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.
[bctt tweet=”I wondered if we were destined to divorce. Turns out, we were destined to discover.” username=”TonyaKubo”]
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.
[bctt tweet=”Just because your marriage doesn’t look like a Hallmark Channel movie, or sound like a love song, doesn’t make it bad.” username=”TonyaKubo”]
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.
Do you have children, and if so, how does your husband’s neurodiversity impact them? I’m deeply concerned that my ASD husband’s struggles with noise, sudden movement and changes in plans (all of which are pretty standard issue kid stuff) is emotionally damaging my children. He shouts at them for seemingly no reason (no reason they can comprehend) and they are beginning to internalize that they are bad people. It’s super distressing!
Yes, Rachel – We have children and it can be hard. I wrote an article as part of this series, addressing what was working for us at that time: https://practicalfamily.org/neurodiversity-parenting/
In your situation, the first step is to come to an agreement with him in terms of what is fair and reasonable — and to see if you can agree on how to handle these situations. In our home, I’m able to say, “She’s X years old. It’s appropriate for her to throw a tantrum or lose her temper. As her parents, though, we can’t model that behavior. So when you’re reaching that point, here’s what I need from you…” But we’ve been working at this a long time. That wasn’t a conversation we could have early on.
Thank you for writing this article. We’ve been married 15 years, have 2 kids – including a teen on the spectrum. Counselors say that I have autistic tendencies but, when tested, I didn’t meet all the diagnostic criteria for autism. Reading websites about marriages with an autistic spouse (whether those articles be secular or faith-based) has been so discouraging to me because so many of them say that being married to someone on the spectrum is an awful experience and assume the autistic spouse is almost incapable of change. That’s not how I want my husband to feel about me, our marriage or our family – so I appreciate this article that isn’t so negative.
Gosh, Lisa. I remember being in your shoes and sadly, not much has changed. We don’t have much room in our society for people or relationships that don’t fix into boxes. For me, our marriage stopped feeling awful when I was able to stop defining it by what others considered “good” or “bad.” If you’re open to it, I have a few suggestions for you: 1) Find writings by people who are autistic and share what they value and find helpful in relationships (#actuallyautistic is a hashtag you can follow on Instagram to find some of these individuals); 2) Recognize that diagnostic criteria for autism is based on a male model; they still haven’t figured out how to appropriately diagnose women on the autism spectrum…it’s OK to honor your autistic-like tendencies without the validation of a formal diagnosis (Neurodivergent Rebel is an influencer in the space who shares meaningful perspectives on the topic); 3) Seek out a community that lifts you, your marriage and your family up (even if it’s just one or two friends, it’s helpful to not feel like you are the only one rooting for your success).
I’m so glad you stopped by here and dropped a comment. I’m rooting for you! <3