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Understanding the Complexities of Abuse in Neurodiverse Christian Couples

Material for this blog was written by Rev Iris Knapp for the book chapter in Uniquely Us in a collaborative effort on complexities of neurodiverse Christian marriages.

The blog was edited by ChatGPT for succinctness. Watch for the book launch on

How often have we heard someone say, “Oh yeah–I know someone with autism,” upon learning about our neurodiverse loved ones? This reaction, while well-meaning, overlooks a crucial truth eloquently captured by Dr. Stephen Shore: “If you've met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” This statement underscores the individuality of each person with autism, a concept that becomes particularly pertinent in the context of neurodiverse Christian couples (NDCC). This blog post gives a brief overview of the complexities of abuse within ND/NT relationships, where abuse can be both unintentional and intentional, and the unique challenges they face.

As an ordained minister with over four decades of experience in various ministries, my journey includes founding & directing a Christian women’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation program and more than 24 years facilitating women's coaching groups. I now focus predominantly on complex ND/NT marriages including women's support and life coaching.  My experiences have given me a deep understanding of the complexities in ND/NT marriages. My personal connection with autism is as  the  grandmother of a teenager on the spectrum along with other family members. This has enriched my perspective, allowing me to empathize with and support women in similar situations. 

The Reality of Abuse in ND/NT Marriages

In my experience, working with women in complex ND/NT marriages  I have witnessed how ASD characteristics like Theory of Mind (ToM) challenges, black-and-white thinking, and communication issues can unintentionally lead to abusive dynamics in marriages. These complexities are magnified when narcissism is present alongside ASD. It’s essential to understand that being neurodiverse does not inherently predispose someone to be an abuser. However, the unique communication and cognitive differences in ND/NT relationships can inadvertently set the stage for abuse if not properly addressed.

Types of Abuse in NDCC

1. Spiritual/Religious Abuse: In many cases, spiritual abuse arises from the misuse of spiritual authority and biblical texts, leading to a manipulative denial of personal feelings and convictions (Tracy, Mending the Soul-MTS Workbook 2023; Karla Downing 2013). 

2. Emotional/Verbal Abuse: This form of abuse often involves repeated incidents where a person is insulted, degraded, or humiliated, going beyond verbal insults to encompass a broader spectrum of emotional maltreatment (Tracy, Workbook 2023).

3. Sexual Abuse: Defined by factors like power differential, knowledge differential, and gratification differential, sexual abuse in marriages can be particularly destructive, given the inherent power of sexuality (Tracy, 2023).

4. Neglect (Financial Abuse): Often manifesting as financial control or fostering financial dependency, this form of abuse can have lasting consequences on the victim’s autonomy and well-being (Joyce Marter, LCPC Psychology Today online 2022).

5. Physical/Domestic Violence: This encompasses physical harm or threats thereof within the family or household, violating the innate human need for nurture and protection (MTS workbook Tracy, 2023).

Those on the spectrum are not inherently violent…but it can happen if the spouse comes from a family of origin with physical trauma or if they have a personality disorder or untreated mental health issue. (Dr. Stephanie C.Holmes).

Narcissism and Autism

The distinction between Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and ASD is crucial, especially when considering the differences between narcissism rage and ASD dysregulation. Narcissistic rage is about exerting control and drawing the spouse into chaos, while ASD dysregulation is more about an internal struggle to control one’s own world (Jodi Carlton, 2024). It is possible for a person to have both ASD and NPD as one is neurology and one is not (Dr. Stephanie Holmes, 2024).


With many of the women I’ve talked with and coached, in or separated from their ND/NT marriages, a common theme emerges: NT or NA spouses often begin to lose their identity while trying to salvage their marriage. These narratives underscore the diverse forms of abuse and their profound impact on individuals, sometimes leading to the realization that separation or divorce may be  the only option for preserving mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Conclusion: Hope and Healing

Despite the challenges and pain, there is hope for recovery and a better future in strained, complex marriages that are still being worked on or in mid or post-divorce situations. Understanding the nuances of ND/NT relationships is key to finding support and moving towards healing along with finding a healthy support system with people trained in neurodiverse/neurotypical dynamics. 

More about my work can be found at

I can be contacted at

This blog is part of a chapter Rev. Iris Knapp has contributed to Uniquely Us: Gracefully navigating the maze of Neurodiverse Marriage. Autism- Faith- Marriage. Follow progress of the book here on this site on the home page.

Complete references are listed in the upcoming book summer of 2024.

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