Was Autism A Factor In My Divorce?

No, and yes. It is a complicated question for which both answers are correct.

I’ve always maintained that my autism wasn’t the cause of my divorce. This is true, insofar as neither of us knew that I was autistic. That’s something I realized after the divorce. However, I’m still engaging in The Great Reflection. As part of it, I reevaluate earlier events in my life. I have to say that some autistic traits caused friction between my ex-wife and I, and most likely led to her wanting to divorce me. So yes, it was a factor.

One of the problems in our relationship was that she wanted me to do something which for me amounts to mind-reading.

I can give you an example. Sometimes, many years after the fact, she would blame me for having failed to read glares on people’s faces. Once, many years ago, she made a meal for me, but she messed up, and the meal was inedible. I made no mystery that I couldn’t eat it, and tossed the meal into the garbage. Apparently, she glared at me on the spot, and so did the people we were entertaining in our house.

I do not remember the glares at all.

I’m not sure what I should have done. Pretend and eat the food? It was inedible. I did not berate her. I just tasted the food, declared it inedible, and tossed it in the garbage. End of story.

Still, this is a story that she liked to bring back up when we had disputes. She was telling me that I was forgetting, and I told her that she was making things up. (Neither of us was especially nice to the other in the heat of an argument.) We were both wrong! She remembered the glares because she was able to pick up on them. I did not remember them because I never picked up on them. I did not get to forget because the glares were never noticed by me.

The example I give above is just one example. We had multiple disputes where my ex-wife was saying that she glared at me and that I should have understood from her glare that she was angry. However, I did not read the glare. My reaction was to ask her to be explicit. I said that I cannot rely on glares to know her state of mind, but she never got to that point. She said that she had been raised to not talk. This may be true. She was 20 years my senior.

Keep in mind that we both thought I was neurotypical. So from her standpoint, I was deliberately ignoring her glare. I was seeing the glare, registering it, and then deciding not to do anything about it. However, what really happened is that I did not see the glare at all, and the process ended there. I never got to the decision stage.

Another point of contention was the cleanliness of the house. She had a lower tolerance than mine for a messy house. Hilarity ensued. I don’t think I would say she had a low tolerance, period, but it was less than mine. Mind you, my tolerance is not such that you’d be wading though heaps of garbage. I can give you an example of the friction between us.

Sometimes the trash in our kitchen smelled. My ex-wife smelled it. I didn’t. I could open and close the trash door ten times and not notice. She noticed every time. So at some point, she berated me for deciding not to take out the trash despite the smell. Yes, my ex-wife totally wins at having a more acute sense of smell than I do. From her standpoint, I was deliberately ignoring the smell. I smelled the bad smell, registered it as a bad smell, and then decided to not do anything about it. However, what really happened is that I didn’t smell a bad smell. That’s where the chain ended.

We did have quite a few discussions where I explained to her that what she attributed to a decision on my part did not even get to the decision-making point because I did not even sense what she was troubled by. I could also mention toilet bowl cleaning, the litter smelling, etc. In all those instance, the solution was not to stew over what I did or did not do, but to be explicit with me: “take the trash out,” etc.

I’ve puzzled elsewhere about how we managed to stay together at all for over twenty years, and I had hypothesized that maybe the large amount of time apart during our marriage helped. I’m becoming more and more convinced that this was the right answer. When I was away, she did not have to butt heads with an autistic man. When we were together, she did.

Someone suggested that my ex-wife was abusing me. I’m agnostic on this topic for now. However, if she did abuse me, it was unintentional. Neither of us knew that I was autistic, and my ex-wife is neurodivergent too, since she has ADHD. I think there’s a world of difference between the unintentional abuse she may have subjected me to, and the intentional abuse that some people inflict on their partners. She did not know any better. Neither did I. My ex-wife is not an evil person. Our divorce was very amicable.

Would we have stayed together if we had known I was autistic? It is very hard to tell. She was set in her ways, and we may have ended up divorcing anyway, maybe earlier than we did. Even without the autism diagnosis, I did explain that she had to be explicit with me, but this did not work. So I don’t know.

One thing for sure, her wanting me to notice her glares was akin to asking me to grow a tentacle in the middle of my forehead. Mission impossible. Asking her to be explicit at her age—she was 20 years older than I am—could have been just as preposterous a task. I don’t know.






2 responses to “Was Autism A Factor In My Divorce?”

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