In a satisfying relationship, there is usually cooperation between the partners in providing for the family’s physical needs and in fairly distributing house chores and childcare responsibilities. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many mixed-neurological relationships.
Typically developing women in mixed relationships tend to find themselves dealing with most family and household tasks alone and do not have the opportunity to pursue a career of their own.
Why does this happen?
The main cause for this lack of equality is that people on the autism spectrum have theory of mind deficits which make it difficult for them to see others’ needs and perspectives. As a result, their own personal needs become their priority, while their family’s and spouse’s needs are only a secondary priority. Difficulties with expressing and understanding emotions and heightened sensual sensibilities may also interfere with childcare responsibilities and lead to lack of participation in family life. In addition, many people with features of autism have executive functioning difficulties, which limit their efficiency as far as planning, organizing and memorizing are concerned. Therefore, they tend to avoid taking initiatives, they often forget to do things that need to be done and neglect their familial duties.
If you are a typically developing mother in a mixed relationship and are reading this post, I’m guessing you are a kind of wonder woman, with amazing multi-tasking skills, a developed sense of responsibility and high levels of empathy. Women like you are often attracted to people on the autism spectrum and take upon themselves the role of caretakers, sometimes without even noticing that this is what they’re doing at the initial stages of the relationship. However, as time goes by, women in mixed-neurological relationships complain that they find themselves in the role of their spouse’s mothers. They realize that when they want their spouse to do something, they need to give him very explicit instructions, ask and remind him so many times about the task, that in many cases, they just find it easier to do everything by themselves.
It may be funny to joke with your friends about men being like little children, but when your husband really behaves like one of your children and constantly demands your attention and care, when he does not take any initiative concerning household responsibilities, when you need to remind him over and over again about things that he needs to do, it is not funny anymore…
Even if you are a wonder woman, when you do everything for everyone, you eventually lose your strength and energy and end up exhausted. When your spouse does not even notice what you do for the family and does not appreciate your efforts to compensate for his lack of activity, you may find yourself angry, frustrated and depressed. And at the end of the day, it is not surprising that when you act like his mother, you are not attracted to your husband anymore, because none of us wants to go to bed with one of her children…
A good marital relationship cannot resemble a parent-child relationship. These roles inherently imply an unequal distribution of power, as well as a one-sided investment of efforts in caring and maintaining the relationship. Marriage should be completely different, based on reciprocity, mutual efforts in maintaining the relationship and a fair amount of give and take on the part of both intimate partners.
In order to change the problematic dynamics and improve the relationship, individuals with autism need to be motivated to take responsibility and be equal partners and parents.
Are they capable of doing it? Yes, they are.
In the same way they can do what is required from them in their work place, they can do what is required from them at home. Yes, they will need to put in a lot of efforts and leave their comfort zone. Maybe you will need to lower your standards and understand that things will not be done exactly as you would have done them, but things definitely need to change if you want to improve your intimate relationship and be able to take better care of yourself.
Dr. Pnina Arad