My friend, Rhedyn, and I don’t meet for a confab as often as we’d like. So when we recently made time for a pint and a bite, it was time to catch up on all the comings and goings in each other’s busy lives.
This time though, things were different. Rhedyn looked tired and puffy. Like she’d been crying. It took an hour before she finally admitted what was bothering her.
‘Ivy’, she said, rubbing her face, ‘my husband just self-diagnosed himself as an Aspie. It explains so much of the irritation I’ve been feeling towards Dan. But where do we go from here?’
To say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. Rhedyn and Dan are the best couple I know. So in love. So happy. So firm in their commitment. To hear there was any unhappiness or any fissures in their seemingly perfect marriage was a shock. ‘I love him to pieces and he loves me’, she said wearily, ‘but it explains so much. Do I even know who I married?’
Day to day, Rhedyn claims life is great. Of course, Dan never realizes she’s making a joke and solemnly corrects her ‘errors’.
He has a rigid morning schedule and woe to anyone who interrupts it dooming Dan to ‘a bad day’.
He talks constantly and appears to be utterly disinterested in what others are saying, waving his hands in the air, seeming to rush them to their conclusion so he can speak again without acknowledging what they said first.
He’s brimming over with ideas, more ideas and yet more ideas, all of which are expensive and rarely brought to completion.
Romance puzzles him, sex is often forgotten and holidays pass uncelebrated.
All of Rhedyn’s and Dan’s couples conversations end in disaster. If she brings up any irritation or hurt, things go bad and go bad fast. No matter how many ways she tries to get Dan to understand her feelings, he appears to absolutely refuse to put himself in her shoes. He denies everything and appears to be pouting, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, swearing that if he’s such a problem, he’ll simply never speak again.
Lastly, he has a way of alienating others through a mixture of blunt honesty and foot-in-mouth disease.
But he’s also a wonderful man. Warm, loving, always happy, open, honest and committed to Rhedyn, heart and soul. A very high-functioning Aspie.
Rhedyn isn’t the first woman to discover she married a man with Aspergers Syndrome. She’s not the first nor will she be the last. The shock is real as is the disappointment, the adjustment, the confusion.
‘Who is Dan?’, Rhedyn queried, wiping her eyes. ‘Do I even know him? Are we in the same marriage or experiencing two wildly different marriages because I’m neurotypical and he’s an Aspie?’.
She went on.
‘The worst part is that we cannot talk about our relationship. It simply doesn’t work! Couples are supposed to talk, right? I think a couple talk is supposed to be about our relationship. But they always turn into fights. Even our fights make me feel closer to him. He thinks that a couples talk is him verbalizing his imagined architecture design for a Shard built in Cardiff or whatever his pet intellectual obsession is at the moment. He thinks that’s having a couples talk. It’s not!’
Rhedyn is far from alone. Many women have found themselves, unwittingly, in relationships and marriages with men with Aspergers. If this is you, take heart!
Aspies get a bad rap which I’ve long believed is most unfair to them. They are our geniuses, our great inventors, the people who stretch the boundaries, embrace their creativity, commit to making the breakthroughs and challenge the status quo. They are Bill Gates, Susan Boyle and Andy Warhol.
This is the advice I gave Rhedyn. Advice I now give to you.
‘I know it’s hard, Rhedyn. But in some ways, you’re lucky!
Dan will never cheat on you. Not in a million years. You’ll never find yourself on The Jeremy Kyle Show, sobbing tears of devastation over a failed lie detector test. Why? Because Aspies are incapable of lying.
Dan may not be overly sexual, but he’s also not chasing skirts everywhere he goes, lying about it to you.
Dan may be obsessed by the topic-of-the-moment, but at least he’s home with you and the kids and not down t’pub drinking, taking drugs and contracting STIs.
Dan may appear to be a bad listener, but I’ll bet he hears and remembers every word you say.
Dan may not understand your jokes, but you know exactly what he’s thinking even if he does talk constantly. Most men don’t talk to their wives at all.
Dan can’t change, Rhedyn. He’s wired to be an Aspie and that’s okay. It’s the way God made him. He’s not a broken neurotypical. He’s very happy being an Aspie. Changing him would be cruel and frankly, it wouldn’t work. He may behave more normally, but it would be by rote and not make any sense to him. In the end, he would be miserable.
So it’s you who must change, Rhedyn, because you can. Learn everything you can about Aspergers. Knowledge will diffuse your anger, your irritation, your frustration with him. You’ll discover he’s perfectly normal for what he is.
Meanwhile, learn to take care of yourself. For example, Dan cannot stop talking so you need to take breaks away from him. Create a sanctuary of solitude for yourself to which you can retreat when you’re drowning in Dan’s limitless quota of words, words and more words. Perhaps you must take over management of the family finances yourself, so he doesn’t overspend on his new favorite idea.
Don’t expect what he can’t give, but appreciate the many things he can give you that many NT men cannot. Faithfulness, loyalty, devotion, love.’
An Aspergers marriage can be a wonderful thing, indeed, if you’re flexible, creative, grateful and yes, forgiving.