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Eva A. Mendes LMHC
Eva A. Mendes LMHC

8​ ​Behaviors​ ​to​ ​Work​ ​on​ ​in ​My​ ​Asperger Marriage

Many of my clients have found this 8-point list a useful tool in their marriage.

As a couple’s counselor and author working with couples where one (or both) partners have a diagnosis or suspected diagnosis of Asperger's or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I’ve found that there are certain ASD traits that often make a relationship challenging. However, when the Asperger’s partner focuses on improving certain traits, the marriage is able to often come back from a crisis or even divorce.

Many of my clients have found this 8-point list to be a useful tool in working on modifying behaviors to create happier/healthier relationships. Even though these behaviors are meant for the ASD partner, they can sometimes apply to the non-spectrum or neurotypical partner (NT) as well. I’ve used the pronoun they/them/theirs to represent both the ASD and non-spectrum partner so that individuals of all genders are included.

1.​ Don’t​ ​Be​ ​Defensive — Admit You’re Wrong

Asperger’s is characterized by having a high IQ and a strength in logical thinking. This can often lead individuals on the spectrum to think that they’re right and that they are justified in their actions. However, this trait doesn’t work well in a marriage. Therefore, it’s important that the ASD partner is vigilant against being defensive and takes responsibility instead.

In such a situation, the ASD partner might use the following skills:

  • When​ your partner ​points out​ ​something​ you need to improve on, take a deep breath and pause​ ​before​ ​responding.
  • Don’t shut down. Think​ ​about​ ​what​ ​your partner​ ​means,​ ​what​ ​they​ ​want.
  • Use listening​ ​skills​ ​—​ ​mirroring technique.
  • Be curious. Ask​ ​​questions and clarifications (but not too many!)​.​
  • Ask yourself what the big picture is. “My partner is just trying to feel closer to me.”
  • Don’t always trust your mind, because your perception may not be the right one.
  • Admit​ ​faulty​ ​perceptions​; be humble.
  • When​ ​in​ ​doubt,​ ​go​ ​with​ ​your partner’s ​point​ ​of​ ​view.
  • Admit where you may have messed up and take responsibility.

2.​ Give​ Up​ ​Control: Would You Rather​ Be​ ​Married​ ​Than​ ​Right?

Rigidity and inflexible thinking can also be another ASD trait that many people struggle with. They have a hard time changing their perspective even when there’s evidence to the contrary or even if they see that holding on to their view and being closed-minded is creating a schism between their partner and them. So they really need to work hard to trust, practice being flexible, and see their partner’s point of view.

In such a situation, the ASD partner might remind themselves of the following:

  • ​​​Put​ ​aside my ego​ and arrogance​.​
  • Remember, most​ ​issues​ ​aren’t​ ​important​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​jeopardize​ ​our​ ​relationship.
  • There​ ​are​ ​other​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​good​ ​without​ ​“winning."
  • Don’t​ ​control​ ​my partner.​ Let it go. Respect their point of view.
  • Be flexible even if it “hurts my brain” a little.
  • ​​​​​​​Trust my partner. I married them because I trust their judgment.

3. Avoid​ Resentment​

Many ASD individuals are known to have an elephant’s memory and therefore they may remember every little disagreement or conflict that happens between their partner and them. They have trouble letting go of the daily aggravations and instead, they archive and catalog them leading to a lifetime of resentment, anger, and bitterness.

I often give the analogy of “taking out the garbage,” which simply means that just the way we empty the trash from our kitchens and homes on a daily basis, the same way, we need to take out the negative thoughts, upsets, disagreements, sometimes even fights and irritations from our minds on a daily basis and let it go for good.

Here are some tips to make avoiding resentment a daily habit:

  • Make it a point every day to let go of the little things about your partner that annoy you.
  • “Take the garbage out of your mind daily!” ​
  • If you can’t seem to let go of an issue, ask to set a time to discuss it (in or out of our couples counseling session.)
  • Don’t get ​passive-aggressive. Tell your partner what’s on your mind instead!

4.​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Listen​ ​More​,​ ​Talk​ ​Less

Sometimes, an ASD individual can be an over-talker, especially when anxious. They are also very smart, so they often have a lot of thoughts to share. However, monopolizing a conversation (even when unintentional) can get in the way of a two-way communication flow.

Using the following communication skills can help:

  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Use​ ​active​ ​listening​ ​skills​.
  • Don’t​ ​ramble. Don’t monopolize.
  • Don’t​ ​cut​ ​your partner​ ​off when they’re speaking.
  • Be​ ​present.
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Focus​ ​on​ ​them ​and what they’re saying vs.​ ​thinking​ ​of​ ​your​ ​response.
  • Ask more​ ​questions. ​Mirror. Say ​less​, comment less. (Just because you have a thought, it doesn’t need to be voiced.)
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Try,​ ​“Sounds​ ​like​ ​a​ ​good​ ​idea.​ ​​​Tell​ ​me​ ​more.”

5.​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Control​ ​Emotions

Due to the ASD neurological difference, many individuals on the spectrum, have trouble regulating their emotions. Emotions can range from anger to anxiety, and often the autistic individual can have trouble being aware of and understanding their emotions.

Therefore, the following tips can be really useful in managing your emotions:

  • Get​ ​out​ ​of​ ​your ​mind. Do some grounding exercises to feel connected to your body.
  • Do an anxiety check-in: Ask yourself, “Where am I on a 10-point scale?”
  • If things get too heated, stop and pick up the conversation later. Take 10 deep breaths.
  • Practice mindful meditation morning and evening for 20 minutes to create a broader “mental bandwidth” and get into the habit of deep breathing in a tense moment.

6. Practice Self-Awareness

Becoming self-aware can be something that many autistic individuals come to later in life. However, it’s important to invest in building self-awareness through therapy, reading books on autism/Asperger’s, relationships, depression, anxiety, OCD, addictions, etc to understand what drives your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Understanding what your triggers are and planning ahead for ways to circumvent them is key. That can often help to avoid meltdowns and aggressive behaviors.

The following daily habits are important to cultivate:

  • Practice self-awareness. Do a​ ​​body​ ​scan several times a day.
  • Ask: “What are the sensations in my body? What am I feeling?”
  • Stay​ ​present​. Practice deep ​breathing.
  • Be​ ​conscious​ ​of:

My​ ​behavior​ ​–​ “What impact​ am I having on​ ​others?”

My​ ​feelings​ ​–​ ​"What​ ​was​ ​the​ ​trigger?”

My​ ​thoughts​ ​–​ ​Perseveration: “Stop the ‘thought loop!’”

My​ facial expressions, ​body​ ​language​ ​— “​Am​ ​I​ ​relaxed, open? Lose the tension.”

My​ ​words​ ​–​ “​Am I being kind,​ ​or hurtful? Slow down.”

7.​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Trust​ ​My Partner

Mental rigidity and slow processing can often have an ASD partner relate in a way that is negative. They can contradict what their partner is saying or criticize them without fully thinking the matter through. They can also fixate on their own perspective without considering what their partner’s thoughts and feelings are.

  • Don’t doubt what your partner says just because they don’t phrase it like you would.
  • Consider​ ​their ​perspective​ ​and their​ ​motivation.
  • Just​ ​say​ ​“yes.” Think​ ​before​ ​saying​ ​“no.” What’s​ ​the​ ​worst​ ​that​ ​could​ ​happen?

8.​ ​​​​​​Work​ ​Can’t​ ​Be​ ​an​ ​Excuse

Being a workaholic is often an ASD hallmark. Work can be rewarding, especially in their area of interest. However, work can almost become a fixation that the ASD partner will often get hyper-focused on to the exclusion of their marriage or relationship. When their partner complains, they might take that to mean that their partner doesn’t understand their pressures or that they’re getting in the way.

  • My partner​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​be​ the ​#1​ ​priority.
  • But not literally. It doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​they don’t​ ​want ​me​ ​to​ ​work.
  • It’s not all or nothing.

In my work with hundreds of neurodiverse couples (where one or both partners are Asperger's/autistic), and have found that those who really apply themselves daily to working on the above behaviors are the ones that are able to create happy, healthy, long-term relationships. Make this is a daily practice! I recommend that people (both partners in the relationship) print out this article (modify it for your own traits and habits to work on) and look at it daily at least twice a day by keeping it in a place that you spend a lot of time at, like an office desk, meditation/prayer nook, bedside table, or on your phone, and really commit to this.

As long as we are alive, we all have to work on improving ourselves. As a wise friend once said to me: "Eva, if we're not improving, we're regressing!"

About the Author
Eva A. Mendes LMHC

Eva Mendes, LMHC, is a psychotherapist and couples’ counselor. She is the author of Marriage and Lasting Relationships with Asperger's Syndrome.

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