‘Our marriage is great,’ the Aspie’s neurotypical wife told me, ‘except when we talk. That’s when it all goes to Hell’.
Baffled, I begged her to elaborate as I was unable to fathom what I’d just heard. It flew in the face of all marriage counseling, every book on how to have the ‘perfect’ marriage: talk, talk, talk, talk, talk to each other, they all say. What if doing the opposite was actually the key to a happy neurotypical/Aspie marriage? I had to know!
For most women, any couple conversation includes a lot of emotive words: happy, sad, angry, hurt, longing, frustrated, jealous, lonely. ‘I have those emotions’ Aspies have told me, ‘I feel them but I don’t know which word applies to that feeling. I can’t give the feeling a name. It’s rather like being color-blind. I can see red, but I don’t know to call it “red”‘.
For an Aspie’s neurotypical (NT) wife or husband to sit down with their Aspie spouse for a conversation to ‘clear the air’ is for both to become more frustrated, not less.
The NT will feel more lonely, angry, misunderstood, and isolated while the Aspie feels more confused, frustrated, and even gaslighted. The NT needs to discuss emotions; the Aspie can’t understand nor give the NT what they need. They’ve been burned more than once by unscrupulous NTs who used emotional words they couldn’t understand to manipulate them. Once bitten, twice shy.
Even something as workaday as a conversation over dinner about the events of the day can be fraught with frustration, too. An NT wife may want to talk about the politics at her office, the disastrous 3 p.m. meeting, the kiss-ass who, she’s sure, is sleeping with the boss and shunting more and more work onto her. The Aspie husband wants only to talk about his idea, his obsession, his design for building a Shard in Cardiff as a sister tower to the one in London.
He finds her yack-yack-yack about people and emotions utterly boring. She finds his yack-yack-yack about composite floors, pillars, and glazing a complete snore. They are talking past each other. He simply can’t conjure any interest in who’s sleeping with whom and his Aspergers sense of ethics prevents him from putting on an act to appear interested or, as he would call it, ‘lying.’
She can’t match his passion for architecture because she simply doesn’t understand it. She tries to act excited but finds playing Sarah Bernhardt to his Frank Lloyd Wright exhausting. As usual, they’re talking past each other.
Yet, as long as they stay off the topic of emotions, as long as they avoid long, intimate couples-conversations, the marriage works and works well. It’s smooth sailing. There’s an indefinable chemistry, a palpable love.
Their marriage defies every psychologist’s and counsellor’s definition for how a marriage should look, yet somehow, it works. They like each other. Always have, always will. The underlying, felt-not-spoken vibes between him and her just work, even if conversation doesn’t.
Marriage is not a once-size-fits-all proposition. No one should call an Aspie/NT marriage ‘bad’ merely because it contradicts all the generalities about what a ‘good marriage’ should look like. Shakespeare, as always, said it best: ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds, admit impediments’. Even if that impediment is the ‘common wisdom’ about what makes a marriage ‘good.’