Why does a neurotypical wife choose an ASD husband?

Many neurotypical wives struggle with understanding how they were drawn to choose their ASD partner, when so much of the marriage has been spent longing for emotional engagement. With highly empathic natures – how did they not recognize his difficulty with emotional reciprocity?

A neurotypical wife was once a little girl who likely experienced love as a sense of longing.

Masking during the dating phase is very real, and certainly a significant component that greatly blurs the social-emotional deficits of an ASD man. Still, masking cannot happen 100% of time time, even if just dating and not living together. So what happens when those glimmers of autism peek through during the dating phase? How can autism draw in an emotionally intelligent, neurotypical woman?

When we examine the word “autism,” it is comprised of two parts: aut, which is from the Greek word “autos,” meaning – “self;” and “ism,” which is also from Greek, and means “a state of being or underlying condition.” This definition can be connotated in a negative way, but it is important to focus on the denotation. Autism is the state of self-focus. Autism is selfism. Autistic individuals struggle to see beyond their own perspective, and are unintentionally oblivious to the feelings and experience of those around them.

The origin of autism’s self-focus is neurological and developmental in type. The inability to intuitively understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, motivations and intentions is a deficit that stems from nature, not nurture. While emotional empathy is involuntary for a neurotypical, it is a cognitive skill that must be developed for an ASD husband. He is capable of learning, with practice, how to take his wife’s perspective through imagination and drawing upon his own experiences. However, it is not neurologically possible for emotional empathy to be an intuitive or involuntary process for him.

Although quite different in origin, other disorders of pervasive self-focus exist. Often, a neurotypical wife was once a little girl who learned that love is a feeling of longing – to be recognized as a person with needs, feelings and value. The adults around her were self-absorbed, instead of attuned to her needs.

It’s unusual for a neurotypical wife to be from a family of origin who met her emotional needs consistently, handled conflict with open communication, and valued her authentic personhood. Instead, usually the neurotypical wife shares one or more of these attributes:

  • adult child of an alcoholic or addict
  • adult child of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) parent, or another personality disorder (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) & Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are common)
  • adult child of a very chaotic, abusive environment
  • parentified at a young age with a sense of over-responsibility
  • early loss of a parent or sibling in childhood
  • experienced pervasive childhood emotional neglect or other trauma
  • has a diagnosis of PTSD, anxiety or depression
  • unresolved sexual, physical, verbal or emotional abuse in her history
  • adult child of a father or mother with ADHD or ASD (usually undiagnosed)

When we consider the above disorders and the description of autism as selfism, we see a theme that overlaps between them all: self-absorption.

Self-absorption is certainly part of addiction and personality disorders. Addicts are obsessed with abusing their substance, which is essentially a special interest. Parents with a personality disorder are inherently turned inward. They view their children as an extension of themselves, not an individual with their own personhood. There is little tolerance or curiosity about the child, just expectations for them to fulfill. A child surviving abuse, neglect or trauma is accustomed to deprivation of safety, and also an attachment to her abusers in some cases. Obviously, individuals who chronically neglect or abuse children demonstrate a profound disregard for others. A little girl who is subjected to mistreatment, and left alone to handle her trauma without support, is sadly primed to accept emotional abandonment as normal.

The neurotypical wife may have developed her high emotional intelligence through the necessity of reading the self-absorbed adults around her. Whether it was to keep herself safe (avoid abuse or wrath), earn love and attention, or caretake destructive parents – the neurotypical wife learned to quickly anticipate the needs of self-focused others (and ignore herself). She may struggle with feeling worthy of love and attention, since it was scarcely offered and not sustained by those who were supposed to be devoted to her.

We can begin to understand why a NT wife with a certain history might be vulnerable to a dynamic that hinted of longing, while simultaneously feeling very fulfilling – at first. Those moments with her boyfriend that perhaps allowed a glimpse into his poor theory of mind skills, or lack of emotional engagement – were easily pushed aside when his hyper-focus returned. (Nothing is more powerful than intermittent reinforcement to keep a child or a vulnerable woman doggedly “trying” to connect with someone they love.) We also see why a NT woman is apt to run herself into the ground, contorting herself in accommodation of her ASD spouse, in hopes he might awaken to her inherent value and personhood. She learned in childhood that to be loved, she must become indispensable and never-needy to those who are entirely focused on themselves. We are not allowed to have needs as a child if our parent is an addict or inherently disordered in personality or character. Unconsciously choosing a partner who does not allow her to have needs, either, is very understandable. We recognize love in what feels familiar. A partner’s selfism feels familiar to the neurotypical wife.

It’s important for the NT wife to understand her history in connection with her relationship. If she has been conditioned through childhood to find a state of longing both familiar and excruciating, it helps her to deepen self-awareness and enact change.

One thought on “Why does a neurotypical wife choose an ASD husband?

  1. Spot on!
    I had most of the mentioned neglect in my childhood, so how could I resist a masked aspie who pushed his way in to my world and has destroyed me. It feels worse than my childhood ever did

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