Help living with a wimmen hatin' husband with Asperger's
May 24, 2010 10:19 AM   Subscribe

My husband has Asperger's Syndrome and a lot of unresolved anger towards his ex-wife. These two things are horrible together, as he is frequently mean to me, punishing me for things she did to him, but then he is unable to grasp how upsetting this is for me. I've been trying to get him to go to therapy to try to work out his anger about her, but in the meantime I need strategies to cope with living like this, as it is making me lose my mind with frustration, anger, and sadness.

I love my husband very much, and want to try to work through this, but I am afraid the potent combination of his behavior and my resulting rage will kill our marriage. Because of his Asperger's, he is unable to interpret any non-verbal cues successfully. I know this, so I make sure I tell him clearly and explicitly what I am thinking, what I need, etc. He, however, continues to interpret my "signals" through the filter of his ex-wife's behaviour, so he is forever punishing me for things that he decided I was doing and thinking. This punishment takes the form of silent treatment, long martyred sighs, slamming things around, passive aggressive snipping comments, etc. What's worse is that he does not tell me what I am being punished for, and refuses to admit that he is acting in anyway out of the ordinary, so I cannot explain away his misconception when it happens, and instead usually what happens is that the slamming, ignoring, etc starts, and then I wrack my brains for anything he might have misconstrued and then I then have to enter a period of trying to reason with him about how he got the wrong end of the stick, and try to convince him that what ever I told him I was thinking about was really what I was thinking about. Peace might then reign for a little while, and then he does it again with something else.

In his defense, he has finally recognized that he does this, and is slowly--sllooooooooowwwwwllllly--starting to try to stop doing this to me. I am trying to be more patient with him, telling myself that he cannot help his inability to be empathetic, but telling myself that does not always work.....by the 3rd or 4th or 6th time (or ok, sometimes even the first time, if it's happening *again*) that he does this in a day, I get furious and overcome by rage. This, of course, does not help the situation any, and he as is incapable of seeing why his actions might be upsetting, I just get more upset, and it just becomes an ugly spiral. Not to mention, that, again, because of the Asperger's, he does not understand how to apologize or soothe my feelings, or even show remorse, so sometimes I feel like I am just walking around like a great big bruised angry thundercloud.

I've been trying to get more coping mechanisms--reading up on Asperger's, and the struggles that neurotypical spouses face when they are married to someone with Asperger's (unfortunately, there are no therapists in the area that specialize in counseling these types of couples). In desperation, then, I turn to the hive mind. What can be done to resolve this situation? Is there some solution I am not seeing? He refuses to confront her about his anger, as he is afraid that she will with hold custody of their kid (more than she already has done), but would this help him work through his anger? I've been working on the assumption that the lion's share of the change will have to come from me, so what can I do to better cope with the rage I feel at these unjust, unfair attacks? What can I do to better weather this storm while he (hopefully) works his way through this? How can at least learn to not be resentful and to let his issues roll off my back?

I'm sorry that this is long, and I am sorry that I threw like 60 questions in at the end; I suppose what I am trying say is that I appreciate any advice or insight anyone could give. Thanks so very much.

Throw away email: getmadather@hmamail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
You both need to be in counseling, even if it isn't close by your home. Your husband seems to have an untreated illness, and the repercussions of that are destroying your marriage.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:28 AM on May 24, 2010


Have you considered that it's not the Aspergers that's the problem? Maybe he's just an asshole. In either event, the way he's treating you is not cool. It is not your job to bend over backwards to placate his bullshit. The "lions share" of the changes should not have to come from you because you're doing nothing wrong.
posted by crankylex at 10:32 AM on May 24, 2010 [24 favorites]


I am trying to be more patient with him, telling myself that he cannot help his inability to be empathetic.

I could see how this might be hard to see from the inside, but the fact that he cannot help his inability to empathize does not mean that you need to commit yourself to dealing with him for the rest of your life.

Because he's unable to pick up on subtle or non-verbal cues, you're going to have to make it unmistakably clear to him that he's making your relationship unsustainable and that unless he commits himself to making progress in therapy, there is no logical recourse for you but to move on. If he cannot understand why you don't want to be treated like an enemy by him, whatever the cause for his lack of understanding, a good relationship with him is not possible.
posted by ignignokt at 10:35 AM on May 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Your husband's behavior is appalling. crankylex has it right. Asperger's is no excuse for behaving like an asshole.

I've been working on the assumption that the lion's share of the change will have to come from me, so what can I do to better cope with the rage I feel at these unjust, unfair attacks? What can I do to better weather this storm while he (hopefully) works his way through this? How can at least learn to not be resentful and to let his issues roll off my back?

Whoa, whoa, whoa. First off, you are asking the wrong questions. You are not the one who needs to change and nobody should have to "weather this storm" while holding onto false hope that things are going to change. This isn't going to fix itself. The classic "THERAPY: NOW" or "DTMFA" AskMe solutions are really the only things that come to mind.

You don't have to live like this. You deserve better.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:50 AM on May 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Have you considered that it's not the Aspergers that's the problem? Maybe he's just an asshole.

Just a data point: I have a friend with Asperger's. He's sometimes very quiet, but he's not a dick to his wife and friends. I'd say he's pretty nice, even. I don't know how severe his Asperger's is and how severe your husband's is, however.
posted by ignignokt at 10:52 AM on May 24, 2010


...He does not tell me what I am being punished for, and refuses to admit that he is acting in anyway out of the ordinary, so I cannot explain away his misconception when it happens, and instead usually what happens is that the slamming, ignoring, etc starts, and then I wrack my brains for anything he might have misconstrued and then I then have to enter a period of trying to reason with him about how he got the wrong end of the stick, and try to convince him that what ever I told him I was thinking about was really what I was thinking about. Peace might then reign for a little while, and then he does it again with something else.

This sounds like serious emotional abuse to me. And your assumption that this (or the lion's share of it, as you say) is somehow your responsibility or even within your means to resolve fits in all too well with that model. Please, do not discount your clearly justified anger. You can love someone and be unable to help them, even be unable to stick around. No one else gets to decide how much is too much - but you must pay attention to your own responses. Anger is justified; rage is a red flag.

I am not suggesting that you give up on your husband - but you don't even mention the possibility, which is worrisome. Yes, get couples counseling, and convey your limits to him, but at the end of the day you're powerless in helping him change, and you should figure out how long you're willing to wait around for him to change. The lion's share of the work has to come from him, not you. Suppressing your emotions or making justifications for him all the time will only go so far. Staying with your husband is a choice, no matter what situation he's in. Take care of yourself, please.
posted by mondaygreens at 11:00 AM on May 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


What are YOU getting from the relationship? It sounds, from your description, that you are a combination ever-flowing breast and emotional punching bag. Is this what you think you deserve? Is there something he is giving you in return? If you decide to have a child, will you be happy to stand by and watch your child being the target of his rage?

If your mother, sister, best friend, other woman you are close to were being treated this way, what would you tell her?

Marriage, ideally, is a partnership, not one person "doing the lion's share." Think about it.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:32 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


His affliction does not require you to continue a relationship with him. You are not a prosthetic limb the hospital gave him. You are under no obligation to stay with him if he continues to make your life more difficult. And both of you need to understand this.
posted by Etrigan at 11:37 AM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Healthy relationships are not a guessing game, they're a partnership--even an Asperger's variable in there. You have already accommodated for that disability by openly communicating what you feel and what you need. Instead of taking that information and talking to you about it and what is frustrating him, he's emotionally manipulative. Ultimately, even if his abusive behavior was completely out of control because of the Asperger's, that does not mean that you need to be married to an abusive person.

As others have said above, there seems to be few options other than therapy so he can learn how to communicate what's bothering him or to leave him. You deserve so much more.
posted by Kimberly at 11:48 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of this excellent comment by sticky carpet regarding what it takes for a relationship to work. Of those proverbial five legs to the table, how many -- be scrupulously honest -- do you and your husband have? And of the ones you do have, how many of them result from mutual teamwork rather than primarily your individual efforts?

At the end of the day, a healthy marriage means knowing intrinsically that you are on your partner's side, and that your partner is on your side -- even during the conflicts and hard times. If you don't have that, then the only healthy options are to work -- mutually and equally -- to fix it, or to move on.
posted by scody at 11:49 AM on May 24, 2010


I'm going to have to support crankylex on this one; it doesn't sound like your husband's problem is having Asperger's. It sounds like his problem is having Assholitis. You need to tell him in no uncertain terms to stop his bullshit; if he has a problem, he needs to tell you what it is and not act like a child throwing a tantrum.
posted by Justinian at 12:05 PM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


IAW ignignokt - be very clear, and set (and enforce) boundaries with direct and enforceable "if/then" consequences for him violating those boundaries. IE: If he continues to make assumptions about what you are thinking instead of asking you what you are thinking, then you are going to spend the night at your (sister/mother/friend's) house instead of with him. If he is unwilling to commit to changing his hurtful behavior towards you through therapy, etc, then you are going to leave the relationship.

If what he needs is a caregiver - someone whose job it is to work with him to help him develop more positive ways of relating to other people, someone who can do that without requiring his affection and partnership in return because their relationship with him is primarily a working one - then he needs to get a caregiver. A spouse is not a caregiver. A spouse is not a teacher. A spouse can and should provide support with these things, but a long-term relationship is a relationship that requires reciprocation and mutual responsibility to each other. Neuroatypical relationships can be totally healthy and happy without looking exactly like the relationships between neurotypical people (full disclosure: I happen to be neuroatypical and also in a LTR with a neuroatypical person) - but that doesn't mean there aren't also universal standards of behavior that can be equally applied to both neurotypical people in relationships and neuroatypical people in relationships. "Don't hold me responsible for something your ex-wife did" seems like one of those reasonable standards of behavior, and regardless of whether or not his brain acts like your brain, keeping you in a near-constant state of second-guessing yourself and what it is you might have done now to set him off and "make" him act cruelly towards you is manipulative (and possibly abusive) behavior.

I know you're asking specifically for help in dealing with this and not advice re: whether or not you should leave, so this might be kind of annoying, but honestly - you say things like you "hope" he will get better at not doing the things that hurt you, and that he's "starting to try to work on" his issues. This might be fine if his behavior wasn't having an immediate and negative impact on you, but it is, and so it's unfair to both of you to accept that because he's neuroatypical, he can't be relied upon to work on his shit in a timely and reliable fashion. If he can be relied upon enough to enter into a marriage with someone (twice! And have kids!) then he can be relied upon to get himself into therapy when his wife says "this is making me deeply unhappy". that is what adults in relationships do, regardless of whether or not they have mental health issues - and if they can't handle that, regardless of whether or not they have mental health issues (and hey, there are plenty of 'sane' folks who can't), then it's not fair of them to enter into a committed relationship, let alone a marriage with all the complicating factors of a marriage (shared property, finances, etc).

I really think you should think about this, if you're not already.
posted by ellehumour at 12:12 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anon, I think you will find this forum helpful; it is for partners of people with Asperger's. I spent some time there a few years ago and it was extremely helpful.
posted by headnsouth at 12:13 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


In his defense, he has finally recognized that he does this, and is slowly--sllooooooooowwwwwllllly--starting to try to stop doing this to me.

This is scarier to me than if you said he'd made no effort so far. He is now under the impression that some small amount of progress will satisfy you. He needs to knock it right off-- all of it.

Perhaps the worst thing of all, to me, is that here you are married to someone and he's still this hung up on his ex. That's no way to live.
posted by BibiRose at 12:20 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


He refuses to confront her about his anger, as he is afraid that she will with hold custody of their kid (more than she already has done), but would this help him work through his anger?

He's right that yelling at his ex-wife will not accomplish anything. It might be nice for you to hear him yell at someone else for a change, but he has no power to make her listen to his rage at this point (a fact for which I'm sure she's deeply grateful), so it would be completely unsatisfying to him. She'd probably just hang up the phone or walk away as soon as he started in on her. He's also right that it would be a reason for her to try even harder to protect her child from this rageful, punitive person (because that's what I call "withholding custody" from an emotional abuser).

I think that you should stop blaming your husband's ex for his behavior today. He's a grown man who punishes people close to him when he feels frustrated and angry, which is often. She didn't make him that way; she probably divorced him because he was already that way.
posted by palliser at 12:57 PM on May 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


He refuses to confront her about his anger, as he is afraid that she will with hold custody of their kid

Right there you have proof positive that he is capable understanding the consequences of his actions, and can control his behavior and emotional reactions when he is sufficiently motivated to do so.

He's not motivated to control himself with you because you're not giving him any real reason to trouble himself about it.

I agree with Justinian's comment above.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:08 PM on May 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


(Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about Asperger's.) It just seems to me that you are in a way making excuses for his behaviour. That because he has Asperger's, that it is that much harder for him to see, empathize and understand the effect of his behaviour on you. But people are capable of not seeing, understanding and empathizing without having Asperger's! Why is him having Asperger's a way to avoid responsibility?

Because of his Asperger's, he is unable to interpret any non-verbal cues successfully. He, however, continues to interpret my "signals" through the filter of his ex-wife's behaviour,
I found this interesting. He CAN interpret non-verbal cues. It just seems like he chooses to have them remind him of his ex-wife. I agree with BibiRose's last paragraph (and her whole comment, and palliser's btw): he's way too wrapped up in his ex. Which makes me wonder, did you not notice this when you got married? Did you think it wasn't that big of a problem or that you would work it out? I'm not trying to make you feel bad or second guess you, I think it's important to go back to those initial assumptions and see if reality matched up to those assumptions. Whatever the case, is this what you wanted in your marriage? Yeah, I know, for better or for worse, in sickness or health, but a marriage does NOT have to come at the expense of your own health.

I've been working on the assumption that the lion's share of the change will have to come from me
This is partly why I think you're making excuses for his behaviour. You think you have to do all the work because he's just not capable because of his Asperger's. Like I said, I don't know anything about Asperger's. But I do know that people with disabilities find ways of doing things differently, getting support, etc. I think he is capable of changing his behaviour, because he's an adult. Do you believe that? How he does it might be different from neurotypical people, but I don't think you've been helping him change by trying to be so understanding, ironically. Listen to the comments that have talked about implementing consequences.

How to cope? Take care of yourself. Put yourself first. Keep yourself healthy physically, do things you enjoy, spend time with people who love you and support you. Focus on your needs in your relationships with other people, so you have practice doing it and can do it with the husband.
posted by foxjacket at 1:23 PM on May 24, 2010


to answer the question you asked:

you might feel less stressed out if you enrolled in a support group. or went to a mindfulness based stress reduction group -- that might help you become less responsive to his provocations. MBSR in particular has been scientifically observed to make people less responsive to all kinds of stresses.

and to address the question you didn't ask:

as someone from a family with multiple aspies, i'm co-signing all the above commenters who're saying that you're cutting this guy slack for things that aren't asperger's. being petulant is not a side effect of asperger's. neither is passive-aggressiveness, refusing to own up to your feelings, or incomprehension of clearly communicated verbal complaints ("he is incapable of seeing why his actions might be upsetting").

you say that you think you're the one who'll have to change. but the person acting like a jerk is him. his asperger's does not excuse this behavior.

take care of yourself, and good luck.
posted by hungrytiger at 1:47 PM on May 24, 2010


ignignokt: you're going to have to make it unmistakably clear to him that he's making your relationship unsustainable and that unless he commits himself to making progress in therapy, there is no logical recourse for you but to move on.

Seconded. I did this with my spouse, who doesn't have Asperger's, but has other atypical issues. Even with therapy, it was a long hard slog that took 5 to 6 years (and another ultimatum) before he reliably caught himself taking his shit out on me, and then got himself out of that mental space, within a mere couple of hours. As opposed to the full week it took him at the beginning of therapy. The endlessly repetitive arguments nearly burned me right out on all levels. But at least he talked with me about WTF was going on in his head. What you're dealing with sounds much worse.

I've been working on the assumption that the lion's share of the change will have to come from me, so what can I do to better cope with the rage I feel at these unjust, unfair attacks? What can I do to better weather this storm while he (hopefully) works his way through this? How can at least learn to not be resentful and to let his issues roll off my back?

Nthing everybody who says "No, the lion's share will have to come from him." IMO it takes two people to make a relationship work but only one to sink it. One partner no matter how giving, saintly and positive, cannot make up for the other partner's blaming, destructive patterns. Your rage and resentment in this situation is natural. Your "I'll have to take the lion's share" assumption reminds me of this excellent comment in another thread, from small_ruminant:

When you're in a relationship like this, you don't have the emotional bandwidth to do justice to your own growth, your relationships with friends, family, your job, or, when you're a parent, to your kids. Your boyfriend will ALWAYS be the person who needs the most from you. It will never end. And unless he's working diligently, pro-actively, consistently on his own issues, this is as good as it will ever get.

FWIW, here's what helped with my own resentment: exercise, deep breathing meditation, writing my feelings down in journals, a strong network of friends and family. Knowing for sure that he was improving, because I tracked it. Remembering that I'd made it clear to him that I'd leave if the stress started to fuck up my long-term health, and knowing that I would stick to that because, seriously, love is a necessary but not nearly sufficient condition for building a healthy long term relationship where both partners feel safe and nurtured.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:11 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


When it comes to abuse, my old therapist called this kind of diagnosis (or in my case it was his borderline personality diagnosis along with drug addiction) "so what" diagnosis.

What people here are saying that it might not be his Asperger's driving this emotional abuse. True, it might not be. But even if it is, there comes a point where you just can't base your decision on the fact that it might be the illness's "fault." He's got Asperger's. So what - you're being abused and you don't need to be. Sad, because sometimes mental illness may "cause" abusive behavior - but that doesn't mean you have to take it.
posted by Pax at 2:42 PM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


A couple of things:

1/ This man has been married, twice. Furthermore, he fears a break in the relationship with his son and has taken steps to limit that risk. He is clearly a high-functioning AS, capable of navigating complex emotional relationships when he's motivated to do so.

2/ The dynamic you describe is that of a witholding, angry parent and a diminished, appeasing child. You are both adults. The way he's treating you IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. Asperger's doesn't give you a free pass to be an asshole.

3/ There is no reason for you to appease him with the desperate guessing. He is responsible for articulating his emotions, even if he has to put a huge amount of effort into doing that.

Clear, consistant and immediate messaging is important here but having Asperger's doesn't absolve him from communication in the relationship. It's not a hall pass, especially when he's made a commitment to you with this marriage.

You need support, and you need support from people who know a lot about AS. I would suggest ASPIRES, particularly reading this page and all of the linked articles, and joining the mailing list. I think you really, really need the experience of other spouses to help you understand what are reasonable boundaries, and what is AS vs what is simply your spouse's personality because frankly, I fear you've lost perspective on that.

But I also think you need to find specialist couples help, even if it's far and even if you can only make the trip once a month.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:56 PM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have you considered that his ex may have been no more to blame for his misinterpretations of signals than you are?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:57 PM on May 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sorry, wrong link. See here for ASPIRES, and see here for a very interesting article on Asperger Marriage: Viewing Partnerships Through a Different Lens.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:59 PM on May 24, 2010


Having Aspergers is not an excuse for being an asshole. Speaking as a person with the disorder (or different order) with family members with Aspergers, we are many things, but the pattern involves social cluelessness, not being a dick. Methinks your love and understanding of this disabled makes it hard for you to see when someone is using a disability to excuse acting like a jerk.

For example: "My husband doesn't realize I need to hear I am loved because he said it once."; "My husband will NOT shut up about Star Trek/Ballet/Trains." or "My husband is baffled when he speaks his mind, and troubled that it hurts my feelings." is typical aspie social woopsies. I know how to say I'm sorry. I had to learn it by route, not instinct, but I'm not stupid. Empathy is a form of logic. My examples were stereotypes, but pouting and projecting are neurotypical behaviours mentally 'normal' people do just as much as Aspies. As is a refusual to deal with anger issues.
posted by Phalene at 3:17 PM on May 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


You can't help him if you're always miserable. You can't be the one pulling all the weight, either.

Put on your own oxygen mask before you start working on helping your husband or your marriage.

Get some good individual therapy, get lots of support from friends, distance yourself from him a little bit so it hurts less, spend time out of the house doing fun activities, perhaps even separate from him if it comes to that.

Then when you're not as much of a wreck you can help your husband with some of his anger issues, and work on restructuring your communication and your marital interactions so that they benefit both of you more.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:44 PM on May 24, 2010


He refuses to confront her about his anger, as he is afraid that she will with hold custody of their kid

Right there you have proof positive that he is capable understanding the consequences of his actions, and can control his behavior and emotional reactions when he is sufficiently motivated to do so.


I'd agree competely with this. There's nothing wrong with having a condition or mental illness. There is something wrong with using it as a get-out-of-jail-free card for behaving badly.
posted by rodgerd at 8:57 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Have you considered that his ex may have been no more to blame for his misinterpretations of signals than you are?

This. It took me only a little while to realize that my ex's exes probably also hadn't cheated, etc.
posted by Pax at 7:18 AM on May 25, 2010


Well, I have Aspergers in spades.

And you know what? This guy doesn't sound like an aspie; he sounds like a jerk.

More usefully, what has worked in the past for me in relationships when I started going off kilter is a 'stop' word. A word or signal, distinctive enough so that it's not likely to be in-context, to signal exactly when I'm going strange. At the start of the behaviour, whatever it is. I literally could not pick it up internally, so I needed that external unambigous signal to inform me when events like that occurred. Otherwise I would tend to go on my merry way, not realising I was behaving in a way detrimental to the people around me. Admittedly, my fault was more along the lines of discussing emotionally sensitive topics in a completely clinical, dispassionate way than throwing a sulk (although, that happened too).

Your husband has to agree to this though; has to recognise that his behaviour needs to be changed, and be willing to be notified when the unacceptable behaviour begins, so he can recognise it, work out, explain and, most importantly, disable the triggers, and arrive at a conclusion prior to the completely-losing-it part.
posted by ysabet at 5:49 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


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