What Happened to the Person I Married?

“It seems like I’m married to a totally different person than the person I met. What happened?”

Asperger's and MarriageOver and over again I hear this from my clients who are spouses or partners of people with Asperger’s or features of Asperger’s. What went wrong?

All relationships go through a courtship phase when both partners are on their best behavior. Over time, of course, this changes, but the shift is much more radical for the person with Asperger’s. Over time they can seem like completely different people. Often they put a great deal of effort into the relationship in the beginning. They may see courting and finding a partner as a project or conquest and play their expected role incredibly well for the short haul.  A fictionalized account of this behavior in action is portrayed in the book The Rose Project by Graeme Stimsion. Unfortunately this behavior is not sustainable.

People with Asperger’s are referred to as neuro-atypicals which means that their brains work differently than the majority of the population (which is referred to as neuro-typical). Those with Asperger’s can maintain neuro-typical behavior for short periods of time especially when there is some reward for doing so. Just like the rest of us, “aspies” want to look good, be loved, and have a partner. The motivation is the same as ours, but the ability to sustain the acceptable behavior is often not there.

Neuro-atypicals tend to market themselves. They can appear more capable of a relationship than they really are.  As time goes on and as the person with Asperger’s reverts to his previous behavior, his unwitting partner is left bewildered and wondering what happened. It’s then that the partner of the person with Asperger’s begins to think that somehow this change in behavior might be his or her fault. Attempts to change the person with Asperger’s can result in anger, frustration, and often despair.

Since people with Asperger’s are resistant or unable neurologically to change, it is up to spouses or partners to learn as much as they can about the syndrome and to develop appropriate coping mechanisms. If such relationships are to be saved, flexibility and understanding are key.