Can I Thrive with a Spouse That Is Incapable of Meeting My Needs?

Welcome to June, my friends! This month, I have chosen to explore the virtue of resilience. Resilience is intricately woven into the fabric of nature, as evidenced by the mighty oak tree withstanding fierce winds and the delicate flower blooming against all odds. Just as nature embraces resilience, we too can find the strength within ourselves to navigate relationship challenges. Our journey may be salted with uncertainty and peppered with emotional turmoil. However, with guidance and compassionate help, we can thrive while drawing inspiration from the resilience and strength found in nature's embrace. We serve a mighty and creative God. This week's question offers an opportunity to explore your inner resilience.

Question: I believe my husband may be on the autism spectrum, based on a suggestion from a psychologist he met. However, he is too threatened to undergo an evaluation, so we can't discuss it. He struggles with empathy, blames me for many of our marriage problems, and exhibits inappropriate behavior without being open to feedback. He is rigid in his behaviors and thinking, leaving me feeling stuck. Any discussion about getting him tested becomes about me trying to fix him, rather than owning my own part. If I express my feelings about something he’s done, he quickly points out that I do it too. He is defensive and angry. It's incredibly challenging because living in this unknown territory leaves me unsure of how to act with him. My question is: How do I live with and respond to my husband when he may truly be incapable of providing what I need?

LeAnne's Response:

Thank you for sharing your question! Cultivating compassion for both yourself and your husband is crucial. While his limitations may hinder his ability to meet your needs, it never excuses harmful behavior or emotional abuse. Establish firm boundaries when necessary, ensuring you do not tolerate mistreatment or compromise your safety.

The awareness around neurodiversity and its impact on relationships is growing and new information is coming out each week. Do not stay stuck trying to figure out your man. That takes way too much energy and will hijack your core well-being. Let's focus on doing your own work. 

How would you rate your sense of inner strength and well-being in this journey? In my coaching practice, I have discovered that navigating such dynamics presents a unique opportunity for personal growth and empowerment. Let's take a moment to breathe and reflect on your current strength and resilience. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, where do you currently rate your inner strength and well-being in this journey? 

What strengths and positive qualities have you discovered within yourself throughout this process? Self-awareness serves as a bridge to creativity. By shifting your perspective to acknowledge your own strengths and resilience, you can empower your well-being and approach these challenges with renewed confidence.

Approach each interaction with creativity and an open mind. Find alternative ways to communicate and connect, such as writing letters or engaging in fun, nonthreatening activities together. Practice active listening and empathy, creating a safe space for open and honest communication.

Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries is paramount to maintaining your well-being and safety. Take the time to clearly define what is acceptable and unacceptable in your relationship. Seek inspiration from Proverbs 25:28, which states, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Protect yourself emotionally, mentally, spiritually, environmentally, financially, and physically by consistently holding these boundaries. 

When setting boundaries with your husband, use assertive, not aggressive or passive language. Here are a couple of examples:

“I appreciate your perspective, and it's important to me that we communicate with respect and kindness. If you continue to use derogatory language towards me, I will leave the conversation. How might we find healthier ways to express our disagreements and work through our issues?”

“I understand that you may struggle with empathy. When you dismiss my feelings or blame me for our problems, it makes it difficult for us to find solid ground. I would like to find a way to address our issues without resorting to blame or defensiveness.”

Empower yourself by exploring available options aligned with your core values for support. Seek legal advice if needed, prioritize financial independence, and consult professionals who specialize in destructive relationships. 

Remember, you're not alone! Reach out to trusted friends, family, support groups, or people helpers who understand neurodivergent relationships. Make self-care and personal safety your top priorities. Engage in activities that nourish your well-being, and consider joining a coaching group for additional support.

If your safety is at risk in any way, develop a safety plan with professionals specializing in domestic violence or abuse. Your safety matters. Resources like the National Hotline (1-800-799-7233) are available 24/7.

You can extend compassion to both yourself and your spouse and not tolerate or enable mistreatment. Strive for growth while acknowledging the importance of setting realistic expectations. Some limitations may persist, so finding a balance between acceptance and positive change is crucial.

May you find the peace and happiness you deserve. Your resilience and well-being matter.

With heartfelt prayers and support for your continued resilience and well-being,

Coach LeAnne

What advice would you give to someone who is facing challenges with an incapable spouse or partner? How do you balance the need for understanding and empathy with the importance of maintaining your own emotional and mental well-being in relationships with limitations?

16 Comments

  1. R on June 7, 2023 at 9:39 pm

    If you’re not already familiar with it, I think the Neurodiverse Christian Couples podcast is a great resource.

    Long story short, your husband needs to be willing to hear that he’s hurting you and there need to be changes. If he digs his heels in and refuses to even consider any changes or refuses to acknowledge the hurt, you’re very unlikely to get anywhere.

    If he is willing to work with you, to view you as being on his team and not his enemy, you can get somewhere.

    I’ve lived this. We are doing better now. We have peace, for the most part. I do get most of my emotional connection desires met through female friendships.

    • Cindy Sandsmark on June 8, 2023 at 10:56 am

      My husband frequently ignores me if I say or comment on things. Or offers almost no more than a one word reply. Is this normal? I spend my time trying to figure out if I’ve said something wrong and he doesn’t like what I’ve said. I often don’t bother saying much of anything because most anything I feel is of importance is handled in this way.

  2. Colleen Remein on June 8, 2023 at 8:20 am

    I struggle with this as well. My challenge is finding a place for support and healthy interaction when ‘my tank is empty and needs filling. God sustains me but I need healthy human relationships for balance. Some of them need to be places where I can honestly and appropriately express the challenges🥰

    • LeAnne Parsons on June 8, 2023 at 9:21 am

      Thank you for sharing so honestly here. Please consider joining our Moving Beyond Challenge this summer. You will find a supportive community here in this space. We are created for connection. We are stronger together.

  3. Caroline Abbott on June 8, 2023 at 9:26 am

    Living with someone who has no empathy is life sucking. I agree with LeAnne, setting boundaries on abusive behavior is vital, as is getting stronger yourself. I am sure this journey feels very lonely to you. Reaching out to others, friends, family, church friends, support groups, a counselor is necessary. You don’t have to be alone in this.

  4. Pamela Smith on June 8, 2023 at 9:26 am

    Thank you Lee Anne for your suggestions about rating my inner strength and well-being! Also, I love these examples of communication! I want to use these in my life while attempting “communication” with my spouse.
    Thank you again. Love, Pam

  5. Carol on June 8, 2023 at 9:49 am

    Where do we find the podcast you referenced….neurodiverse christian couples

    • Molly on June 8, 2023 at 3:21 pm

      Spreaker.com or spotify

    • Rebecca on June 9, 2023 at 12:47 am

      https://www.christianneurodiversemarriage.com/

      You can listen to them on Apple Podcasts or Spreaker also. Would highly recommend! As someone whose husband was just diagnosed 6 months ago, I am in the thick of learning about how to navigate…thankfully he was willing to get tested, but he has been more resistant/reluctant to getting help/therapy/counseling. I can see and agree that boundaries are super important in maintaining our sanity and safety, but it has definitely been a struggle for me to learn and put into practice! Also that finding emotional fulfillment in other healthy relationships is key. Looking back, I functioned best when our lives allowed for community, and for me to have free time to invest in meaningful friendships! Additions of more kids, moving to new places, and COVID isolation worsened all the worst parts of our relationship. I am now working and fighting to get back to a place where I can have margin and stability and Bandwidth for friends again.

  6. Jeannie on June 8, 2023 at 11:32 am

    I try to really focus on not entering into his stress, he will create his own drama and be in a rush, be demanding and expect others to join him. I take a deep breath and remind myself that this stress is his own and I don’t have to enter in to it. I try to remember that his to do lists are his own and so is his way of life. When he doesn’t plan ahead or give room for margin or keep himself organized, it’s his problem not mine, and I no longer rush in to help him or cover for his mistakes. Thus includes physical tasks and emotional responsibilities in relationships and spirituality. I’ve let go of so many things and because of this I have a new energy for my own tasks and relationships and feel relaxed and calm. I accept he must likely will not change but I can still grow and become all God wants me to be regardless of how my husband chooses to live his life. I have found such freedom and contentment in letting go of the responsibility of helping my husband with tasks that an adult man is capable of doing.

  7. Elaine on June 8, 2023 at 1:15 pm

    Wow, todays post is so refreshing to read! I too deal with a husband that clearly( words from his neurologist) exhibits signs of having some sort of high functioning autism. Namely Asperger’s. It’s been the most exhausting 14yrs ever! My husband also has MS, and all of the issues that have come along with him having been diagnosed with it over 20yrs now. His anger and frustration with himself, his life, and his health have been misdirected mostly towards me. He has no communication skills, so he’s either totally quiet for days, weeks, on end, punishing me for something that I said or did that he’s not adult enough to have a conversation about, or when he is speaking it’s in a very derogatory tone where he is ALWAYS the victim. I’m his caregiver, but have been speaking with an attorney off and on for the past 6mos, as I am so over tiptoeing and learning how to treat and relate to him when he’s not held accountable to anyone. My husband also abuses alcohol, and I have spent the better part of the last 14yrs trying to learn how to communicate better with him, through webinars, alanon , and other resources that are available to those of us that find ourselves in one sided relationships. I’ve come to the conclusion that choosing me is the safest thing to do to protect my physical, mental and emotional headspace. Thank you for this post on today, I now realize in reading someone else’s story that continuously trying to reach someone that clearly doesn’t acknowledge or accept any responsibility for the part that they play in the health and wellbeing of their relationships is borderline living in a fantasy world.

  8. Kim on June 8, 2023 at 2:54 pm

    NT Christian wives with asbergers husbands is a Free Facebook group you might find helpful too.

  9. Tamara R on June 9, 2023 at 5:40 am

    I struggle with making and keeping boundaries. Could you suggest some boundaries that can be put in place to help with communication? Thank you for this topic and all the responses.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 10, 2023 at 3:33 pm

      I’d encourage you to sign up for our upcoming moving beyond challenge (leslievernick.com/challenge to gain some skills. But here’s a boundary to put in place around communication. You didn’t specify a specific issue but I think you’ll get the gist. “I can listen to you for five minutes but no longer.” “I can listen to you if you are willing to calm down and stop swearing. If not, I have to end the conversation.” “I am willing to communicate with you in writing only.” “I will not engage in conversations about……” Boundary’s define what you are and are not willing to do. Hope that helps.

  10. Julia on June 15, 2023 at 10:34 am

    This is so helpful! I left a marriage that was full of abusive control some years ago. I’m convinced he has Asperger’s, as does one of my sons. (It was my son’s diagnosis that helped me recognize it in his dad.) I did not realize that at the time, though. I believe the Lord revealed it to me several days after the divorce was finalized, perhaps knowing that I would think, “It’s not his fault” and go back. He had become abusive toward the kids with extreme punishments, and I was treated like a child, things he justified with an extreme IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) viewpoint. That warped view of God and His character affects many, many marriages, I believe. Autism/Asperger’s, with its often black-and-white thinking patterns, only amplified things — and is perhaps why he was drawn to that viewpoint in the first place.

    Could we have worked through things with more information? Perhaps, but it wasn’t there, and he was not willing to take a humble path to resolve the issues. I am grateful, however, that this is being addressed in more places now. The more the light is shed on things, the less the darkness can dwell in them!

  11. Elizabeth Spencer on June 20, 2023 at 11:57 pm

    I also have a husband with Asperger’s; ie high functioning Autism. We go to the counselor who does the Christian Neurodiverse podcast, and I just finished Empowered 2 Change here with Leslie’s team. I highly recommend both! Wish I had done them YEARS ago, but am thankful for them now! I’d also say do it NOW, before YOU also start developing health issues due to all the stress! It’s hard to distinguish the Aspie behavior from the abusive behavior at times, and all of us Christian wives who truly want to honor God with our marriages find ourselves in such unbelievable situations that we really do need to support one another. My dh also is prone to black and white thinking, lack of self-awareness, domestic silence treatment, blaming me for his lacks of emotional reciprocity or sexuality, outbursts due to his anxiety and lack of understanding emotions/how the world really works, or disruptions to his scheduled way of doing things…. Our Aspie husbands need to be willing to do the work that marriage requires just like anyone else, with modifications appropriate to the disability. But one of my mistakes was allowing the disability to be responsible for WAY too much, that he in reality IS responsible for. That’s where counseling and support groups help you discern your way through the maze. You are NOT alone, sister!

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