A neurotypical wife is usually responsible for the emotional labor and practicalities in the neurodiverse family. She is the one who looks at the big picture and makes life happen. She picks up on the nuances – the sensitivities and vulnerabilities of her ASD spouse, her autistic or ADHD children, and all the special considerations that go into diffusing emotional dysregulation to keep everyone on an even keel.
Aside from walking on eggshells in hopes of avoiding her autistic husband having distress that leads to meltdowns or shutdowns, the neurotypical wife is also often the schedule keeper, medicine distributor, grocery shopper, meal-maker, chores & household do-er. She does bedtime and wake time and makes the lunches and is up all night with the baby and consoles the big feelings of her children and spouse. If there is fun to be had, usually she is the one thinking and planning holidays or outings. She’s the one getting children off of screen time to go outside, or visit the park, or do something besides isolate at home. If she wants any semblance of special time with her husband, she’s planning the dates and the anniversaries and getting the babysitter. She might even be buying her own Christmas present so as to avoid the children seeing the lack of anything for her. Often, any sort of normal family life or marital intimacy takes a lot of convincing, justifying, explaining and defending to her neurodiverse family members. While doing everything at home, she is quite likely working a full-time job as well. If she asks for help from her ASD spouse, who simply does not intuit what needs to be done, it may take further time and emotional energy to remind, plead or beg for him to follow through. She may learn that asking for anything from him leads to emotional dysregulation, which starts to feel like more trouble than it’s worth.
Conflict avoidance becomes a default manner of operating for the NT wife. Her life is so full of managing “all the things.” Emotional dysregulation + executive dysfunction are such pervasive parts of autism that taking up any space in the home is an exhausting endeavor. Avoiding meltdowns, shutdowns, vindictive behavior and competing with autistic special interests is an impossible task, but she persists anyway. Asking for help often leads to resentful reactions from her Asperger’s husband, who does not prioritize needs of others in the same way that she is able to intuit. He may find it perfectly reasonable to let chores go undone, and he perhaps may not value the same standard of upkeep that his NT wife prefers. When he agrees to a chore or to help, he may find a timeline to be unnecessarily ‘controlling’ from his wife. This can devolve into an argument and again starts to defeat the purpose of her even asking.
When the neurotypical partner starts to wear out from doing everything, she may seek out therapy and insist her husband go with her. Unfortunately, the dynamic is often misunderstood in traditional marriage counseling. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of responsibility, the NT wife may unload on the therapist while her Asperger’s husband sits calmly beside her. She finishes listing every aspect of how much she does and how angry she is to not have a partner in helping. He may comment, “see what I have to deal with? She can’t be pleased, she keeps score of what I do or don’t do, she is constantly stressed out and creating work for herself, she criticizes when I don’t do something the second she asks me. All she does is try to control me and argue with me about what is and isn’t fair. She views me as the sole problem, but she’s so mean to me that I would rather do my hobby than have to deal with her.” The therapist may start thinking that perhaps the NT wife is narcissistic or borderline, due to the depth of her emotionalism spilling out, and believe that she is the one who needs the most behavior modification. This leads to the neurotypical wife feeling even more isolated in her chronic deprivation of empathy, while the ASD husband may dig in to his resistant responses to her.
As one might imagine, being told at every turn that she is nothing but a controlling complainer might start to shut down any persistence in voicing her needs. Being routinely ignored, having to constantly explain and justify what needs to be done to keep the family afloat, needing to convince her ASD husband to help while his resentment level has skyrocketed due to the demands on his time – the neurotypical wife learns that the path to least resistance is ceasing to stop asking for anything. Her personhood gets smashed down, because there is only so much time in the day to do it all and try to convince someone that she matters, too. The conflict created with her autistic spouse is worth avoiding more than it is worth fighting for her needs to be met.