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Married, with ASD: MySpace

All individuals are, well, individuals, so all couples are unique. There are experiences that different couples can share, which is why there are such things as support groups. Couples where one of the spouses is on the spectrum also have their commonalities, including things that make such marriages distinct from those where both spouses are neurotypical.

I discovered one of the more notable commonalities in therapy with an adult on the spectrum many years ago. He stated that he and his wife had separate bedrooms. I confirmed there were no problems in the marriage; that was simply how he preferred things. Generations ago, separate beds and even separate bedrooms were more common, but nowadays, separate bedrooms often mean a marriage crisis to the couples therapist.

This scenario continues to play out among many couples who work with me. Most of my married clients on the Spectrum have a space in their house that is "theirs." This space is more than a "man room" or special chair that only one person sits in to watch TV. It is usually a room that is physically separate from other spaces in the house-often with a door or curtain that remains closed. This space is often a cluttered, dusty mess full of broken, collectible, or other unique or mundane objects.

A common complaint or concern in therapy is that the neurotypical spouse will go into this space without permission and change something. Likely, the spouse is helping to organize the area, find a particular item, or to clean it. This sacred space limits the useable space in a house and causes stress to both spouses (but for different reasons). The ASD spouse typically knows something needs tending in the space (e.g., to be cleaned, items to be sorted or fixed, etc.) and feels some amount of stress about it. The mere existence of the space flummoxes the neurotypical spouse (e.g., what is it for, why are there so many rules, why won't he organize it or even get rid of the broken objects or trash?)—confusion and miscommunication reign in this space. One spouse cannot conceive of the utility of the space; the other spouse cannot conceive of the confusion of the other spouse.

The existence of this "space" is meaningful, predictable, and connected to other issues in the relationship. Some interventions help the couple make sense of the purpose and function of this space. As with all such behaviors, there is usually a way to achieve the utility of the space without all the baggage and disruption it is causing. Simply explaining the purpose of the space, how it is conceived, and why it is not irrational is comforting to most couples. Even though achieving a better understanding of this space is possible, agreement about what to do about it is not. In all cases, there was a heavy dose of compromise for both the spouse on the spectrum and the neurotypical spouse.

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