Why does the neurodiverse marriage seem to worsen over time, and what does that do to the neurotypical wife?
One of the biggest sources of confusion for the neurotypical wife is why and how the dating period was so amazing, but everything seemed to change shortly after moving in together. She goes through the various stages of grief, desperately trying to understand what she can do to return the relationship to a satisfying connection.
When an Asperger’s Syndrome husband falls in love, usually his girlfriend quickly becomes his special interest. He is extraordinarily attentive, and his hyper-focus helps him read her cues. The couple might have shared interests that brought them together, so time during dating is spent on that shared interest (like running, or music, or church, golf, etc.) which feels very bonding. The ASD boyfriend might call to mind relationship scripts – perhaps from movies he’s seen, or books he’s read, or discussions with a helpful mother, sister or friend – about what men should do in relationships. He is more apt to think of flowers, or classic romantic gestures. He’s flooded by her reciprocal attention, and as someone who was often bullied, excluded or actively disliked by peers in his childhood – her warmth, love, acceptance and attraction is mesmerizing.
Dating differs from cohabitation in many ways, but the biggest issue for the autistic partner is the increased expectation from the neurotypical for time and conversation. The autistic partner loses his solo space and experiences disruption to his routine and preferences, such as time for his coping and other interests. He might start to feel encroached upon and this causes anxiety and withdrawal.
The neurotypical wife or girlfriend is puzzled as to why her boyfriend or husband seems to avoid her in the same house. Why does he sleep so much? Why would he rather play video games or read astronomy books instead of going out on a date together? She searches for fault within herself and experiences various stages of grief as time goes on.
Eventually, she likely confronts her ASD husband with anger. Why does he ignore her? She needs love, attention, conversation, fun. Why is he so busy and disinterested in her? Why doesn’t he care how she feels or how their relationship used to be? Her emotions cause further anxiety and withdrawal in him, leading to more anger, hurt and resentment for her – and the cycle continues.
Over time, she is no longer the special interest. She is the source of his anxiety. He does all he can to avoid the very conversations and time that she craves from him. He buries himself in his life-long special interests, which are his abiding passion. His need for sleep increases, further isolating her as he tries to cope with the expectations and confusion from her. Instead of the positive feelings he felt for her at the beginning, contempt grows toward her neediness. She once valued how kind and gentle he seemed, but now he seems to have little of those former qualities. She senses that he no longer values or cherishes her the way he once did.
The neurotypical wife may find herself at a crossroads when the marital or cohabitation dynamic has reached an adversarial stand-off. She may embark on a larger effort to understand “why,” especially if autism is undiagnosed or not known to the couple yet. She will often seek out coaching or counseling as a last ditch effort to see if her marriage can be saved.