Many behaviours of abusive people have a devastating impact on their intimate partners. Whether or not those abusive behaviours happen to be sufficient for the abusive partner to fall within the diagnostic criteria of any given psychological disorder, in any particular edition of the DSM, has no bearing on whether the behaviours do, or do not impact that person’s intimate partner.
The intimate partner is the most expert in regard to whether or not the abusive partner’s behaviour is affecting their own well-being negatively. A measely hour or few, several emails, and ‘X number of years psychiatry experience’ does not trump the day-in-day-out lived experience the intimate partner has had, for however many years they have been married, or partnered to their abuser.
Let’s suppose for example that you identify with 20 out of a list of 26 experiences of a non-Autism Spectrum Disorder (non-ASD) or neuro-typical (NT) intimate partner, in an ASD/ NT marriage; does an absence of a diagnosis mean your relationship isn’t evidently dysfunctional, unhealthy, and likely to be causing grave deterioration in your own emotional, psychological and/ or physical well-being? We also might consider whether the absence of a diagnosis is due to a psychiatrist being unable to categorically diagnose according to DSM criteria, or whether the abusive partner is undiagnosed because he/she won’t even get a referral to be assessed? Maybe the referral lays at home, and months go by before the abuser makes an appointment, or attends one.
Maybe the psychiatrist talks about personality differences between the abusive person and the intimate partner, but never mentions narcissism, let alone makes any kind of a diagnosis; does that have any bearing on whether or not your spouse’s behaviours are the same tactics that narcissist’s use? Just because no-one will ‘call a spade a spade’, doesn’t mean it isn’t a spade. The psychiatrist doesn’t live in an intimate relationship with your partner, and psychiatrists often differ in their conclusions.
Personalities that lack empathy, the capacity to understand the perspective of others, or the humility to learn how, are not compatible with an interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship. Taking months to get a ‘win-win’ agreement (one step forward) on one of many issues, only to find three months later your partner has ‘forgotten’ the agreement, or claims a different understanding of it, written or otherwise (two steps backward), because you’re the only one who cares about the changes you need, is essentially the same degree of progress as going nowhere at all.
At that rate a decade could easily go by with needs never being adequately addressed, and maybe your own well-being requires resolution without delay? Maybe your relationship with your diagnosed or undiagnosed partner is extremely challenging, but he/ she is genuinely engaged with making changes, even if for their own benefit. Either way, some professional support for yourself as an individual, could be beneficial for getting perspective on your situation, and your level of coping. It can be very difficult to get that perspective alone, if your own well-being is already significantly impacted.
I have read numerous places that couple counselling is not recommended if your partner is abusive, including in some of the links included in this post. My personal experience has lead me to question the practice, also.
Maybe you can highlight 80% of the Power and Control Wheel (Duluth Wheel), but your spouse has not committed a crime he can be arrested for, and will not acknowledge he abuses you. Maybe the relationship counsellor has failed to recognise that your uncertainty about where your spouse’s ‘breaking point is’ (before he uses physical violence) raises a question about whether you really do feel safe, even if you say you do. Maybe you have not linked your sense of vulnerability, or being unable to depend on your partner to be reasonable, or to self-regulate, to a sense of not feeling ‘safe’; so you don’t say the magic words, “No, I do not feel safe” that would otherwise lead a counsellor to follow a domestic abuse process.
I once read a comment on a forum that said, ‘Autistic men aren’t abusive, abusive men are’. I think this is an important comment. We hear the term, ‘adorable aspies’¹ and are reminded that ASD behaviour is easier to accommodate and provide for once we understand why we are encountering it, and adjust our expectations. This does not mean there will be no frustration, and it does not mean the person is incapable of making intentionally hurtful choices. Abusiveness is not the exclusive domain of non-ASD people, and not all autistic people are abusive. Some ‘aspies’ are adorable, others are not.
Susan Heitler, PhD, a clinical psychologist has written an article discussing the similarities between narcissism and autistic spectrum disorders (here) published by Pyschology Today. In a subsequent article (here) highlighting two case studies, Susan says this to conclude:
“The bottom line from my perspective is that there is often overlap between these two syndromes [narcissism and Aspergers]. Is that because some people have both? Is the border between the two disorders a fuzzy boundary, so the label is a function of which features the diagnosis is primarily focusing on?
In my view, the essential feature of narcissism is a listening defect. Narcissistic behavior is behavior that focuses only on oneself—what I want, what I think. This ‘all about me’ tendency creates, or maybe results in, deficits in ability to hear others thoughts, feelings, preferences, etc. When others insist on trying to be seen or heard, the narcissistic tendencies lead to anger.
As to Aspergers, I regard the addition of social oddities, avoidance of close social interactions, gaze aversion, and difficulties reading others’ feelings as signs that Aspergers as well as narcissistic non-listening may be present. Also, narcissistic self-aggrandizement is typically less pronounced or absent with Aspergers. And Aspergers individuals do not as often have the social charm that many individuals with naricissistic features have.
Paradoxically, people with both diagnoses can be very empathic and generous. The bottom line is that these are not all-or-nothing syndromes, and they can easily co-exist. Very complex.”
The good news is some high functioning people with or without diagnoses choose to learn, and choose different actions. The bad news is, some high functioning people with or without diagnoses have no intention of changing; maybe changing looks like too much hard work, or they don’t want to give up the power base they maintain through manipulating their circumstances to suit them; maybe they don’t want to give up the allowances made for them because of their difficulties, or their ideal image of themselves makes no allowances for acknowledging there is any problem at all.
An apt quote by Charles M. Blow says:
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”
A list of tips from the Neurotypical Site for neurotypical spouses of ASD partners is a very illuminating read (here). It could provide some welcome validation for anyone struggling with having a stakehold in their own life; having anyone appreciate that their partner’s disorder is not their fault either; and, that their neuro-typical condition is precious, and worth preserving, not an inconsequential and expendable sacrifice for the altar of accommodating their ASD partner’s needs.
Even with a diagnosis, if it’s not their fault, it’s not yours either. A disorder is not an excuse to abuse one’s partner. What is the point of a neurotypical person gaining a psychological disorder because of the excessive pressure put on them by their abusive spouse, whether diagnosed or not, whether ASD/ narcissistic/ or both, or anything else?
From a biblical perspective, abuse breaks the marriage covenant, a parity covenant, which is dependent on both parties upholding their vows to care for and be faithful to the other. Sometimes we are blinded from the truth of the scriptures by the extra-biblical traditions of men. That is a topic for an entirely different post, but it is worth mentioning that the tips for neurotypical spouses are not invalid for Christian spouses.
God condemns oppression and injustice, and He does not qualify that with an exemption for married people, allowing spouses to oppress or accuse their partners unjustly. That would not reflect a just God. Nor do we need to excuse abusive behaviour whether someone is diagnosed with a disorder, or not. Essentially, if someone were to be incapable of choosing right or wrong behaviour, they would be incapable of maintaining an interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship, such as marriage.
Here are a few other websites and interesting articles:
The Neurotypical Site at http://www.theneurotypical.com/about_us.html
Aspia at https://www.aspia.org.au/
The Truth About Aspergers at http://heartlessaspergers.com/
¹’Aspie’ is a nickname for someone diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, listed in the DSM-IV. Asperger Syndrome has been dropped from the DSM-5 as noted below:
Asperger’s was considered related to but distinct from autism. DSM-5 contains a new disorder that replaces both the old autistic disorder and Asperger’s: It is called autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved at https://www.livescience.com/37333-dsm-aspergers-disorder.html