“I need time for myself,”
“Give me some space,”
“I need space.”
I guess every woman has heard from her intimate partner a version of one of these statements at some point or another. And this is just fine. Both men and women need time alone, enjoying a hobby or meeting separately with friends.
A good intimate relationship is not necessarily one in which the couple does everything together all the time. A good relationship requires a balance between the time spent alone and the time spent together. This issue starts to be problematic only when balance is not achieved and when one of the intimate partners becomes frustrated about it.
In the beginning of an intimate relationship, what happens naturally is that both intimate partners wish to spend as much of their free time together as possible. However, as time passes, the relationship fits into a certain routine, and marital vows add a formal proof for the stability of the relationship and contribute to a heightened sense of confidence.
Still, when one partner is drawn to work, to a hobby or to a special area of interest which takes over most free time, it leaves the other partner completely alone and undermines the other partner’s sense of stability and confidence in the relationship. The other partner just feels abandoned and lonely. This happens a lot in mixed-neurological relationships. The indulgence in work or hobbies can come on the expense of the couple’s relationship, family time or any other important domain.
If the couple has small children, a typically developing wife in a mixed relationships may find herself not only alone, but with an almost exclusive responsibility for the maintenance of the house and the family because her husband is gone. Whether she allows it (and sometimes she does, trying to keep her marriage safe) and whether she resists it, the partner with autism often continues to do what he wants, without taking into consideration his wife’s or his family’s needs.
Typically developing women in mixed-neurological relationships often feel obliged to give up on their professional careers, personal development and time for themselves, trying to succeed in carrying alone the burden of family life, in an effort to compensate for their spouses’ lack of participation. They frequently feel like single parents.
If the couple has small children and the wife is on the autism spectrum, the typically developing husband may spend an inordinate amount of time trying to ensure the children’s and his wife’s emotional needs are met. This can be very taxing if he is also the sole provider for the family. He may feel that he has no escape from the endless chore of providing for all of the family’s physical needs and then doing everything he can to ensure his wife and children’s emotional needs are met despite his absence. In general, it is very helpful to mixed-neurological families when mothers on the autism spectrum participate in breadwinning.
People on the autism spectrum have theory of mind deficits. This is a neurological deficit which interferes with their ability to see others’ perspectives and needs. Their natural tendency is to focus on their own needs and views, so they may neglect time-consuming family duties and avoid child care responsibilities.
It is not surprising that over time, typically developing partners in mixed relationships become angry, frustrated and alienated from their spouses. A marital relationship without reciprocity and co-operation is doomed to fail. What usually keeps these couples together is the mutual children, fear of tearing the family apart and financial dependency.
It is only when the children grow up that many typically developing partners in mixed-neurological relationships start taking care of themselves, decide to study or do further career retraining, start their own business or spend more time with friends. They often start to flourish and enjoy life only in their fifties or sixties, when they manage to find the free time for activities they couldn’t participate in before.
At this point, the intimate relationship of mixed-neurological couples can reach a dead end. Although sharing the same house, the two partners can easily find themselves living in a parallel universe and leading separate lives, in which each one of them has his or her hobbies, activities and friends. They even have their own separate bedrooms.
And what about love and intimacy?
This does not exist anymore. While both partners would say that they wish they had a satisfying relationship full of love and intimacy, in fact, partners on the autism spectrum find it much easier to give up on the emotional and sexual aspects of the relationship, whereas the typically developing suffer tremendously from lack of intimacy, and this condition has a severe negative impact on their physical and mental health.
Unfortunately, after many years of alienation and parallel lives, it might be too late to try and make substantial changes in the relationship and waken feelings that had long been forgotten. Sometimes, the best thing for either partner to do is to dare, make courageous decisions and embark on a new path on your own.
Dr. Pnina Arad