Monday, December 03, 2018

The wife's tale

Dave, who has Asperger syndrome, wrote the last post on here about how he feels in social situations, and someone suggested I write my side of the story. Here is a slightly amended version of something I wrote for the National Autistic Society's magazine, which was at that time called Communication.

An odd marriage
It hasn’t been an easy marriage. And I know that Dave would say the same. But it has been a long one – 48 years. After huge difficulties – especially in the early years - we’re still together, still good friends, and I’m happy. Very happy.
It’s a little difficult to write about one’s marriage honestly without saying things you’d rather not share with the world at large. Perhaps that’s why I wrote a novel - rather than an autobiography – about a woman married to a man with Asperger’s syndrome. The novel, for those of you who haven’t read it, is BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU. The main female character (Fran) doesn’t know her husband (Sol) has Asperger’s syndrome, and only realises this towards the end of the book. She has been married to him for thirty-something years and finds him hard to live with, awkward, stubborn, pathologically unsociable, with inconvenient food fads and obsessive interests and addicted to routine, but at the same time honest, loyal, caring, reliable, creative, fascinating, and always with something interesting to say. She also finds him very very funny.
If I had known in the early days that Dave had Asperger’s syndrome, it would have made things so much easier. I can’t remember now all the adjustments I had to make, but I learned to go to parties on my own, often to go on holiday on my own with the children, to travel abroad on my own. He would not eat with the children and me: he ate different food at a different time. Perhaps I’ve managed because I have a robust self-confidence, and because I don’t mind people thinking we are odd. And I have learned to see things from his point of view. For example, if he finds parties painful, anxiety-provoking experiences, wouldn’t it be mean to insist he come with me?

I look slightly sozzled on this pic

There are still some problems. Dave sometimes misinterprets my reactions and emotions: he often thinks that I’m angry and hostile, when actually I’m upset. At other times he can’t appreciate the intensity of my feelings if I am speaking calmly, without obvious signs of distress. I may have to get to the point of tears for him to grasp how I feel. It’s different if I am physically hurt, when he will respond immediately with sympathy and care.
Another issue for me is his apparent inability to accept that my feelings can change. If I tell him one time that, for example, I don’t like a person, he doesn’t seem to allow me to say later – “Actually, now I know them better, I think they’re OK.” He will forever say “I know you hate so and so.” Note here that he doesn’t say “dislike” but “hate.”
Things are either black or they’re white. If he makes something and brings it in from the shed to show me and I say “It’s very nicely made, but it’s not my favourite thing you’ve made,” when he later shows it to someone else he will say “Sue hates it.” 
     It was only a few years ago that I found out the reason for Dave’s unusual behaviour and outlook on life. Someone else in the family was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, and Dave and I researched the disorder, and it all became so obvious that we wondered why we hadn’t thought of it before. It explained EVERYTHING.
     Does it make any difference to me now, knowing about Dave’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
        What helps at this late stage is knowing that the little things he makes a fuss about are genuinely upsetting to him, and he’s not just being a drama queen. He was upset that the monitor of his new computer was black, when he’d ordered a white one. Black upsets him. He went on and on about this problem, which appeared trivial to me. OK so you don’t like black! Get over it!  But to someone with ASD this kind of thing isn’t trivial.
         He finds patterned fabrics visually disturbing, so we have plain furnishings. He has an unusually sensitive sense of smell. Narcissi and hyacinths make him unbearably nauseous, as do the smell of many foods I like to eat – blue cheese, parmesan, fish pie. I just asked him for some other examples of domestic smells that upset him and he said “Gangrene.” Thanks, Dave.

Dave with his Christmas yoghurt

Even the pluses have their downside. Dave’s honesty, which I value immensely, has made my strong self-confidence necessary for survival. One morning I woke up very late. When I eventually came downstairs, Dave said: “You’ve been asleep for so long, I was beginning to think you were dead.”
“Didn’t it occur to you to come up and check? Weren’t you worried?” I said.
“It would have been fine. I know how to get rid of a cadaver.”
He said this in all seriousness. Fortunately, I found it hilarious.
And then there are the “compliments.”
          Dave: “From this angle, your nose is rather reminiscent of the twisted spire in Chesterfield.”
          Sue: “Can’t you say something nicer than that?”
          Dave: “But I like the twisted spire. And don’t forget it’s a tourist attraction.”
          I found this last comment so comical I put it in the novel. For me, his unusual take on life is refreshing, challenging and interesting, as well as often funny. Here’s another real-life conversation I used in the novel, word-for-word:
          “I’ve conceived a strong antipathy for my dark blue underpants,” he said.
          What?” she said. “But they’re exactly like your light blue ones. M&S. Exactly the same design.”
          “The dark ones seem sinister, ideological, repressive. They’re less willing to negotiate than the pale blue ones. I don’t want to be bullied by my underpants at this age.”
          All marriages, whether or not to someone with ASD, have their difficulties, their irritations, their times of frustration. What it boils down to is this:  How much do you love this person? and How much do you want to stay married?  Each person has to decide whether the balance between what they are putting into the marriage and what they are doing without in order to stay in the marriage, is worth what the marriage gives them. Dave is honest, loyal, caring, considerate, supportive, incredibly helpful, a wonderful home-maker, reliable, creative, engages me in fascinating conversation, and makes me laugh. That’s more than enough for me.

p.s. I need to emphasise that I am no saint: there has been mutual aggravation in this relationship. So I assume that just as I think it's worth it, Dave does too. 
Also - I would urge you to read Dave's post, so you get a better understanding if what's going on. Here is the link to his first instalment, and here's the link to his second.

 Further reading for newbies on the blog - Christmas in the Shed


Sally said...

Hi Sue, Fascinating & amusing post - as I would expect! The love & warmth of your relationship really comes over, despite the frustrations. Let's face it, in the real world, no marriage is perfect.
Also, read on/off Christmas & wondering which is it this year? Sally 🤔🎄🎅🌟

Anonymous said...

Hats off!

What for? A rare ensemble - pitch perfect - fascinating, warm and entertaining, I don’t know any other couple who would or even could.

But more than that. For the loving spark that is still so apparent, after all these years.

As a bystander to your setting out - those heady days of falling, falling into adulthood seem pretty distant.

Yet ... almost 50 years on, you’re still setting out and I’m still checking in.

Hats off to you!


Sue Hepworth said...

I don't know what to say except that Christmas is ON. Yay!

Unknown said...

Oh, my! this so describes my 25 years with my husband! He passed away a year ago, and I'm learning so much about Asperger's now that I wish I had known then...

marmee said...

Sue, this has been so interesting, so insightful, so moving . So much came up for me. I was sad thinking how tough it must be for the aspergers person living in a world that in a way speaks a different language all of the time. I also though how for eg a dysfunctional family shapes one person who might then marry a person from a diametrically opposed background and that will in some ways raise the same type of issues as aspergers v non aspergers?? And you sum it up perfectly for all of of us: we decide do we want to be THERE or not.

Sue Hepworth said...

It's lovely to hear from you, Marmee. Thanks for checking in and for your comments. xx

Lucy said...

Hi Sue I can totally relate, I have been married to my husband for 14 years but known his for 25yrs. We have a daughter who is 9 with Aspergers, I had always thought that my husband was quite selfish and moody but over the years come to terms with this as much as possible but now that he is 43yrs old and we have learnt so much about Aspergers with our daughter it is clear to both of us that he has probably lived with this all of his life and masked how he has felt to blend in and be accepted. As he has got older and knowing what we do now I think the lightbulb moment has happened and he is really struggling with how to deal with many of his emotions. It is tough and we have days which are very challenging but I love him and want to be here for him! I am going to order your book today!! :)

Frances C said...

Wow Sue, this is a superb insight. I have been married to my Aspie husband for 10 years now, but didn't have a diagnosis until 3 years ago. It was such a relief to both of us, but brought up different types of issues. I'm still learning how to adjust properly, and yes, we still have moments where we don't know how to deal with it, but it's so important to me that we are learning together. I once looked online for an Aspergers wives support group, but every post was from people just saying 'get out of the marriage' I left the group almost immediately. I love him, and I love his quirks, and the children adore their daddy, why would anybody want to throw that away? So thankyou for a great, positive spin on things!

Sue Hepworth said...

Hi Lucy and Frances, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and found it helpful.
I too saw lots of comments online elsewhere, Frances, saying ‘get out of the marriage’ and I felt very sad. There is so much that is special about an Aspie.

Lizzi Bee said...

Just made me think about how much I love my aspi man. Thanks for sharing 💕

Wendylady66 said...

It's like listening to my marriage. It's not easy particularly when it comes to his work. I find that the hard part. I love him that's how I cope but some days I feel I could walk away. I wish there was more help for us wives

Sue Hepworth said...

Hello Wendylady66, it can be a very tough gig at times. Good friends who accept and understand are really precious. I hope you have at least one.