This Is What it's Really Like to be Married to Someone With Autism, for Those Who Don't Get It

Jessica Offer

Jessica and CJ Offer
Jessica Offer

It's Thursday evening, about an hour after our four children went to bed. My husband Cj has just gone into the study to chill out and play some games on his computer. We've been cuddling in bed and talking -- or rather, I've been the one talking and he's been cuddling me while I do so, patiently listening as I recount my day to him. The week is almost over, and we're both pretty knackered from each juggling our own various responsibilities that come with being an adult.

I glance at my phone and check my email, and then update our shared calendar with various social and work commitments and then add to a few lists we share on the Google Keep app. I think forward to our coming weekend and make sure I have not over-scheduled it, with gaps for downtime. I tidy up around the house briefly but leave the folding of the washing to him because he likes it done "just so" and I figure it's one less thing I need to worry about. 

  • There’s a reason that our evening chats and cuddles have a time limit...

    Jessica and CJ Offer
    Jessica Offer

    ...and it’s the same reason why I need to be conscious of not filling our entire weekend with social commitments. It’s also why I need to utilize an app and a whiteboard in the kitchen to aid communication between us, and why every event needs reminders and forewarning. The reason for all of this is simple: My husband is a high-functioning, 35-year-old autistic.

    I often forget that not all relationships are like this. But when you’ve been in love with someone for 12 years, all the little adjustments you make become automatic and your version of normal. Our romance was not typical -- we each fell for each other hard and fast. Within six weeks of knowing me, Cj proposed marriage and I accepted. I have no doubt everyone thought we were absolutely crazy, and maybe they still do.

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  • From the start, our romance was different. All I know is that when I met him, I knew he was unlike any person I’d ever met before. 

    He was interesting, so very intelligent, quick-witted and just ... amazing. The way he did things was so opposite to how I did, it kept me on my toes and was a fascinating joy to be around. Twelve years ago when we met each other halfway down the aisle at our wedding, we vowed to always meet each other halfway and we always have.

    I always accepted his way of doing things wholeheartedly because it made him who he was, and I loved him for it. But it wasn’t until he was 30 that he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder by a clinical psychologist. It happened after our eldest daughter received her diagnosis, and since then, two more of our four daughters have received the same, too. Finally though, all his gorgeous quirks began to make sense.

  • Decision-making is always something that has been a challenge for my husband.

    Back in the early days of being together, one sure-fire way to create tension between Cj and I would be when we’d go out to dinner. I’d tell him to “pick any restaurant he wanted” and he’d take forever to decide on where, and then even longer to pick something off the menu. I won’t lie, there were times I ended up walking off in a huff because I was so frustrated.

    Eventually we began to realize that he got overwhelmed with choices, so things got a lot easier when I narrowed the options down for him so he only had a few to pick between, and then things got even easier still when those places had menus available online for prior perusal.

    Now, let’s swing back to earlier where I mentioned over-scheduling social commitments. With autistic people, social-hangovers are a real thing. By the time my husband comes home from being at work where he’s been around people all day long, and after he’s wrangled our four daughters through dinner, bath and into bed and then spent an hour listening to me -- he’s absolutely socially wiped. He needs downtime where there is no talking, so that he can recalibrate and re-center. 

  • It may shock or sadden you to learn Cj has no friends. But please save your pity because this isn’t a problem for him or something that upsets him. 

    Jessica and CJ Offer
    Jessica Offer

    In fact, he prefers it that way. In his words “you and the girls are all I need, babe.”

    For this reason, to avoid meltdowns or shutdowns -- I make sure there are gaps in our weekend for quiet and I try not to book up both weekend days with social commitments. Cj often sends me out with my girlfriends, ensuring I get my social needs met even when he isn’t able to meet them.

    One of the most fascinating things about autistic individuals is their ability to “mask” -- meaning, they are able to behave as needed according to expectations depending on the social situation. It’s basically like very talented acting, but it comes at a cost -- overload and exhaustion.

    My husband has incredible masking abilities -- he can be outgoing, authoritarian, formal, or very casual and even “ocker,” depending on what is needed socially from him at the time. It’s almost like he has different “faces” he can put on, and he even nails the accents! Too much masking however can be detrimental. When he’s at home, he’s at his most comfortable because he can be himself.

  • Our marriage has one $10 item to thank. It has kept us together through many, many challenges over the years. 

    And it’s a whiteboard. Lists and reminders of things that need to be remembered get written on it, because executive-functioning is another challenge of Cj’s. I even remember writing down what I needed from him in terms of emotional support when I had my wisdom teeth out (cuddles, tell me you love me, bring me food). As he says -- if it’s not written down, it won’t happen.

    This nonverbal style of communication between us has evolved into the utilization of apps and reminders on a shared calendar that ping on my husband’ s smartwatch over the years -- and many moments of confusion and miscommunication have been avoided as a result. I love that smartwatch!

  • The way he sees the world is truly magnificent.

    Jessica and Cj Offer
    Jessica Offer

    Without a doubt, one of the things I love about my husband’s autism the most is the high level of attention to detail and organization that it blesses him with. He says he sees the world in pictures, so he has this gift of being able to replicate things with exact precision and mend things that fall apart without needing a manual.

    There’s really nothing sexier than a man who can not only fix anything that breaks, but also make you the most incredible pancakes and desserts that you’ve ever eaten while he does so. And hey, if my way of folding laundry or stacking the dishwasher isn’t the “the right way” so he has to do it, there’s no way I’m going to complain.

    At the end of the day, I really believe that loving someone means you love and accept them for all of who they are. Not just the easy bits, but the tricky bits you may not even understand, too. My husband being autistic does bring challenges to our marriage, without a doubt. But when I look at all the incredible, multilayered elements to what makes him the man he is -- truthfully, all the most amazing bits all come from him being autistic. And that’s not something I would ever want to change, and feel grateful for every day.

    This story was written by Jessica Offer and was republished with permission. You can read more of her work on her blog, Girl Tribe

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