As I mentioned before, I think one of the prerequisites for any healthy marriage or other long-term relationship is that both partners give consistent effort, commit long-term, and remain flexible.
In my situation (17 years now), we’ve essentially grown up together. I was 21 and he was 28 when we met. Both of us are introverted. Both of us are a little unconventional. Both of us were virgins. We’ve grown, evolved, changed, and transformed over the years. We’ve been through a lot together, and we’ve learned a lot from our experiences. This post, like most of the others, is simply my own opinions and perspectives, based on our individual situation. These are strategies that worked for us; they may or may not work for you–or you may have found others that aren’t listed here. We’re all works in progress 🙂
As far as I know (at this time), my partner is not on the spectrum. We are, however, both INTJ Myers-Briggs types. This means we’re Introverted (as opposed to Extroverted), Intuitive (as opposed to Sensing), Thinking (as opposed to Feeling), Judging (as opposed to Perceiving). (The Myers-Briggs link takes you to their site for a full description). I think that sharing a similar (or peacefully complementary/compatible) personality type is crucial, especially for those of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, given our tendency to be misread, misunderstood, and misinterpreted by “the rest of the world” at large. Sharing the same type, I believe, gave us an advantage, going a long way to help us establish a common foundation. The INTJ type is known for its intelligence, intuition, unconventionality, reserved personality, and contemplation. And of course, the INTJ type is one the rarest of the 16 types (especially for females), accounting for only 1-2% of the population.
For almost 17 years, we had made our way through life as best we could, despite our complete lack of knowledge of this unseen ghost that was my Asperger’s neuro-type. With each passing year, I became more and more aware of my personal “quirks”, individual idiosyncrasies that only seemed to “curse” me, and didn’t appear to be inherent in anyone else. I tried as hard as I could to “just change” them, but I had exhausted all of my strategic options and was left with the persistent “cloud” of “abnormality”.
Once I found out my neuro-truth, however, it’s these INTJ-related qualities shared by both of us that helped us come together to dilate our minds, consider new information, and adjust to the “Plot Twist! (TM)” that fate seemed to spring on us (received, on our parts, with open welcome, instead of devastation).
My allistic/neurotypical (NT) (non-autistic) partner is open-minded and supportive, which is an incredible advantage and indeed, relief. I think this is probably the only way a non-autistic partner can be if the relationship is going to work. I was relieved that my partner did not respond to my “I think I might be on the spectrum” theory with skepticism, judgment, doubt, or disbelief/non-belief. He didn’t scoff and roll his eyes or write me off. He didn’t ignore me or second-guess me. Instead, he plunged in and researched with me. We learned, expanded, grew, and matured together.
During this process (and continuing today), I have also had to be understanding. I have had to keep in mind that as much as I live in my internal world, that there is also a “rest of the world” out there. I don’t belong in it, but I have to function within it. They’re not (and may never be) ready to understand and adjust to Asperger’s/autism yet. And at the same time as I was putting on my new hindsight lenses for the first time, my partner was also getting to know the “Whole New Me”; he had to do some serious retrospective contemplation and make some serious mental adjustments of his own. He suddenly had to see me in a whole new light. This takes time.
It’s crucial that both of us communicated (and continue to do so) with each other regularly. INTJs are especially internal-world creatures, so both of us could have a fury of mental and/or emotional activity going on underneath what appears to be a cool, placid exterior and stoic facial expression. Not only must we remember to remain open and communicative with each other, but the other person has to be listening, too. We verbalize a lot. We can be mute at times, but when we do get to talking, we can go for hours. My partner naturally doesn’t talk about a lot of his personal feelings or internal thoughts, so I often find myself having to prod or pry gently (but directly). I’ll have to accept that I won’t ever know everything that goes on in his mind, but I can at least try to press him for the general gist of his thoughts and any issues that need attention. That regular, open communication doesn’t have to be verbal, but it does have to be something that works for both.
Although my partner doesn’t give me a play-by-play Twitter-feed of every thought and feeling ( 🙂 ), I tend to give more frequent “updates” on what’s on my mind. I’ve found this to be especially important if I’m feeling a negative emotion; I need to tell my partner what I’m feeling, what happened/why I’m feeling that way, and to whom (if anyone) it’s directed at. I may not always have all of this information, but I do the best I can to at least come up with a likely theory or two.
In most cases, the negative emotion doesn’t have anything to do with him; he didn’t do anything wrong. And in these cases, I try to remember to specifically tell him that, so that he doesn’t think it’s directed at him and take it personally. If I’m frustrated at something, I let him know; if I’m anxious, worried, or stressed out about something, I tell him. That way, he knows it’s not his fault and maybe he can even help me in some way.
As I’ve gone through my exploration of the Asperger’s/autism world and its vast landscape of information and firsthand insight, I’ve learned a TON (or several tons) about myself, too. I’ve found so many answers, answers to questions I had never even formed or thought to ask. As I’ve become more aware, or as I learn something particularly interesting or relevant, I share it with him, so that we’re on the same page. What I didn’t want is for a “gap” to form between our levels of knowledge. I didn’t want my newfound neuro-type discovery to become a dividing wedge between us, separating our worlds even further and creating an even deeper divide in what had been, up until then, a relatively fragmented relationship.
With newfound terminology, newly-realized concepts, and newly-articulated explanations, I explain and describe (as best I can) to my partner how I perceive something (or a particular situation, or even the world in general), why I might do something, what’s actually going on in my head in that situation, what I’m actually feeling, how something affects me. It never crossed his mind just how much (or in what way) various everyday mundane tasks or situations (such as driving, especially in heavy traffic, or going to the grocery store) affect me. I now try to explain what I need, what I prefer, how I think, what goes on in my mind, how I process and interpret something, and WHY I might feel/need/think/do what I do.
As he began to understand me more deeply, he also began to soften. He began to listen. He began to consider. He began to open up. He began to accommodate and support. He began to appreciate.
As I started to feel more validated, more secure, safer, and taken more seriously, I began to open up, too. And I began to appreciate him. I appreciated his open-mindedness, his willingness to learn, grow, and change, and his efforts to do so. I appreciated his consideration, his accommodation, his hearing me. I appreciated the additional latitude he now gave me. And I still do–and will always–appreciate these things.
He understands that my lack of sexual desire has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with my sensory sensitivity, irritation caused by skin-to-skin contact, and extreme awkwardness. He also knows that I will never cheat on him. He understands that he can never spend money behind my back again and lie about it, because he has a clearer understanding of my anxiety levels and trust issues, and he has a much greater awareness of just how deep and complex my emotions run…and just how long and solid my memory is. He also understands that it would be cruel to do so, especially given the general Aspie genuineness and honesty, and our own lack of game-playing.
All this time, because of his physical handicap/disability, we assumed the relationship was slightly unbalanced; he needed me. Well, I’ve come to realize that, although less outwardly obviously, I need him too…just as much, if not more. He provides an anchor for my anxiety, a vocal advocacy for my desires or grievances, a willing volunteer for activities that stress me out or otherwise overwhelm me in some way. I need his listening ear for my nervous chatter or light-bulb inspirational ideas or my off-the-wall theories or opinions. I need his logical-but-sympathetic objective voice of reason on the rare occasion that I get a bit too sensational. He moves about the kitchen and makes dinner, something I’m not sure I would even survive (I’m hopelessly clumsy, so I’d probably set the building on fire just by turning on the stove). He remembers to do the mundane household tasks when I get engrossed in my Special Interests.
It’s a journey. It’s a consistent, daily, conscious effort. It’s a continuously-renewed commitment. It’s not a 50-50 effort. It’s 100-100.
It’s not utopia or paradise. It’s not always going to be smooth and rosy. There’ll be ups and downs.
But it’s worth it. 🙂