How Do I Handle Marriage to a Spouse with Asperger Syndrome?

Autism Can Make Romance Tricky -- But Not Impossible!

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Asperger syndrome no longer exists as a discrete diagnosis. Today, people with the symptoms of Aspergers receive an autism spectrum diagnosis -- assuming they choose to seek a diagnosis at all. With or without a diagnosis, however, it can be difficult to manage marriage to a person who has a hard time with social skills, interpersonal communication, empathetic understanding, or flexibility of thought.

 

While you may love your spouse with high functioning autism, it's not easy to keep the romance alive. Dr. Robert Naseef and colleague Cindy Ariel are experts in counseling families with autistic members. They offer specific insights and advice to partners living with high functioning autism.

Dr. Robert Naseef: Overcoming Loneliness in Marriage

If there is one word that describes the reaction of a family member to the diagnosis of autism in someone you love, that word is loneliness. If this word describes you, rest assured that you are not alone in having this response. There is help available for your both you and your partner. Now that autism is more widely recognized, adults as well as children who may not have been identified as autistic in the past, are being diagnosed. This is particularly true for high functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome, (a disorder which no longer exists in the diagnostic literature).

There is even a website devoted to the issues faced by spouses and partners at Asperger Syndrome Partners and Individuals Resources, Encouragement & Support. There are numerous helpful articles archived there. There is also an e-mail subscription list for individuals with high functioning autism, and those who have a parent, spouse, or child with autism.

Family and relational experiences, resources, survival tips, encouragement, and hope are offered there.

It is through this kind of sharing that many people help each other lighten the burdens of living with and find coping strategies and solutions for many issues in relationships. Certainly, it is not easy to bridge the communication gap that exists in the everyday life which you describe. Being simultaneously relieved and trapped is a treacherous dilemma. Usually, with more information comes hope, so you may want to learn more about autism. There are numerous books and websites. One good medical site to start at would be the PENN Social Learning Disorders Program. There you will see your partner's condition described as a social learning disorder which is a helpful way to look at his or her differences and the challenges that face both of you.

It is also important to look at the history of your relationship. You must have had good times together and shared positive feelings about each other.

Try to recapture what brought you together. You may benefit from consultation with a mental health professional who is experienced in helping people in your kind of situation. Even if your partner won't go with you, you may gain some insight into the relationship that will help you change the chemistry in your relationship.

Dr. Cindy Ariel: Cognitive Therapy Can Make a Positive Difference

People can change. In our profession, we help people to change and would not do what we do if we did not believe with certainty that it is possible. Most people with high functioning autism function at a high cognitive level and that means your partner will be able to use that intelligence to learn social behavior that is more socially acceptable and empathetic.

If your partner is willing to see a counselor, or even to get a second opinion, it could help him to see what is difficult for him to accept right now. Reading books by other adults with autism such as Stephen Shore, Temple Grandin, and Donna Williams may also be very helpful for him to begin to gather the cognitive evidence he may need to understand his diagnosis.

People with autism are able to move forward; not quickly and easily perhaps but slowly and steadily. It takes patience and perseverance. You will both have to change some of your current understanding and expectations. In every marriage, couples must make some sacrifices and compromises that they did not expect and this often brings couples to a deeper more mature place in their love, marriage, and commitment to one another.

Robert Naseef, Ph.D., and Cindy Ariel, Ph.D., are the co-editors of "Voices from the Spectrum: Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, People with Autism, and Professionals Share Their Wisdom" (2006). On the web at Alternative Choices.

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