listen long enough to hear the message I was attempting to convey. A message I now realize I was articulating in the wrong manner (but that is another post).
Had I been 100% resolved to walk away from him forever; the last thing I would have done is set myself up for a final blow of disappointment by sending him another email, letter, or text he could ignore. I would not waste another shred of my own dignity to allow for hope that he would suddenly take interest in something he had proven unimportant throughout our relationship… not if my mind was cemented in leaving the marriage. Doing so would only cause me further agony when I had to accept (once again) that he was disinterested in my feelings and our future. It seems to me there must exist a small bit of hope in your wife’s heart if she sent you this link; it suggests that she had some hope remaining that she could still “reach you” one last time… to have you finally acknowledge how she feels.
I could be wrong… but I don’t think I am.
When hope exists… so too does the opportunity to turn things around.
HOW DO YOU TURN THINGS AROUND?
This is an incredibly complex task that begins with two people emotionally separating from one another so they can begin to work on personal changes and their own inner-feelings and desires first. Since no one wants to hear something like that (it’s too fucking scary to even think of and many professional therapists would recommend the opposite), I will tell you what I believe will keep hope alive primarily, so that the other changes have the potential of being realized in time.
To me (and I welcome others to chime in), the #1 thing I wanted from my husband (first) was for him to begin reflecting on the ways I had been hurt and acknowledge them after so many years of feeling disregarded. I didn’t want him to just say he “was sorry” or that he “acknowledges things now.” In fact, every time he told me he was sorry, or that he “got it,” it never held much weight because he would not point out a single example of what it was that he “finally got.” So, I wanted him to point out examples of things he said or did (even if completely unintentional), tell me he could now see my perspective, share that he could now understand how those actions or words could cause me to feel sad, or angry, or alone, or disrespected, etc. Then I wanted him to tell me he was sorry and that he was hell-bent on learning how to prevent me from ever feeling that way in the future. I didn’t need him to list everything he could think of from previous fights, I simply wanted him to give me a few real examples he recalled. To me, this was the only way I could know for certain he was not just saying words to appease me; that he truly could consider another perspective (mine), and that he was finally open to working together to make things better in our future.
EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT… IT IS
You must understand that even though you NEVER intended to cause your wife hurt and never maliciously did anything to make her feel the way she does today… your actions DID cause her incredible pain… and that pain was as real as the pain you are in today. When all her feelings went unacknowledged, the aching she experienced was as though the one person she should trust above all others, the only person she wanted to be that connected to… that person betrayed her. When someone feels that level of abandonment from the person they love the most, there is a cataclysmic storm of emotions that linger and shift back and forth from that moment on… day after day. Even if you could not always see that tornado of emotion in her day to day interactions with you, they were always present just beneath the surface of every smile, happy moment, or close periods of intimacy or shared activity you had together. While you may have thought that she had moved past whatever fight or discussion that had her distressed the previous day, she had not; what she did was bury that tornado beneath a layer of hope that things would be better tomorrow. When tomorrow brought forth the same feelings of betrayal, all her emotions got compounded as though that tornado picked up more debris along it’s destructive path. The only way to stop it from wreaking havoc on the future would have been to acknowledge, discuss, and resolve each event as it occurred.
In a way, you are already giving examples of what your wife has been toiling with for so long. You mentioned how you are beginning to feel the grief you had repressed regarding your own father’s death (I am so sorry for your pain). That overwhelming feeling you are experiencing in acknowledging both the loss of your father and the impending loss of your wife… that is eerily similar to the type of overwhelming grief your wife was experiencing every day.
How is it the same if she was not experiencing a loss at those times?
For all those years…
your wife was grieving the loss OF YOU.
She was grieving the loss of the man she fell so deeply in love with, grieving the loss of the life she had envisioned, and grieving the loss of herself, as she had unintentionally abandoned the woman she once was amid her desperate attempts to reach you and salvage your family.
How is it different from what you are currently experiencing?
The difference is, she did not have the chance to heal from or even compartmentalize the pain she felt (like you learned to from a young age), because you were always right there beside her to remind her of all that was lost… day after day. Every day that she was grieving, you stood beside her and failed to rescue her from her own fear and pain; you unintentionally kept it all fresh and current by ignoring that any of her pain was even real.
TILL DEATH DO US PART
If you were to compare your wife’s turmoil to that of losing a loved one to death, it is incredibly similar. Your wife felt like the man she fell in love with was no longer alive, that he had died and she could not make sense of his death. When it first happened (when you first began to emotionally put up barriers) that loss was profound and it devastated her down to the core in a way she did not ever recover from. Every time she felt a bit of love from you by way of words, actions, or emotional intimacy, it was as though you had risen from the dead and she had what everyone wishes for… another day with the person they loved who had died.
The enormity of that feeling.. that you had returned from a place she thought was permanent, to remind her of everything she thought she had lost; was more intense than she could have put into words. With that complete elation in having the love of her life reappear before her, came the unnerving sense of fear that he would leave and she would have to be alone in her grief once again.
Can you imagine how euphoric a person would feel if they thought their loved one was dead, began to endure the process of grieving their loss, only to have that person reappear out of nowhere? It would alter the person’s perception of reality on a grand scale, wouldn’t it?
When you returned to the same emotionally unavailable man the following day, after reminding her of why she had fallen in love with you initially, it was as though you had disappeared again. She had to suffer the same impact of traumatic loss and sadness again from square one. The problem for your wife was that you continued to abandon her emotionally and then pop in for random emotional visits intermittently throughout your marriage. It truly felt as though you kept repetitiously dying on your wife; only to reappear suddenly for a brief visit, long enough to ensure her pain could never subside.
No human is equipped to withstand the constant shift from grief to hope for a long duration without compromising their own state of mental and physical health.
Your wife was never able to identify what made you shift between showing her the love she desired and abandoning her moments later, so she kept begging you to help her understand what was happening. Since you never identified that your unwillingness to openly communicate about feelings or emotions (at all) was causing your wife to grieve your loss all those years, you failed to see what you were actually putting her through.
The more your wife begged of you to listen to her, talk to her, identify why you were so guarded, or just show her the side of yourself that she had fallen in love with… the more you closed the door in her face. It was like you rose from the dead but the moment she tried to tell you she was afraid you would die again, you did.
I understand that the analogy of your willingness to communicate and show affection toward your wife and the death of a loved one (who suddenly returned for short visits) may seem dramatic and a little ridiculous to you. When emotions are involved (particularly those that come from losing a loved one), the grief process is the same even if the person has not died. Your wife loved you so deeply when she committed to you and you allowed her to see who you were on the inside. That was the man she intended to spend the rest of her life with. When you put up defensive barriers that effectively withheld your emotional self, she was left feeling like you disappeared and she grieved like hell over you. Every time she thought she was ready to accept her loss and move beyond her grief, she would get glimpses of that man she first met and she would have hope in her heart. This cycle viciously repeated itself throughout the duration of your relationship and that emotional exhaustion is the reason your wife is now telling you that she has had enough.
She tried to explain this to you for many years (no doubt), but her words never articulated what she was experiencing because they seemed as dramatic as the analogy I have given (because they were to her). When she reached out to you and you dismissed her pain, you inadvertently caused it to continue and manifest into more discomfort as each day passed.
THIS IS HER REALITY
Because your wife identified with my post enough to send it to you, I have little doubt that she felt entirely abandoned in the way I am describing. Over time, that sadness and confusion transforms into resentment and anger and the tornado of despair grows stronger and more destructive to her sense of security and self. Mixed into all the negative emotions she was dealing with (and trying to repress), there existed those good days, positive memories, and a continued feeling of love for you… which gave her hope. Hope you would suddenly wake up and see what she was going through; she had hope that if she just weathered the storm a might bit longer, your family and marriage would awaken to a rainbow and blue skies one day.
That is a very toxic mix of rapidly shifting emotions to endure day after day, year after year. It is particularly hard to handle them when the only thing she had to cling to was that there existed one person who could not only shield her and the family from the storm, but lead them all into a place with calm clear skies. But you never did. Eventually she began to resent you for not saving her, and eventually she decided she had to get herself out of the storm’s path if she wanted to come out alive.
I DON’T BLAME YOU
My husband always told me that he would be more than happy to comfort me when I was upset, but if I was blaming HIM for causing my distress (when he knew he did nothing intentional to cause it), he refused to pretend he cared about my feelings. He said that while he loved me, he found it very easy to detach from me emotionally the moment I chose to blame my negative feelings directly on him. All the years I was begging for him to save me, to save us, he believed I was creating my own misery and he felt zero accountability for it. While neither John nor myself were ever really to blame for my misery (a diagnosis that was poorly understood was), he put up walls between my expressions of frustration, sadness, and anger. If he got the slightest hint I was going to direct any of my tears toward him, those walls went up immediately and he left me to suffer alone. He left me to suffer alone, never realizing he was the only one who could rescue me from it.
There was no way around the inevitable demise of our marriage without the willingness on both of our behalves to acknowledge that, sometimes we hurt one another unintentionally because we are not perceiving the same reality as it is unfolding. So long as both parties blamed the other for the disconnect, there could be no bridging the communication gaps and misunderstandings that caused our mutual misery.
I understand that the incredible pain your wife has endured may still seem unwarranted or unfair for you to have to go back and take any responsibility for. I understand that you love her and that you never set out to cause her even a small amount of discomfort and that it might even seem like your absence of intention should be enough for her to move forward without residual resentment. I understand that you never even knew she was suffering so profoundly each day and that it hardly even seems real to you. Believe me, every bit of her anguish was real to her… and that is truly all that should matter to you now.
I don’t blame you if you tuned out or erected walls to keep her emotions distant from you the same way my husband did. I can appreciate that when we (NT-e wives) claim that our Aspie husbands are hurting us, or that they do not love us, when they KNOW THEY DO… it is easy to dismiss such “nonsense” and not give any attention to a claim that you know is not true. When your wife goes from telling you she is unhappy or miserable while crying or yelling out, and then awakens the following day with a smile and acts as though the pain of yesterday is forgotten… it is completely rationale that you began to consider most of her internal discomfort to be imagined or self-induced. Despite the times you thought she appeared perfectly content and perhaps even happy, she was not either of those things beyond the surface of what you saw. She was balancing a million emotions that were breaking her heart and trying to cling to anything positive that could keep her hope alive.
UNFORTUNATE WAY TO EXPERIENCE EMOTIONAL EMPATHY
Think about how much you are hurting today or how sad and deflated you felt inside when you posted your comment above. Now, try for a moment to imagine what it would be like if you experienced THAT level of emotional discomfort coming at you in waves every single day (for decades). What do you think that would do to you as a person? How long do you think YOU could withstand that degree of pain?
Now, imagine all the moments you felt such incredible emotional discomfort… your wife held the power to not only take that pain away from you, but she had the power to also prevent any more of it from piling on top of you. Imagine knowing that despite having the absolute power to heal you and make your hurting stop… she chose to ignore that you were even in pain. What if she told you that you were creating all of it in your own broken mind, or that you were so annoying with your expressions of discomfort and pleas for help that she put a wall up and walked away from you the moment she thought you might start complaining about it again? Imagine what it would feel like to be crying in emotional agony and know that your wife was in the next room resting comfortably without any regard for the suffering you were enduring. What if instead of ignoring your pain, she chose to become angry and defensive with you the very instant you tried to tell her how you felt?
It might be very difficult for you to have imagined that scenario in the past… but I am willing to bet it probably DOES feel that way to you right now, doesn’t it? You are in pain, you are overwhelmed with emotions that you do not enjoy, and your wife has the power to take them all away and make you feel safe, loved, and like you are not alone. But she isn’t giving you that level of acknowledgement and she won’t even accept that your feelings matter to her now… because she has detached from YOU in an attempt to protect herself from further discomfort.
IT ISN’T FAIR
I hope you have read the other posts I have up about why men with Aspergers put up walls and detach from uncomfortable emotions the way they do. I hope some of them have assisted in identifying how your childhood and young adult years enabled your ability to repress strong emotions (like the loss of your father). When men (and women) with un-diagnosed Aspergers grow up in a world that is socially unjust and they are made to feel as though their thoughts, actions, and words are always going to be perceived as negative by those around them… they put up walls. Some men become very defensive the moment they feel like someone is going to criticize them, some choose to avoid the potential for that attack by avoiding communication that could potentiate emotions altogether… some men (most), do both.
You got a raw deal growing up in a world that did not comprehend that your brain processed nonverbal communication in a remarkably different way than the majority. You are not at fault for the coping mechanisms you created because of this, not even a little. You had no other option than to adopt methods of emotionally protecting yourself from social isolation or pain; it was truly a survival instinct. Your past reluctance to emotionally connect and/or communicate with your wife is not something you knew how to identify or prevent. You did what you instinctively learned was safe and that is not something that warrants self-blame.
The thing is…
Now you know.
Now you know that you built defensive/protective coping mechanisms that kept your wife at a distance from you emotionally, and now you know that it was that emotional distance that caused her such profound internal suffering all of these years.
Now you have the opportunity to change those things. Now you can go back to the memories from your youth and identify why you had to build that wall between yourself and the emotions of those close to you. It takes time to do this, it is NOT going to be easy, and you are going to have to be ready to grieve a hell of a lot more pain in this process (likely buried very deep for you).
You have already begun changing. Your eyes have already begun to open to a new perspective. You can change the confusion you had growing up and all of the self-preserving behaviors that sprung from it the moment you choose to.
If you choose to continue on the same path you were on that led your wife to suffer and your marriage to be in jeopardy; that is up to you as well. In the past, the blame directed at you was without merit. If you choose to continue without making personal changes to better your future, it will be entirely your own fault.
You don’t have to be afraid of taking a new path because you have proof that you weren’t alone on the last one.
It isn’t going to be easy to step forward into the unknown, and for a while, you may have to walk this path alone. You can do this. You can do this because you have proof that you did not actually need those defensive walls for the last 27 years. In fact, those walls were actually preventing you from having the life you so desperately wanted and worked hard to create. You have 27 years of proof that despite all of your fears, you had a woman who loved you so selflessly, she remained by your side in lieu of the pain it caused her. For 27 years you were so valued, wanted, and important to your wife that she sacrificed everything she could, including her own emotional well-being, in a determined attempt to break all of those unnecessary walls down. You were THAT LOVED.
I am sure if you could get a “do-over” you would begin your relationship without the walls you thought you needed to keep her all those years. Hopefully you can (or will soon) realize that not a single one of the coping mechanisms you adopted in your youth contributed to the love and hope your wife had with you. In fact, it was almost certainly the brief moment that you abandoned your fears and took a risk of rejection, opening yourself up to being vulnerable, that your wife fell in love with you. If only you had kept yourself open when fear began to creep into your relationship; you would likely have left those defenses behind long ago and you would be in a marriage full of happiness, emotional reciprocity, and the intimacy you both deserve today. You never needed to bury your feelings with your wife because obviously… she would have just loved you more if you hadn’t. That was all she wanted from you all these years… to be open with her and to allow her to be open with you. But you didn’t know all of this before.
Now you do.
SHE KNOWS YOUR PAIN
I never want to discount the pain that a single Aspie husband has endured. The gravity of what you have been through is beyond words; it was horrific and it was unfair. In a completely unintentional (and sadly ironic) way, your wife has now felt first-hand, everything you endured growing up. Without malice or intent, you accidentally put her through a very similar experience and felt caught off-guard when she wanted to put a wall up to protect herself from you.
You inadvertently taught your wife that her feelings and thoughts were invalid. You inadvertently taught your wife that she would be blamed for any misunderstanding or negative outcome felt with communication. You inadvertently taught your wife that she did not matter, she was wrong, she was crazy, she was seeing reality in a distorted way, and that she could not even trust those she loved the most to understand her. You inadvertently made your wife feel broken and like she was an alien in your world. You inadvertently caused your wife to withdraw from socializing for fear of being judged and you inadvertently made your wife feel like no matter what she did, it would be perceived as wrong. You inadvertently caused your wife to endure the same feelings of alienation, isolation, and rejection that you experienced throughout your life.
You were watching a replay of your own childhood…
Only this time…
Your wife got play you.
God knows you would have never knowingly put your wife through the same horrific experience and feelings you had to fight your way through… right?
If you can truly begin to make sense of what I am saying and you want more than anything to have another chance with the woman you love… it begins with your own willingness to dig deep and begin uncovering the misunderstandings and pain that made you hide behind the walls that kept your wife at a distance all these years. It’s about acknowledgement and the honest desire to change behaviors that are no longer needed.
FEAR OF LOSS IS THE CATALYST FOR CHANGE
Every day it is becoming more evident to me that changing a dynamic like ours, the Aspie-NT-e union, often comes on the heels of near ruin. It sucks that it takes the threat of such collapse to open our eyes to the alternate reality that has been running parallel to our own throughout the marriage, but it usually does.
“YOUR THOUGHTS ARE NOT REALITY; WHAT IS HAPPENING AROUND YOU IS REALITY.”
There is a simple reason that both sides fail to make the necessary changes it takes to prevent this common situation from occurring and it hinges on how we perceive reality.
My husband John said the above quote to me one night when I was in tears trying to explain to him how much emotional pain I was in. I was begging for him to understand how miserable I felt inside and he was determined for me to see that I was creating my own misery (in my mind) and that none of it was actually “real.” John was not miserable, so my reality did not make sense to him. In response to John that night I cried, “This is REAL to me and therefore, should become real to you real fast! If you wait until this becomes the reality happening around you, it will be too late to stop it for both of us!”
What I was trying to tell John is that it doesn’t matter if he can understand why I am experiencing pain that he cannot see, or how he could have caused emotional distress when he did not intend for it to occur… it didn’t matter if he was experiencing no pain himself personally… the only thing that mattered was that I WAS experiencing it, and his willingness to acknowledge it as valid was the only way he could help pull me out of it. Regardless of the reality John could tangibly identify, his reality was going to be transformed into the reality I was experiencing eventually if he kept ignoring it.
Because of the mentality that my husband had (where reality was only what he could see and experience himself), he declined to consider an alternate one that could have prevented many years of unnecessary pain for his wife.
It is that same thought process that leaves many Asperger husbands in shock and confused when their wife leaves them “suddenly.” Despite all of the NT-e wife’s desperate attempts to prevent the end of her marriage, until she makes it a tangible reality for her husband, he is not likely to care about feelings he is not experiencing. Unfortunately, by the time this tangible reality is happening around him, it might be too late to begin caring about his wife’s perception of reality enough to get the love of his life back.
Very few NT-e/Aspie couples are living in the same reality; they are more likely to exist in two alternate realities that run parallel to one another. This is not an existence that a highly empathetic neurotypical can withstand without incredible sadness (even if she doesn’t understand why, she knows this is happening), and this is not an existence the Aspie husband even recognizes is present.
Ok, so why IS IT HAPPENING then?
These alternate realities occur because the NT-e spouse fails to understand that her husband cannot, and will not ever hear her words if they come by way of nonverbal messages. In his reality, this form of communication does not readily exist. The Aspie spouse fails to consider that there even is an alternate reality his wife is fully engulfed in.
The big difference is that the NT-e wife is trying desperately to comprehend her husband’s world, while the Aspie husband doesn’t even see that such a concept could exist. For example, most NT-e women are highly in-tune with the emotions of those around them. She may be completely out of sync with her spouse’s specific emotions, but she is still fully aware they exist and that he is withholding feelings from her (provided they are not just fleeting thoughts). If her husband is angry over something and it lingers with him for a while, say a day or two, she is going to (without question) readily identify that her husband is “upset” and not sharing his thoughts with her. She may not have a single clue as to “why” her husband is upset, but she knows he is. If he denies it or remains reluctant to share with her, she feels unimportant, confused, and completely detached from the man she loves.
She wants in on his reality!
She wants in, because she loves him. He thwarts her attempts to open the very dialog that would help create emotional trust and intimacy between the two. There are few words to explain the level of hurt this causes the NT-e wife; it makes her acutely aware that her husband is living in a parallel reality to her own.
This same NT-e wife will walk around sending nonverbal messages that she is upset for weeks and make some of them so obvious, it seems impossible that her husband could be missing ALL them. The Aspie husband may pick up on some pronounced behaviors or actions she makes, like throwing her clothing around in her closet, or scoffing under her breath so loud he cannot help but hear it… but he is still incredibly unlikely to pick up on the fact that this same underlying emotion has been ongoing for his wife for a long time. He is even less likely to confront his wife on the reason for her odd behaviors because he is fearful of her reason. He has become programmed to believe that any odd behavior means he is about to be blamed or criticized for something… and that is NOT a conversation he will willingly send an invite to.
To the NT-e wife… her husband doesn’t give a damn about her feelings, nor does he give a damn about letting her into his personal bubble so she can understand him better. She has no idea that 98% of the communication she is reading and sending (day in and day out) is not visible to him in the slightest bit. The NT-e wife spends days, weeks, or even months feeling emotionally abandoned, while her husband continues on with his day oblivious to the fact that there’s another reality running parallel to his own.
It is not until the NT-e wife is ready to walk out the door for good, that most husband’s with Asperger’s syndrome are willing to consider their wife’s perception of reality. If and when the Aspie spouse does open his eyes to his wife’s perspective on their interpersonal dynamic; you can bet he will be caught off guard at how dramatically it differs from his.
We spend our whole lives convinced that our take on reality is the right one and we utilize every coping mechanism learned along the way to solidify that reality into cement. It takes a hell of a lot to get anyone (Aspie or NT) to look in the mirror and reflect on their words, behaviors, and/or actions long enough to consider that what they intended to communicate… may have been delivered so poorly on their behalf, that they unintentionally sent out some horrifically contradicting messages to the receiver on the other end.
WHAT NEXT? A THING CALLED TIME AND SPACE
You are in a place where you can begin to identify and accept the reality that your wife has been living in and allow it to manifest emotional empathy for her… that is what she needs. Your wife may not be ready or even willing to identify how to communicate without using nonverbal means so that you can hear her in the future.
I can only suggest to you that you give your wife time; give her space. If her mind is made up, you are not going to change it by trying to force your way back into her life. Until you really work on your own past and uncover the reasons you put up walls, any attempt at reaching out to her will likely cause those walls to get thrown right back up the moment your internal warning bell sounds that you are under attack. Because your wife has reached the end of her emotional rope, it is likely every word she says to you in the immediately future will initially come across as exactly that… an attack.
When you are facing a potentially intense dialog like this in the aftermath of her decision to reclaim her emotional and physical health; it would be near-impossible for you to show her you can change… not when the odds you will default to your instinctive defenses are so incredibly high. If your wife does not yet understand why you behave the way you do, or realize there is zero ill-intention behind any of your words and actions… she is not going to be able to communicate with you in a way that enables your guard to drop enough to show her you have and will continue to change for her sake and the sake of your marriage.
I understand that this is not the immediate fix a desperate Aspie husband will want when he is terrified of losing his wife, but that’s just the reality of our difficult dynamic.
DON’T BE AFRAID
You don’t need to live in fear, your wife still loves you. It is not for a lack of love that any woman would willingly suffer in a marriage that made them feel alone for so long. It is definitely not a lack of love that causes the majority of neurotypical wives to leave their Aspie husbands either… it is a loss of hope.
As I said before, the fact that your wife sent you a link to my blog is an indication that she still has hope. If she still has hope, you have nothing at all to lose by allowing her to have the space and time she needs to remember why she fell in love with you, why she put herself through so much pain trying to remain by your side, and why you are worth the effort it will take to create a happy marriage in the future (together). Try to trust in the love she has clearly evidenced over the years and give her space while you work on yourself.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that while you have a whole lot of work to do on your end, it is your wife that holds the burden of learning a new language that is entirely foreign to her. Without cognitive empathy, you are not going to be able to do much to change the way you receive information from her, so that means she has to learn to deliver it in a completely new way that opposes everything she learned in life… it will not come natural to her and it will be incredibly challenging if she chooses to go down this road. Of course, this road is the only one that can bridge the communication gap you have had throughout your marriage.
If you trust in what I am telling you, then trust that the most important thing you can do is change the way you respond to her when she is learning to speak in a foreign dialect. In other words, she is going to struggle to say things in plain English without the use of nonverbal communication and she will get frustrated and she will get angry that you cannot just understand her natural means of communicating. You will need to be patient, kind, open, and present through all of her attempts to learn this new method or she will abandon her efforts faster than you can imagine. In order to be all of those things for her, you have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how and why you meet interpersonal dialog with feelings of defensiveness. You cannot be defensive, argumentative, or dismissive of your wife’s attempts to communicate openly with you or you will lose her again. Having promised her to work on change and swearing that you empathize with what she has gone through… if you fuck it up and give her reason to think she was betrayed by you again… you won’t get her back the next time.
Since we are all human and prone to error, you are going to fuck up and so is she, many times in your future. I am not suggesting you become some perfect husband who never allows for negative emotions or feelings to be expressed, not at all. What I am saying is that you can almost guarantee failure if you come at this marriage without taking a significant amount of time for yourself first; so you can work on identifying what it is you need to change. You can also almost guarantee failure if your wife opts to return to you and she has not accepted that you cannot utilize cognitive empathy. She does not have to be perfect in her attempts at removing nonverbal dialog to get messages across to you, but she does need to acknowledge that without including the verbal side appropriately, you are paralyzed to respond to her needs effectively and cannot be faulted for failing to meet her expectations.
It is a lot to take in and I cannot cover it all in this post. What I want to leave you with is that it would actually be in your best interest to find a way to enable your wife the space she deserves. It is imperative she reclaim her sense of self to decide out of love (not guilt obligation, or fear) that she wants to spend the rest of her life with you. Allow for time apart so you can find your way back to the life you want together.
It doesn’t matter how long you have been married or how old you are, you still have the potential for many years of happiness together. Just as you shared, these years should be the best years of your life together, not the end of them.
I do not believe that the length of our marriages depicts our chances at success, nor do I believe that our physical age determines our capacity for emotional growth. I have worked with the eldest of our society and can promise you… many have tales of finally “getting it” in their last years of life. These same (men) often report these years to be the happiest, even in their late 70’s. The only regret I consistently heard from such men was that they wish they had abandoned their stubborn defiance to change decades earlier… when they could have enjoyed many more years of happiness with the woman they loved (some of whom died too soon after they opened their eyes).
None of this is going to be easy.
Life isn’t easy and you know this.
Your wife gave you 27 years of effort and willingness to change herself in any way she could think of to benefit your future together. Neither of you may have understood what was preventing those efforts from being effective during those years and that is understandable (unfair that it is that way for most Aspie-NT-e marriages… but understandable).
There is zero reason to ever look for blame and every reason to abandon the idea that it is either of your fault things have gotten to the place they are today. It is your turn to give back the effort and willingness to change that your wife gave you for so long. It is time to begin changing the way you allow for open communication to occur with all of the people you value most. It is your turn to place the same level of faith in yourself that your wife had in you for nearly three decades. It is time to begin removing the ineffective and/or damaging coping mechanisms you learned when you had no other options.
You are not your past and you have options now. You have the absolute capacity to transform your future into one of happiness if you are willing to do some serious reflection on the past. The best way to do this is to educate yourself on cognitive and emotional (affective) empathy so that you can go back and begin making sense of everything that was misunderstood or went wrong before today.
Don’t do this just do get your wife back, do it for yourself and for your children. There is a very good chance the woman you love will be waiting on the other side of your personal journey. She has already evidenced how long she was hanging on to the hope that you would do exactly that.
Perhaps your wife will not ever understand on her own what caused the pain she experienced and you will be able to help her make sense of it in the future, so she can feel safe and at peace with the past enough to let the pain go. I would never recommend you try to strong-arm your way back into your wife’s life, but I will say that there is not an NT-e alive who would ignore a heartfelt letter from the man she loves, regardless of her intention to return to the marriage. With that being said, as you find yourself becoming more aware and growing both emotionally and in a way that enables you to break down some of the walls you built to keep other’s emotions at bay in your life… it wouldn’t hurt to take the time to write an email to your wife and share these things with her. It may not bring about the responses you want right away, but sharing this part of yourself can only help her begin trusting that you are empathizing with her and that you are not going to return to the same distant man who unintentionally caused her so much hurt.
Even if your story does not end with the two of you being together as husband and wife until death, you still hold the power to help your wife heal from the pain she has endured; you hold the power to give her a chance at happiness.
Look around the internet for a while. It won’t take long for you to realize that there are countless neurotypical women who divorced their Aspie spouse and are still living in the same state of misery they felt the day they walked out the door. Divorce doesn’t answer the lingering confusion over how a love so good, turned so bad. Divorce doesn’t erase the love that was present and still exists long after the person is gone. Divorce doesn’t heal the residual pain that still chips away at the core of these women every day, and it definitely doesn’t make them feel stronger or more emotionally stable then they were when they left.
It was love that brought most Aspie/NT-e couples together and it was a whole lot of miscommunication and misunderstandings coupled with fear that drove them apart. The only way to recover from the grief and guilt is to make sense of what occurred and to forgive each other and yourselves for something that was out of your control at the time.
Asperger’s syndrome is nothing more than a cognitive difference in the way two people process nonverbal information… something that should be so simple to overcome if it is known early on… it becomes a hellish existence when no one understands what it means.
It is not anyone’s fault. Nothing that happened yesterday is going to define your potential for happiness tomorrow. Give yourself a chance at change so you and your wife can be happy… even if you do not end up together.
I know from experience how terrifying it is to welcome change when we are already well-into our adult life, but I urge you to consider it. You don’t have to tell the same story of how you had an epiphany in your later years that you wish you were open to discovering when you still had so many years of potential happiness ahead of you.
What do you have to lose when you already feel like you have lost the most important thing in your life?
If you haven’t already done so, please read THIS POST on Asperger’s syndrome vs. Antisocial Personality Disorder. It is the first and most important one I have to begin explaining the difference between cognitive and emotional (affective) empathy.