Neurodiverse Marriages are Vulnerable to Domestic Abuse…. So which Partner is the Victim?

REAL Mixed-Neurological Value #11: “We believe that mixed-neurological marriages are vulnerable to domestic abuse.”

If you’re aware of the happenings on Internet discussion boards and within the plethora of Facebook support groups for people with autism and their spouses, you may know that typically developing people (aka “neurotypicals”) tend to accuse partners with high-functioning autism of being abusive and that partners with autism tend to accuse typically developing people of being abusive.

So who are the real victims?

That question doesn’t have an easy answer — it can be very difficult to determine who the victim is from the outside of a relationship.

Here are ten rules of thumb that might help:

  1. Many times perpetrators of domestic abuse claim to be victims. In fact, “victimhood” is a common ruse intentionally used as a form of psychological coercion. Perpetrators who are intentionally harming their victims often claim victimhood in order to expose their victims to social shame and to isolate their victims from social support and assistance.
  2. Many times victims of domestic abuse protect and speak positively of their abusers, claiming they are not being abused when really they are. Being an abuse victim carries a stigma. Many victims don’t want others to know they are being hurt and many have a hard time admitting to themselves that they are victims.
  3. Psychological abuse is common in mixed-neurological marriages. Many times victims of psychological abuse do not realize they are being victimized. In these cases, perpetrators may falsely claim they are the victims and victims may not realize they are victims and consequently cannot tell anyone else what is going on. Some victims honestly believe the false negative things that perpetrators say about them and may hide what is happening in hopes of making sure nobody else figures out the negative things the perpetrators seem to “know.”
  4. As victims of psychological abuse grow and come to a realization that they are being victimized, they will speak of their victimhood. In these cases, they need to be believed. So, sometimes when someone is claiming victimhood, it is important to be aware that the person may be a perpetrator falsely claiming victimhood in order to victimize the real victims. At other times, the victims may be finally finding their voices after years of not being able to acknowledge their own victimhood and need to be believed and supported. Confusing!
  5. Every relationship is different. Sometimes the typically developing partner is abusive and sometimes the partner with autism is abusive. It is impossible to look at any one mixed-neurological relationship and know which partner is being abusive just based on who is typically developing and who has autism.
  6. People with autism are particularly vulnerable to predatory typically developing people looking for adult intimate partners they can manipulate, ridicule and control. The fact that people with autism do not have the same social awareness as typically developing people makes them vulnerable to coercive, psychologically abusive typically developing partners looking for someone to easily persecute and intimidate into compliance. As social relationships are difficult for people with autism, they may feel as if they cannot as easily achieve adult relationships as others and may “settle” for an abusive typically developing partner — even when these negative attributes are demonstrated at the onset of the relationships. Later on, partners with autism who are victims may feel frightened of losing their relationships — even though the relationships are abusive — because they may worry that they will not be able to find another partner.
  7. Typically developing partners who are skilled caregivers may begin mixed relationships with great hope and without any desire to harmfully manipulate or control. The partner with autism’s lack of theory of mind skills and ability to immediately empathize with the typically developing partner may develop into abusive relationship patterns. Many typically developing members of mixed relationships are victims of psychological, financial and sexual abuse because partners with autism cannot perceive their typically developing partner’s needs, desires and emotions and assume that their own needs desires and emotions are the only needs desires and emotions. Abuse often occurs because partners with autism are not self-aware enough of their own social shortcomings to understand how unjustified their cruelty is. They may understand how cruel they are being without understanding that their cruelty is completely unacceptable.
  8. People with autism have a tendency to believe they are being victimized when they are not. Because people with autism only have access to their own perspectives, they assume their typically developing partners’ perspectives are simply wrong. It may not occur to a partner with autism that their demands that their partners see the world the way they see it are unreasonable. People with autism lack of social knowledge and do not have instant access to social information the way typically developing people do. They may repetitively insist they are correct about some specific way they believe the world to be while the typically developing partner has access to social information that clearly contradicts the autistic partner’s perception. But since the partners with autism only know their own perspectives, they may not accept the typically developing partners’ objections to their perceptions. Their autistic partners’ lack of acceptance of the typically developing partners’ views may become so assured and firm that it becomes abusive.
  9. Domestic abuse in mixed-neurological relationships follows certain patterns that can be used to determine which partner is the abusive partner. As in all abusive relationships, considering differences in power and how each partner is wielding that power is the easiest way to determine which partner is abusive. Partners with autism who are afraid of losing relationships will often use power over children, money, and sex to abuse their partners and to try to coerce their partners to stay in the relationships. Typically developing partners who are perpetrators will use their heightened social awareness to control and harm their autistic partners.
  10. Often the partner who is the first (in time, chronologically) to initiate public social shame of the other partner is the abusive partner. After public social shame is first initiated by the abusive partner, the partner who is the victim may gain a voice and may start publicly defending him or herself. When this occurs, the partner who is the victim needs support in speaking about victimhood and the partner who is the perpetrator needs to be challenged and held accountable for the abuse.

It doesn’t do anyone any good when an abusive partner is enabled. Having a developmental disability is not an excuse for being abusive. Taking advantage of a developmental disability to abuse and coerce someone is predatory.

Members of mixed-neurological marriages who are victims need support as they gain voice and escape from their relationships. Perpetrators need to be challenged.

It is unethical to encourage anyone to stay in an abusive relationship.

– Anne Janai, M.L.A.

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