by Eva Mendes, LMHC, author of Marriage and Lasting Relationships with Asperger Syndrome
ASDSpecific Couples Counseling
If you or your partner has a diagnosed or suspected case of Asperger Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it’s important to seek counseling with an ASDspecific couples counselor.
Counselors who are not familiar with ASD often tend to ascribe an Asperger or neurodiverse couple’s conflicts and challenges to “personality clashes,” or family of origin issues. Uninformed counselors may not understand the intentions of either partner, and so perpetuate the confusion that exists in many of these neurodiverse or Asperger relationships. More importantly, when the counselor doesn’t understand ASD, he might not be able to see how the Asperger traits of the partner might be affecting the relationship and intensifying the conflict.
An untrained couples counselor may not fully take into account the pervasive nature of ASD. Counseling that fails to address the ASD issues not only perpetuates a couple’s unhappiness, it can even bring about the demise of the relationship. The longevity and survival of many neurodiverse marriages depends on finding an ASDspecific couples counselor.
Many couples that I see report having previously seen other counselors who did not understand the neurodiverse aspect of their relationship. Some couples say things like, “We’ve been in couples counseling for eight out of the 12 years we’ve been married, but our issues never really got resolved.” It’s common for me to be the second or in some cases the fourth or fifth counselor that the couple has seen.
An ASDspecific couples counselor who is experienced with relationships where one partner has diagnosed or suspected Asperger’s/autism and the other is neurotypical or nonspectrum (NS) can provide both partners with information about ASD, help them understand ASD traits, each other’s perspectives, create a safe space where both partners can speak honestly, help the partners create and implement strategies tailored to ASD, and provide accountability, motivation, and support to move the couple in a positive direction.
Working with Asperger Couples Online
Due to the lack of ASD specialists and counselors for adults with ASD, I’ve been working with Asperger couples and individuals via the phone and video conferencing since 2012. Rather than jeopardize an already delicate situation or a marriage in crisis by working with a counselor who many not know how to address the ASDspecific issues, many couples chose to work with me online. So far, I’ve worked with numerous individuals and couples from as far as Africa, India, Australia, Europe, Canada, Mexico and various parts of the United States. I typically use Skype, Facetime or Google Hangout to work with my clients.
Most of my clients find our work together useful and they are able to benefit from the discussions, problem solving, and strategies that we come up with in these online sessions. The Aspergerspecific strategies that couples and individuals find useful in our in person sessions translate well into the online sessions as well.
Strategies that Work In Person Work Online As well
Identifying ASD traits that are contributing to problems in the marriage is key. Untangling the neurotypical or nonspectrum (NS) partner’s own issues from their partner’s ASD is also important. Couples counseling for neurodiverse couples, is most useful when concrete, actionsteps, and ‘todo’ strategies are implemented within the ASD framework. It is important that strategies be nonjudgmental, clear, directive, and collaborative in creating solutions in your marriage or relationship.
Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to identify distortions in thinking for both partners is helpful. For example, a particular NS partner might have a tendency to hyperfocus on their partner’s issues rather than their own areas of growth. Or the partner with ASD, because of their high anxiety around money, may paint a dire picture of their financial situation, when the truth may be far from it. While, listening to and validating both partners’ concerns, fears and experiences, it’s necessary that the couples counselor is able to discern the truth and get to the reality of a couple’s situation.
Many couples take notes on strategies that we identify. They work just as hard to implement these new behaviors and solutions as my inperson clients.
How Long Can Couples Expect to Be in Counseling?
I often say to couples that watching a marriage improve is like watching a tree grow. We are unable to see a seed sprouting into a plant. However, a timerelease camera that took a picture of the growing sapling every day, would enable us to see each millimeter of progress. Over the course of a year, we would also see a grown tree.
How long does it take for the average Asperger couple to get their marriage back on track? This truly depends on each individual couple. The process of resolving their marriage can take regular weekly or biweekly sessions over several months or even a couple of years in some cases. I’ve seen couples who’ve flown from out of state to see me for a few intensive sessions over a weekend, and who’ve reported great success. Couples who fly in to see me for intensive sessions, typically continue to work with me online.
After the initial phase of a few months of intensive couples counseling is done, most couples continue on for maintenance even a few years after. Once the initial phase of couples work is done, some couples chose to seek out counseling during major life stressors or decisions.
Why does it take a few months to a year or longer of couples in counseling in order to see longterm changes? Just like with anything else, whether it’s exercise or healthy eating, resetting negative patterns of interaction that were established over years take time to change. The other thing is while change is difficult for most people, for individuals with ASD, change can be even harder. Shedding old ways of thinking, being and relating to each other is always fraught with challenges, but with persistence and hard work anything is possible.
And there are other couples who come indefinitely, with no time frame in mind. Many times, these couples tend not to have children as yet, or be in the stage of life where their children are grown or have left the home. Longterm couples counseling gives many couples the accountability, motivation, and space for marital connectedness. Though even longterm couples can eventually settle on coming once a month for maintenance. Other couples taper off regular sessions and come on an asneeded basis during a particular lifestressor or event.
The Value of Couples Counseling
Not attending to relationship issues while married can often lead to divorce, and the price tag is high. For many couples divorce can cost thousands of dollars. Not to mention a decline in income for both partners. For example, if there children involved, there is a decade or two of child support payments for the primary earner in the relationship, which can be about 30 percent of his income. For the nonearning or lowerincome partner in the relationship, the decline in income can also take years to recover from. Financial costs aside, the end of a marriage can take a significant emotional, mental and physical toll on the couple and their children if any.
When partners are unhappy in their marriage and chose not to seek counseling, it can affect their job performance, and have longterm psychological and even physical problems. It’s important to weigh the cost of couple’s counseling in terms of money and time against the very lives of the couples and their families. Of course there are always cases where couples might not want to stay together and a separation and a divorce is the best decision for them.
Out of state online sessions aren’t covered by health insurance. I offer couples packages of 2 sessions or 5 sessions each. The 5 package session comes with an initial half an hour of free consultation. After the initial 2 or 5 sessions have run out, couples may choose to buy more packages or schedule additional sessions as we go. If you’re interested in setting up a session with me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.To order my upcoming book available through Amazon.comMarriage and Lasting Relationships with Asperger Syndrome: Successful Strategies for Couples or Counselors click here.
Eva Mendes, LMHC, NCC is the author of Marriage and Lasting Relationships with Asperger Syndrome: Successful Strategies for Couples or Counselors.Eva works with individuals with Asperger Syndrome, and autism. An expert on relationships and socialcommunication issues, Eva has spoken at conferences and colleges and has written several papers on this subject. She has a private practice in Arlington, MA where she sees couples and individuals for counseling inperson; she is also available to work with clients via Skype and phone. Eva leads the popular Spouse and the Couple’s Support Groupsat the Asperger/Autism Network in Watertown. She is also a longtime yoga practitioner, and a Buddhist. Her website is www.evmendes.com