In June, at the Milestones 15th Annual Autism Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, my wife Kristen and I were on a panel with three other couples discussing “Love and Marriage on the Spectrum.”
By speaking with these couples, I gained insight for successful marriages on the spectrum. I would like to share some of this vital information with you as it really can benefit all relationships:
1. Celebrate your partner’s neurodiversity
Autism makes me think differently, and for a successful marriage, my wife needs to have a clear understanding of my unique neurological wiring. For example, on my cell phone, Kristen is listed not as my wife but “Kristen from Bloomfield” (the city she lived in when we first met). Many individuals with Asperger’s syndrome refer to themselves or others in the third person.
I also hate to reuse the same glass or plate—filling our sink with dirty dishes—this drives my wife nuts. Even after washing a cup or plate due to my acute sense of taste I can still differentiate the previous meal or drink. We have learned to compromise: I can use extra dishes if I wash them.
Due to my hyper-focus on my special interests (speaking and writing), I often forget important family events like birthday parties, anniversaries, and camping trips. My wife has learned to write these events on my speaking calendar to remind me.
2. Understand your partner’s sensory processing issues
My kryptonite is nail polish and bleach. These give me a migraine headache. I have difficulty sleeping when my wife is playing music in bed, even if she is listening with headphones. Kristen accommodates to my sensory issues by not using nail polish in our apartment or listening to music when I am trying to sleep.
3. Beware of your partner’s dietary issues
I love to eat spicy foods, especially Thai, but it gives me horrible digestive problems. When we eat at restaurants, my wife Kristen brings Tums for my heartburn and indigestion. She also cooks healthy meals that don’t give me digestive issues.
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4. Seek clarification with decoding social clues
Don’t just assume—ask! Autism causes me to misinterpret my wife’s social cues and lack the ability to decode her body language. This lack of decoding can cause your spouse to become frustrated. You can learn to decode your spouse’s social cues by asking informative and direct questions like, “What are you thinking?” “Can you please explain what you mean by that statement?” or “How does that make you feel?”
When my wife Kristen and I first moved into our apartment as newlyweds; we had everything except a couch. My procrastination in purchasing one upset Kristen so much that she nudged me away when I tried to cuddle. “What are you thinking?” I could tell she was angry by her standoffish actions. Kristen replied, “We need to get a couch before our Super Bowl party next week!” My question enabled Kristen to share her feelings, which I have difficulty decoding.
5. Share your feelings and desires with your partner
We on the spectrum also have difficulty understanding feelings and emotions. Please communicate your emotions and feelings plainly or in writing. If angry, tell your spouse, “I am angry at you because…” then give the reason. A letter can help your partner understand things that cause you to be happy or upset.
6. Remain fixable to your partner’s routines
Your partner may follow a set schedule. For example, every night your husband might watch ESPN’s Baseball Tonight at 9 p.m. My unique routine is two to three hours of Bible memory work every weekday at 3:45 p.m. My wife has learned to be fixable with my routines. If your partner’s routine becomes too much for you to handle, find a friend who is understanding to talk to your spouse.
7. Come out of your man cave
When we have guests I like to sneak off and read or write in my room. I have learned for a marriage to be successful you need to engage with your family and not hide in your man cave.
Church Father Tertullian wrote, “Marriage is no burden when the two become equally one in all things, losing all, sharing all.”
This article was featured in Issue 66 – Finding Calm and Balance