Learning to love with Asperger syndrome

It’s not easy living with a man who will only say ‘I love you’ once a day, max

Getty Images; iStock; Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

The typical man with Asperger syndrome has many questions. “Why do women exaggerate so often?” he wonders, and “Why does my wife need me to keep telling her I love her?”

For the logically minded Asperger guy, few things are more difficult than living with a woman who needs daily displays of affection. The “Aspie” man, on returning home from work, might prefer to seclude himself in his den where he can indulge his hobby of tinkering with train sets—only to discover his wife angrily banging pots in the kitchen, upset that he hasn’t said, “Hello, I’m home.” As one man with Asperger syndrome explained to British therapist Maxine Aston: “She knows I’m home. She will have heard me put the car in the garage. What is the point in telling her something she already knows?”

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Aston’s practice is unique, as she specializes in counselling couples in which the male partner has Asperger syndrome and the female does not. In What Men with Asperger’s Syndrome Want to Know About Women, Dating and Relationships, she covers more than 40 of the top questions. “Oh, crikey! I see people from all over the world. I’ve had couples travel from Kenya, Dubai and Canada, yes!” she said in an interview from her home in Coventry, England.

She tells wives of Aspie men that many do not experience warm feelings when they arrive home from work. “In fact, quite the opposite,” she writes. “He will be leaving his safe place at work and entering his partner’s environment, one which is unpredictable and chaotic and, for him, hard work.” She advises wives to allow husbands at least 30 minutes of alone time before approaching to chit-chat.

To help Aspie men better understand women, Aston instructs them to picture a wristwatch. “Although the watch is obviously a complex and sophisticated device, all it takes to make this miracle of an invention work and keep time is a tiny little spring, wound with ease, by a small wheel on the side of the watch,” she writes. “So, yes, women are highly complex, especially within the realm of emotions; however, they are also relatively simple in what they require from their partner to make them happy.”

She counsels men to have a script ready whenever a woman asks if she looks good, or if she has a beautiful figure or face. “The majority of women do not always want the absolute truth,” she writes. A good way to tell a woman a nice thing without sounding false is to write it on a Post-it note and stick it where she’ll find it, or send a text or email, she advises.

Having Asperger syndrome can make it difficult to understand the difference between an exaggeration and a lie. Tension often arises in social situations when the Aspie man feels it’s his duty to set the record straight. A woman might tell her friends she waited “forever” at the post office, or that “there were hundreds of people” on the bus. “To the Asperger brain, these are false facts and need to be corrected,” writes Aston. She explains, “If he hears his partner being liberal with the truth or exaggerating, he should try to hold back on immediately correcting her.” However, many Aspies find it impossible to control the urge to correct, in which case the wife may have to start telling her stories in her spouse’s absence, or refer to him during the story to confirm the facts.

Most bewildering to an Aspie man is why his wife wants to again hear “I love you” when he’s already said it once. Words of love are like food to women, Aston tells Aspie men. She suggests they think of love as a colour. “They might choose red or pink or green because their visual imagination is far stronger than being able to talk about emotional feelings,” she says. The men are asked, on a scale of one to 10, to describe the depth of colour as a way of telling their wives how much they love them. “With the brutal honesty that some men with Asperger’s have, women can be disappointed if they feel the number is low,” says Aston. On the other hand, “if you get a 10 purple, he absolutely means it! It could mean he’s slightly aroused,” she laughs. “They answer very quickly because it’s appealing to their logical brains.”