Mixed-Neurological Marriage — An Overview

A mixed-neurological marriage is an adult relationship between a typically developing person and a person who has high-functioning autism, formerly known as Asperger’s. In a nutshell, high-functioning autism is autism without intellectual or language impairment. Most of the obvious signs of high-functioning autism diminish after childhood and many adults with high-functioning autism marry and have children (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Attwood, 2015).

Mixed-neurological marriages have neurological incompatibilities just as mixed-faith marriages have religious incompatibilities and mixed-orientation marriages have sexual incompatibilities. The marriages are mixed because autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interactions and communication, two of the most important aspects of adult relationships.

Many people with high-functioning autism remain undiagnosed. It is common for couples to marry without any knowledge that one partner is on the spectrum. As autism has a genetic component, mixed-neurological couples may have children with autism. Whenever a child is diagnosed, it is valuable for the parents to consider whether one or both of them may also be on the autism spectrum. 

Mixed-neurological couples face communication incompatibilities related to the differences in their brains.

Mixed marriages are vulnerable to domestic abuse and both partners are vulnerable to trauma in their relationships.

There are currently no evidence-based marital therapies for mixed marriages and it may be unethical for religious leaders, families and professionals to discourage divorce. Both partners are in need of support and resources.



High-conflict divorce is common and some attorneys may unknowingly be exploiting families with autism. Laws designed to prevent conflict can protect vulnerable families and children from the trauma of mixed-neurological divorce. Partners should leave divorce as financial equals. 



People with autism have theory of mind and immediate empathy deficits. Theory of mind and empathy are important in parenting. In most cases, primary parental responsibility should belong to the typically developing partner after divorce, regardless of gender.
 



References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition DSM-5 TM. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Attwood, T. (2015). The complete guide to Asperger’s Syndrome (Revised ed.). London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

The Fight that Never Ends

Disagreements, fights and disputes can be found in any relationship. The difference between a satisfying intimate relationship and a frustrating one lies in the way both intimate partners handle their disagreements and in the final resolution, whether they fail or succeed in reaching solutions that they both can feel comfortable with.

Couples who are generally happy with their relationship intuitively know that if they want to effectively manage the disagreements they encounter, it is necessary to talk about the issues causing the conflicts. They use communication as a basic tool that helps them deal with difficulties they face. They work together and negotiate until they find satisfying solutions.

This does not happen when one of the intimate partners is on the autism spectrum. Conflicts usually remain unresolved. Due to theory of mind deficits, intimate partner with autism cannot see the value of the typically developing partner’s perspective and will often not consider or be willing to talk about that perspective. Conflicts are often avoided. When couples do try to communicate, blow-ups often occur soon after discussions start.

Why does it happen?

Issues that are the center of conflict are generally emotionally loaded. Even when they are not, disagreement itself involves intense emotions.

Individuals with autism find it difficult to deal with the emotions of others and experience difficulties with regulating their own emotions. This can be very difficult for people on the spectrum and their typically developing partners. It is not uncommon for people with autism to exhibit extreme reactions when they are emotionally agitated.

While the typically developing partner generally initially wishes to communicate, aiming to reach a compromise or conflict resolution, the lack of mutual theory of mind skills and collaboration towards productive win-win solutions leaves both partners feeling upset and unheard. Problem solving in mixed-neurological relationships is often so unproductive — and even traumatic — that one or both partners may wish to end the conversation as quickly as possible. As a result, either partner might walk away during a heated argument, leaving the other more furious than before.

There is nothing wrong in stopping an argument that deteriorates into mutual accusations and loud shouts. On the contrary, it is better to stop it and approach the problem later, after both partners calm down. The issue is that some partners refuse to get back to the discussion, preferring to ignore the existence of problems. Others are so traumatized by the difficulties of problem solving that they would prefer to avoid the issues. And, of course, ignoring problems does not make them disappear. In other cases, the couples try again but are never able to manage a problem-solving conversation that is productive rather than traumatic for one or both parties.

In many cases, mixed-neurological couples manage unresolved problems for years, with both members of the relationship choosing to live with the problem and work around it because managing the problem is easier than resolving it.

What eventually happens is that the same unresolved issues keep popping up to create a fight that never ends, as resolution is never achieved. The typically developing partner may continuously attempt to initiate conversations, while the partner with autism may constantly avoid them. Or vice versa. When communication fails, there is no chance to settle disputes or find solutions, so consequently, both partners remain frustrated and feel trapped in a dead-end situation.

Effective conflict resolution is a skill that can be learned, like any other skill. However, it requires the cooperation of both intimate partners. Cooperation works when both parties have theory of mind skills.

To resolve conflicts, both parties must work to understand what makes it so difficult for them to cope with problematic issues and what is the typical mode of behavior of each one of them when they disagree about something. When this occurs, couples can learn to communicate effectively when they have disputes, end fights and stop this vicious circle.

 

Dr. Pnina Arad

Consulting and Coaching

 

 

 

Ten Facts about High-Functioning Autism in Adults

  1. High-functioning autism (which formerly was referred to as “Asperger’s”), entered the DSM (the Bible of the mental health professions) only in 1994. The lack of diagnostic criteria prevented the possibility of diagnosis prior to the 1990s. As a result, most of the adult population with high-functioning autism remain undiagnosed.
  2. Autism is a developmental neuro-biological disorder. Today it is believed that the origin of most cases of autism is genetic. Since the 1990s, there has been a constant rise in the number of individuals diagnosed with autism. This can be mainly attributed to the changes in the diagnostic criteria and the inclusion of high-functioning autism in the DSM. This rise does not necessarily reflect a real rise in the number of individuals with autism. Many experts believe that people with high-functioning autism have always been part of the human population. It’s just that the health system did know how to recognize and diagnose them in the past.
  3. Neuro-developmental disorders tend to occur together. Hence, 70% of the individuals with autism suffer from at least one additional disorder. The comorbid disorders that most frequently affect people with autism are: ADD, ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Many health care professionals are skilled in diagnosing these comorbid disorders. However, even today, high-functioning autism, which is the main disorder in these cases, is likely to remain undiagnosed, since it is a very complex disorder and most health care professionals lack the knowledge and the expertise to diagnose it, especially in adults.
  4. At present, there is still no available cure for autism. Children on the autism spectrum grow to be adults on the autism spectrum and when a child is diagnosed with autism, there is a high probability that more children in the family will be diagnosed with autism as well. It is estimated that every child newly diagnosed with autism is surrounded by at least 4-5 undiagnosed adults with high-functioning autism.
  5. People with high-functioning autism look like typically developing people. Therefore, autism is a hidden disability.
  6. Distinguishing features of autism that are prominent in early childhood and are less prominent in adults. People with high-functioning autism learn over time to hide their difficulties and use compensatory strategies which facilitate their social integration. The social mask they wear makes the diagnostic process in adults very difficult.
  7. People with high-functioning autism have IQs that are at least average. Many have IQs that are far higher than average. Some are geniuses. Others just sound very intelligent because they are very knowledgeable about a specific topic of interest or because of a special talent they possess. They are often gifted in unique areas of expertise, while showing inadequacy in other areas, those that usually involve basic skills that most typically developing people perform intuitively.
  8. Unlike it is commonly believed, many individuals with high-functioning autism live independent lives, many, if not most, successfully graduate academic studies and most of them are interested in forming social and intimate relationships. Many people with high-functioning autism are employed, develop successful careers, get married and have children.
  9. Formal data has shown a gender ratio of 1:4 between men and women on the autism spectrum. Namely, there is one woman diagnosed for every four men. This data suggests that in general, autism disorder is gender biased and is more common in males. It is unclear if autism is even more masked in women than in men, accounting for a higher diagnosis among men than women.
  10. People with autism do not resemble one another, just like typically developing people are different from each other. On the one hand, they can be very quiet and introverted, while on the other hand they can be very verbal and extroverted. In addition, autistic features affect individuals differently and merge with unique character traits. Therefore, diagnosing high-functioning autism is an extremely complex procedure, especially in adults.

Dr. Pnina Arad

Consulting and Coaching

 

It Takes Two to Tango

“It takes two to tango” is an old adage most often interpreted to mean that fights only happen because both people are participating.

Its moral is: if you’re part of a fight, it’s your fault, too. You wouldn’t be in the fight if you weren’t choosing to be in it. And, if you want to stop a fight that you’re part of, stop your half of the fight and the fight will end.

And, that’s true if you have the power to walk away from a fight. An adult can choose to leave any fight that it’s safe to leave. And by leaving you win…..

But what happens when you’re not safe to walk away from a fight? What if you can’t get away from the other person? What if there are other people, possibly small children, depending on you to stay in the fight?

If you can’t walk away, is healthy to always allow yourself to lose just to keep the peace? Is it better to start fighting back?

The moral of the adage should be the opposite. In actuality, it takes two to get along. It takes two to work together. It takes two to be a team. It takes two to collaborate.

Mixed-neurological relationships are rife with fighting and low on teamwork and collaboration. Teamwork and collaboration are easier when both people have theory of mind skills. When each partner can somewhat accurately perceive the other persons’ perspective and intentions, they can more easily find ways to work together for the mutual benefit of both.

When only one of the two people in a relationship has theory of mind skills, that person, the typically developing partner, is working to be aware of the other partner’s, the ASD partner’s, intentions and perceptions. Yet at the same time, the partner with ASD isn’t keeping in mind the typically developing partners’ intentions and perceptions. The result is that both partners are thinking about the ASD partners’ intentions and needs and only the typically developing partner is thinking about the typically developing partner’s needs.

Things can get out of balance after a while, favoring the partner with ASD’s needs. And people with ASD do, at no fault of their own, have a lot of needs.

In marriage, ASD partners’ needs do not negate the needs of typically developing partners who, over time, become worn due to the lack of reciprocity in communication, caregiving and connected sexuality and affection.

A marriage is different than a parent-child relationship, a therapist-client relationship, or a teacher-student relationship. Ideally, it is a relationship of equality in which both partners are working together or caring for each other. But in mixed-neurological marriages, due to the difference in theory of mind skills between the partners, this kind of reciprocity and teamwork doesn’t happen.

It does take two to tango. Watch the dance. It is a typically developing dance with both partners responding to the other. It is about connection, eye contact, sexuality, and working together for the benefit of both. The tango is a dance of social communication and autism affects social communication. The tango can’t happen in mixed-neurological marriages because only one partner’s brain knows how to do the dance.

It takes two to tango.

It takes two to work together.

It only takes one to perpetuate a fight and it’s not always possible for the other spouse to walk away.

Anne Janai, M.L.A.



Autism, Theory of Mind Deficits and Relationships

Adults with high-functioning autism have theory of mind deficits and theory of mind deficits have a major impact on marriage and adult relationships.

Theory of mind is the ability to perceive what the world is like from other people’s perspectives. People with autism are aware of their own perspective, but have a difficult time understanding where other people are coming from. 

Theory of mind deficits prevent a spouse with autism from understanding where a typically developing spouse is coming from in social interactions. They prevent people with autism from easily understanding others’ emotions or intentions (Baron-Cohen, 1995; Frith & Happe, 1999). They affect the way the partner with autism speaks and behaves in the marriage.

People with autism tend to make decisions based only on the way they see the world, what they intend and how they feel. They tend to think that their positions are reasonable and others’ positions are unreasonable even when an objective outsider would adamantly disagree.

Typically developing spouses who do not have theory of mind deficits are able to see the world from their own perspective and the partner with autism’s perspective and will try to take both positions into account when resolving problems or making decisions. Many times, however, the person with autism will not accept a resolution that takes anyone else’s perspective into account.

Typically developing family members are generally incentivized to keep family members with autism feeling satisfied and peaceful. Typically developing partners experience relief when partners with autism are feeling calm and well because solving problems in mixed-neurological relationships can be so difficult that it may seem preferable to live with problems in order to keep the peace.

Partners with autism generally feel taken advantage of and exploited. Without easy access to their partners’ perspectives, their own wants and needs seem of much higher importance. They can feel manipulated, abused and controlled without understanding or perceiving their partners’ service and intentions.

Anne Janai, M.L.A.



 
 
 

References:

Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Boston: MIT Press.

Frith, U. & Happe, F. (1999). Theory of Mind and self-consciousness; what is it like to be autistic? Mind and Language, 14, 1-22.

10 Things to Know about Mixed-Neurological Relationships

10 Things to Know About Mixed-Neurological Relationships

10-things-to-know-about-mixed-neurological-relationships



  1. A mixed-neurological relationship is a relationship between a typically developing person and a person with high-functioning autism. High-functioning autism in adults can be difficult to recognize. Many older adults on the autism spectrum were never diagnosed as children. Many grow up, get married and have successful careers without knowing they are on the autism spectrum.
  2. Mixed-neurological marriages are every bit as much mixed marriages as mixed-orientation marriages or mixed-faith marriages. In mixed-neurological marriages the incompatibilities are neurological incompatibilities rather than sexuality or religious incompatibilities.

  3. Autism affects communication and communication is an essential part of marriage and adult relationships. Communication is an essential part of marriage and both partners in mixed-neurological relationships tend to experience distress related to communication difficulties. Typically developing people and people with autism communicate differently.
  4. As autism has a genetic component, many mixed-neurological couples have children on the autism spectrum. As autism is more easily recognizable in children than adults, many parents on the autism spectrum are diagnosed only after a child is diagnosed. The presence of children on the autism spectrum contributes more stress to the parents’ marriage.
  5. In the early days of mixed relationships, both partners may believe they have found great compatibility. The typically developing partner often finds great enjoyment in helping the partner with autism navigate social situations. The partner with autism may find the typically developing partner to be more accepting than other people.
  6. Later on in relationships, both partners tend to experience great dissatisfaction. Typically developing partners feel deprived of emotional, social and sexual connection. Partners with autism feel controlled and manipulated and as if typically developing partners aren’t doing enough for the marriage. Typically developing partners, meanwhile, finds themselves feeling drained because they give too much.
  7. Mixed-neurological marriages look very “normal” from the outside. Extended family members, community members and colleagues usually have little idea that so much distress is going on within their friends’ and loved ones’ marriages.
  8. Mixed-neurological marriages are vulnerable to domestic abuse, most often psychological, sexual and financial, although sometimes physical abuse does occur. While marriage is a foundational component of society, it is inappropriate for professionals, clergy and loved ones to encourage individuals to remain in abusive relationships.
  9. Mixed-neurological marriages are vulnerable to high-conflict divorce. Sometimes, mixed divorces cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Attorneys are the only ones who benefit. Both partners and their children experience extreme duress.
  10. Autism is not easy. It is not easy for people who have it and it is not easy for their loved ones. Both partners in mixed-neurological marriages need resources and support — not only the partners with autism. Both partners are equally important. Neurodiversity includes everyone.

Anne Janai, M.L.A.



What is a Mixed-Neurological Relationship?

A mixed-neurological intimate adult relationship is a relationship between a person with high-functioning autism and a typically developing person. Typically developing people are people who don’t have autism or another developmental disorder. In a nutshell, high-functioning autism is autism (or ASD) without cognitive or language impairment.

Many people with high-functioning autism will marry and have successful careers.

Chances are that some of the high-level employees in your workplace have high-functioning autism. They can be doctors, surgeons, data analysts, financial analysts, IT professionals, programmers, physicists… you name it. Those who are able to find employment within their niche interests are often able to contribute unique skills to the workforce. And not all people with high-functioning autism in the workforce are in exceptionally high-level jobs. In most cases, their colleagues will not be aware that they have ASD. Your colleague in the next cubical could have ASD and you wouldn’t necessarily know it.

Autism has a genetic component and sometimes people with high-functioning autism aren’t themselves aware that they might be on the spectrum until a family member, usually a child, is diagnosed. In some families, one parent and one or more children have ASD.

High-functioning autism is easier to recognize in children than adults and until the last twenty years or so, most children with high-functioning autism went without the advantage of a diagnosis. These children used their intellect and their resourcefulness to develop compensatory strategies on their own. By the time they reached adulthood, those strategies masked the most obvious signs of ASD.

Often, neither they nor their current intimate partners knew about the autism when their intimate relationships began.

Intimate adult relationships between typically developing adults and adults on the autism spectrum are mixed relationships because the partners are neurologically dissimilar in a manner that affects their communication and social interactions. Intimate adult relationships are commonly accepted as the most important relationships of one’s lifetime and successful communication and social enjoyment are critical to adults’ satisfaction within them.

Currently partners in mixed-neurological relationships have few resources to help them navigate their differing communication styles. In fact, there is scant acknowledgment that mixed-neurological relationships even exist and few resources to assist professionals in working with them.

Most of us have heard of mixed-orientation relationships and mixed-faith relationships and the difficulties that arise between partners who navigate these differences. It is less common to consider the friction that may occur when the incompatibility between partners is neurological.

My programs provide information, strategies, resources and support for typically developing members of mixed-neurological relationships and their partners.



Autism and Psychosis, ASD-P

People who experience psychosis experience a disconnect from reality. They may experience hallucinations, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behaviors and diminished emotional expression. Psychosis is commonly associated with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and bipolar and related disorders.

In 2003, a research team from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Goteborg University in Sweden wrote, “Adult subjects with AD/HD and ASD sometimes display bizarre ideas, disorganized speech/cognitive processes (especially under stress), and significant mood swings (Stahlberg et al., 2003, p 892),” all symptoms associated with psychotic disorders.

They also stated that the then “diagnostic criteria ha[d] to be revised to acknowledge the comorbidity of bipolar and/or psychotic disorders in AD/HD and ASD.” They didn’t feel as if the diagnostic criteria in the DSM of the time (DSM-IV-TR) were sufficient.

In psychology terms, comorbidity means that two or more disorders occur in the same individual at the same time. Stahlberg and colleagues found that many (but not all!) people who have ASD also experience psychosis and that many (and again… not all) who have a psychotic disorder also have autism. They also found comorbidity with ADHD.

Much more is known about autism today than was known in 2003 when Stahlberg and colleagues published their findings. Of especial note is the sheer prevalence of autism. Today’s mental health community is still coming to grips with the fact that autism affects somewhere around 1 in 68 children.

Children with autism grow into adults with autism. Autism is a developmental disorder. It doesn’t go away with age.

High-functioning autism, formerly known as Asperger’s, went almost unrecognized in children until it was included in DSM-IV in 1994. Children diagnosed wth Asperger’s in the 1990s and early 2000s have now grown into today’s young adults bringing about the current nascent awareness of the high-functioning autism that has likely always been with us in our adult communities.

Many adults with high-functioning autism remain unrecognized, unacknowledged and undiagnosed. These unrecognized adults with ASD have developed highly effective compensatory strategies that mask the most obvious signs of the disorder. As a result, many mental health professionals do not know how to recognize or diagnose high-functioning autism in adults and many may adults with autism may be in treatment for the commonly comorbid anxiety or depression without any awareness that they also have ASD.

It is also possible that some intelligent adults experiencing psychosis also have and underlying undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder.

It is known that many people with autism are more likely than the general population to develop a comorbid psychotic disorder. One study found that up to 28% of people with ASD experience psychosis (Mouridsen, Rich, & Isager, 2008 as seen in Larsen et al, 2017)! Another population based study found that the probablity of people with autism developing psychosis to be between 5.6 and 5.8 (Stetson et. al, 2015 as seen in Larsen et al., 2017).

That said, in DSM-V it states, “Hallucinations and delusions, which are defining features of schizophrenia, are not features of autism spectrum disorder” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 58). And they are not. Many people with autism do not experience psychosis.

At the same time, in 2017, Felicity Larsen and her colleagues found evidence for a distinct subtype of autism that includes psychosis and published their results in the British Journal of Psychiatry. They called this subtype of autism “ASD-P” or “autism spectrum disorder – psychosis.”

Larsen and her team investigated whether or not there were any differences between individuals with ASD who do qualify for a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder and those who do not. They found that people with ASD who develop a psychotic disorder show “significantly fewer lifetime stereotyped repetitive or restrictive interests/behaviors” than people with ASD who do not develop psychosis (Larsen et al., 2017).

As repetitive and restrictive behaviors are often considered a major indication of autism, it’s possible that adults who belong to the ASD-P subtype may be even more difficult for mental health professionals to recognize or diagnose.

Yet early understanding and diagnosis is critical to patient (and family!) outcome.

In an interview with the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry, Larsen said,

For me, the most important thing about this research is that it focuses attention on something that impacts the lives of many autistic people and their families, but that is under-researched and poorly understood. Autistic people can not only struggle due to having to fit into a “neurotypical” world that often increases their stress and vulnerability to mental illness, but additionally when they suffer from mental health problems, are often seen in services that feel ill-prepared to help them due to a lack of understanding. There is a need to build more and better understanding, at a research and clinical level, about mental health problems in autistic people, and to work out what approaches work best to support them. I’m pleased to be able to carry on my work in this area by focusing on emotional regulation difficulties in autistic people, as this is a possible factor in the development of psychosis that could be successfully treated before the onset of more serious mental health problems.

Clearly, we are still in the beginning stages of understanding autism in adults and the ways it affects the individuals on the spectrum, and their spouses, families and children. High-functioning autism in adults, being much more difficult to recognize and diagnose than other forms of autism, adds another layer of complexity to mental health providers’ efforts to help those on the spectrum and their families.

More research on high-functioning autism and psychosis in adults is necessary. I personally wonder if theory of mind deficits in intelligent adults with autism could eventually lead to psychotic beliefs, especially during times of extreme duress.

Anne Janai, M.L.A.



 

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition DSM-5 TM. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Larsen, F., Wagner, A. P., Jones, P. B., Tantam, D., Lai, M., Baron-Cohen, S., and Holland, A. J. (2017). Psychosis in autism: comparison of the features of both conditions in a dually affected cohort. British Journal of Psychiatry, 210(4): 269-275.

Mouridsen, S. E., Rich B, Isager, T. (2008). Psychiatric disorders in adults diagnosed as children with atypical autism. A case control study. Journal of Neural Transmission, 115: 135–8.

Selten JP, Lundberg M, Rai D, Magnusson C. (2015). Risks for nonaffective psychotic disorder and bipolar disorder in young people with autism spectrum disorder: a population-based study. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(5):483-9.

Stahlberg, O., Soderstrom, H., Rastum, M., and Gillberg, C. (2003). Bipolar disorder, schizphrenia, and other psychotic disorders in adults with childhood onset AD/HD and/or autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Neural Transmission, 111: 891-902.

Living in a Parallel Universe

“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

Consulting and Coaching

Beginner’s Guide for Typically Developing Spouses

  • Do you feel that something very unusual is going on in your intimate
    relationship?
  • Are your instincts telling you that the problems in your relationship are
    much more complex than the problems other couples are dealing with?
  • Do you feel misunderstood or disbelieved when you share your concerns
    with other people?
  • Are you confused?
  • Do you suffer from physical, sexual, financial, emotional or psychological
    abuse in your intimate relationship?
  • Is communication a major obstacle in your relationship?
  • Does your intimate partner embarrass you in social contexts? Is he/she boring others with excessive details, being offensive, or disclosing private information? Is he/she very silent and avoidant, or on the contrary, does he/she tend to take over the conversation?
  • Does your intimate partner have a hard time showing empathy, being
    supportive or sharing feelings?
  • Do you suffer from emotional deprivation?
  • Does your intimate partner cling to routines and show inflexibility or
    extreme black and white thinking?
  • Does your intimate partner have obsessive tendencies or show extreme
    perfectionism?
  • Does your intimate partner indulge an exaggerated amount of time in
    work, in a special hobby or in a specific area of interest?
  • Does your intimate partner show complete loss of interest in sex, or on
    the other extreme, obsession about sex?
  • Did you experience unsuccessful couple therapy that left you with the feeling of being misunderstood?

If you answered ‘yes’ to most or all of these questions,
then there’s a good chance that you’re in a mixed-neurological marriage.

Dr. Pnina Arad

Consulting and Coaching