As I find myself enjoying that old familiar feeling once again of reading what I “choose” rather than what is “required” for study purposes, I was blessed recently to find the latest edition of a little magazine for Christian women in my letterbox. How lovely to sit and have my heart nourished by the inspirational words and thoughtful articles within, as I sip on a cuppa.
As I pondered my way through the stories and thoughts, I noted an article on recovering from estrangement, and then I noticed some promotional comments for a book I was familiar with entitled “Connecting with your Asperger Partner: Negotiating the Maze of Intimacy” by author Louise Weston.
Having these two topics mentioned in the same publication struck me as very interesting and a strange co-incidence because in my own personal life’s journey, estrangement and Asperger’s Syndrome are inextricably tied together. I felt moved to respond to this magazine article by making some comments of my own.
We are all aware of situations within families or between friends that seem particularly resistant to reconciliation or negotiation, and I believe there may in some situations be another, but somewhat obscure angle to this matter of estrangement that most people won’t have known to suspect.
In 1983, as a hope-filled young Pastor’s daughter I married a man who fervently loved the Lord and was deeply committed to the ministries of our local church. I believed my husband and I were well matched in many ways and we were both very devoted to the Lord and to supporting the ministries of the church for the long term.
Almost from the day of our wedding, and almost always behind closed doors, a strange and frightening phenomenon began to erode away at the essence of my husband’s and my relationship. We struggled in a devastating way with the typical expectations that Christian husbands and wives have of themselves and each other, particularly when living under the gaze of fellow believers and church leaders.
Our story is long and complex, and too much to write here, but as a young and idealistic Christian wife I began to judge my husband as being sinful, self-centred, fragile and spiritually immature, particularly in the light of the positions of respect and leadership he held within the church. As the church teachings were my only frame of reference, I had no other way to define what was happening, and lived with confusion on a moment-by-moment basis. I did seek help from leaders in the church, but on the whole my claims were met somewhat with disbelief and a hint that I was resisting my place of submission within my marriage (feel the hackles rising on the back of my neck now!).
At times I would sense that there appeared to be no malicious intent on my husband’s part, just a fixation on things being done in a prescribed way and order and sometimes just a desperation for survival somehow that didn’t make sense in the context of his abilities, knowledge and what we knew we could be in Christ. Biblical principles for relationship seemed somehow out of reach for us, with a sense that there were gaps much deeper in the foundation of personality and cognitive development. Sadly we lived a marriage of estrangement on a daily basis, with no clue of how to respond effectively to each other, in fact I am not certain that we ever resolved even one issue. We just seemed to be on different pages in every situation, and never the twain could meet. It ripped us apart, and carved deep wounds in the lives of our five children; children we’d borne and loved in the constant hope that our marriage and home would one day become a place of safety and nurture as I’d always dreamed.
Then, in October 2000, after 17 long and grief-stricken years, my husband’s behaviour was finally identified as being characteristic of an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome.
It is impossible to find the words to describe the relief this knowledge brought. So much so that I have spent much of my energy since that day devoting myself to learning about Asperger’s Syndrome in relationships, and contributing what I can to provide support for partners and family members of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome. It was in this context, probably about 7 years ago now, that I first had contact with Louise Weston, the author of the book I mentioned earlier “Connecting with your Asperger Partner”. Louise and I were both involved in support groups for partners of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, but in two different cities within Australia. As a result of our common interest in relationships affected by Asperger’s Syndrome, I was asked by Louise to make a small contribution to her book.
The reason why I felt so moved recently to add my comments to the magazine topic of estrangement is because I firmly believe that it could be worth considering the possibility of the presence of the traits of Asperger’s Syndrome when negotiation and reconciliation just seem unattainable in spite of great effort and even mediation. The estrangement may be between a parent and adult children, adult siblings, those who were once friends, marital partners or others who have had some sort of emotional connection at some point. There will have been genuine attempts on the part of one to respectfully discuss differences and find reconciliation but to no avail, with no shift in the position or view of the other person, and sometimes even a worsening of the estrangement.
It would take too long to provide detail here about Asperger’s Syndrome, but AS involves significant difficulties in the use and interpretation of words and meanings; blindness to body language, hints and cues; literal interpretation; inability to generalise from one situation to another; a need for things to be done in a prescribed manner or order; difficulty accepting the opinions and views of others; finely tuned sensitivities and avoidance of a range of situations and experiences; difficulty with emotion recognition and management; lack of awareness of the impact of their words and behaviours on those around them; lack of reciprocity within relationship; etc.
It is my personal belief that many with AS traits will be drawn to the more literal and fundamental styles or preferences of Faith and Practise because they will typically seek out structure, order, routines, rules, forms of hierarchy, black and white views and opinions, etc. They will often stick to principle and ritual and miss the essence of a situation, or the human element.
When one views some of these things through the filter of spiritual explanations only, without the benefit of knowledge of neurological difference, then it is easy to imagine how our little judging finger can have a field day.
During a workshop in Sydney in 2009, Tony Attwood, Australian’s most prominent Asperger Specialist from Brisbane made a comment that “Without an understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome, people make a moral judgment (about an AS person’s behaviours)”. As Christians we are further in danger of spiritually judging a fellow-Christian, when in fact they may have some characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome and as yet be undiagnosed. AS can be quite hidden and not easily recognised even by professionals.
I thank God, deeply, for the day I learned about Asperger’s Syndrome. This knowledge has enabled me to understand and accept what happened to my family and has changed the way I view everyone I come into contact with. By God’s grace I am learning to have compassion and mercy before I judge. None of us know the struggles of others or the different perspectives they may hold, sometimes as a result of the way their brain is wired and outside of their control. God’s grace abounds, and His love and mercy extend to all, whether neurologically “typical” or neurologically “different”. Rather than becoming more spiritually sophisticated in our attitudes, our prayer should be to have gentle and accepting attitudes and a return to simple faith and humility, where love and equality is the common ground.
These comments are not meant in any way to minimize the beautiful heart-yearning for reconciliation where estrangement has taken place, or to deny that in some situations hearts are just hard, but I just believe it is helpful for us to know that there may be other contributors in some situations.
For those who may suspect that an estrangement is as a result of the presence of Asperger characteristics, it will be necessary for you to make an adjustment to what you expect from the other person and also to your own approach. This will mean drawing heavily on God’s grace. Verbal confrontation is rarely successful, and email/writing may need to play a part in your reconciliation efforts. The only way to approach and negotiate with an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome is by having a calm, respectful but firm approach, using logic, facts and statements, avoiding emotional expression or escalation, and ultimately accepting that you may never find a place of emotional connectedness again with that person. In some situations it may be possible to find a place of respectfully accepting each other’s positions and reducing any hostility that’s been present.
Remember that your gestures towards reconciliation may not be reciprocated, but this doesn’t mean that the other person is rejecting your gestures, they may simply just not know how to respond, or know that they are expected to respond. If harm continues, it will be up to you to gently but firmly put boundaries in place rather than expecting the other person to understand or correct the offence, or to change.
For more information about Asperger’s Syndrome in relationships, visit .
©Carol Grigg, Dip Counselling, Member ACA, Grad Member AIPC
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