Wife of suspected aspergers/HFA husband looking for advice

Hi,

I have lived with with my husband for 20 years.  It has taken a long time, but I have come to the conclusion that he has Aspergers. This came to me in a lightbulb moment whilst trying to shed light on a couple of similar traits in our teenage son.

My husband has often said he feels he is different, but been unable to say how. He presents to the outside as fairly 'normal' (I hate than word!) He has held down a job for most of his life - although it was a job with a high degree of autonomy for the most part.  He has had two 10 year relationships prior to me, one of whom he was married to, both of which broke down.  He appears very sociable, although I have come to realise that this is largely superficial. When socialising he can be very intense, although romantically he was quite nervous from the start and in some areas remains so even now.

From a couple of year after living together I noticed problems many of which were in themselves quite minor and so they didn't bother me too much to begin with.  I can't move furniture in the house.  I can't choose furniture in the house. My choice is usually restricted to a choice between the things my husband likes.  He struggles, really struggles to see anyone elses viewpoint on issues he feels emotionally connected to. 'Compromise' to him means everyone else coming round to his way of thinking. He can identify unacceptable behaviour in others, but cannot see that same behaviour in himself. He will say horrible things sometimes and he doesn't know why - he is only able to say that he doesn't mean it.  He struggles with what I call routine affection and reassurances in our relationship and also the intimate aspects of a long term relationship. He doesn't see the need and has told me this.  I used to think he was selfish and uncaring, but that is at odds with other areas of our life where he clearly does care and loves our family very much.  When I get upset over something he has said or done he is upset that I am upset.  He wants me to feel better.  But he seems blind to his role in the upset. He finds saying sorry difficult - I assume because he a) can't see what he has done wrong or b) didn't mean it so theres no need to apologise.  On occasion I have tried hard to explain and he says he understands, but his understanding seems akin to telling a blind man what an apple looks like. He can take in the explanation, but he still doesn't SEE it.  I could also write pages about his relationship with pets - one of whom I think he has loved more than any human in his life.  Our problems would be solved instantly if he could treat me like he does our cat!

We have discussed the possibility of Aspergers.  This also coincided with the Chris Packham TV programme about his experiences and my husband recognised that this may be the problem.  I also identified with the things Chris's girlfriend said.

We have talked about this together and we really want to make our relationship work because we do love each other.  In lots of ways he is a wonderful person and a great partner. I have never met anyone like him and he supports me daily in so many ways.  The problems areas are all connected to what I understand as Asperger traits. He has been trying very very hard to give me those moments of affection I need and to see things from my point of view.  But I can see the struggle and cost to him.  It just doesn't come naturally.  For my part I am trying to recognise when he needs time out to recharge.  That is hard for me too, but we are both trying.

I have been looking for books on the subject which may help, but I am at loss where to start. So much seems focussed on children and isn't relevant to my husband who is now in his 60s, having lived with this for all his life.

And this is the main reason for my post - sorry it has been so long!  Can anyone recommend any books to read for couples like us where the realisation of Aspergers has come late in life.  Perhaps something that could help both my husband and I understand our different needs better so that we can move towards a middle ground and communicate more effectively.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry it has been so long!

  • https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1843102536/ is easy to read and has got us thinking. There are other books on my stack waiting to be read so I can't tell you if they're useful or not, yet.

  • Hi Kazz,

    I'm sorry to hear about the struggles that you're going through.

    As a starting point, and I hope it doesn't sound patronising, please remember that you're in early days. If you've been evaluating the possibility of autism in a time frame that matches roughly with the Chris Packham documentary, then please don't put too much pressure on yourself to have all of the answers within months, or even a year.

    A big discovery like this takes time. No matter how long you've been together and lived together, suddenly having a reason for all of those things that once just were is a very, very big deal. You've spent such a long time identifying these behaviours but not knowing why they happened or if they were deliberate, so you can't expect everything to fall into place as soon as you've found the reason.

    It sounds like your husband has spent a long time masking. He's found ways to cope with everything he's dealing with on a day to day basis, because he's had no choice. He's been forced to appear normal, probably for so long that he can't even quite appreciate how much he's really coping with. If he's never believed that he's autistic, he certainly won't be thinking about how that autism affects him.

    He probably feels immense upset and pressure in social situations, but might not even realise that's how he's feeling. After all, it's how he's always felt. He hasn't known anything different, so he's doing his best to socialise and probably ignoring every single moment that tells him he absolutely hates it and wishes he didn't have to do it.

    The best thing your husband can do is read up on autism. As much as possible. Ideally, he'll join autism communities himself. Once he's fully equipped with a wide range of experiences and opinions, he'll be able to better identify when his autism is affecting him and can verbalise how he's really feeling. Let the discussion points come naturally. Don't sit down and list your needs, working our compromises one after another - wait until a moment when one or both of you are struggling, find out why and work out a solution on the spot. It'll take time to adapt, but it's unlikely your husband will realise just how many things are affected by his autism until he's specifically in each situation.

    Regarding the furniture, there is a high likelihood that he needs to feel in control of his space. It'll make him feel safe and comfortable. You can try to accommodate those needs in smaller ways throughout the house. You shouldn't be restricted completely in making your own choices, but please understand that his environment may need to be a certain way to make him feel like he can relax. Unless he has complete control, he may find that he is never comfortable in his own home. But he does need to learn to compromise. Does he have his own car that he can slightly modify? Could you give him a room in your house that is his to do with as he wishes? Does he have his own storage space that isn't shared? Somewhere he can keep his belongings without them being mixed up with everyone else's? Personal space is extremely important to many autistic people, but something adults don't get when they're often sharing bedrooms with partners. Children get their own rooms to retreat to, but adults usually do not. As a result, they're desperately trying to create that personal space in what are actually shared environments, which can be stressful for everyone else.

    Routine affection can be extremely difficult. Likely, he just doesn't think about it. It's not that he doesn't love you, but that his brain doesn't remind him to actually show this in the way that you might expect. Or, in fact, in any outward way at all. He knows it's true. He hopes that you do. But he simply won't have any kind of mental prompt to make this clear. The struggles with apologising might come because he genuinely doesn't realise that he's done wrong, or because he simply can't find a way to verbalise his role in the situation. He might feel like it's not entirely his fault, or he might want to justify why he did what he did, but his communication difficulties make this such a challenge that he'll instead clam up and might even argue that he's done nothing wrong. Writing things down is often easier than verbalising them, so it may help to provide him with this option.

    Above all, please remember that all couples struggle. You've identified that in your relationship the struggles are likely caused by autistic traits, but remember that all couples have differences and conflicts and hard times. You run the risk, now that you've identified autism as the cause, of blaming the autism for all sorts of relationship problems and creating an idealistic and impossible view of what your relationship could be like if the autistic traits were not a part of it.

    As you've said, he is trying. There will be enormous cost to him, to try and provide the things that you need in a relationship. And that is something that you'll both need to accept. It will never come naturally, but the fact that he's fighting against all of his natural instinct to try and make this work shows just how much he does care, even if it's not exactly how you'd expect him to show it.

    I can't recommend any books, but I do think that online communities and even offline support groups might be a far better place to go for help. You'll get a far wider range of experiences and views from those really living through this, and you can begin to work out what you identify with, bit by bit, without becoming too overwhelmed.

    I would recommend that, if he's comfortable with it, you point out all of your husbands autistic moments as they happen - in a nice way, of course! Over time he will learn to identify which of his behaviours are unusual - he might not even be aware of them all at the moment - and will hopefully start to find ways to tell you why those behaviours exist. That way, they won't seem so strange to you any more.

  • Hi Kazz55.

    First of all well done for reaching out for support and guidance on the matter as I know some people would just throw the towel in, so you clearly love your partner and want this to work.

    Let me reassure you that although your partner may not express love and affection in the ways you recognise, he probably loves you dearly, he just doesn't know how to show it.  I find it very difficult to show affection or even speak how I feel about someone.  I don't think my partner realises how privileged he is that I tell him I love him, as I have never even said that to my mum and dad.  It sounds harsh and cold, but I really struggle to tell and show people how I feel in the conventional sense.

    Animals can provide immense comfort and sanctuary, as they don't judge or expect anything of us.  Looking after and caring for pets can also be very rewarding and it provides a sense of purpose, well-being and routine in our lives.

    Like your husband, I am very controlling over my environment.  I don't mean to be a *** about it, but the level of stress and emotion that is caused by things not being where they should be or how the way I like it is indescribable.  My partner is slowly moving into my house and it has been a massive struggle for me.  I can't cope with things being in the wrong place or things not having their usual order.  This causes me to become irritable, agitated and all round grump, which can come out at my partner if I am not careful.  It also makes me become more detached and withdrawn, where I don't want my partner to touch me or show me affection.  It kills me to know that this hurts my partner, but I cannot deal with it and it is very hard to explain that to someone who expects affection in that manner.

    You have lived with your partner for 20 years, so you already know him well.  It might be worth trying to understand what stresses him out and what helps him to relax.  I am a lot more affectionate when I am relaxed and not worrying too much.  Also, think about how you communicate to each other and how he might be interpreting things.  I take things more literally than my partner realises sometimes and I am left stressing over something insignificant as a result.

    We don't mean to be miserable tyrants.  Maybe set some quiet time aside when it suits you both and try and address what you both can do to make things easier and more enjoyable.  Try and find what areas can be compromised on and what areas are no go zones.  There might be more no go zones to start with until you start to work on things and see what can be tolerated and what needs to be avoided.  ND people appreciate honesty and getting to the point.  So long as you are open, non-judgmental and understanding, I'm sure you will be fine.

  • Thanks for the reply Blade - there is so much in there that is helpful.

    When I first realised the problem I felt relief, but I think I was expecting it to be 'solved' if you know what I mean. I'm now realising this this is, as you say, a big deal, and is going to take a lot of time to get my head around. 

    Don't sit down and list your needs, working our compromises one after another - wait until a moment when one or both of you are struggling, find out why and work out a solution on the spot. It'll take time to adapt, but it's unlikely your husband will realise just how many things are affected by his autism until he's specifically in each situation.

    This is something I can work on. My husband has times when he wants to talk about it, and others where he really doesn't. I am one of these people how likes to get all problems out and analysed to death in one fell swoop - all the time!.  I can recognise now that in the past I have made some things worse by being like this.  My 'lets talk about this and not go to bed on an arguement' style has been counterproductive to his needing time to process things and deal with them at the right time.

    Personal space is extremely important to many autistic people, but something adults don't get when they're often sharing bedrooms with partners. Children get their own rooms to retreat to, but adults usually do not. As a result, they're desperately trying to create that personal space in what are actually shared environments, which can be stressful for everyone else.

    That hasn't occured to me, but yes - 'own space' is really quite hard for a couple and this explains some behaviour that I've misinterpreted for rejection. He does have space where he worked on a railway hobby - however, he's virtually finished the project and so doesn't get as much alone time there as he used to. The control of own space makes sense and fits in with a lot of things.  I'd say this has got worse as the children have got older. I'm not a naturally tidy person and neither are they.  This is something we can all improve on. My husband gets affected often when he can't find things - when things aren't in the place they are supposed to be. Whereas I can live in chaos, but generally able to find everything within that chaos!

    Routine affection can be extremely difficult. Likely, he just doesn't think about it. It's not that he doesn't love you, but that his brain doesn't remind him to actually show this in the way that you might expect. Or, in fact, in any outward way at all. He knows it's true. He hopes that you do. But he simply won't have any kind of mental prompt to make this clear.

    This is so accurate to both his behaviour in this area and how he describes it - it's as though you actually know him!!.  We have talked about this aspect the most - mainly because it's the one I struggle with most. In the years gone by I have very much fallen into the belief that because he never said he loved me, I thought he didn't love me. I'm starting to understand now that he just shows in it a different way.

    I am somewhat of a realist and everyone has problems - I think once we both get our heads around it, knowing about the autism will help negotiate those hard times that most people face at various points in their lives

    Thanks again for your reply - it has been very helpful. :)