Sunday, May 6, 2012

3rd Anniversary Observed (Great Expectations)

This weekend, Brock came for a visit (as I've mentioned before, we live two time zones apart). We celebrated our 3rd anniversary over homemade asparagus and pancetta harsh and mimosas. Brock has wonderful taste in jewelry and gave me a beautiful necklace set with 2,000 year old Roman glass. I've been eyeing up these beauties since 2004 and casually mentioned it last time I saw him. I'd like to get Brock a nice, personalized leather dopp kit, but Brock is pretty particular about his things so I'm waiting to see if it meets his size specifications.

I absolutely adore this man, but the dude is hard to be married to.  The marriage has heretofore been a complete disaster, but I stay because I'm crazy about him.

I'm beginning to see that the disaster comes from a mismatch of expectations and what can be. Brock and I each have expectation of what a wife should be, what a husband should be, and what a marriage should be. The mismatch is two-fold. We each have different expectations of these three things and these expectations are different from what these three things realistically could be. This is where the neurodiversity comes in -- we are both limited by the configuration of our brains. I wilt without attention. Brock shuts down without enough time to himself. As of this weekend, I've pretty much given any expectations I've had about myself as a wife, Brock as a husband, and our marriage in general the heave-ho. But now that we've stripped our marriage down to studs, I'm not sure how we're supposed to build it back. There's no blueprint.

Luckily, since Brock and I don't live together, we've got some time and space to think about this.

I've been asking myself a lot, "Why did I get married?"

I finally was able to answer that last night. Because I don't want to do everything alone. I want to share my life deeply with another person. Intimacy. Connection.

But, ironically, of 300 men I could have married, I picked one particularly intimacy-disabled. C'est la vie!

The action item is to ponder what we expect of each other and of this marriage. I'll continue to share as we figure things out. This blog is a counter-narrative of what a marriage can be.

Further reading: Giving Through Relationships 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


After Brick was diagnosed, Brock's similarity to Brick implied that Brock is or was at some time on the Autism spectrum. Brock's mom said that as a teenager, Brock thought he might have Asperger's.

My reaction to every new thing is to learn everything I can about it. So I took to the internet and started googling. The things that come up over and over -- "lack of empathy" "impaired empathy". I freaked.

Empathy and compassion are the virtues I prize above all others. How could I have married a man that was physically incapable of feeling these things? How could I stay married to a man that could not engage with my feelings?

Fortunately, Internet Serendipity brought me to the page of Carrie Cooling, a mom with Asperger's. In her post about empathy, Carrie reassured me that people with Asperger's do feel empathy, possibly more intensely than NT people. She says that she can easily be drawn into the other's emotional state and become overwhelmed, so to combat this, she responds to other's emotions in a very factual way.

In her, I easily saw Brock. One of the reasons why Brock chose me as a mate may be because I come from a culture that is traditionally known for stoicism -- we tend to have a fairly flat affect and don't show emotion very intensely. I don't get upset very often, but when I do, Brock's response is to become Robo-Brock. He presents the facts; he looks for action items; he wants to fix. I want emotional engagement and Robo-Brock does nothing except for upset me more. I completely lose it, then Brock completely loses it, we're both miserable and nothing is accomplished. Currently, our tactic is to avoid strong emotion of any kind, but this is not tenable. Intimate relationships require the ability to connect on an emotional level.

This is really the crux of all of our previous marital problems and definitely a work in progress.

Being reassured that Brock does feel empathy has helped. We've only had one incident of Upset Trixie since we figured out the Aspie thing. During this I said out loud, "I know that you have empathy, and I understand that you are having a hard time showing it right now." This was as much to reassure myself as it was to let Brock know I understand him. It's a baby-step, but I think we're going in the right direction.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Flowers for Priscilla

Elvis created a routine making sure Priscilla
always has fresh flowers.
My friends Priscilla and Elvis are also NT-Aspie couple. In addition to being a brilliant Aspie, Elvis is also an addict (no word about fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches). Despite adding the challenge substance abuse to a  neurodiverse marriage, their marriage is working swimmingly. I asked  Priscilla why things are going so well.

"It's because of my previous marriage," says  Priscilla . She married young and divorced young. This experience caused a major growth in character.

"I realize now that people come whole, not in slices."  Priscilla  accepts completely both the good things about Elvis and the challenges.

"I'm also more focused on results than process." To illustrate this, she gives the example of flowers.

"When we first started dating, I told Elvis I really liked fresh flowers. He bought me flowers and then every time they die, he replaces them with fresh ones. Before I would have gotten hung up on the routine -- because they weren't a spontaneous gift I wouldn't accept them as a symbol of love. But now I'm just happy I get flowers. Results!"

I need to change my thinking about Brock. I'm coming to the realization that it is unfair to ascribe the thought process of an NT man to an Aspie man. I would love to get "I love you" texts from Brock during the day so I would know he was thinking about me. But Brock would never think to do this spontaneously, it would have to be routine. But the routine would diminish the meaning... This is the wrong thinking. I have to understand that just because something is routine doesn't make it less loving. In fact, creating a routine that only benefits the partner may be the way that an Aspie man shows his love.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


A study out of The Netherlands estimates that 80% of Aspie-NT marriages end in divorce.

That is a huge challenge to be up against. And looking on the internet for support hasn't been very promising. Most of the advice I encountered amounted to:

"Get out now while you still can."

But in the face of this evidence, I'm still hopeful we can make this work.

First, I'm a scientist. I haven't been able to get my hands on the original study, but I bet there's some ascertainment bias in the selection of the couples. Since Asperger's has only been something you could be diagnosed with since 1994, pretty much every Aspie over 25 is undiagnosed. Unless they have a child on the Autism spectrum, which anecdotes suggest is the most common path to diagnosis in Autism in adults. My guess is the majority of couples in this study have a child on the Autism spectrum, which already predisposes them to divorce. An Asperger's diagnosis could also come up in the course of marriage counseling, thus the couples in this study may have had more severe marital issues. All and all, I doubt that the study is generalizable to all Aspie-NT marriages.

Second, we've only been married three years. In that time, we've moved, changed jobs, started school, lived apart -- we haven't really had the chance to create the marriage we want. Currently, Brock and I live in separate states -- far enough apart that we need to take planes to visit each other. When we are able to live in proximity again, it will be like starting over.

Third, both of us are willing to work hard for what we want in life. We've always wanted a marriage where both parties flourish. The next step is execution.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Page from Trixie's journal Marriage Year 1. Note Brock spends all his time having "Me Time" and the empty thought bubble because Trixie never knows what Brock is thinking.
"So what do you want your alias to be?"
Without skipping a beat
"Brock Dalton"

I asked my husband for permission to write this blog anonymously to help organize my own thoughts as well as potentially help other people in a similar situation. We think the majority of the issues in our marriage are linked to our neurodiversity -- he's an Aspie; I'm neurotypical. As of today, we've decided to remake our marriage into a partnership that allows each of us to flourish. Not force Brock to behave neurotypical. Not force me to accommodate every Aspie quirk. We'll meet in the middle.

"I've been trying to learn how your brain works. I think maybe you should do some reading about it too so you can better explain it to me and learn some things that work from other like-minded people. I'm starting to finally 'get it'. Like the books. I hated the books. I resented the books. I wanted to set fire to the books..."

Brock is a big-time bibliophile. He generally reads two to three books at a time. He's read and cataloged 2,000+ book, most of which are currently in storage awaiting future display. The time he wants to spend reading seems to stretch to infinity. He gets stressed if he feels he's not reading enough, not making enough progress towards his 'reading goal'. Thai Spicy Basil, our cat, also hates the books. She's learned that books are the things that make the humans not pay attention to the kitty. When she's frustrated, she'll take it out on a book. But generally my books because I leave them laying about, not carefully organized and cherished like Brock's.

"But now I understand the books serve a greater purpose. They're how you cope. I get it and I want you to have all the book time you need."

"I've cut way back," Brock says.

And he has. Tons. Friday used to be magazine night where he caught up on The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and various trade publications. Now he only gets Harper's. Even still he reads more than any human I've ever encountered.

I need a few more behavior modifications from Brock around the subject of the books and reading.
1.) I need an idea of how long he needs to read for until he's ready for company and the next activity. Particularly because Brock needs to read for a while after he comes home from work. This gives me an estimate of when we can start dinner and what 'me' activity I can do while he's doing his thing.
2.) Brock has a habit of disappearing to go read when I'm under the impression that we are socializing. All I need is a verbal transition from him -- "I'm going to go read for a while now."