Neurodiversity in Marriage: Why a Difficult Marriage isn’t a Bad Marriage
By Tonya Kubo
When we first married, I had high hopes of a biblical marriage. I looked forward to being the heart of the home with my husband at the head. We both did. We talked about it during our premarital counseling sessions and when we daydreamed together of what life would be like as a married couple.
The reality of our marriage was a different story.
I could never get our marriage to match the examples in the books. If I made his plate at dinnertime, he’d get annoyed. He didn’t care whether I cooked and didn’t seem to appreciate any of my cleaning. He didn’t seem to like being much of a leader, either.
He didn’t want to deal with our finances, make major household decisions or decide our plans for the day. We took personality tests, compatibility tests and I printed checklist after checklist in hopes of strengthening our marriage but it seemed to only get weaker.
Books told me I needed to elevate him as the head of our home and show him respect, but every attempt backfired. We read For Women Only and For Men Only, by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn. We even tried marriage studies and couples groups at church. I thought learning what marriage was supposed to be like would fix us. Instead, it drove a deeper wedge between us and made our struggles seem insurmountable.I wondered if we were destined to divorce. Turns out, we were destined to discover. Click To Tweet
Neurodiversity in Marriage
If you’ve read any marriage book about the differences between men and women, you’re familiar with the concept of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity simply means that human brains come in different variations. Christian relationship books often categorize the differences by gender.
Female brains tend to be wired one way, and male brains tend to be wired another way. Many couples have benefitted from the perspectives shared by these books. Many marriages have been strengthened by the understanding of how each partner’s brain works, and the wisdom in that design.
Sadly, many marriages have been damaged by these books as well. Marriages like mine. My husband is neurodivergent. His brain functions in ways that diverge significantly from what our society deems normal. Autism, dyslexia, epilepsy are examples of neurodivergence.
Neurodivergence for him manifests as deficits in executive function (EF) and attention (ADHD). Executive function is a big deal. People on the autism spectrum, with processing issues and with ADHD all tend to struggle with executive function in some way. We joke in our home that it’s the medical term for “adulting.” Executive function governs the ability to:
- Manage time
- Pay attention
- Switch focus
- Plan and organize
- Remember details
- Avoid saying or doing the wrong thing
- Use past experience to inform future action
More Than a Diagnosis
Adults with ADHD struggle with distraction, focus, interpreting social cues and impulse control. These challenges have the potential to cause marital conflict, especially when undiagnosed or dismissed. But my husband is more than a diagnosis. His name is not ADHD or EF.
His name is Brian, and he loves me and our children with great intensity.
Brian will do anything I ask, so long as I remember to actually ask and not assume he’ll just know. He can get our whole house “company clean” in the time it takes my analytical mind to decide whether it’s better to start by washing dishes or clearing off the table.
He can get in and out of Costco in an hour with everything on the list crossed off. He’ll never complain about taking the kids to the park for a day-long adventure if I need some peace and quiet. He’s the world’s best human jungle gym and can play Barbies for hours.
He’s a great partner.
What Brian can’t do is budget, pay bills on time, buy me a gift for my birthday or remember that our youngest hates cooked fruit whether it’s in yogurt, a muffin or a pie.
He’s still a great partner.
The things he struggles with don’t make him a bad husband. Our marriage is different than what’s commonly illustrated in relationship books. It’s hard in many ways because there aren’t any playbooks that work for us.
We have to talk (a lot), explore (a lot) and push through failure (a lot) to figure each other out, and to figure out what works best in our marriage, right now.
A Practical Perspective on Neurodiversity in Marriage
Brian wasn’t diagnosed with EF or ADHD until several years into our marriage. Some couples go 20 years before finding out neurodivergence is the cause of their conflicts. We’re among the fortunate.
Diagnosis didn’t fix our marriage — or Brian either.
Our marriage started healing when we stopped looking at Brian as broken or defective. Yes, his brain is wired differently than many of the men we know and that changes how he fulfills his husband role compared to others. But he’s not disabled.
He’s differently abled.
Maybe you’re in the same situation. Maybe your husband has a diagnosis that has led you to redefine your roles as husband and wife, or maybe it’s circumstance. Maybe you’re still struggling to make your marriage fit society’s version of “normal.”
The first step toward healing in this type of relationship is acceptance. Just because your marriage doesn’t look like a Hallmark Channel movie, or sound like a love song, doesn’t make it bad.Just because your marriage doesn’t look like a Hallmark Channel movie, or sound like a love song, doesn’t make it bad. Click To Tweet
Accepting a marriage that looks different isn’t easy, but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s bad or that it’s not meant to be. Today, I can say with confidence that Brian is the man God designed to be my husband, and I’m the woman designed to be his wife.
The Family Blueprint
There is a way to embrace your differences and create a plan that works for you. We developed a blueprint as our family’s guide to what’s important in our home. Rather than trying to impose someone else’s structure on our family, the blueprint allows us to create structure based on our strengths. Subscribers to the Great Moms blog receive a free guide to the Family Blueprint. Get yours today.
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