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Any successful marriage takes work, but one involving a partner with Asperger's presents its own unique set of challenges. While statistics regarding Asperger’s Syndrome and divorce are sparse, author Ashley Stanford states in her book Asperger Syndrome and Long Term Relationships that, “preliminary research performed in Holland suggests that the divorce rate for couples in which one partner has AS may be as high as 80%." Although Asperger’s is considered a “high functioning" form of autism, the associated deficiencies make it difficult for someone with the disorder to cultivate a successful marriage.
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Reasons Behind Asperger’s Syndrome and Divorce
First, let’s look at some of the most common reasons that problems arise in marriages involving a partner with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).
- People with Asperger’s characteristically lack feelings of intimacy and have a difficult time displaying emotion and deciphering those of others. This can be frustrating for the typically developed spouse.
- Common social cues like eye contact and body language are difficult for someone with Asperger’s to pick up on.
- The spouse of someone with AS may feel that they assume an unfair share of marital responsibilities.
- The couple may have a difficult time communicating. The lack of social awareness associated with Asperger’s can result in one-sided conversation or frequent interruptions.
- A majority of people diagnosed with AS are men. Because women typically covet a high level of emotional intimacy, a marriage that is lacking can lead to feelings of anger and resentment, or decreased self-esteem.
- Above average intelligence and a very literal manner of thinking, two characteristics of AS, may be misinterpreted as stubbornness.
- Social relationships that develop outside of the marriage can be difficult to maintain due to feelings of isolation that are typically present in people with Asperger’s.
- Most men with AS do not have as much experience or knowledge regarding sexual intimacy, and may display inappropriate sexual conduct.
- The spouse of someone with Asperger’s may associate their partner’s rigid schedules and routines with a lack of flexibility and compromise.
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Solutions for Success
Fortunately, there are ways to improve upon marriages which include a partner with AS. For the spouse of someone with Asperger’s, counseling offers a way to express frustrations in a comfortable setting, and enlist the help of a professional to work through common issues. A person with Asperger’s who marries or has plans to marry may benefit from social skills training. This type of training teaches an individual how to interpret cues like facial expressions and helps improve communication skills.
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Books such as Alone Together: Making an Asperger Marriage Work and Asperger Syndrome and Long Term Relationships answer frequently asked questions regarding a marriage to a partner with AS, and offer strategies for successfully coping with the challenges.
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Most people diagnosed with AS are not concerned with conforming to societal stereotypes, and therefore willing to make changes that will benefit the marriage. The most effective criticisms are presented in a constructive and non-threatening manner. As with any marriage, maintaining positive attitudes and openly sharing concerns can go a long way in ensuring happiness.
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Stanford, Ashley. Asperger Syndrome and Long Term Relationships. Philadelphia, 2003.
Bentley, Katrin. Alone Together: Making an Asperger Marriage Work. Philadelphia, 2007.
Asperger's Syndrome in Adults, New Hope Outreach.
Beth McHugh, Coping With an Adult With Aspergers, families.com
Asperger Spouses, asperger-advice.com