“You need to pray harder for him…give him to God…you need to submit more…he’s just being a guy”. Those are all the things I heard from people (pastors, friends, family, etc), books, videos, podcasts, and even focused on in Scripture while trying to figure out why my marriage is failing and is not what I expected. A few posts ago, I shared with you the intro to my neurodiverse marriage that I didn’t know I was in for 24.5 years. While that may surprise you, I’m here today as a neurotypical wife sharing what I would have done differently had I know my husband is a high-functioning autistic, as well as some of my six children.
While I briefly go over how I came to the realization of how I came to deduce our situation in my previous post, I’d like to go a bit deeper this time around in part 1, followed by part 2 later this week. In addition, I realize that not everyone is in a similar marriage, however, I feel this is of utmost importance for all to understand as neurodiverse couples rate is becoming greater and greater by the day. There is a lack of training in the counselor world (both religious and secular) to understand the dynamics.
Additionally, think of how beneficial it would be to understand these specific aspects in marriage for your own family, friends, etc. For the sake of history, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? I’m writing this after spending months and hours researching, heart searching and praying that this reaches the right person(s). I’ve also created a video for you to hear from my life stories as a neurotypical wife.
First and foremost, JC is a brilliant, friendly, sweet man that has had his own set of troubles before marriage, just like I have. We both did not know we were facing autism when in our marriage. My sharing my side of the story while trying to understand his side is why I’m here today. I have to share past stories so you can see how this problem built up over the decades. My goal is not to make him out to be the bad guy. I played my part in this unknowingly and am learning in retrospect of how things could have been better, and problems avoided or lessened.
While sharing stories, my goal is for those seeking answers they can see themselves, their spouse, their children, their parent, etc in the stories and can relate. Maybe this will lead to some finding answers and even getting help so they don’t reach the point of hopelessness.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 19:11
*this asterisk will signify the events that were symptomatic of autistic behaviors that I did not recognize at the time. Following each paragraph I will try to relay what could have been done differently.
I was a senior in high school that had a few boyfriends (less than a handful) because I didn’t want to be a girl who broke hearts and wanted to save myself for marriage, sexually speaking. In my junior year, I dated a guy that put me through the ringer and decided after that I would take a dating respite. So, for about a year, I just enjoyed hanging with my girlfriends and being me. Then, by my senior year, I felt that if I took my time to find an intelligent, mature, responsible guy, I would trust God to lead me to him. You see, I wasn’t a Christian yet, though I believed in God and attended church faithfully with my family. More on that in this previous post HERE.
At the time, I truly believed God led me to JC (a junior at the time) from what I knew. During our 3.5 years dating, I had signs that I can now see looking back after realizing it was autism I was seeing. For instance, we talked on the phone for 2 weeks before going on a date. I had to call him because he wasn’t picking up on my cues of interest. * Then, after our first date he said he would call and there was no response for 2 weeks. * Remember that I had been through awful times with a previous boyfriend, so I wasn’t going to take any junk from another guy. I called him and bluntly asked why he never called as promised, he said he forgot…*
summation: At this point, we’re both so you that there really isn’t much I could have done to know or behave differently. He was masking, and I was assuming he was like-minded. If he had known he was autistic, he could have explained things to me and teach me what he was to be expected and work out what fit us both better. resource: Autism Experts – world’s largest organization by and for autistic families or AANE – Asperger/Autism Experts
While dating, JC and I would agree to do various things. For instance, after his work he would come to my house to hang out. However, the promised time to arrive would be irritatingly ignored and he’s show up two hours later.* Remember, there were no cell phones so I just waited and waited though he could have called from work. My sister would ask me, “so…why are you dating him??” after I would complain. Or, I would make special time to visit him at his house when I was super busy, and he’d sit down to eat and pick up the newspaper right in front of my face. * I told him that I didn’t come all the way over here to watch him read the paper…sigh.
In my mind I chalked it up to immaturity or not being taught social skills. I mean, I was 17 and he was 16 when we started dating. He was so shy and didn’t talk much. * I had friends that would even ask me…does he ever talk? Even a friend of mine dated him before I did had asked, “Does he talk to you? He never talked to me, and it drove me crazy!”
A GHOST OF A PERSON
Finally, after 3.5 years of dating there were times that I had to literally become invisible to him for days to get him to realize he was ignoring me or not remembering commitments. * I wanted him to see I was valuable and something to cherish meanwhile asking why he didn’t make effort in our relationship. At the same time, I was also testing the ground of “do I want to marry this man?” On top of that, I had to plan everything and initiate all the events in our lives. * During our sophomore year of college (we are 20 and 21 now), I want to get married. It made sense financially, we have been together long enough, and I wasn’t investing any more time into someone who wasn’t serious about me. * He wanted to marry too…sometime…whenever…in the future.
summation: While I obviously went about enabling, again. I should have been empathetic without enabling. Also, I should have set better boundaries for myself as a neurotypical wife. If I had known about autism, I would have made the clear of my expectations for both of us as well as responsibilities allowing for each to have space and needs met. Remember, it’s like an iPhone user trying to use a Droid and vice versa. Two different operating systems, but both work. resource: The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to be a Better Husband by David Finch: a wonderful read written by a man who didn’t let his diagnosis stop him. In addition, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lysa Terkeurst a book to help you establish healthy boundaries as a neurotypical wife.
Long story short, I had to convince him that marriage was a good idea. * That didn’t sit well with me at all as that’s not my way of thinking things are supposed to go. I wanted it to be natural and a joy for us both. There was no proposal…he came over to visit after I knew he was getting a ring. He sat down beside me on the floor as we’re watching TV and just handed it sideways without even looking at me. *
I said, “Aren’t you going to even ask me?”
He then, did. But I was so very disappointed as he couldn’t even look me in the eye. *
Funny thing is, that this last year I joined a neurodiverse relationship group. In there, all the ladies had stories exactly like mine or worse! “He shoved the ring into the shower when I was showering”, or “he slammed it down in front of me while I was working on the computer”. I now know why that all happened but try seeing it from my side as a girl who grew up dreaming of the day of the proposal.
Also, during this time, I sign us up for a young newlyweds class at church, and even a parenting class as I want to prepare for everything. I got books to study together such as Before You Say I Do, The Act of Marriage, Five Love Languages, etc. My goal was to be the best mother and wife that I could be. Little did I know how damaging those books are for any married couple – more on that later.
On the day of our wedding, we needed to sing a hymn as part of our ceremony. Lack of forethought left us at the altar without a hymnal. He went to get one from a pew and then shared it with his best man as I stood alone. *
summation: again, you can see a trend here of needing understanding, communication, boundaries, and expectations set. Neurodiverse Christian Marriages Network – Dr. Stephanie Holmes and her husband, Dan, are a neurodiverse couple that didn’t come to the diagnosis until recent years. They have articles, videos, podcasts, courses – so much to offer and have been a huge help to me. They also offer course to those wanting to expand their counseling or ministry to include neurodivergent counseling training.
CATCH UP YEARS
Next, we are married for our junior and senior years of college in Georgia. I had to plan the honeymoon, find a place to live, set up all the arrangements for making everything gel. * Those were crazy days as we both were deep into our studies, had jobs, and were 12 hours away from family in Ohio. During that time, I noticed some things changing.
Much like our dating relationship (not realizing I’m the neurotypical wife), I was the one who took care of everything. I had to take care of bills, set up appointments for us both, planning our future after college, etc. * I blew it off as he’s busy with school and will grow into being a husband that I can have as support. When it came time to figure out a plan after college, he wasn’t doing anything to prepare. * I kept a calendar of deadlines, bugged him to complete entry papers to grad schools. In addition, I made sure all applications were in on time and our next living accommodations were in place.
He wanted to continue for his masters and eventually a PhD so he could teach Greek & Hebrew at collegiate level. His focus is Biblical Languages (one of his special interests). I’m such an empath that I want to help people in any way I can. Apparently, that makes me a prime subject for falling for a neurodiverse guy. I am fully the enabler by now.
summation: While I tried to keep doing better and better for us both, it seemed he did less and less as I took the reins to “help”. That, in turn, only made things worse for me, and assumably him in different ways. 22 Things a Woman Must Know if She Loves a Man with Asperger’s Syndrome by Rudy Simone – a good read for a neurotypical wife.
After graduation, we hit a big snag. I mentioned that I had to handle his transition to grad school. He didn’t do anything in a timely manner. On top of that, we had to move out of school housing. * When we arrived at Kentucky to attend Asbury Seminary, all poo hit the fan and I knew we made a mistake. It didn’t bother him, but I then had to ask to move home with my parents until we could figure things out. All during this time I kept feeling like I am the husband and the wife. I had to think of everything or else there would be another mistake. *
We eventually move to our current city location with many bumps along the way. It’s at this time I feel like becoming a mother is finally a dream coming to realization. My first pregnancy was horrible. I had 9 weeks of hyperemesis which landed me in the ER severely dehydrated. During my pregnancy, the Cleveland Clinic decides to end the midwifery section of the prenatal care. That left me in my last week finding a new doctor. After birth, I have stories to share in this past post. During my labor, JC found it appropriate to watch the NCAA basketball finals for his favorite team. * (another special interest). I was so hurt that he didn’t recognize my pain, fear, and lack of needful care. * Read more on Cassandra Syndrome HERE.
summation: As you can see, this is where I kept taking care of all the responsibilities and now face taking care of another human. I kept praying that I wouldn’t feel so alone. I would communicate my feelings to JC in various ways, but he just didn’t get it. He assumed I was being an overly sensitive female, and he is just being a typical guy.
While I’m seriously skipping many events, I want to quickly focus on becoming parents as an unknown neurotypical wife married to an autistic man. You see, my husband is cool as a cucumber most of the time. However, I have learned that I cannot be sick or in pain or he doesn’t handle it well. * So you can imagine how that bodes when you’re having children – eight children, six here with us on the earth. (one stillborn, one miscarriage)
My plan is to share more specifics as I’ve realized I’m a mom to high-functioning autistic children. However, during the child-bearing/rearing years is when I really lost myself. I was highly becoming co-dependent on JC and eventually my kids. This due to the lack of a healthy marriage relationship where my emotional needs are being met.
Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship dynamic where one person assumes the role of “the giver,” sacrificing their own needs and well-being for the sake of the other, “the taker.” The bond in question doesn’t have to be romantic; it can occur just as easily between parent and child, friends, and family members. (source)
It’s during this time that my previous years’ efforts of talking to JC about every six months about needing more were irrelevant. I was better off talking to the wall. Eventually, I began speaking to him more on a yearly basis. Still with no change or feeling of being heard. By the time we hit our 10-year anniversary I worked hard to make it special. Meanwhile, he didn’t really do anything. Then, I decided that I’m going to do less. I felt unheard for so many years, wondering why our relationship felt awful though married to a godly man. By the time I was pregnant with our third child I was in tears. I didn’t want to have another child with this man.
What is more, I became the scapegoat for many problems within his family, within my family, and assumptions flare up. As a neurotypical wife carrying a burden, I am seen as controlling or overbearing even though I want this yoke lifted. I would refer to being married to him as a we’re a yoke of oxen and I’m dragging him along the entire way.
summation: It’s at this point no one believes me when I quietly share stories of my grief. JC was/is seen as a perfectly sweet person and there’s no way he does anything wrong. An inside joke between us was that his name stands Jesus Christ. In his family he could walk on water. Therefore, it’s assumed the problem is with me. Why Women Who Leave Lose Twice – I find myself in this article over and over again.
Unfortunately, by me cutting back on being myself (celebrating others) that led to more pain and more misunderstanding. Could I have known what I was facing? Not a chance. However, I will elaborate more on what I did do right and what I could have done better. The goal of this post is to establish an understanding of how this evolved over time.
You see, each time there was a major life event or transition, I can now see how JC’s mask was falling off. In autism, folks put on a mask to fit in. However, when that happens, they’re not being true to themselves. This can cause issues within the brain causing stress and anxiety. My neurotypical wife thoughts were of him to respond to me as my brain functioned one way. His safety would be to be alone, less stimulation, less interaction, and focus on stimming. The absolute for him is finding that spot of peace.
Little did I know that a person on the spectrum requires excessive sleep to regulate. His naps were more important than me or the children, in my mind. I would beg for time with him, but he’d stay up late on his phone or with a book. Then, the next day take hours and hours long naps to recover. Meanwhile, I would be the one caring for the children at night by myself. Because if one of them woke him up, he would wake up extremely angry and worse than any sick child. Eventually, I would just decide to handle all things by myself. He caused me more stress than any needy child. That meant feeling like I am a single parent literally all of the time.
summation: You can see how the lack of knowledge and understanding in us both is causing harm. My faith taught me to stay the course no matter what. That meant I hung on losing more and more of myself. That didn’t need to happen as a neurotypical wife. Barbara Grant – a neurodiverse life & couples coach. She has helped me even when I’m not an official client.
To wrap up this part of my discussion, I want to leave a few insights as well as my video. First, after the “diagnosis” of autism, it made sense when JC always corrected me in my speech. Autism lends itself to being very logical. While I take it as criticism, he just is being correct. Additionally, JC has at least one comorbidity of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Having ADHD, OCD, etc. is quite common with autism. Also, I believe he possibly has PDA (pathological demand avoidance). It’s defined as:
Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a term used to reference a pattern of severe, chronic resistance toward cooperation with ordinary requests in daily life. PDA is considered by many to be an atypical presentation of autism, and has qualities that are seemingly inverse. Also referred to as Extreme Demand Avoidance, or Pervasive Drive for Autonomy, the UK acknowledges PDA as a behavioral profile of autism. Demand avoidance associated with autism may occur due to rigid adherence to routine; difficulty transitioning between preferred and non-preferred activities; sensory overstimulation, which in turn creates overwhelm; inflexible thinking in regard to problem-solving; difficulty stopping perseveration; and social or performance anxiety in general. (source)
He also tends to only see things a certain way when it comes to emotions (aka alexithymia). For instance, many times he would say, “you’re mad at me”. In absolute puzzlement I would say, “No, I’m not. I’m hurting and sad.” I find this best described as he has a box of crayons that has 5 primary colors, while I may have the full box of 124 colors. He sees my emotions through his colors and doesn’t understand my body language to be able to tell him more than what he can see.
Alexithymia, derived from the Greek language, means “no emotions for words.” This psychological construct is used to describe people who struggle with feeling and expressing emotions. It represents a reduced ability, or sometimes a complete inability, to be connected with the internal emotive signals your body sends you. If you have alexithymia, you do not only have trouble knowing how you feel, and you also struggle to tell how others feel. This can make you socially anxious as you cannot read non-verbal cues. (source)
What I initially am dismissing as just a preference became more noticeable. It has to be this way for him. His inability to deal with basic executive functions causes him to create routines. He eats the exact same meal for lunch every day and even other meals. A few years ago, I couldn’t get him to change from tuna, pasta, peas, mayo, hot sauce and milk. Eventually, I talked him into something new and now it’s years of chicken, potato, peas, mayo, hot sauce, and milk. This is his coping mechanism to lessen his executive function overload. Funny thing is, for many, many years, I made his lunches for him, but quit after he started complaining. He even got oodles of compliments from coworkers that I made the best lunches ever. Little did I know I was a neurotypical wife to an autistic man.
summation: JC is getting “worse” as his mask falls off and even may be dealing with mid-life crisis. If he had known how to deal with himself all these years, he would have learned self-regulation. See Embracing Intensity for ways to communicate to your neurodiverse loved one as a neurotypical wife, mother, daughter, sister, or friend.
You know that I write for YOU. So, hearing from you is what makes what I do worthwhile. I know many of you will mean well with advice. However, honestly, I have done and am doing all I can at this point. My goal then is to pass what I’m learning onto you as a neurotypical wife. Leave some comment love below, as well as pin and share so others can find help too. You can see more on My Pinterest Board as well.
Next, I’m sharing Part 2 of this neurotypical wife post. Be sure to sign up for my FREE newsletter. PLUS, you will get your free Furniture Buying Checklist and special discount to my shop. Until next time!