When I started this blog, I thought I had mountains of content to write about, in regards to my husband’s Asperger’s, but it turns out, I don’t.
There are no daily challenges with my husband’s Asperger’s, like I thought; at least there hasn’t been for a very long time. I am not constantly trying to figure him out nor am I constantly frustrated with his inability to effectively communicate with me and others. In the grand scheme of things, his Asperger’s quirks are no more challenging than my OCD quirks. In a strange way, we compliment each other, making each other stronger and better in many different unexpected ways. Last night, I laid awake in bed thinking about our journey together and all the true life challenges we have overcome since the beginning; very few specifically involved Asperger’s itself. Asperger’s, of course, didn’t make the journey easy, but over the years, I have learned to accommodate both our quirks to maintain a happy and healthy relationship.
1950’s Relationship In A Millennial World
I grew up with the idea that relationships are to be an equal partnership; however, I learned with my husband’s Asperger’s, we cannot be equal in terms of responsibilities. Each of us play a specific role in the relationship and in this day of age, it can be perceived as a little “old fashion.”
Thinking about it, our relationship is a bit 1950’s, where the man’s sole responsibility is to provide financially for the family (bring home the bacon), among other duties like maintaining the family’s financial affairs, car and house maintenance, and setting strict family rules (as a man’s house is his castle and kingdom). As for the woman, she is responsible for maintaining a well-kept home, raising children, cooking, keeping her husband happy, and looking fabulous while she does it.
Well, in all honestly, the only thing my husband actually does is bring home the bacon, after that, I am the sole ruler of this castle and our small little kingdom. At first, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like being in control of everything; I felt selfish and rude; plus, being responsible for everything and being the designated problem solver in the family can be quite exhausting, emotional, and totally stressful at times; but decision making gives my husband extreme anxiety to the point of panic attacks. I am not sure, but I don’t think its entirely Asperger’s related, I think it has a lot to do with a prior relationship with a “narcissist;” a tragic chaotic love story that is not my story to tell.
Appreciating Small Help
When it comes to conquering mountains, I am generally in the lead, but it takes both of us to do it. I may carry most of the responsibilities, but he has learned to help me with some of these responsibilities and I have learned to appreciate his help, regardless how little or how much he contributes to helping me.
Asking is not Telling
My husband doesn’t pick up on body language, hints, or cues, which can be frustrating as that is generally a big part of common courtesy. If a person is struggling with an arm full of groceries, you help them. If a person is struggling to get through the door, hold the door for them. If trash is piling up beside the door, take the initiative to take the trash out. My husband doesn’t do anything unless he is “told” to do it.
Now, as I have learned, there is a difference between being “told” to do something and being “asked” to do something. I was taught, to “ask” others to do things, to be polite. So, for the first two years with my husband, I would “ask” him to take out the trash, change a diaper, open a window, or whatever and he would just take his sweet time doing it; basically, he would do it at his own convenience and if he never did it, he would later tell me he “forgot.” How rude, right! Eventually, he explained to me his reasoning: Asking means it is “optional or at your own convenience” and Telling means “do it now.” I still struggle with this today, because I hate sounding rude; however, to him, I am not being rude at all.
I have also learned to set boundaries, for the sake of my own mental health. There are decisions and responsibilities in life that I just cannot do for my husband; one being his own personal health.
The first couple of years was rough; I was constantly flushing his toilet, being his personal alarm clock, reminding him to brush his teeth, and making sure he actually ate healthy foods instead of junk food. Basically, I was like his mother! His reasoning, he explained, was that he feared self-responsibility. He told me that if I took care of him and did everything for him, nothing would ever be his fault. Today, I think this was a bit of Asperger’s logic colliding with depression and low self-esteem.
After we had our first baby, it was too much work to take care of a newborn, myself, and another grown adult. When I started to fall apart (putting everyones needs before my own), he had to step up to the plate to start taking better care of himself.
There are even bigger decisions and responsibilities in life that I just cannot do for my husband, especially, when it comes to wars that are not mine to fight, like my husband’s custody battles with his ex. My husband is still tethered to his ex through joint custody of their children and it is a nightmare. I tried to help (indirectly) by being supportive and offering effective advice against uncooperative difficult people, but I was swallowed up whole and emotionally torn up into pieces by unnecessary, unreasonable, ridiculous drama. Just recently, I dug my white flag deep into the ground, threw up my hands high, and walked away without ever looking back, because it just isn’t my war to fight.
I certainly learned a lot from that experience. My place as a wife, mom, and step-mom is in neutral territory where I remain supportive, just not involved. My official duty is to make sure drama from the other side does not cross the threshold into our home. That is a boundary I set for the entire family, even my husband’s kids know to keep the drama of the other parent’s life at the front door. Before entering the house, we are sure to address any issues that require addressing and do a complete mood check, because bad moods can ruin an entire visit. So far, everyone seems to like that idea.
Today, I think the only challenge in our relationship, regarding my husband’s Asperger’s alone, is in the co-parenting arena. He loves all his kids very much, it’s just that his Asperger’s makes it difficult to express that love. Although, my husband has become a better parent over the years, there are still many challenges yet to overcome.
We’ve been able to conquer most of our co-parenting challenges by following a strict routine (no surprises). It not only gives the kids a good daily routine, but also helps my husband provide more one-on-one quality time with them. I also make sure we have plenty of family days! When it comes to discipline, he is terrible. In the beginning, we went at it like “bad cop / good cop” style, which was just confusing for everyone. Now, he just follows my lead by reinforcing positive consequences to help our kids make better choices. My husband is still working on better acknowledging his kids when they speak to him. It’s a work in progress, but way better than it use to be! In fact, I am very proud of him.
Relationships Are Hard Work
Regardless of my husband’s Asperger’s, my OCD, and everyday ups and downs of Life, relationships are hard work. I think this was my final realization while I laid in bed thinking about our journey together. It does take both of us, regardless how much each other gives to the relationship, at the end of the day, we are still happily together.