Here, Professor Tony Attwood, patron of Different Together, answers some pertinent questions raised by NT partners.
I have been with my wife for more than 12 years, much of which I feel has not been either contented or fulfilled for her, although I have not felt like this on my part for most of our time together. I have always felt that there was a shadowy block in our relationship, a problem that I could perceive but not understand, like experiencing something through frosted glass. Until this relationship, the closest one I have ever had, I hadn’t been aware of this.
My wife, an outgoing NT, had been getting more and more frustrated by my lack of responsiveness to her way of loving, and started to investigate why we might be having these difficulties. I went for a diagnosis a year ago at which I was told that I had Asperger’s traits. I do not feel that I have very obvious social shortcomings (my opinion!) but I had not distinguished fully between work and social relationships and an intimate one, as part of a couple.
This diagnosis has helped in many ways and hindered in others. It has made me better aware of some of the behaviours that have caused us trouble in our relationship, so that I do not react angrily through little understanding when she expresses her frustrations. On the other hand, it has engendered impatience from my wife that I cannot change my behaviour immediately, on the basis that, now I know what is getting in the way of improving our relationship, ie my Asperger’s traits, I should be able to ‘be different’.
I want to make my wife happy, but I do find it hard to be consistent with this over time, not through a lack of intention but more due to a difficulty in reading the signs at the right time, so that I often try to ‘fix’ something that has been discussed in the past that is now not the most important or relevant issue.
I give too much attention to my work, which I love, but means that my wife feels that our relationship is not the most important thing for me. This misalignment has brought a further degree of confusion into the mix now as I don’t know whether I am being unreasonable in our relationship because of the Asperger’s or whether I am just a totally self-centred person, not something I had previously considered. I have always enjoyed work, where I do not feel challenged on an emotional level, and therefore am generally more comfortable in my ability to operate effectively.
Another question in my mind that now troubles me is how I can determine whether my wife and I are just not compatible. My uncertainty about my judgement in these areas and inability to work these things through have made the last year very difficult for us both, such that we are now talking about whether we should stay together. I am getting counselling to try to work through this lack of certainty for myself. In addition, we are considering couples therapy so that any decisions we make about our lives are based on the best knowledge, rather than ignorance, irritation and despair.