Verbal abuse and autism


I firmly believe that my wife is on the autistic spectrum. This has been the result of 6 months on couples counselling, although she has no formal diagnosis. We have been married for more than 15 years and have children. She has fairly frequent meltdowns which are explosive and usually consist of shouting, swearing and verbal abuse which is mainly directed at me. On one occasion she punched me in the face whilst I was trying to comfort our children. She says the most awful things to me which are so hurtful. My life is like walking on eggshells, trying to keep things calm and avoiding physical contact which can sometimes be a trigger. I have also been having individual counselling to help me cope with my feelings. It is very difficult to express myself to her as she denies there is an issue. After a meltdown she shuts down, retreats to bed and cries a lot. She used to apologise but this doesn't happen anymore. I am torn between calling this abuse and accepting that it is part of her autism. She can be so kind and caring but at other times impossible. I am struggling to carry on with our relationship and have great concerns about the damage being done to our children when they witness these episodes. I want to leave but dont know if I can, I want to help her but dont know if there is anything I can do. I just want it to stop. I dont want her or the kids to be as unhappy as I feel.

Please offer advice.

  • Do not let domestic violence thrive in your home under any circumstances. 

  • Dear NAS93687,


    We are sorry to hear you are going through such a tough time at the moment.


    Domestic abuse can take many different forms, both physical and psychological - you might like to take a look at the information here: 


    If you are a victim of domestic violence or abuse, there are many different organisations which can give you help. You can find contact details for a range of organisations here: 


    If you feel you need more urgent help, our website lists some options you could consider: 


    Kind Regards,

    Rosie Mod

  • I'm curious what pushes her beyond her threshold? I can tell you from experience and as a female left undiagnosed, raised by an undiagnosed mother, that until practical and very tangible change occurs, this expression of stress is the unbearable kind. 

    Stepping aside for a moment from relational matters, we live in a world of daily sensory assault. The kind used on prisoners a century ago. It used to be illegal to gas humans, now it's considered perfectly normal to spray toxic chemicals, use them in cleaning products, candles and public spaces and pathologise the individuals who immediately notices the effect. For the rest who can desensitise, all kinds of problems will eventually have a biological impact, but at least they can live with a phantasy of 'being perfectly fine'. The same is true for sound, lights and an array of maddening sensory elements which aren't properly governed. One is left quite literally at the mercy of others, powerless, and yet figures continue to rise over early issues with hearing and sight loss which is preventable. Without help understanding the physics and biological impact, one can be 'shooting in the dark' as it were.

    Here's the problem: she sounds like she's living in a Reaction-ary / Response mode and potentially just barely living above Survival mode, which is not a healthy way or even enjoyable of living one's best life. 

    Depending on class and financial status, one might be able to check out of the home for several months and take a decadent amount of time to find our: Self, Ground, Limits, Potential, Values and hopefully get a clearer assessment of what's driving and destroying us, peel off everything weighing us down and begin to re-emerge better equipped to navigate what we must, be responsible for our future and our kids, and completely detox from those we cannot configure a functional dynamic with. If that means divorce, it can actually be better for the kids. But if you want to commit toward a fresh start and examine all the triggers in the Relating-With (relationship) or, in this case failure to relate with, there will be two of you in this. 

    I know a woman whose first husband withheld sex as a power move. It crushed her self-esteem and even though she got divorced with in a year, she was marked by it 10 years later. I know another woman who was married to a man who got a little ego boost out of pushing her to her limit. Another short lived marriage. 

    If she is Autistic, you will have had 15 years of miscommunication and misrepresentation and as it stands, she definitely sounds like the one without any power. She'll have had a life of dealing with intentional and unintentional gaslighting and potentially have not forgotten any cruelty - but have a trove of unresolved injustices, only without the power and education and tools to do anything about them. Autism is this: having less of an ability to filter out incoming sense perception (or, seeing the world with more clarity and more vulnerability), it is a hyper-signalling in the brain with the ability to make connexions Non-autistics cannot see and it is a difficulty with Typical social-linguistics, a more right-brain access to language than left. This is merely a mismatch for modern society, but we would've flourished in the wild. 

    While none of this justifies lashing out, it's useful to remember abuse comes in all forms: silent contempt, disdain, withholding, ghosting, mimicking, stonewalling, staring, gentle touching, schadenfreude, subtle manipulations - dominance and stealing agency, small betrayals, humiliations and so on. One doesn't fell a tree in a swift blow, but many. 

    At this point in life, I have learned that when I'm impacted this intensely by another, to just exit and sever connexion. We all have to learn to pause an emotionally charged situation, check within our selves if we're enjoying this or genuinely have the others best interest in mind, and allow time enough to problem solve in a respectful and kind way. Every time this hasn't happened, or there hasn't been a resolution which works for both parties, will be one more notch in that tree... 

    I want to help her but dont know if there is anything I can do. I just want it to stop.

    There will be a great deal of work on both your parts, I'm afraid. It can be rewarding but you cannot have a false sense of peace and quiet at the expense of another. You'll have to learn to examine your contribution.  x But I wish you the best.

  • It might be useful to know whether she is autistic. The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) Test is a self-administered questionnaire developed to assess the presence of Autism-Spectrum traits in adults, created by Simon Baron-Cohen and his team at the Cambridge Autism Research Centre. If you would like to encourage her to take the test, here is the link to the web page:

    If she scores highly on this test it's highly likely she's autistic. This knowledge may be useful in determining what type of counselling and support she needs and what changes could be made for her to be happier and calmer. 

    You are doing a great job trying to help her - I hope things work out well for you both.

  • Thanks for your comments. I think there is definitely something in what you say and makes me think in a slightly different way about things.  Unfortunately I am reaching the end of my endurance and although I have a massive amount of compassion for her and would bend over backwards to try and help her, I'm not sure I have any strength left. My happiness is at stake and her reluctance to seek any help leaves me with little hope.

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate the feedback.

  • You have to have a red line with your wife about violence and abuse in front of your children. Please seek professional counselling for this situation. Both your wife and your whole family need help to deal with this.

    I'll second this.

    I get that she is getting herself into a meltdown and things become very difficult for her but it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for terrible behaviour.

    Once she started to become abusive then she crossed the line and seems to be allowing herself to be an a-hole without consequences.

    Her lack of apologies for the behaviour now would indicate that she is sliding into contempt for you and allowing the abuse to escalate - one of the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse if I recall. Bring it up in couples therapy but I think it won't make much difference.

    A simple online test for autism should give you a good enough indication to work out if therapy for this is worthwhile - otherwise I would perhaps escalate her to see a psychiatrist to get a clearer idea of what is going on so a different theraputic approach can be agreed upon.

    IF she is autistic then developing regulation techniques for stress will help a lot and your couples therapist can help develop some ideas with you both. Note that you may have to do a lot of heavy lifting for a while with the day to day stuff to give her some space to recharge.

    I suspect there are other issues at play with the relationship that have led to this so you need to keep working on these too, but carefully and positively. Listen to her concerns and accept they may be different to what you consider "normal" in the event she is autistic - out brains are wired differently.

    It is a difficult path and needs a lot of work (been there, got those scars!) but is worth it in the end whatever the outcome.

    Good luck and I wish you a happy outcome.

  • i think the saying mean hurtful things, she likely doesnt mean them, but what that is and what it really means is that she feels hurt and angry and upset, and by saying mean horrid things she then gets you upset so that you understand and feel her upset.

    i think its more a expression of her own feelings.

    i kinda do that at times, although i dont speak much so it mainly only occurs with me on text based internet communications lol in reality for me its more internalised.

    but yeah i think i see a common thing there, and i think i can say that she doesnt mean the bad stuff she says its just to express how she is feeling herself. is there no way you can somehow calm her in that situation? ...give her a shoulder to cry on... perhaps the anger that comes out is a block on sadness, as when you dissipate the anger and get rid of the anger the real emotion beneath is often sadness and crying. perhaps you need to somehow break that anger barrier and make her feel its ok to cry and be sad.

  • Thank you for your replies, I appreciate it. 

  • Abuse is abuse, I am autistic, and in 27 years of marriage have never even raised my voice to my wife, we never have arguments at all. Being autistic, if your wife is autistic, is no excuse for abusive behaviour. I think that your wife could benefit from therapy of some kind, perhaps a talking therapy.

  • This sounds terrible, I’m so sorry. Abuse is never ok - and someone being autistic in no way excuses physical or verbal abuse. As you’ve been having couple’s counselling I hope you’ve already discussed this with your therapist? 
    Your wife is obviously suffering and unhappy, and I feel huge compassion for her. But it’s not acceptable for her to be abusive to you, and it’s extremely serious that your children are witnessing this. Living in that environment could (and frankly probably will) have serious lifelong consequences for them. You have to have a red line with your wife about violence and abuse in front of your children. Please seek professional counselling for this situation. Both your wife and your whole family need help to deal with this. I wish you all luck.