Neurodiversity in Marriage: Redefining Romance in the Modern Age
Brian and I married a year and a day after we met. A whirlwind courtship that left me breathless. He said the right things, did the right things and left every single woman I knew asking, “Does he have a brother?”
Life after our wedding day was a different story.
Six months in, I was convinced he didn’t like me very much. He had gone from hanging on my every word to playing on the computer every night.
We texted more than we talked. He broke promises, frequently forgot plans and seemed totally uninterested in sex. Almost every piece of lingerie I owned still had tags. I felt rejected, and unwanted.
When I finally worked up the nerve to confront Brian about his lack of interest in me, he dismissed my fears. He assured me he loved me, liked me and found me attractive. Still, his actions told a different story.
Once we knew he had executive functioning (EF) deficits and ADHD, Brian’s behaviors began to make sense. It took years to understand that his neurodivergence colored every part of our relationship. And yes, I realize the silliness of that statement. We’re talking about a differently wired brain here. Of course, it affects every aspect of who he is and what he does.
The cold shoulder I felt after our wedding was normal. Hyperfocusing, a trait associated with neurodivergence, can be triggered by the introduction of something new or highly favored.
Those of us who know children on the autism spectrum see it in their obsessive desire for certain toys or special interests. There is a difference between liking Legos and liking Legos to the point that playing with them supersedes eating and sleeping.
We think assume they’ll grow out of it, but often they don’t.
Brian can be an amazing employee, friend, husband and father — just not at the same time.
I was the center of Brian’s world when we were dating. He could not get enough of me, and it came at the expense of his job performance, his money management and his family relationships.
Because we didn’t know these incidents were interconnected, it took a long time for us to figure out how to make our marriage work. The first step was to throw out society’s playbook and write our own. Designing our version of parenting, household management and money management came way easier than romance.
I can’t pretend to speak for all neurodiverse relationships — we are all as unique as the stars in the sky — but I can share our discoveries in hopes of helping others in similar situations explore the possibilities for themselves.
Play 1: Pursuit Goes Both Ways
I have a friend who passionately believes a good Christian wife never says no to her husband in the bedroom. But what if he never asks? I have to focus on my relationship with Brian and not on what works for other couples.
Here’s what I have to remember: Unless he’s in a hyperfocusing moment, Brian has thousands of competing ideas in his brain at any given time.
It’s not that he doesn’t desire me or want to pursue me. He struggles to make romantic thoughts stick long enough to inspire action — especially when those thoughts occur at 3 p.m. and the opportunity won’t present itself until 10 p.m.
If I intend to sit around and wait to be pursued, knitting might be the best way to pass the time. It will be awhile — maybe even months. Since that doesn’t fit my own definition of a happy marriage, Brian and I have agreed that pursuit goes both ways.
I make the time and space for the connection I know we both want, but that he can’t plan and execute. I set the dates, hire the sitters, plan the nights out (or in) and give him plenty of notice and reminders so he can work to calm the chaos in his brain to be fully present when we’re alone.
[bctt tweet=”I make the time and space for the connection I know we both want, but that he can’t plan and execute.” username=”tonyakubo”]
Play 2: It’s Okay to Ask for What You Want
None of us can read another’s mind and meet unspoken needs. Brian and I take the guesswork off the table by giving each other permission to ask for what we want. And we try to make every effort to accommodate each other’s requests.
Lingerie, it turns out, is not worth the money for us.
Sensory issues are not uncommon among the neurodivergent and exist on a spectrum. Sock seams, clothing tags and even waistbands can be so painful that they chafe the skin. Others are soothed by rough textures.
Brian doesn’t want to come within 10 feet of me wearing lace. It looks uncomfortable to him, and so he assumes it’s uncomfortable to me. He prefers old T-shirts and flannel jammies. I have no complaints.
[bctt tweet=”None of us can read another’s mind and meet unspoken needs. Brian and I take the guesswork off the table by giving each other permission to ask for what we want.” username=”tonyakubo”]
Play 3: Assume the Best
The most challenging play in our playbook is having positive intent, and it’s also the most important. Despite our best efforts, we still experience moments where meaning gets lost in translation.
I might say to Brian, “I’m feeling distant from you. You haven’t hugged me all day and that feels like you don’t like me.” His response would usually be to say, “Huh.” And then he’d walk out of the room, leaving me hug-less and feeling worse than before.
Assuming the best requires that I don’t let moments like these hurt my feelings for long. I have learned to be more explicit. Now I lead with, “Will you hug me?” And after I get my hug, I tell him how I’ve been feeling and then I ask, “Can I get more hugs today?” I can get all the hugs I want, and I don’t have to worry about who initiates them.
Run The Plays
Brian and I both agree pursuit goes both ways and that we get to ask for what we want, but assuming the best means that we try to remember that no matter what happens, we love each other and are committed to our marriage. We have written our own plays in all aspects of our lives together.
Neurodiverse or not, every family can benefit from aligning the lives they live with the values they hold dear.
[bctt tweet=”Pursuit goes both ways and that we get to ask for what we want, but assuming the best means that we try to remember that no matter what happens, we love each other and are committed to our marriage.” username=”tonyakubo”]
Tonya Kubo is a full-time working mom of two spirited girls living in the heart of California. She believes in celebrating differences and counts her husband, Brian, as Team Kubo’s MVP. She helps moms who just want more to feel good about the choices they make so they can do great things at home and out in the world. Find out more at www.greatmoms.org. Subscribers to the Great Moms blog receive a free guide to the Family Blueprint. Get yours today.