My husband doesn't value intimacy
September 9, 2012 8:04 AM   Subscribe

My aspie husband and I have good sex, but he doesn't seem to value intimacy. Or maybe to even be capable of it.

My aspie husband and I have been having sex for 10 years. Over this time sex has become increasingly lonely for me as I have come to the conclusion he doesn't really value intimacy.

In the beginning, I approached him the way I approached other lovers: I wore lingerie, I lit candles, I made romantic dinners. I think, in retrospect, he basically went along with this to please me (or because he was going through the motions to get laid).

But all of that only ever originated with me. He's very happy with the sex we have, which results in orgasm for everyone but feels empty to me. He is perfectly silent through the whole thing; he never says my name, never says things feel good, never compliments any part of my body, never says he loves me during, never says it was good after. There is no explorative foreplay before and little cuddling after. I often feel like I could be anyone at all.

I don't expect it to be like the movies but this seems extreme to me. So I guess I'm wondering:

1) Is drawing a distinction between having sex and making love juvenile romance novel territory? (I don't want violins all the time, I just want them to be part of the mix.)

2) Is this just how a percentage of men would prefer to have sex if they all had cheerfully compliant partners?

3) Can he learn to feel what I used to feel when we went to bed? I really don't want him to just fake it to make me happy. I want real intimacy that is actually, genuinely shared.

4) What do I do? I have tried to explain this to him and while he's happy to listen, I don't think he has any understanding of what I'm talking about. It's like I'm describing sex on Mars.

5) Is this an Aspie thing? Is there somewhere I can go for support if it is?

Don't bother with DTMFA; if I can't get the real intimacy I'm craving, I will carry on without it. The sex gets full technical marks, and my husband is otherwise smart, funny, supportive, and generally awesome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming that aspie = Aspergers then, yes, this very well could be related. I had an acquaintance with Aspergers years ago and he really wasn't good at knowing what the "correct" emotional response was to many situations. He was lucky to have a good friend who he trusted, who'd give him a subtle elbow to the side if he was acting in a way that was inappropriate (he was happy to have this friend, because he didn't like responding to situations in ways that other people found unusual). If you've talked to your husband about this, and he really doesn't understand, it is very possibly related to his Aspergers. In this sense, I don't know if he can really learn to value or even feel intimacy during sex (or at least not express it the same way that most people do), but if you let him know that these things are important to you than he can probably at least go through the motions. This might not help, though, since you'll probably be able to tell the difference.

Unrelated to the Aspergers, I think this can just be a thing for a certain set of men. I know that there are times where I could fit the description of your husband. It has been pointed out to me on occasion, and I've tried to make my wife feel like I am fully present, but sometimes sex and intimacy aren't on my mind at the same time. I think this is probably true of most people (men and women) from time to time.
posted by asnider at 8:24 AM on September 9, 2012

1) No, I don't think so. There is some evidence the emotional connection thing matters more to women than men, generally.

2) Possibly. Men generally seem to relate somewhat more to sex as a physical thing rather than an emotional thing.

3) Maybe not. But that doesn't mean you can't get it back for yourself.

4) Emotions come from somewhere. The word "love" is both a noun, refering to a feeling, and a verb, refering to taking good care of a person. The feeling part in one person usually grow out of the care-taking by another. He can learn that some things are ok mportant and necessary for you.

I am not sure how to apply it to sex per se. My ex was similar and it contributed to the decline of the marriage. My sons are both ASD and the three of us get along well, but, obviously, it isn't a sexual thing.

My oldest is narcissistic, like his father. He tells me he observed how I treated people and how his dad treated people and concluded that things I did got better results, even though it was counterintuitive for him. So he decided to be polite, considerate, etc just to keep people out of his hair. He also eventually concluded that a healthy relationship needs to be symbiotic, not parasitic. Behaving like a social parasite will either use a person up so they no longer have it to give or eventually drive them off. So, he hacked himself by mentally recategorizing my needs and his brother's needs as also being something he himself needed. In other words, we are important to him and he wants us around long term, so he makes sure we get our needs met because it makes his life work better.

My sons are aware I have emotional needs and when I get too grumpy, they are quick to tell me I am an awesome mom and regale me with tales of why. They consider me to be a pushover, easily mollified. They say their dad is a "tard" for not being able to figure it out. But he never did figure it out and I never figured out how to clue him this was important, this was something I needed, etc. And we ultimately divorced.

So I think it is possible to work it out. It is possible to help an Aspie learn to do certain social things out of enlightened self interest, based on logic, even though they aren't similarly emotionally and socially oriented. And I hope my remarks help you figure out how that might be done. I still find myself attracted to men similar to my ex. I am better at getting what I need from men these days but I never did figure out how to undo problems which had grown over time in my marriage.

5) I think it kind of is an Aspie thing -- I am reminded of an online discussion years ago titled "all these aspies seem to be divorced" -- but I am not aware of a support group specifically for this issue.
posted by Michele in California at 8:47 AM on September 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

That should say "important and necessary for you". My droid sometimes sticks "ok" in place of the letter "i" for reasons I don't understand. Sorry 'bout that.
posted by Michele in California at 8:49 AM on September 9, 2012

Not all men are like that, but I'm sure your husband isn't the only one. I'd imagine that there's a good overlapping venn diagram chunk between guys with asperger's and guys who feel the way your husband feels.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:03 AM on September 9, 2012

You say the sex gets full technical marks - really? Even though he doesn't do foreplay, doesn't give verbal feedback, doesn't express desire for you? In my book that means he gets a C- in sex at best unless he has mind reading powers so he knows exactly what you want. You don't even need to think about it as sex vs intimacy, because he isn't doing some of the very basic things a good sex partner should do. Orgasms aside, sounds like the sex is not that great.

Are you vocal, do you make an effort to slow things down and tease and see if he follows your lead? If he doesn't respond to something that subtle he needs to be told outright that he could be better at sex, that foreplay is not optional, that he needs to engage in sex with you on a mental level.

I don't think you can force intimacy, but you can tell him to slow down, pay attention and give and take feedback. That might get you halfway there if he's willing to put in the effort.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:23 AM on September 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

It sounds to me like you need to be a little more assertive and dominant in bed. I know that it would be more gratifying if he would just do these things without being urged (or outright told), but since he's proven capable of following your lead in the past, that seems to be the best way to set the pace for your current expectations.
posted by hermitosis at 9:54 AM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think this is part of his Asperger syndrome. One of the diagnostic criteria is "lack of social or emotional reciprocity" and that sounds like what you are experiencing.

Two books you might peruse are The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome: A guide to living in an intimate relationship with a partner who has Asperger Syndrome by Maxine C. Aston and Aspergers in Love: Couple relationships and family affairs, also by Aston. I linked to what might be some good passages. Click the View All link to display them.

Also, do take a look at this really long list of resources for partners of people with Asperger, from the National Autistic Society, including discussion boards, websites, and recommended books.
posted by Houstonian at 9:56 AM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

If your husband is an Aspie, your first 4 questions don't apply - They are irrelevant to your solution and the answer will make you more upset (as you come to realize non-Aspie men function differently).

You require the nuanced advice and guidance of someone who is experienced with your husband's condition, as well as I suspect, considerable patience and managed expectations on your part. Best of luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:28 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lucky you! (honestly)

it is not that he doesn't value intimacy, it is that he doesn't see it like you do. It's a bit like explaining the colour green to someone born blind.

This is not in his skill set.

If you had fallen in love with someone in a wheelchair you would make certain allowances in bed. You wouldn't dream of saying to them, "you know sometimes I just wish you'd get up and walk", and you'd be horrified if anyone did. But effectively that's what you're saying to your aspie partner.

While there is a strong movement to change the common understanding of these conditions (even the shift to the word "condition" as opposed to "disorder") and to focus more of the Asperger person's strengths not what is missing. But for us, the NT partners that thing is always going to be missing and we will always notice.

I have been the NT partner of an Aspie man for 28 years. What you describe is what my experience has been, I had to smile at the person earlier who said that would only be a C in their book as sex is about communication, well sex with a person with a communication condition is going to be different. D'OH!

I'm sure others wouldn't understand why you characterise the sex as great but I do. You can basically ask for anything and get it, except verbal communication and the kind of intimacy you associate with neurologically typical people. A lot of what we understand about sexual intimacy is modelled on what we've seen in movies, read in books and to be honest a lot of that is crap. Much of it sets women up for disappointment and doesn't focus as much on our needs or has us playing a sweet passive role.

This lack of communication is not going to change and if you try to get him to mimic the way NTs behave it will sound false to you and you'll be even more turned off, so whatever you do don't go down the route of trying to make him behave like someone else.

The wonderful thing is you can explore a huge amount of things with your aspie partner, you're very much in the driving seat, there is literally nothing my husband wouldn't do for me and that's incredibly liberating and erotic. It never quite makes up for the communications lack, and I completely understand why you use the word lonely, but you can turn it around in a number of ways.

the key here is to be really honest with yourself about exploring a wider variety of things that turn you on and arrange a series of scenarios around those things. The way your partner shows you how into you he is is in the intensity with which he researches, arranges, sets-up and applies himself to these scenarios. Music is useful, as are earphones and blindfolds. Concentrating on other senses can distract from what you perceive to be lacking, role-play is also good, I mean the strong silent type is a cliche right? Make that fact into a positive not a negative.

If you don't take charge you will be disappointed. Life with an Aspie is never easy, but I've found it incredibly rewarding, not least sexually. Feel free to Memail me
posted by Wilder at 11:46 AM on September 9, 2012 [11 favorites]

Is drawing a distinction between having sex and making love juvenile romance novel territory?

No, or, well, it's a simplification of a many-dimensional space of behaviors. And if you use that distinction to lessen the reality of what you want, calling it non-sex, then don't do that. It sounds to me like you want, or need, a kind of sex you're not having, that's all.

Is this just how a percentage of men would prefer to have sex if they all had cheerfully compliant partners?

Oh probably, but you're you and have every right to pursue what you want or need. Don't worry too much about what's "normal", it's a losing game.

Can he learn to feel what I used to feel when we went to bed?

I'm not an Aspie so this is harder to say. I do know from personal experience that I can, and have, profoundly changed the ways I engage in sex, in ways similar to the way you're describing (and I'm at least male, if that colours matters any). The most useful book I found for exploring the way our minds work around arousal and sexual fulfillment is The Erotic Mind.

But I suspect the Aspie Dimension adds a whole wrinkle to this that makes the rest of us unqualified to talk about your husband's internal life.
posted by ead at 11:48 AM on September 9, 2012

I re-read your questions and I do feel you have a strong romantic steak and I'm afraid that really does go unfulfilled (there are other ways of fulfilling it but each couple has to work that out for themselves) but I wanted to say a little bit more about the liberating part of Aspiedom.

Basically your Aspie partner finds you hot no matter what you look like, wear, don't wear, or do. The fact that he doesn't manage to say that won't change that fact, so you have to lose some of the insecurity that women are brought up with in our culture which says that a man only finds you hot when he acts in a certain way and says certain things.

Seriously. You could be in sweats, greasy hair, nose bunged up with a cold and all you have to do is touch him in a certain way and you'll see what I mean.

The image in your partners mind of you is every woman's dream of herself. It's the slimmer, sexier, more gorgeous, just everything you ever wished you could be. Again it's quite sad that Aspie's don't have the skill-set to convey this but the evidence is there if you look for it.

Don't make the mistake most NT women make and ask a questions based on your insecurities like " Does my ass look big in this?" because an Aspie man will tell you straight, Yes or No. What he won't say is "but I find your ass so sweet that I get hard just by looking at it" So don't allow your insecurities to ruin what works. Instead decide what you want him to say and ask that question " I look hot in these heels, don't I?" if that kind of thing is important to you.
(Now before you go thinking that this sounds very scripted, you definitely lose out on spontaneity but you gain so much in self-confidence when you accept that in his mind you will always be hot)
posted by Wilder at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you feel like he'd be fine having sex with whoever was there even if it wasn't you? If so, I can see how heartbreaking and lonely it would be to have a man without the ability to connect be your sex partner.
posted by discopolo at 1:04 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

The thing is that you ARE the one who's there, and he ISN'T having sex with anyone else. What you have is technically what you want, you just want it to feel more like what you'd normally expect.

Try to focus on that. Also, it's totally fair to ask him to say your name. This conversation can take place before, between, or during.
posted by hermitosis at 1:33 PM on September 9, 2012

I think it's highly unlikely that he'd be fine having sex with whoever is there. You're the one person he trusts in that regard.

You seem to be making a lot of assumptions about what he's thinking or feeling when you really don't know. Just because he's not displaying emotion in a way you expect, doesn't mean he doesn't feel anything. For all you know, he could be too emotional to do things the way you are expecting.

You need to find out what he is thinking or feeling from him, not from strangers who aren't there when it happens, not from crowd sourcing and extrapolating from "the average man" to some unsupported notion of (for example) the supposedly very male Aspie brain; he's not going to be like the average man only more so, so asking Joe and Jane Average won't tell you anything useful.

Not only will asking him about this give you a clearer picture of what's going on, it will also be more *intimate* than having expectations of him and asking other people why he isn't matching them.
posted by tel3path at 1:45 PM on September 9, 2012

I think you need to redefine this problem. You also need a better definition of "intimacy". Intimacy is not just about gushiness, flowers and lingerie. It is about knowing someone well, knowing their secrets, knowing that when they do X the appropriate response is Y instead of Z, etc.

You can have that kind of very close closeness without gushiness. For example, my ASD sons know a lot about me and I know a lot about them. There is trust and loyalty and other characteristics of an "intimate" -- I.e. very socially close -- relationship. It generally lacks the kind of emotional effusiveness of more normal relationships but I know they have my back and they know I have theirs.

I did have a very emotionally and sexually satisfying relationship with a man who was not "normal", socially and emotionally. I am not sure if he would qualify as ASD and in some ways he was very socially savvy, but I am clear he was not "normal". We talked a great deal and that was the basis for a sense of intimacy. In some sense, the relationship was very "unequal" in that we had very different inputs and clearly got different things out of it. But there was a kind of parity. In other words, it was an experience of "fair though unequal".

I would encourage you to try to find a similar solution for your marriage. I initially tried to get this man to get the same things out of the relationship that I was getting. He really didn't want the same things I wanted and he apparently didn't need what I needed, yet he obviously got a lot out of it and spent a lot of time with me. I initially kind of badgered him about "Well, what are you getting out of it??" Because I just did not understand. Learning to recognize that his needs were being met, even though they clearly differed from mine, was a growth experience. That is the relationship which makes me say that just because your husband probably cannot experience the same emotional stuff you experience it does not mean you cannot get your emotional needs met.

I don't have a bullet point list for how to make that happen, but I know I am very satisfied currently with relationships I have to nonneurotypical people and have had a sexually/emotionally satisfying relationship in the past with someone not normal. A basic prerequisite for making such things work is to accept that they don't feel things the same way I feel them and don't need to. Making it work as a two way street does not mean requiring everyone to drive the exact same identical type of red corvette, so to speak. It is okay to populate it with cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc and every one of them can be a different colir.
posted by Michele in California at 2:27 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

This week's issue of Maclean's has an article which seems relevant here: Learning to love with Asperger syndrome.
posted by asnider at 8:22 AM on September 13, 2012

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