I have high-functioning autism. As a kid, I had a speech impediment, I did the whole “stimming” thing, I was completely anti-social, prone to tantrums resulting from being over-stimulated by lights, sounds and any kind of commotion, and, as a cherry on top, I have a learning disability. I also have such severe ADHD that I can’t make new short-term memories when I’m not on medication. My parents and doctors never thought I’d live a typical, independent life.
I’ve proven them all wrong, though. Through years of therapies and medication combinations, I found what works for me and was able to grow out of my stimming habits, speech problems, and I was able to learn what’s socially expected of me in certain situations. I’ve learned to mimic socially-normative actions and mannerisms so completely that people who don’t know me well are shocked to find out that I have autism.
I still deal with the tantrums that come from overstimulation, control issues, anxiety, my learning disability and ADHD. Despite all this, I was able to have successful careers as a dog groomer and café manager, and — more impressively, I think — I found the love of my life, and he asked me to marry him.
I’m married to a neuro-typical (“normal”) husband with no psychological issues whatsoever, and no prior experience at all in dealing with people with psychological problems.
People ask us all the time how we work; how does an autistic woman have a successful and happy marriage with a neuro-typical man?
Our relationship works so well because of Max’s patience, flexibility, stability, and compassion. My ability to communicate my needs is also crucial to the health of our relationship, and I show him how much I appreciate and love him by taking care of him and his needs, too.
Max does get frustrated with me, I’ll admit it. He’s very logical, practical, and stable. And while he says the idiosyncrasies that come with my autism are “interesting” and that they keep him on his toes, I know he’s annoyed with me regularly. I don’t think, or problem-solve, in typical ways. When faced with a problem, I never think of the most logical, normal solution first; I come up with a solution all my own. However, he’s very patient with me and allows me to figure things out in my own way, and that’s a big part of why we work together.
I’m very self-aware, which I think is why our marriage works so well. I’m able to communicate to him when I’m feeling anxious and out of control, and what I need him to do for me to make me feel better.
For instance, if we venture out to the mall and it’s really busy and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, I’ll just say, “Max, I’m not doing well here — we need to leave or go sit quietly somewhere for a while.” And he knows how important it is that we do that right then to avoid a huge panic attack and meltdown. After I have time to collect myself and bring my anxiety levels down, we can continue on with our day.
Knowing what to do when things go wrong
If it does reach the point where I have a panic attack/tantrum, Max knows what to do: he gets me a Valium, takes me to a quiet, preferably dark place if we’re somewhere loud and busy, and just gives me time and space to calm down. He doesn’t hold it against me; he knows I can’t control it, and he never makes me feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. He just sees it as one of my quirks, and something he has to deal with if he wants to be with me.
One of the most crucial parts of maintaining our relationship, though, is simple: dating. He still takes me on dates regularly, and we fall in love with each other all over again every time. Whether it’s just getting coffee or a couple drinks, or something more elaborate like a day trip to Chicago for sight-seeing, dating keeps our relationship fresh and alive.
Consistently making a conscious effort to stay so in love with each other makes dealing with my autism easier. This helps me to trust him and feel more secure in our relationship, which leads to less meltdowns and tantrums. It also keeps him loving me and willing to put up with all the challenges that come with my autism.
Taking care of each other
I’m a housewife now; Max has a great job with killer benefits, and there’s no need for me to work, so I don’t. This is where my contributions to the relationship come in! I take care of him. I encourage him, support him — I’m his biggest cheerleader. I cook and clean for him, take care of our dogs, and I do everything I possibly can to make his time at home relaxing and stress-free.
He tells me all the time how much he adores me and appreciates what I do for him. We also work so well because I make conscious efforts to show him how appreciative I am of all that he does for me.
Taking care of yourself
Any good relationship takes work, really, but I continue to work on my own issues in therapy, and will be on medication to help manage my mental problems for the rest of my life. Max says he takes comfort in knowing that I’m always making an effort to improve and control myself more. He knows I don’t have anxiety and meltdowns by choice; he understands that my brain is just physically, chemically different and that it makes me behave and think differently.
Being with a partner who has autism is hard work, but having a successful and happy relationship is so possible. Autistic people need stability, compassion, and patience, and they have so much love and kindness to offer in return. Autistic people have so many unique gifts and so much love to give, and we’re completely capable of being supportive partners in romantic relationships as long as our partners are flexible with us and open to our needs. Being on the autistic spectrum isn’t an automatic love life death sentence, and my beautiful, happy relationship with my husband is proof of that.