Is Marital Satisfaction Possible for an ND Couple? Part 1
Let's start with our recent survey of 321 people who are in a ND relationship or were in a ND relationship.
10.28% Reported happily married and in a fulfilling relationship
5.3% Reported being Satisfied and Content on the relationship
22.1% Reported Satisfied more than Dissatisfied but would like room for improvement.
It is possible to have marital satisfaction in an ND marriage, but it will take changing some expectations, dedication, endurance, and modifications from both spouses once the couple has an awareness of their issues and realistic expectations in which they are trying to achieve together. Sometimes it also means letting go of bad marriage teaching/theology and advice from Christian books that do not always apply to the ND marriage.
A hindrance to coming back to counseling/coaching can be the bad experiences a couple or spouse has bad from an untrained marriage helper. Our research shows couples have had on average at least 5 untrained marriage helpers before getting to someone trained in ND couple dynamics. Two couples reported 10 or more!
Would you agree with me as colleagues that the counseling techniques and marital counseling books make a basic assumption that both husband and wife are NT (Neuro-Typical)?
One of the areas I have to work with the NT wife is partly a grieving process of the perfect Christian Utopian marriage that the books say if you do this or try this or pray this you will have a great marriage relationship. If someone is in a neurodiverse marriage (married to someone on the spectrum) this picture or outlook needs a change or tweak.
This is very difficult for the NT wives. Often they say they feel tricked into the marriage or there was a bait and switch and had they known about the difficulties of Asperger’s/Autism prior to marriage they may have not married this person. The person on the spectrum sometimes says the same, had they known how difficult and draining emotionally to live with another person and have expectations to relate/connect so often with other expectations; they may not have chosen to marry.
But, with our Christian clients who believe marriage to be a covenant or oath, this can cause the NT wife to feel stuck and trapped in a marriage which often becomes a celibate marriage. It is important for any marriage helper working with an ND couple to have training and understanding because unintentionally causes harm.
What type of therapy do I use? I combine Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Family Systems approach, and mediation and conflict management techniques and a little dash of Transactional Analysis (TA). Persons on the spectrum tend to shut down in the presence of strong emotion ( if the spouse is crying or using a frustrated tone) and I found the following cycle works at the beginning in the Education phase. Working on attachment is helpful but EFT does not often work.
We also use a Counseling/Coach approach between Dan and I at times or couple to couple work and group support. (More to come on this Counsel/Coaching approach).
I either start a Christian counseling/coaching cycle with whichever spouse reached out to me first or practice in this fashion:
In other words, at first we are not doing a lot of together work.
As I stated before, the first part of counseling is educational and requires bibliotherapy for both in understanding marital impact and issues with AS. This part may also include grieving on the part of the NT spouse of what marriage was expected to be and what marriage may actually look like moving forward. The ND spouse may be on an identification journey, what is me, what is the spectrum? What does this mean?
The second phase is setting goals and stabilization of new patterns and communication systems- Equipping. Here CBT with an understanding of systems (as a person with ASD/AS can struggle with self-awareness and mindblindness and the ability to see others’ perspectives) helps to explain how one person’s behaviors or lack of behavior impacts the other partner. The third part is maintenance which requires some coaching and accountability. It is easier to slip into the previous patterns. When the “stress” is off, the motivation to keep learning and striving sometimes becomes an issue. Teaching some scripts (we use Emotionally Healthy Relationships by Scazzeros as a course) for communication can be helpful.
Things must be stable, elimination of toxic cycles and any abuse, neglect, indifference or infidelity or addiction dealt with first, before working on Effective Strategies for dating, sexual intimacy and emotional connection. Trust must be rebuilt and safety established as a foundation. This is critical. This is where traditional counseling often fails in addition to not understanding the nuances of a Christian ND couple.
There's more on this topic. We'll cover that next time.
You can learn more about training and awareness and working with ND couples here on this site:
We have courses for professionals and for couples.