When my husband was diagnosed with autism, things changed ... but also they didn't.
We were only together for six weeks before my husband proposed to me, and I said yes.
I think our quick engagement had a lot to do with him being so many things I am not — this balances us out. That balance, we've come to find out, has a lot to do with him being autistic.
We always knew our personalities were in opposition: I’m outgoing while CJ is more reserved. I’m a bull-at-the-gate personality while he is more practical. I have to learn things by making mistakes, diving in and making a mess … whereas he rarely makes mistakes because he is calculated and methodical.
I’m sure I can be difficult with my haphazard, carefree nature, but it’s been so long now that he barely raises an eyelid at my wild ideas. We are the push and pull to each other, and I have stretched him out of his comfort zones bit by bit. He’s reined me in where I need it, too. (And I’ve definitely needed it at times.)
People tell me my husband is blessed to have me, but the truth for me is, it often feels like the other way around.
We will have been married for 10 years this coming October, and it wasn’t until our seventh year of marriage that we learned he has autism spectrum disorder.
His diagnosis happened after our eldest daughter was given hers. Since then, another of our four daughters has been diagnosed too. So half of the family members within our house are autistic — all with unique strengths and triggers.
I remember, looking back, how frustrated I used to get when we’d go out for lunch or dinner together and he could never make a decision about where we should go or what to eat. Often, we argued for hours and then eventually come home without having eaten. Hindsight tells us now that this is because CJ finds on-the-spot decision-making really hard and overwhelming.
Now, we plan where we’re eating beforehand so he can peruse the menu. And what do you know — there have been no more arguments about eating out since!
Over the years, we’ve had to come up with different ways of doing everyday things.
Autism doesn’t define my husband, but his diagnosis definitely liberates us in terms of his strengths as well as his limitations. Because he is autistic, I don’t blame him for being a "stereotypical male" when he puts off doing the dishes. Instead, I know that it’s because he has sensory issues surrounding temperature and tactile defensiveness.
And there’s no way I would ever expect him to fold something made of microfiber! But he’s awesome at grocery shopping (he knows the aisles and order of products by heart), and I love how much he has to teach me.
We plan our weekends in advance and take social overload into account very seriously.
This means I aim to only have one day per week on the weekend where I expect CJ to be out of the house and around other people. He needs the other day to recharge and chill, and that’s fine by me. In fact, he heartily encourages me to go out and pursue my interests and friendships, even if they aren’t the same as his.
And what may be obvious and automatic to others isn’t for us.
Friends ask us about the key to our marriage and we both answer "whiteboard" enthusiastically in unison.
It has saved us from many arguments, and it’s prevented many feelings of built-up resentment. It’s kept in a communal space in our house where everyone can see it, and we each write on it things that need doing or things that the other person needs to remember. That way, there’s no nagging. I don’t need to expect CJ to read my mind, and he can’t accuse me of not having told him something because it’s *right there*. I have even used it to write down what I needed from him in terms of support when I was unwell, and it was super-effective.
I take for granted that not everyone can fix physical things in the blink of an eye like CJ can.
In our house, if anything breaks there is never any hesitation before I say, "It’s OK; Daddy will fix it." CJ’s incredible intellect means he can piece things together in the blink of an eye. It’s awesome being married to someone so handy ... not to mention sexy.
His attention to detail also makes him an incredible chef.
CJ makes pancakes for our family every Sunday morning that automatically come out identical in size and width. And his pizzas and cakes are basically professional replicas, only better.
At the end of the day, this is what I hope folks can learn from CJ and me:
Being married to someone who is autistic is not really that different from being married to someone who is neurotypical: Everyone has their own set of strengths, weaknesses, and areas that need sensitive consideration. And just like any marriage, you compromise and find ways to get to a place that works.
When you love someone, you don’t love them in spite of their diagnosis ... you love them because of it. Because without their diagnosis, they wouldn’t be the person you fell in love with anyway.