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April 19, 2018 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Can a (newly self-diagnosed) aspie/high functioning autistic and someone who suffers from major depressive disorder and anxiety realistically have a happy, healthy relationship?

I have spent seven years in my relationship investing pretty much all of my emotional energies into trying to manage my husband's emotional well-being. His insensitive behaviour, rudeness, dismissiveness, and apparent inability to do any of his own emotional regulation or self-care has been a problem since the start. (I even asked a question here about it.) However, I (incorrectly) believed that they were learned behaviors left over from his previous relationship and believed he would adopt a 'normal' mode of interacting once he was shown appropriate caring, support, and patience. Needless to say, it didn't work. I have since learned he has been this way his entire life. His mother confirmed it, as did he. Unfortunately, my investing all my emotional energies into "fixing" him definitely contributed to the steady worsening of my depression, as well as the development of anxiety/panic attacks (things I had never suffered from previously). All of this came to a head with my falling into severe depressive episode last summer that lasted six months. That episode forced me to take a very honest look at my life to make sure I was prioritizing MY emotional health properly, and it led me to making some changes, and honestly I'm better for having gone through it. However, I'm now realizing that both his behaviour, and my having to do so much work to keep him from flying off the handle, have been deeply damaging to me and am now seriously considering ending the marriage for the sake of my own mental health, happiness, and longevity.

In March it all came to a head and I told him that this was a bit of a come to jesus moment in our marriage, because I no longer was willing to be treated this way. I know that he doesn't INTEND to be rude, insulting, hurtful, insensitive, and dismissive, but intent does not negate harm. Despite feeling that I was being overly sensitive and unfair, he agreed to go to couples counselling. We have gone a few times, but there has been no real benefit other than creating more incidents that exemplify the behaviours I am objecting to. Also, since March I have pulled WAY back. I am sleeping in a separate room (in part because of his snoring, but mostly because I feel I need distance). I have found myself very actively avoiding being home (like sitting in my car for an hour listening to an audio book instead of going home). I have become both extremely aware of and extremely intolerant of anything he does that is at all rude or disrespectful or intolerant. I have also been a bit of an asshole, acting a bit like a defiant teenager (ie. staying out all night with friends, leaving my phone on vibrate in my purse so that I don't hear him calling, etc), which I feel shitty about but also sort of.... feel justified? I have been screaming into the wind for seven years that I am unhappy, that things aren't okay, and he has ignored me, and I feel a bit like this is all too little too late. Plus, since I have pulled way back I have had my psychologist, family doctor, and family all comment that I appear to be the most emotionally healthy I have been in years and years, and that the change is marked and great to see.

To his credit, despite my not doing anything to make things easier on him, he has been trying pretty hard to work on things (though with little actual improvement).

Now this week he has finally come to the realization that the depth to which he is unaware/uncaring of other's emotions is not normal, and he now feels he is on the autistic spectrum, or maybe having Aspergers. I entirely agree. However, he feels this new "revelation" means he deserves the opportunity to "fix things", that I owe him that. I however feel that if anything the realization that he is on the spectrum cements the fact that he will probably never be able to treat me with the emotional carefulness and respect that I know I need.

So my question is whether it is likely that someone who is (potentially) on the spectrum or having Aspergers will ever be able to learn to be emotionally sensitive enough to meet the needs of an (albeit quite sensitive) depressive? Am I being an asshole for being so doubtful and being quite hesitant to invest the time into seeing if he can do it?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is he in individual counseling? Although your 'defiant' ways seem to be helping, it does sound like you've got a treatment plan of your own so you should check in with your psychatrist/ologist regarding all this new info. I'm thinking first step before couples counseling should involve both of you resolving your internal stuff, and you don't really say if he has taken any steps that way. Don't let the Spectrum 'diagnosis' be an excuse, my oldest daughter has been diagnosed on the spectrum for years and has worked hard to live a relatively normal life and have good, healthy relationships with people, but that's on her, not on some partner leading/forcing changes to make her behave appropriately. You can have a good relationship, but you can't make him do his part.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:23 AM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don't know if this would be helpful to you or to him, but a friend and colleague just shared this book, the Journal of Best Practices, with me. It is a book written by a man on the autism spectrum about how he and his wife worked to saver their marriage.

The diagnosis allows you both the space to make more sense of the difficulties you are having and provides a lens that can guide the changes and accommodations you each need to make to allow this to be a relationship that is fulfilling and supportive for you both. That said, it is going to take work and commitment to do that, and not all marriages can stand through that work. I know it's an old saw around here, but this is really the time that a marriage counselor can be helpful in deciding how to do that work or in deciding how to honor and end a relationship that is not healthy for you both. Individual counseling for each of you is also important.

I wish you both peace as you make your decisions.
posted by goggie at 8:35 AM on April 19, 2018

Best answer: You’re not happy and haven’t been for seven years. This is unhealthy and should end.

It’s not childish to enjoy yourself without his permission or turn off your phone. That’s normal stuff for adults who don’t have kids.

You need therapy to work on feeling like you’re responsible for this situation.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:27 AM on April 19, 2018 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Something on the autism spectrum may certainly be a contributing factor-- but that does not constitute a sufficient justification for (what sounds like) a persistent refusal to believe you when you tell him that his behavior is hurting you and needs to change, nor is it something that can be easily or quickly changed. He still needs to take responsibility for his behavior and be actively engaged in learning better tools for interacting with you (and other people). It sounds a little bit like he has gone "a-ha! I've been persistently bad at these skills because of autism! It's not my fault, it's a disorder!" which is IMO super not okay and conveniently resolves him from responsibility.

Aside from self-diagnosis, does he have a plan? Will he seek an official diagnosis? Does he agree that his behavior as been problematic and hurting you and your marriage? Does he want to take steps to change his behavior (in a way that is likely to address your concerns), or does he want a get-out-of-consequences-card?

Also-- he might think that you "owe" him a(nother) chance to "fix things", but he doesn't get to make decisions for you. The person who gets to decide if you're willing to see what changes is you, and no one else. He doesn't have to like it, or think it's fair or reasonable or logical or whatever-- if you've used up all your resources and you're done, you get to be done. It's not a vote.

This sounds really rough, and I am sympathetic and sorry-- I left a much-loved partner after a few really rough years. He was depressed and had a bunch of legitimate personal challenges that he was (finally) working to address, but I was just burnt out and done by the effort of trying to live with him. The thought of dragging myself through who-knows-how-long of him maybe being able to grow into the partner I had once believed he could be was just too much, and I couldn't handle being miserable any more. We loved each other, but he didn't have the tools to love me in the way I needed, and I couldn't keep feeling alone and unsupported any more.

Regardless of what you decide is best for you, it's his responsibility to own up to the impacts and effects of his own behavior. If his behavior has been hurting you, it's been hurting other people too. If he wants to not be a guy whose lack of caring hurts people in his live, he needs to get help and start learning new tools. You can support him in that as a spouse, or as a person who wishes him well-- those are legitimate and compassionate options. Try to pick the option that provides you with support and the ability to (at least) keep your emotional and mental resources stable.
posted by Kpele at 9:28 AM on April 19, 2018 [20 favorites]

I was with someone for a decade who was not diagnosed as on the spectrum, but had some confirmed mental health issues that were the leading contributor towards us developing a very unhealthy dynamic where I took responsibility for his emotional well-being in most situations, as well as the majority of the mental and physical labor in our household. It was incredibly draining, very much as you've described, and I ultimately ended up ending the relationship over it. It was painful and difficult, and still is to some extent, but my life is my own again in a way I could never have imagined.

It's going to be impossible for anyone here to say with any certainty whether your relationship can be repaired and take on a healthier form going forward, so I want to answer your other questions. You are NOT being an asshole for wanting your needs met, and if you decide that it's not going to happen in this situation you're not "abandoning" him in any way. You're doing all the right things by having your own counselor and your own support network.

Behavioral/mental stuff like this can be a little tricky in relationships because it's necessarily medicalized when it's diagnosed, so it's as real or as concrete as, say, a broken leg. But it's not really the same as purely physical conditions that require accommodation (any reasonable person help their partner carry heavy bags while their broken leg is healing, for instance) because he doesn't abdicate his emotional responsibility to you as a partner just because there's now a diagnosis on the table. Yes, he may have difficulty understanding and processing the emotions of others if he's on the spectrum. But that doesn't obligate you, medically or otherwise, to endure a relationship that makes you miserable. He still has a responsibility to be a good partner and try to meet your needs. Don't do yourself the disservice of approaching this like it's a broken leg.

If I can end this with a question for you to ponder and discuss with all the people supporting you: do you want to try and fix it?
posted by superfluousm at 9:31 AM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think you're being an asshole, but it doesn't really matter if you are. Your behavior right now is borne out of years of unhappiness; this is what happens when you make yourself stay in a relationship that doesn't work for you. In the end, it doesn't really matter all that much why it doesn't work - the truth is, it just doesn't, and you aren't happy, and it doesn't sound like you're all that interested in sticking around while he figures out what's going on with the way he treats you. And rightfully so - you've been more patient than a lot of people would be. You've tried for years to help someone who wasn't interested in being helped. I'm guessing he had this sudden flash of insight because he can see the writing on the wall: You are tired. So, take it from this internet stranger: you are well within your rights to leave the relationship.

When I was in my 20s my husband had a lot of mental health issues - although not this one specifically - and while he did get help, just in the nick of time, I was at the point of realizing that I might have to leave. It fees like you're kicking someone when they're down, right? But the thing is, if he's going to get help and change the way he interacts with the world, it has to be for his own self, not just to keep you around - otherwise it's not really going to work anyway. And you are so checked out right now, emotionally and physically and in every other way, that you sticking around while he figures his own shit out will probably not be all that helpful to him anyway. Once you're at the point of sitting in your car to avoid going home - I think at the very least you could use a break. Take a few months apart and let him go to therapy and take some time for yourself.
posted by something something at 10:04 AM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: However, he feels this new "revelation" means he deserves the opportunity to "fix things", that I owe him that.

Hmm, when you were unhappy, told him you were unhappy, and you had to deal with the consequences of his behaviour nothing changed. Now he is unhappy because he feels the consequences on his behaviour, so it follows that it is up to you to make those consequences go away so he can be happy again?

How about no?

Would you consider a separation? It doesn't have to mean permanent, or automatically lead to divorce down the road (but it also doesn't rule it out) but it sounds like you have an unhealthy dynamic that you both need a break from so you can focus on yourselves and not the relationship (hopefully with professional help and not just sitting around thinking about the problem).
posted by saucysault at 10:04 AM on April 19, 2018 [17 favorites]

Best answer: "Plus, since I have pulled way back I have had my psychologist, family doctor, and family all comment that I appear to be the most emotionally healthy I have been in years and years, and that the change is marked and great to see."

Do not discount this.

Here, you're sort-of externalizing this trend—other people see this change in you. A really important question: do you feel this change? Are you enjoying your life more? Are you more "in the moment"? Are you experiencing less stress? Are you getting out more and doing the things you like to do? Are you sleeping better and feeling more energetic?

If so, this might be how you feel after you and him break up.
posted by Keter at 10:13 AM on April 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I mean, look, I'm autistic and bipolar, my wife has depression, and we've been happily married for six years. ASD and mental illness aren't impediments to a happy relationship.

But you sound fucking miserable. This isn't a "depressed people can't be happy with a partner with autism" problem. It's a "you aren't happy with him" problem. It's okay to call it quits when you aren't happy with someone.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:25 AM on April 19, 2018 [27 favorites]

Yeah, I feel like I should follow up by noting that I am depressive and anxious and my current partner can be anxious and conflict-avoidant, and we've been really happy for five years. It works and we are happy because we both work really hard to take responsibility for our behavior and recognize it when mental health issues make it hard to be a person. We're both adults, and managing feelings and challenges are on each of us-- it's okay to ask your partner for help, but it's not okay to abdicate the responsibility for emotional and social interactions because it's hard for you. It's just as much on me to not yell at the TV when Kirk is a conceited misogynist as it is on my partner to remember that me saying "oh my god fuck that shit" to Star Trek doesn't mean I'm mad at him personally. So I try not to yell and he tries not to take it personally when 60s scifi is too much for me to manage quietly. It's a balance.

It's totally possible to be happy with a challenging blend of issues-- but you both have to be doing the work on your own stuff, and you need to have a shared understanding of how to make your relationship work for both of you.
posted by Kpele at 10:38 AM on April 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

However, he feels this new "revelation" means he deserves the opportunity to "fix things", that I owe him that.

Does he deserve the opportunity to fix things because of his diagnosis? No, definitely not. But maybe his reaction to the diagnosis can EARN him that opportunity. If the diagnosis has given him new tools for his ongoing effortful work at improving his behavior and it seems as if his efforts might start being more fruitful now than they were in the past, that would be a path by which "diagnosis" is the cause and "improved relationship" is the result, meaning that giving him that opportunity to fix things would be worthwhile. But the diagnosis in itself isn't a reason, it's what he's ready to do with the diagnosis.

(n.b. if you just can't stand it right now and wanted a trial separation, he can work on self-improvement while you're taking some recovery time, and that would be even more meaningful than improvements he makes while you're there coaching him)
posted by aimedwander at 10:48 AM on April 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Is there anything you still like about this relationship, and about him? Because if not, you're free to go regardless. (I've read your prior post, but it's hard to square this "thoughtful, affectionate, caring, generous, and considerate...hilarious and entertaining and fun. He makes me feel extremely loved and protected and safe" guy with what you say now. Is it all gone? Were you always pretending to yourself?)

You "owe" him? For what? A dude's having an expectation doesn't turn it into an obligation.
posted by praemunire at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2018

Been there, felt that. Left. So glad I did.

Everyone is different, but damn. Life is there to be lived. Don't let this rob you of yours.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:53 AM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

A major depressive episode followed by "defiant teenager" behaviour and outsiders describing you as the best you've ever been, sounds like it could possibly be manic depression/bipolar. Maybe look into having that assessed before you make any major decisions.
posted by OnefortheLast at 11:22 AM on April 19, 2018

He's got work ahead of him; the diagnosis is only a starting point. (I self-diagnosed ASD about a year ago, and for a while it was all processing/me me me, all the time.) But you don't need to carry him up that mountain. What you need is relief. And definitely some time to yourself. At the very least, you should separate, and see how you feel.
posted by Warmdarksky at 11:24 AM on April 19, 2018

Take some time away. Let him see what life is like without you. Same for you. What have you been missing? If after a while you feel like you’re missing the good things about him, re-engage. See if they’re still there. See if he’s done the work to become a mature, caring, considerate partner. Meantime, enjoy some fresh air. Discover again who you are, what you want. Is he compatible with that person?

Lots of questions, but one thing is for sure: life’s short. Spend it with someone who makes it better, not worse.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:31 AM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: my question is whether it is likely that someone who is (potentially) on the spectrum or having Aspergers will ever be able to learn to be emotionally sensitive enough to meet the needs of an (albeit quite sensitive) depressive?

Are there examples you can think of where he does read social cues and modulate his behavior accordingly - at work, with strangers, with friends or people he considers higher than him on some social ladder, with kids? I.e., not with people he might take for granted, or situations where it's obvious there are different norms of behavior than at home?

I think there's a difference between wanting the people around you to feel well-treated and being distressed at your seeming inability to get it right despite serious efforts, versus wanting people to be fine with your behavior as it is and being resentful when people point out they're not. In the first case you're struggling to understand the language other people are speaking, and in the second case you expect everyone to do their best to work around yours while you ignore theirs. I think the first type of situation has hope, while the other is much less likely to.

To what extent is it difficulty understanding others' emotions, and to what extent is it failure to regulate his own behaviors? When you talk about him flying off the handle, that doesn't necessarily sound like a lack of sensitivity on his part (plenty of sensitive and socially-attuned people still lack the emotional regulation to not act like assholes). It sounds like a lack of acceptance that flying off the handle is a behavior he needs to eject from his repertoire.
posted by trig at 11:39 AM on April 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Following trig, I always look to how the person acts around the police or airport security - someone who has the power to fuck them up big time. Are they respectful and polite? Or do they speak aggressively and don't watch for cues on how to behave? Anyone that can be polite to to police/security officer can be polite to you ... they just choose not to.
posted by saucysault at 12:03 PM on April 19, 2018 [11 favorites]

Okay, sometimes he comes off as rude, dismissive, etc. The only positive credit you give him here is that you say he's trying to be less awful. But--is he ever trying to actually be sweet? Romantic? Is he in love with you or just used to having you around? You have to be able to see positives to make this worth doing. Are you just not listing them here, or do they really not exist? Like, if he's sometimes an insensitive clod but there are some things about him that you Really Really Like, that is an entirely different question of "is this work worth it" than if your prospect here is with a relationship which someday just sucks less than it does right now.

Like, from this question I'd really wonder, but some of your past questions do suggest there was a point in your relationship where you had fun and genuinely liked this guy, so--maybe you just need some time to actually think about those things as the stress level is starting to reduce, or maybe as a couple you need to look back at some of the things that used to make your time together happy instead of just less-miserable and do some more of those things and see if they help.
posted by Sequence at 12:58 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've read the book linked by goggie and it's interesting-- and a bit sobering, in a way. This couple has had to put in TONS of work. I have followed her on a mailing list in recent years. One thing she says is that you can't spend your life focusing on another person's problems; when you finally do look back at your own life, you will find it terribly depleted. It is good to hear that you're focusing on your own wants and needs as much as you are.

In your previous question, you noted that your husband came to realize there was a problem with the way he spoke to people, and wanted to change. What was the outcome of that? Did he go on to make a sustained effort? If he made noises about doing the work and then did nothing, that is concerning in terms of your success this time. At this point, I think it can be a deal-breaker if he doesn't come up with a plan to seek professional help and make steps in improving your communication. Even if he does, you are not bound to stay. But something needs to happen here for staying to be on the table.
posted by BibiRose at 5:20 PM on April 19, 2018

like sitting in my car for an hour listening to an audio book instead of going home

Oh man. This really spoke to me. I did this during a relationship with someone similar to your husband. He acknowledged numerous times he needed to get better. But he didn't. I finally left and never looked back. I am so, so, so much happier now. Like, it was like instantly a huge weight was lifted. Cliche but true.

You need to look after yourself and doing this is NOT being an asshole! What work is your husband doing with his self-diagnosis? Is he going to see a medical professional and get professional help? Even if he is, let him do that on his own and he can check in with you in the future if you're still open to that. You've already given up too much to stay, new "diagnosis" or not. As others said, life is too short.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 7:36 PM on April 19, 2018

I have been married to my Aspie male partner for over 27 years. Some of the behaviours can never be unlearned although you can work out some 'scripts' and some key words to immediately indicate and undesired behaviour is starting.

BUT I am cherished, and respected and while some behaviours seem selfish, ( they're not but to NT people they look like that) he goes to some lengths to do things he knows I like. He knows he doesn't communicate love like NTs so he sometimes substitutes things that are easier, researching an amazing purchase which I will love, and gives him the satisfaction of the search.

He desires me and always puts my needs first in bed.

Can YOU fall in love with this person again? What exactly made you fall for him in the first place? Those are important things to think about.

But fundamental to Aspies are fair play and respect and this does not sound to me like you are getting either.
posted by Wilder at 4:53 AM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A really important question: do you feel this change? Are you enjoying your life more? Are you more "in the moment"? Are you experiencing less stress? Are you getting out more and doing the things you like to do? Are you sleeping better and feeling more energetic?

I actually do feel the change. I'm much more level and in control of myself. Since March my mood has been much more stable and highs and lows are much less extreme. This isn't a manic state. It is more like composure. Plus, I'm sleeping better, frequency of nightmares has diminished, and I'm not grinding my teeth at night any more. I haven't had a panic attack since March, and some key situations that caused me anxiety no longer are a problem.

Are there examples you can think of where he does read social cues and modulate his behavior accordingly - at work, with strangers, with friends or people he considers higher than him on some social ladder, with kids?

He categorically does not behave this way at work. He is very well liked and respected, personable, and approachable. He treats his subordinates and his superiors politely, patiently, and with respect. He also is incredibly polite to strangers, waitstaff, etc.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:11 AM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

He categorically does not behave this way at work. He is very well liked and respected, personable, and approachable. He treats his subordinates and his superiors politely, patiently, and with respect. He also is incredibly polite to strangers, waitstaff, etc.

Then I am sorry to say that he is choosing to act this way towards you because he believes he can get away with it. Judge how much he actually values you as more than free live-in help accordingly.
posted by praemunire at 7:56 AM on April 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Actually, lots of late diagnosed adult autistic can mask extremely well in some settings and not in others. It's an extremely common feature of the so-called higher functioning end of the spectrum in people of all ages. Typically it leaves one feeling exhausted and short tempered. Many children behave well in school and explode at home or adults are successful in their work but need 3 hours decompression before they can interact with their family with any warmth. (I am from a long line of autists, was raised by one, am one, have two dx kids).

I also think from this and past descriptions he may be more PDA than aspie, but that is by the by.

Autistic people can be fantastic partners. Depressed people can have fulfilling relationships.

But this guy makes you unhappy. That's the most important data point. You were very misguided to try to fix someone, which I'm sure you now realise, and having stayed for so long on that basis, and while he acted like a spoilt teenager kicking back against your reasonable requests to not be made miserable, I don't know if either of you would ever be able to see the other in a way which actually WOULD allow you to be happy together (I.e. him not as a project to be completed and you not as a parent to be rebelled against).

It's okay to want to be happy. The "demands" you have made of him which he has regarded as excessive are COMPLETELY REASONABLE. Go and find someone who can meet your very reasonable demands, let him figure himself out.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 6:27 AM on April 22, 2018

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