I’ve been trying to write about my marriage for quite a while now, but it is very difficult because there are so many complicated sinews both holding my marriage together and pushing it apart. Which of these are related to autism? And which are the natural give and take marriage calls for? Then there’s the question of which are simply the strains of two different neurologies pushing upon each other?
I’ve been married to my husband, Alex, for 13 years, and we dated for several years beforehand. He is the person I know better than anyone in the world and who understands me better than anyone. We have a happy strong marriage, but we have always struggled with getting into a good sync and with making sure that both of our needs are met.
My autism diagnosis has helped me to understand better and better what I need and how to take care of myself. However, while Alex has always been wonderful at accommodating me, and has been more than supportive of my new identity, he still has a long way to go in understanding how my needs related to me being autistic play into our relationship.
A while back, Alex and I were trying to talk some things out about our expectations for what happens after he gets home from work. I explained to him how hard it is for me to be available to him as soon as the scene shifts to him being home, if I haven’t yet had any recovery time after a day full of having to be on.
Alex nodded his understanding and then responded by sharing that evenings are hard for him too. He explained that after a full day of work that he needs time to relax as well. And he’s right. He has a high-pressure job and is the sole earner for our family. He is under an extreme amount of pressure on a daily basis, and I see how hard he works for us. But I also started to cry because he didn’t understand the depth of what I mean when I compare the difference between me needing to “recover” at the end of a day, and his very real need to relax at the end of the day. Recovering and relaxing are both important, but they are two distinct needs.
Alex doesn’t yet understand that it is different for me because I am autistic. He doesn’t grasp that it is not just that it is nice for me to have time to relax in the evening, but that it is essential that I have time to regulate myself after spending the day in a world that pushes me far out of my comfort zone. If I don’t have recovery time, I will melt down. If Alex goes without relaxation, he might feel extra overwhelmed or exhausted. For me, it is not a matter of just being tired. It is not a matter of just wanting to pass off parenting duties when Alex walks in the door. It is not a matter of just not being in the mood to chat about my day with my dear husband. It’s not that I’m being selfish. It’s just that I simply don’t have more to give, and by the time he has walked in the door, I am in dire need of “recovery” time as soon as possible.
The reality is that I am unable to function at the level Alex would like me to after I have expended all of my social ability throughout the day. On his part, he really wants recovery time. On my part, I really need recovery time. If I have had to go to meetings or interact with people and then collect my children from their school buses with all the social requirements that entails, followed by homework coaching and dinner preparation, I simply don’t have the spoons left to hug Alex and ask how his day was when he walks in the door. I so want to, and it is definitely not personal that I cannot.
I know it isn’t necessarily fair to welcome my husband home by immediately walking into another room and sitting down by myself, but some days that is what I need. Fortunately, we’re both starting to understand that this behavior isn’t something to place blame upon on either of our behalves.
I don’t expect Alex to always be the one to bend. Autism or not, if I expect him to compromise what he wants and needs in order to accommodate me, I have to be willing to do the same. That is what marriage is. This is something we’ll continuously have to address while honoring both of our neurologies.
We’ve done a good amount of talking about how to do this. We’re figuring out ways to have meaningful communication, even when I don’t feel able to talk. On days where I am still more outwardly available at the end of the day, I’ve been making an effort to reach out to him for a chat, even if it is not my preferred thing to do.
While I have been compensating and working around this for years, I have just started talking about it to him—and to be fair, I’ve only started understanding it myself.
Alex and I are in it for the long haul. We have plenty of time to figure everything out as we continue to grow together. I don’t think marriage is easy for anyone, but I am so grateful that I have such a wonderful, supportive husband to work through it with.
About the Author, Jean Winegardner.