Codependency and Asperger’s: A Marriage Made In Heaven?

Here’s the short answer: No.

But let’s not dismiss the person with Asperger’s (the “Aspie”) as someone who lacks caring for others. They are not robots. They have emotions. They just can’t read yours. No one has telepathy.

Here’s an article I came across from a psychologist, and this quote in particular stood out to me: “The Aspie needs to recognize that he or she does indeed have zero degrees of empathy. And, the Aspie needs to stop expecting that his or her grasp of the facts should rule. The NT [neurotypical, non-Asperger’s person] needs to recognize that zero degrees of empathy can co-exist with feelings of caring.”

The common belief is that Aspies lack empathy, but here’s a blog post I read in which the writer states: “If you don’t realize others are seeing and feeling different things, you might well act less caring toward them… But that doesn’t mean, once people with autism spectrum disorder do become aware of other people’s experience, that they don’t care or want to connect…. Studies have found that when people are overwhelmed by empathetic feelings, they tend to pull back. When someone else’s pain affects you deeply, it can be hard to reach out rather than turn away. For people with autism spectrum disorder, these empathetic feelings might be so intense that they withdraw in a way that appears cold or uncaring.”

When I think back to particular situations with my dad and with Jay, this explains a lot.

Once I remember my dad crying in frustration after I spent a week in bed, not coming out of my room except to go to the bathroom or eat, because I was so depressed at that time. “I’m just worried about you!” he’d said.


(The above quote came from this site.)

So much more is becoming clear to me. Yesterday I spent reviewing Jay’s behavior, confirming all the little clues I got but didn’t see at the time, that there’s no way he does not have Asperger’s. I read this article, How to Be a Better Friend to an Adult with Asperger’s, and I felt compassion for this man, and for my dad, who’ve lived their entire lives mimicking others’ behavior just to appear normal to everyone else. I can see how AA (Jay and I are both sober alcoholics, for anyone new to this blog) is a safe place for him, because it offers an instruction manual for how to live. Interestingly, he accepts the belief in a higher power (probably unlike a lot of Aspies), maybe because of his Catholic upbringing, which a lot of alcoholics reject for the same reason.

The person with Asperger’s syndrome (AS) appears cold and distant, when really they just don’t know how to pick up on nuance, hints, body language even. The fact that most of us don’t always say what we mean—that’s an eye-opener to me. Yet it’s so obvious, now that I think of it. When I first read about it in a friend’s blog, my initial interpretation of her post was that she felt that her friends were just playing a charade of being her friend, so why bother reaching out. But actually, she’s just being honest about how people behave. And it’s true. We do not always say what we mean. In fact, we often do not. In the Four Agreements, Don Ruiz writes about the importance of being “impeccable” with your word. This is true for everyone, not just those communicating with Aspies. Having grown up in a passive aggressive family (and culture really), it becomes second nature, until someone points out that we try to control and manipulate others through this passive aggressive behavior. I might have said, “I’m fine,” when really I was not fine. I might have been angry for days with my first husband without telling him, bottling it up, leaving him only to guess what he’d done that displease me, until I finally just exploded ragefully in a drunken fit. I learned in AA not to do this anymore, so I did/do my best not to act that way after I got sober.

My codependency (maybe?) appeared when I started devising schemes for how to tell Jay he probably has this psychological disability. I must rescue him! (Yeah, right.) I thought, we (our group of friends) all need to understand this so we can better communicate with him, and he needs to know so he can better understand himself and get the help he needs. Though I’m not sure yet what a person with AS does to get help. Everyone in my family thinks my dad has it, and sadly, that knowledge (so far) has not changed anyone’s way of communicating with him—though I must say it will change mine, and I do want to go on a crusade to communicate with the rest of the family about how we should go about interacting with him. I do think it’s made my uncle be more forgiving towards him, though they still butt heads. Perhaps I’ll get a book and buy them all the same book so we can read up on this. Or at least send them an article. Here are the cliff’s notes—and I’m a beginner at this so bear with me; I’ll probably have more information later—but for now: be very direct and literal in your language, and mean what you say. Do not take offense when the person says something that seems cold or distant because they’re really just telling it the way they see it, and if they say something that sounds like a quote from a book, they’re probably just mimicking what they’ve learned to show as “normal” behavior.

Does that mean we just excuse whatever thing they might say, even if it hurts our feelings? No. I think we can just explain why we disagree, but then each of us has to be willing to allow the other person their opinion or feelings. Does it mean that if I were to choose to go back to Jay—which I’m not—that he’d change or I’d be his hero? Nope. Been there, done that. I read several books on bipolar disorder (which my ex had), was committed to going to support groups, I thought/hoped CODA (Codependents Anonymous) would save our relationship (it did not), was ready to be his loyal life partner and stepmother to his kids—and all of that did not save our relationship. I still made a serious mistake, and mistakes were not allowed! The mistake was inevitable, and I could not control the relationship or him or his feelings, nor could I change who I was or how I felt at a particular time. If I could do it over I wouldn’t have said the words that hurt my ex so badly. But trust me, I’d have made some other mistake at some other time. There would eventually be something I’d done or said wrong that I didn’t know about, something he’d bring up later. And this is actually how an Aspie feels—that they could say or do the wrong thing at any time, and their partner may be holding back something they may spring on them at any moment.

That’s not to say no one can have a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder or Asperger’s. Just that it was more work than I could continue doing. Having grown up in a broken home where no one’s relationship ever worked out, relationships are hard enough for me as it is.

But in many ways, as a codependent/adult child, I was the perfect partner for someone with a neurological disorder. Adapting to whoever or whatever appeared, no matter how damaging, and the willingness to work with it no matter what, held our relationship together. But if the other person isn’t willing to work with me, the relationship cannot stay together, not in a healthy way. And that kind of relationship just was not good for me personally. I do believe there’s someone for everyone though.

This is my opportunity to be real about what I want out of a relationship, and what I want is someone willing to commit to me, be open with me, communicate honestly with me, and allow us each our own space. I know I will find that person one day.


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