MY ASPIE HUSBAND WAS THIRSTY
My posts are all created from years of random thoughts, insights, experiences, compiled lists, and references already on paper or my laptop that I weed through before narrowing down a specific topic. All of this information comprises what led me to my current opinions on Asperger’s syndrome and the happy marriage my husband and I now share.
Before I feel content bringing these incredibly long and thoroughly researched subjects to all of you, I rigorously fact-check everything I have to say (I do not want to lead anyone down a misguided path… ever). I put a great deal of effort into re-reading, reviewing, and trying to disprove or solidify my own theories with new information in existence before I feel confident I am providing all of you with factual information (like statistics and scientific data) or proven/disproven behaviors attempted in my own relationship. Since this obviously takes time to accomplish, and I work 50-80 hours every week, I began feeling very frustrated with the gaps between my posts the last nine months.
I remember reading things about Asperger’s syndrome over the years and having questions about what I read or wanting more in-depth information from the writer, but most of the time the articles or posts were closed for comments or so old no one ever replied to me. I do not want to do this to anyone, especially since I am incredibly inspired and appreciative of the time people have taken to read and comment on my posts, share their own stories, or ask for more information.
This is not meant to be a blog only about my life, it is intended to be a source of information and insight gleaned from all of our lives to offer hope instead of what we keep finding when we go in search of it. I want to play whatever role I can in opening the doors to understanding, communication, and bridging the gaps that exist in Aspie-NT relationships. I want to offer hope to those who are currently in, or newly embarking on this challenging dynamic themselves.
I wish I had someone tell me the things that took over five years to realize before my husband and I almost destroyed one another!
In an attempt to promote this information-sharing the best I can, I have decided to begin taking reader-comments that spark lengthy responses from me and turn them into “interim” posts everyone can read; that may have otherwise gotten lost beneath posts of lesser interest. I hope this helps to fill the gaps of time in between my excessive rants about topics I am passionate about and inspire everyone to keep commenting so that their experiences, knowledge, and questions can be explored in further detail. I also truly hope that by doing this, I will offset the chance that I could become another blogger who leaves people wanting more information.
So here is my first “short” post addressing a comment I received yesterday from a reader.
The author of this comment (HJH) gave a familiar snapshot of the common feelings many neurotypical wives have about their Aspie husband’s capacity to change. I do not know if HJH identifies themselves as a neurotypical, someone with High-Functioning Autism, ASD, or Asperger’s syndrome. I do not know if they are male or female, married or single. All I know is that they expressed sentiments remarkably similar to those I held for many years so it prompted a long reply from me:
There are a lot of variables to ASD and I do agree that Aspergers is different than regular autism. It was grouped together because of many shared similarities, but unlike classical autism, people with HFA and ASD can control some of the characteristics of the disorders. It comes down to choice. If a person is capable of making a choice, he or she can change. It may be harder for some than others, but it can still be done. Empathy is a trait that can grow in every individual if the person chooses to allow it to grow. Empathy is a God-given characteristic that can be fostered. When you plant a seed, you have to water it consistently for it to grow. I don’t care if people with ASD have lower empathy levels than others-it just takes more work and a willingness to make sacrifices for the one’s you love! Many people with ASD have been given excuses because of their weaknesses, but weaknesses don’t have to stagnate and not be remediated. If you have ASD and you enter into a marriage, you have to make sacrifices. For the things you can’t do, lay your pride aside and ask God for help if you really care about the other person more than yourself. If you are going to put self-first, you really don’t have the right to enter into a marriage. This goes for anyone who is self-absorbed-aspie or not! If you have enough of a cognitive IQ to make choices and know that your behaviors are affecting others negatively, then you have enough of a mental ability to change. Most people can make choices.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and offer your thoughts.
I do agree there are a lot of variables to someone with Asperger’s syndrome and Autism, much like someone without; there are a lot of variables to each and every one of us. I try to not speak about Autism in general because I don’t have first-hand experience with it. I realize that sounds like denial with the generally accepted blanket term: Autism Spectrum Disorder, but as someone who strongly opposes that term I have to address that first in my reply.
If you are identifying the term HFA or ASD to simply describe someone with great difficulties navigating social intelligence, then I am in no way trying to conflict with what you are saying. I would prefer to default to the previously used: Developmental disorder instead as an all-encompassing term until the mental health clowns can come up with something better than eliminates the word “disorder” entirely. I hold strong that Autism and Aspergers should be teased out because of the damage caused when it is not. I am sure that anyone who had a child with “classic” Autism would have been angry if they deemed all those with social deficits to fall under “Asperger’s Spectrum Disorder” (I know they did not like the term High-Functioning Autism because it was degrading to their child who was thought to be low-functioning). While ASD is just a “label” it has had (and will continue to have) incredibly profound ramifications in how society perceives those who now fall under this broad group.
I intend on exploring the term “high-functioning” Autism (HFA) in the future in more detail because I think it is an unfair label and it discounts the struggles an individual with Autism or Aspergers experiences in their life. I also strongly suspect that many of those HFA individuals are really Aspies and they need to be pulled from this currently “interchangeable” label.
Now, on to your thoughts on making conscious choices. I absolutely agree with you that those who have Asperger’s syndrome are capable of making choices. They are capable of changing many things about the behaviors that cause damage within their relationships. Neurotypicals are also capable of making conscious choices to alter the behaviors that are causing damage (even if they do not see them yet).
The concept of choice is something that causes great pain to both sides because those with cognitive empathy believe those without it, can process information the same. They believe that their partner is able to make the same conscious choices they can. The problem comes with the fact that a person with Asperger’s syndrome cannot consciously choose to use cognitive empathy to identify and use their emotional (affective) empathy. They cannot do this because they do not possess the neurologic capabilities to do so.
When a neurotypical does utilize cognitive empathy but not very effectively, they can “choose” to pay closer attention to the nonverbal information and messages others are sending them. If they put forth this degree of effort, it is very likely they will improve their emotional empathy and strengthen social relationships. Someone with Asperger’s syndrome does not have the option to just “try harder” or focus more on nonverbal messages. How can they be held accountable for appropriately responding to someone’s emotions if they are unable to identify what those emotions are in the first place? That is simply unfair; it is something we neurotypicals keep demanding and hanging the future of our marriages on.
I wish everyone understood that Aspies cannot do this. They cannot identify our thoughts, feelings, and emotions unless we tell them what they are! Every time they fail to respond appropriately a neurotypical’s feelings, the NT views it as a lack of effort or regard for them; this is not true.
You are absolutely correct that emotional (affective) empathy is an inherent gift we are all given (less those with actual brain damage/anomalies and sociopaths). It is just like you said, a seed that requires watering to grow. Consider this: affective (emotional) empathy is the seed. Cognitive empathy is the water. If both sides could grasp this simple analogy, perhaps they could better understand that Aspies need NT’s to show them where the water is. If they cannot read nonverbal messages (and the majority of human communication comes directly from nonverbal means), then they are never going to be able to water the seeds of their emotional empathy.
Until neurotypicals learn to use direct language to communicate their feelings, wants, and needs explicitly to their Aspie loved one, they can sit back and blame the Aspie all day long for not choosing to “grow” their emotional empathy seedlings and it will still never be the Aspie’s fault. When an NT refuses to believe this, or does not yet realize that the only true (shared) deficit that defines Asperger’s syndrome is absent cognitive empathy, the neurotypicals are essentially thwarting the Aspies access to water. It is never going to matter how much plant food, prayer, or sunlight you throw at that seed; if you don’t give it water, it will never grow!
To sum up this idea of choosing to “water” the seeds of empathy: Verbally articulating your wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings directly (without the hidden language we NT’s love to use) is how you provide the water needed for the Aspie’s emotional (affective) empathy to grow and show it to you.
HJH, you sound like you have been frustrated and hurt by someone who has failed to meet your emotional needs for so long that everything now seems like an excuse? I may be wrong, but that was how I felt for a long time. I kept pushing my husband to TRY HARDER and when he did not, I viewed every rationale for his failure to do this as an excuse. I became angry at the Aspies out there in general for a while. I used to think, “These are highly intelligent people capable of comprehending everything else in their life, so it is complete BULLS#*T to say they can’t comprehend how to treat someone with emotional reciprocity!”
Aspies are intelligent, they are equal to their neurotypical counterparts in every way except the ability to use cognitive empathy. The inability to use this important method of understanding the nonverbal communication from those around them causes the unjust and hurtful ways they are perceived by peer groups and loved ones. It is the absence of cognitive empathy that leads to the negative impact on intimate interpersonal relationships and it is something those with Aspergers want to avoid when they enter into a relationship.
Aspies want their relationships to succeed just as much as the neurotypical does.
You say that people are “excusing the weaknesses” of those with ASD. I am going to once again separate the ASD term and address only Aspergers because I do not want anyone with Autism (of any “spectrum”) to think I am speaking on their behalf. Again, I only write about individuals who have Asperger’s syndrome and their neurotypical loved ones. I passionately oppose the suggestion that Aspies are given excuses or that their neurotypical loved ones ever opt to just “accept” their behavior. I hope that you do not think I am writing this blog in an attempt to offer up an “excuse” as I began it to offer the polar opposite of that. Excuses are made in an attempt to mitigate blame. Blame should be non-existent in an Aspie-NT union. Blame serves no purpose and compounds the profound misunderstanding about causation (cognitive empathy). It causes both parties to incorrectly focus their energy on proving who is at fault in lieu of working toward effective and open communication.
I cannot say enough times that there is NO blame to be awarded here.
Very few neurotypicals accept the differing ability to process cognitive empathy that an Aspie has (or I should say, does not have) from their own abilities. In fact, the majority of people are cruel and horrifically judgmental toward those with Asperger’s syndrome and choose to simplify their “inappropriate” social communication as a conscious choice. This misperception causes most of society to fault Aspies, make fun of them, bully them, get angry with them, admonish them, and ultimately… avoid them.
Cognitive IQ is not the problem, emotional intelligence is. Emotional intelligence is a problem; not because Aspies are incapable of being or becoming more emotionally intelligent, but because they cannot identify the emotions of others easily and truly need the NT in their life to directly state what they are. Once they are told what the emotion is, they are more than capable of understanding and appropriately responding to them (affective empathy). Neurotypicals have just as big a challenge believing someone cannot readily pick up on nonverbal messages (facial expressions, tone/pitch of voice, context of words, body language, etc.) to identify a person’s feelings, emotions, and thoughts as Aspies have believing someone can do this. Aspies may be able to sense extreme emotions radiating from those around them (some to an incredible or even debilitating degree), but they notoriously fail at accurately identifying the source of what caused them, or what the specific emotion even is.
While it seems like those with Asperger’s syndrome are selfish or only put their own needs first, this is not what they want to do! At this time, I believe that this assumption stands as the greatest difference between a person who has “High-Functioning” Autism and someone with Asperger’s syndrome. Those who rightfully fall under HFA do not have the desire for social interaction that Aspie’s do; they are centrally-focused and are not bothered by their alienation from peer groups.
Aspies are devastated by the alienation they experience.
Aspies are internally-focused on self only after they are made to feel like chronic failures in social settings throughout their youth; they never set out to become as isolated and alienated from their peers as they do. Detachment from others is the last thing Aspie children want to experience, they have the exact same desire and need for human interaction and closeness that neurotypicals have.
With that in mind, it should pull at the heartstrings of anyone (who knows the value of friendship, acceptance, and emotional warmth) to consider that the majority of Aspie children, teens, and adults are grievously deprived of this magnificent human experience throughout their lives.
When an Aspie and NT fall in love, both are focused on one another equally when the relationship first develops. Men with Asperger’s syndrome are accustomed to being shunned (without a comprehension of why this has always occurred in their life) and they are almost always terrified of losing the woman they have fallen in love with. Having found someone they want to be with more than anything else in the world, these men frequently stand on guard, in a heightened state of arousal that the ground is going to drop out beneath their feet at any moment. These men are not able to open up and let themselves be known fully by their partner because they do not know what it is about them that causes people to run away. They walk on an imagined (but often painful) bed of nails in a desperate attempt to keep the woman they adore from running away from them. These men live in an unrelenting state of fear that they will experience the same rejection they have endured throughout their lives by the woman they now love with all of their being. By the time they begin to feel whole and finally accepted enough to open themselves up to such vulnerability, they are quickly reminded by their NT mate that they are standing on shaky ground. This constant reminder (by NT accusations about their “incorrect” behaviors) inadvertently shuts their willingness to be open off in favor of being trepidatious in their future actions and words .
Between the missed nonverbal messages the NT is sending her Aspie mate and the guarding she senses from him, inevitably she equates it all to a lack of love. The NT wife begins to assign blame toward her Aspie husband and the more she expresses this to him or faults him for not meeting her emotional needs, the more she creates a disconnect. The Aspie husband, fearful of losing his wife, defaults back to the internal focus he needed in his youth to protect him from social rejection and pain.
If there is anything I can get you to consider in this response, please let it be that someone with Asperger’s syndrome is not self-absorbed by choice. They do not know what to do to fix the relationship any more than the NT who is blaming them does. They do not know what they are doing “wrong” any more than the NT does.
In a marriage, both partners need to equally commit themselves to one another with the same degree of acceptance, love, and willingness to change. That means the NT needs to learn about cognitive empathy so she can stop misinterpreting her husband’s behaviors as conscious choices to cause her emotional harm. The Aspie husband needs to learn about cognitive empathy and realize that their wife is misunderstanding their behavior, not because they are “crazy, delusional, or overly-emotional,” but because they are receiving false messages from him based on an inherent communication ability that the Aspie never learned, cannot learn, and isn’t really using in the first place.
Both need to drop the fear from their daily communication and actions and make a conscious choice to open themselves up again as they wanted to do when they first fell in love. Both need to work their asses off to start using actual (unambiguous) words to express their needs and feelings (even when they don’t want to) and be willing to do so without the fear of rejection from the other.
It all begins with both sides accepting that there is a completely different use of emotional expression and perception taking place because one has cognitive empathy and the other does not. This is a comprehension that (as you said) may take a lot of prayers to God (or whatever someone believes) to be able to accept. It can be done if both parties are equally committed to one another and choose to put the other above themselves.
While your thoughts are incredibly similar to the ones I held less than a year ago, I hope that you can consider my current opinion on the “choices” most Aspie husbands really have available to them. Until I applied the knowledge that my husband could never “choose” to identify or appropriately respond to my nonverbal messages unless I directly told him what they meant, I was setting both of us up for withdrawal, inappropriate blame, and utter failure.
Taking the expectation that my husband should choose to “work harder” at deciphering my nonverbal messages off the table was the #1 thing I had to do to begin changing our marriage for the better. Navigating around his absent cognitive empathy (by learning to utilize my verbal messages at an equal capacity to my nonverbal ones) has been the only tactic uncovered that ever really benefited us.
There is no other tool needed to begin changing the level of love, emotional empathy, affection, understanding, and appreciation for one another that will ever come close to the importance of utilizing that one. It is easier said than done, but as mentioned, marriage is about selflessness and commitment and it takes a lot of mutual effort.
Ultimately, you nailed it when you said, “It comes down to a choice.” It really does. It is just imperative we comprehend what the “choices” really are. Choosing to learn about cognitive vs. affective (emotional) empathy is the most important choice an Aspie-NT couple has to make if they want to find a happy marriage.
See: WHAT ABOUT ASPERGER’S SYNDROME AND EMPATHY for a clearer understanding of how these different types of empathy impact one another.