"My Husband Has Asperger's"

Susan is exasperated with her husband and feels like everything Neil says and does is insensitive, but it may actually be because he has Asperger's. Can this marriage be saved?
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Her Turn

"My husband has always been kind of difficult to live with," said Susan, 47, the mother of two grown children. "Neil can be charming and witty, but he also tends to be callous, selfish, and detached. When my kids were young I focused on them so my husband's indifference didn't bother me. But now that they're gone he's really driving me crazy.

"I met Neil when I was 18. He was handsome, brilliant, honest -- and we fell in love pretty quickly. We were very different from each other, but I thought that my strengths balanced his weaknesses. I was organized and, I admit, a little bossy. Neil was the absentminded professor type. He was studying for a degree in graphic design and at times would work all night long, neglecting to eat or sleep. He was a lost puppy I wanted to rescue.

"We'd been going out for two years when I discovered I was pregnant. We got married. After Lisa and Jake were born I stayed home until they were in school, then went to work part-time at a local store. But the kids were always my priority, and I focused pretty much all of my energy on them.

"Neil and I have been having issues since the kids were young. He didn't know the first thing about taking care of children -- not even how to use a thermometer! He never could handle any noise or chaos. When the kids didn't put their toys away he'd throw a fit. He'd go bonkers if plans changed unexpectedly. Worst of all, he never really bonded with our children. Once, when Lisa was in middle school, she came home bursting with pride over a drawing of a girl's face she'd done in art class. Instead of telling her how great it was Neil told her that the proportions of the face were all wrong: 'Lisa, you have to learn the basics of anatomy. The head is divided into five sections....' Who talks to a child that way? She was in tears.

"Occasionally the quirky Neil I fell in love with resurfaced, like when Jake was in the hospital for three months with a broken leg and pelvis. He was 14 then and Neil was at his bedside every day. He actually went out and bought the mountain bike that Jake wanted and took a picture of it. He gave the photo to Jake to keep at the hospital as 'incentive to get well.' At first I thought it was nuts -- the kid was in a body cast! But it worked.

"Mostly, though, Neil seems to live in his own world. I take care of everything from finances to repairs since he can't be trusted to do anything. He can't even keep a job. He's always butting heads with bosses and coworkers. No surprise, really: Neil has never been able to deal with people. If we go to dinner with friends he won't even look at them. If anyone asks him a question, he starts on an endless rant. I'm working two jobs now but he seems totally unconcerned about how drained I am.

"Just as I reached the breaking point a friend gave me some articles about Asperger's syndrome that blew me away. People who have it are perfectly intelligent -- some of them are actually quite gifted -- but have trouble communicating and interacting. Because of the way their brain develops they can't read social cues and often act inappropriately or misunderstand everyday communication. The description of the syndrome fits Neil to a tee.

"I don't know where we go from here, though. If he does have Asperger's, it could explain his infuriating behavior. But will that make it any easier to live with? Who knows? Neil and I have a long history. Deep down I know we love each other. But unless something changes I will lose my mind."

Continued on page 2:  His Turn


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