A moment of realisation

I have submitted my story because I found so much reassurance and support from reading other women's accounts of their relationships with a person with Asperger syndrome.

My husband and I have been married for 42 years and are of retirement age, although we both still work full-time. We have had serious relationship difficulties in certain areas for as long as we have known each other. We have seen probably about ten therapists, including CBT and couples therapists, but this has made absolutely no difference to our relationship.

Several years ago we were all reading The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, and both my husband and our older daughter remarked that they recognized certain aspects of themselves in the book. Until then I had never heard of Asperger syndrome; but the moment when the mother in the story asked her son if she might just hold his hand and he refused, dug a familiar hole in my heart.

Communication difficulties

My husband is a highly intelligent superbly functioning man with a few exceptions: he appears to be largely incapable of empathy and either emotional or physical intimacy.

He is happy to do any job which needs doing: driving any family member anywhere they need to go, repairing anything broken, assisting one of the children or animals after an accident. But when I fell off a high ledge in the garden onto gravel and both my knees were pouring with blood, all he said was "You better get up now." He made no attempt to comfort or help me.

After I spent two months in America and returned having lost weight, he did not compliment me but remarked "You look like you’ve had a head transplant." He once said I looked "good", but has never said I looked pretty or lovely or anything of that nature.

Intimacy

My husband has been predominantly asexual throughout our relationship and seems to have very little need for holding hands, kissing, or being physically affectionate. He has learned to 'bear hug' in the last few years; but it is certainly not an embrace.

He is adamant that he is not gay. My friends say he obviously loves me and our daughters, but he expresses himself practically rather than emotionally. I have often accused him of not having any feelings: he retorts that he does have feelings but that I do not recognize when he is expressing them. He finds it much easier to be demonstrative about our pets.

His interest in me is as a companion and as a comforter in times of stress. He seems to be oblivious of me as a woman. After 42 years together, he still has no idea of what I would like for a birthday or Christmas present unless I tell him."

He used to buy me things like wheelbarrows and wallpaper until I complained. He has never bought me a piece of feminine or intimate apparel. He would much rather repair the vacuum cleaner, tidy the hundreds of jars of nails or screws in his workshop, or restore equipment on his boat than share emotional experiences with me.

He generally appears to be uncomfortable in the face of emotional displays, and has always tended to walk away and go back to work when there have been family arguments. I found the few holidays we have taken together very lonely and will not go away with him any more: the running commentary on the buildings we see and the history of the place is always very interesting, but there is no emotional content or rapport in response to new and exciting experiences.

Trying to understanding behaviour

He has great difficulty in recognising people; and if we are watching a film and the lead actress changes her hairstyle, he cannot recognise her as the same actress. He is very uncomfortable going into shops (other than DIY stores or chandlers which he knows well), and when he is given new clothes he can leave them in the cupboard or dresser drawers for several years before they 'feel friendly' and he is prepared to wear them.

When we sit at the dining table, he has an odd habit of closing one eye and 'lining things up' with the glazing bars on the windows. He cannot sit at the table without tipping his chair backwards and trying to balance it. He dries himself after a bath in exactly the same way every time. He eats the same breakfast and lunch every day, which he makes for himself using the same utensils. He always uses the same mug.

So much of my relationship with my husband has been tainted by our lack of emotional communication and the recriminations arising from it: feelings of responsibility, disappointment, my anger at his complete control of our relationship, his fear of my anger, feelings of inadequacy on both our parts, and mutual failure of understanding."

Different ways of expressing emotions

I spent 25 years trying to figure out what was wrong with me, and what I needed to change to get my husband to be interested in me. I have spent ten of the past 15 years, while we were seeing therapists, being angry about his insistence (acquired from one of the therapists) that I am equally at fault by not being patient enough with him.

A few years ago, I was feeling very dispirited: our younger daughter (in her 20s) was still coccooned at home, recovering from a long illness. I was plagued by chronic urgent diarrhoea which terrorized me when I had to go out in the car, my hair had inexplicably begun to fall out, and I had a ganglion on my foot which was about to have surgery.

I said to my husband, "I could really do with some comforting.” His response, after 40 years of marriage, was "What sort of comforting would you like?"

Periodically, when my unhappiness became overwhelming, I used to force him to talk about our lack of love life (not just lack of sex.). He normally doesn't like to talk about emotional issues and says he cannot speak about what he feels. His response was that he was simply "unable to perform" and because he couldn’t perform, he thought that other physical/sensual communication was not necessary. It wasn't until he was prescribed Viagra, used it once and never used it again, that I understood that it wasn't that he couldn't perform, but that for whatever reason (which I could not then understand) he preferred not to.

At this point, I finally realised, with the help of my closest friend, that my husband actually had no idea what I meant when I complained about our lack of emotional communication and loving. His response was always "I am doing everything possible to make this marriage work", implying that I was being demanding and unreasonable to ask for anything else.

My husband is still very good-looking, intelligent, talented, philosophic, sweet, quiet, and undemanding – in fact the living image of many women's ideal man – so my complaints appeared unfounded and unreasonable to several of the therapists we saw as well.

Adjusting expectations

I searched for Asperger syndrome online. Among lots of other information, I found Sarah Hendrickx's Asperger's Syndrome - A Love Story and Maxine Aston's Aspergers In Love, which described my relationship with my husband completely and absolutely and at last put a name to everything I had already identified and understood.

It is not easy to leave a man like my husband, and there are many reasons why I decided to stay in this incomplete but worthwhile marriage. However, in order to survive it as a whole person and retain my sense of self and self-esteem, I also realised that I would have to establish new boundaries in our relationship.

I no longer have any expectations of my husband's ability to be affectionate and loving. As a result, I have ceased to put any pressure on him to change, he no longer feels threatened by demands he cannot understand, and we now have a friendly, communicative, and companionable relationship that works well."

I have also accepted that I am not responsible for my husband's problems, nor am I responsible for solving them. I am only responsible for making my own life happy and rewarding. I tend to keep very busy and get other kinds of fulfilment from my friends, children and career; but at quiet moments I still have not abandoned the idea of a love affair.