The secrets that Cassandra keeps

The concept behind the name of Cassandra Syndrome is that a NT wife is sharing her reality with others, and being doubted. But what do her disclosures about the neurodiverse marriage really look like? To what degree is a neurotypical wife able to fully reveal the extent of her marital dynamic to others?

It can be very difficult for the NT wife to convey the full reality of her marriage to loved ones, because she is often minimized or dismissed.

A neurotypical wife is usually very discretionary in regard to how much she divulges about her husband’s behavior. She instinctively knows that if she were to TRULY talk in specifics about the happenings within her marriage, people would be in utter disbelief… not just doubt. The behaviors of her husband are sometimes so starkly unusual in comparison to neurotypical husbands that it creates a sense of shame about fully revealing them. She may also unconsciously worry that his poor treatment of her is a reflection of her personal worth – and that perhaps other people will come to the same conclusion of her lack in value. Additionally, she is often protective of her autistic husband. She sees the vulnerabilities that drives some of his autistic behaviors, even as she struggles to explain it to herself. She also has hope that her ASD husband might improve the behaviors that are seemingly the most difficult, and she doesn’t want to ruin his reputation to loved ones. The NT wife may also be conditioned from childhood to believe it’s her job to keep his dysfunction or misbehavior a secret from others.

When the neurotypical wife tries to broach the topic of her marital dynamics with friends or family, it’s often shut down very quickly. Of course he doesn’t spend a lot of time with her after work – he’s tired! Of course he likes to do his [special interest] all weekend – it’s fun! Of course he has meltdowns on holidays – they’re a lot of pressure! She might also be treated to the common mentality in our culture of blaming the person who ‘complains’ – she must be doing something that elicits his problematic actions or avoidance of her.

When the sanitized version of their relationship problems are minimized or dismissed, the neurotypical wife may either ramp up the details – risking, of course, the possibility of looking histrionic, or being pitied because her husband is so “weird.” More often, she withdraws from trying to explain. She’s learned that other people will not validate her experience because they don’t understand it – and, they will blame her. His behavior becomes her secret.

What are the secrets that neurotypical wives keep? The following are all examples heard directly from coaching clients:

Secrets about daily life and parenting:

  • “After we were married, he treated our relationship as a task that had been completed. He didn’t understand the point of regular time together – we were already married. I spend every evening alone, while he’s playing video games or working on his motorcycle (a special interest).”
  • “He slept through my 20 hours of labor, and then left the hospital 10 minutes after she was born – to get himself something to eat. He said he didn’t think to bring me anything.”
  • “The noise of having a baby in the house unglues him. He’s thrown the baby monitor against the wall multiple times, and screamed at her to shut up. I obviously cannot leave the baby with him, because he could have a meltdown and risk her safety.”
  • “He bought a decibel meter to measure noise in the house. If the kids are too loud, then he punishes them. He blames me for not keeping them quiet.”
  • “We have three kids under age 5. He leaves out dangerous items like bleach spray, scissors, and single pills of substances like Adderall. He acts like I’m stupid to think this is risky for our little kids.”
  • “If I ask him to watch the kids while I go to the grocery store and he isn’t in the mood to get out of bed, then he refuses. If I point out he’s been in bed for a long time already, he still refuses. He’s threatened me that if the kids get hurt while I’m out and he’s resting, it will be my fault since I left them with him after he said no. But he always says no – he thinks I should be solely responsible for them at all times.”
  • “I come home from work frequently to find him in bed, and our two toddlers roaming the house unsupervised, making a mess and potentially getting in to dangerous things.”
  • “Nobody is allowed to touch the thermostat except him, because of the temperature, and the cost. If he’s hot, then it’s worth turning the air on. If we’re hot, then it’s not worth turning the air on.”
  • “He doesn’t help with the housework, but he lectures me continuously about the right way to do it. When he returns home from work, he doesn’t say hello first – he just announces what chores aren’t visibly done.”
  • “We both have full-time jobs, but he lays on the couch with his phone every night after work. I make dinner, feed everyone, bathe the kids and get them to bed. If I ask him to do something, like take out the trash, he refuses. He says I’m ordering him around.”
  • “He antagonizes the kids and doesn’t know how to diffuse conflict. He creates power struggles and then punishes them with consequences that aren’t fair or reasonable, like a six month grounding. He expects me to enforce his consequences.”
  • “Even though he has sensory issues himself, he has no patience with our son who eats very few foods. He expects our son to eat every bite of whatever is on his plate, even if our son has tears streaming from the discomfort. He tells me I’m undermining him when I insist we offer our son some alternatives rather than forcing a food he detests.”
  • “Meltdowns don’t just happen in person. When he’s angry, he ragefully texts me all day long, and the things he says to me are so hateful. And then as soon as he’s over it, expects me to pretend it didn’t happen.”
  • “Stonewalling is his way of punishing me. He has gone an entire month without uttering a word to me.”

Secrets about his abandonment during critical moments of life:

  • “When my mom was put in hospice, he stopped speaking to me over something minor – I didn’t make the dinner he liked, so he said it was evidence that I don’t care about him or anything else but my mom. Whenever I need support the most, he finds a reason to withhold it.”
  • “I had major surgery that required a six week recovery. I planned ahead and asked him to take off the first week to help me. Any request I made – just for food or medicine – was met with irritation from him. I cried for most of my recovery – both from the pain, and also how he treated me. He never inquired as to why I was crying.”
  • “I had an emergency c-section with our second baby. I had lifting restrictions and couldn’t care for our toddler while caring for the newborn. He resented my instructions, and wasn’t willing to play with or entertain our toddler. He felt that since his time off from work is technically vacation time, it should be treated as such – not taking care of us. So he did lots of resting and hobbies while I cried.”
  • “I was diagnosed with cancer. When I told him, he just said “okay.” I asked if he could come to my follow-up appointment to learn about the treatments, but he didn’t understand why he should come – they weren’t going to be his treatments.”

Secrets about their sex life:

  • “We haven’t had sex in years – he avoids it and prefers porn.”
  • “He says he wants….to want…. to have sex. But we don’t.”
  • “We waited until after marriage to have sex. He hasn’t learned how I like to be touched, even though I’ve repeatedly been very specific – which he finds hurtful. I didn’t realize our sex life would be so disappointing.”
  • “He won’t reciprocate oral sex, but he expects it from me on a daily basis.”
  • “He finds the sensory aspect of sexually touching me to be disgusting, so he won’t.”
  • “He expects me to be freshly waxed at all times, because he hates body hair. But that rule doesn’t apply to him.”
  • “He requires a full shower and dry hair from me directly before sex, a towel on the bed and then immediately hops up afterwards to go take a shower himself.”
  • “He has never made eye contact during sex. It feels very disconnected when he’s staring at a fixed spot instead of into my eyes.”
  • “He expects sex every day, even if I’m really sick or just had a 12 hour workday. He has a meltdown and accuses me of not caring about his needs if I decline. Post-partum was a nightmare – he expected attention every single night even when I couldn’t physically provide it, and had a newborn and toddler to take care of.”
  • “He’s very moralistic about sex. He only uses proper terms and views it more as a reproductive function instead of a pleasurable experience. If I use any language that isn’t a clinical term, he calls me vulgar.”
  • “I can wear my sexiest lingerie to bed in hopes of him initiating, but he won’t even notice.”
  • “He was very critical of my post-partum body. He’s a doctor, and told me my stretch marks remind him of what scabies look like.”

Secrets about finances:

  • “He won’t let me have any passwords or access to our financial accounts. He has private bank accounts that he won’t discuss.”
  • “His mom is the recipient listed on his life insurance policy.”
  • “Cars are his special interest. He’s bought brand-new cars without telling me.”
  • “He will not stick to a budget. He spent $12k on video game purchases and I had no idea.”
  • “He lost his job but refuses to look for a new one, and rages when I plead with him.”
  • “He buys whatever he wants for himself, but I have to justify every dollar I spend to him.”
  • “We have four kids and a two bedroom home. He refuses to move, even though we could afford something much bigger that would fit our family much more comfortably.”

Secrets about special occasions:

  • “He has a meltdown every single holiday. The tension starts a day or two before, and then the holiday itself is an explosion that ruins it for everyone.”
  • “If we ask him to get out of bed and open presents,
  • “He hasn’t celebrated (or remembered) my birthday in years. But if his birthday isn’t made special, then he’s hurt and angry.”
  • “He frequently doesn’t speak to me on my birthday or our anniversary. He routinely finds a reason to be angry at me around any celebration.”
  • “At the last minute, he will often threaten not to go somewhere that we’re expected. He seems to enjoy the chaos this causes, the control it gives him, and my reaction to it. Like being on the cusp of embarrassing me, or ruining a special occasion distracts him from his anxiety about it.”

Secrets about broken agreements:

  • “We have a child with a life-threatening allergy. His mom has accidentally exposed her several times, so we agreed to stop allowing his mom to feed her. But he won’t enforce this, so our daughter had another exposure. He would rather risk her safety then stand up to his mom.”
  • “He promised me that we could take a family vacation this year. I did all sorts of side jobs to save the money for it. But just before I booked it, he took the money and paid off his student loan debt with it – so we couldn’t go.”
  • “We agreed that he would stand up for me at family gatherings where his dad tends to say rude things to me. But my husband shows no reaction. He just sits there eating the holiday meal as if it nothing terrible happened. And then later, he’ll gaslight me and say he didn’t hear his dad call me a name.”

There are endless secrets and countless categories.

Sometimes, hearing about some of these experiences doesn’t seem too terrible. Others often think the neurotypical wife is speaking in hyperbole if it gets to the point where she is actually sharing specific details with close ones. She spends EVERY night alone? He has a meltdown EVERY holiday? She’s NEVER gotten a birthday present? They haven’t had sex in YEARS? He didn’t speak to her for the ENTIRE month of August? She really doesn’t have ANY passwords to their financial accounts? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. (And can anyone but a fellow NT wife imagine what it’s like to deal with not one, but ALL of these issues compounded?) But this seems unlikely to many people. Even a marriage counselor who is unfamiliar with the neurodiverse dynamic might listen to the wife describe these things and mistake her as being the one with black and white, all or nothing thinking. Using words like “always” and “never” are usually red flags for a therapist. The neurotypical wife is also usually desperate and urgent, which further creates a picture for the therapist that perhaps she is the underlying factor as to why the marriage is struggling. (An ASD man often presents in therapy as a calm, collected and a quiet sufferer of his wife’s tantrums.)

It is not just that her husband is emotionally unavailable to her, or that he isn’t capable of understanding her feelings. It’s that there are a million little ways that her relationship is deprivational (and stressful) in nature. Neurotypical women are wired for tenderness, mutuality, kindness, reciprocity, intimacy and companionship. NT wives who have been through trauma from childhood are also wired for safety – emotional safety (being heard, understood and valued) and relational security (a partner who demonstrates reliability, protectiveness and trustworthiness). She often has very few of those qualities in her marriage, and that creates a tremendous amount of trauma for her that is compounded by keeping what starts to feel like the secret reality of her marriage.

Secrets are especially triggering for neurotypical wives, as many have an extensive trauma history from childhood. Neurotypical wives were once little girls who kept their suffering a secret while enduring abuse, chaos, and neglect from parents with addiction, personality disorders, mental illness, or neurodiversity. Perhaps they had no one to turn to, perhaps they feared the unknown outcome of disclosing, perhaps they didn’t realize that life at home wasn’t normal. They most certainly did not think that marrying their brilliant, sweet and quirky husband would somehow result in a marriage fraught with difficulty, and nor did they anticipate the continued burden of keeping secrets.

Interested in coaching services? Contact me for more information here.

2 thoughts on “The secrets that Cassandra keeps

  1. I know of an ASD husband who kept what seemed to be an encrypted spreadsheet on the refrigerator detailing the absence of sex and sexual acts between him and his wife. He marked it every day. She knew what it was. There was bad energy around the chart and they never spoke of it. Who is she going to share that with?

  2. First of all, I would like to thank you for the blog. It’s the first time I feel that I’m not alone. I have tried different therapists for me, for my husband and for us. Reading the articles helps me to confirm my perceptions, because I used to question myself a lot because of lack of validation from other (few) people who I would share things with. The last paragraph from this text made me into tears, because I always wonder, was it not enough a very traumatic and sad childhood? With the suffering on my marriage I keep asking myself if someday I’ll ever find peace, hapiness and be loved…

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