November 11, 2011 at 12:08 pm , by Lauren Piro
For many of the squabbles the counselors help couples solve in our CTMBS series, their advice often includes working on communicating. But what if a couple’s communication roadblocks are … genetic? This is the trouble Susan, 47, and Neil, 50, finally needed to face after years of marriage when Neil was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Read on to find out how they coped and check out the full story here.
Susan’s turn: She fell in love with her husband’s charm, wit, and smarts but has always been annoyed by his absentmindedness, selfishness and awkward social tendencies. While their kids were growing up, Neil could hardly handle the chaos children bring to married life—he’d go crazy if plans changed unexpectedly, and was often too honest with his kids (telling your daughter point-black that her drawings don’t look quite right? Not so great for her self-esteem). Neil seems incapable of handling anything, from paying bills to keeping a job to acting normally on social outings with friends. When Susan read an article about Asperger’s syndrome, she was shocked how much it reminded her of her husband—a bright guy who has tons of trouble interacting and communicating. But where do they go from here? She loves him too much to lose him, but will he be able to make some lifestyle changes before they both go insane?
Neil’s turn: Neil has always felt like he’s disappointing Susan (she seems to scold him constantly) but has never understood exactly what she wants from him. She’s made him out to be an ogre to their kids, always getting a word in edgewise when he tries teach them something or bond with them, but again, he doesn’t get what he’s doing wrong. Neil realizes he’s always had trouble dealing with other people, especially at work (he was once fired for taking an old typewriter from his office; it was “just sitting there” so it seemed like a logical thing to do), but can’t Susan just accept that social situations cause him anxiety? He’s miserable at parties, and hates when Susan gives him the third degree about how he acts at them. Neil’s always felt different from everyone else, like the rest of world has secret way of communicating. After discovering Asperger’s, he’d love to learn more and start repairing his family life.
The counselor’s turn: After Neil was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, the couple committed to seeking the appropriate therapy. It was a tough start—Susan was worn out being the only “responsible one” with little support from Neil, and had become less willing to deal with his peculiar quirks. The counselor helped Susan see how Neil processed everyday life. He has great difficulty reading emotions (both his and other people’s) and tends to take everything very literally, which can make his social interactions seem rude. But Susan’s criticism wasn’t helping; it only made Neil want to retreat even more. He started seeing a psychiatrist, and the couple began working on communication exercises and learning each other’s individual needs better. Now, Susan is more patient and clear about her feelings with Neil, and he makes a greater effort to remember that Susan needs emotional support. Plus they have new rules for social outings: Susan will remind Neil to make eye contact and let other people speak, and if he gets overwhlelmed or uncomfortable, he’ll politely excuse himself. Today, they’re doing well, and working together to overcome their obstacles has made the couple closer than ever.
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