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Does My Husband Have Aspergers or Another Mental Illness?

How to Improve a Relationship When Your Husband has Aspergers, ADD, OCD, Narcissism or Another Mental Illness

Hearing a mental health diagnosis from a professional about your husband is sad news, but it can also really seem like the doorway to the promised land where your relationship improves.

It sure did for me. Of course I was crushed to learn that my husband had a mental illness, but I also felt hopeful about his treatment.

I’m not the only one.

“Now that he can treat his ADD/OCD/Narcissism, we’ll be much happier as a couple,” you might think.

It seems logical that a combination of mental health care and medication would and should improve your marriage and make your life better–especially if a marriage counselor is recommending that course of action.

That was my dream--that the counselor would figure out what was wrong with my husband and fix it so I could finally be happy. Click To Tweet

As you know, that’s not how it works.

Here’s the embarrassing story of what actually happened.

I was Depressed and He Had a Deficit Disorder

When I dragged my husband to marriage counseling early on, our counselor told us that I was depressed and that I would benefit from taking drugs.

I admit, I was very unhappy.

Of course I was also waiting for my husband to make me happy when that’s actually my responsibility. But I didn’t know any better back then.

The counselor also had a very strong opinion that John had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

Although Ritalin is a highly-controlled substance that can cause liver damage, the counselor and I both urged my husband to get it and take it.

That’s pretty embarrassing to admit now.

I thought it was a worthwhile risk because I believed the Ritalin would help John be more organized and plan better and be tidier, which would in turn relieve me of having to be responsible for everything.

I believed that him getting treatment would ultimately lighten my load and give me more time to relax and lessen the tension between us.

Instead, he responded to my nagging in pretty much the same way after Ritalin as he did before—by withdrawing and distancing himself, which was a very painful aspect of our marriage because I felt so unloved and lonely.

That was a sad chapter in our early marriage, because the whole thing only got us back where we started—distant, stressed-out, and miserable–with nothing to show for it but lighter wallets and possible liver damage.

I’m so glad our journey didn’t end there, but it very nearly did. I was very seriously considering divorce around that time.

That would have been so tragic because I’m married to the love of my life.

What You Focus on Increases

I was no happier after I took anti-depressants for several months, and there was no improvement in our connection as a couple from that short-lived detour.

We both stopped taking the medication, as it was rather expensive and didn’t seem to be helping anything.

But I clung to our diagnoses in my mind for a while, since we’d already paid for those.

I continued to focus on my husband’s deficit and disorder during that dark time…and I experienced him as lacking, and not very capable. Marriage was hard and lonely.

That was a completely different experience from the way I felt about the quirky, wonderful guy I married. I felt lucky and excited to be with him back then.

Of course, he was the same guy.

I had been focused on how funny and smart and handsome he is back then. And that’s how I experienced him.

It’s also how I experience him now.

Our diagnoses also seem completely irrelevant now.

So what changed?

I was Focused on the Wrong Person

It turns out we weren’t defective—just untrained.

I was busy focusing on my husband and his problems, when the only person I can change is myself. Once I started to do that, the very problems we were trying to treat—the conflict and disconnection in our marriage—went away.

Once I learned some skills that helped me refocus my view of John and restore respect and nurture intimacy, I saw a perspective that had eluded me. I was shocked to see how much of our problems were my contribution—not his.

If I had never discovered the Intimacy Skills, I might have gone on thinking that John had a mental illness called ADD…

…when the real problem was his fearful, controlling wife Laura.

Looking back, it makes sense—of course I was depressed: I didn’t know how to express my feelings or desires. I didn’t even know what they were. I didn’t know how to be respectful instead of having a meltdown.

Naturally my husband’s confidence and capabilities were shaken by his wife’s constant undermining and fault-finding.

Now that I’ve worked with thousands of women who were in similar counseling situations with similar diagnoses, that seems like a pretty natural consequence.

When you focus on someone else, even if they have a serious mental condition, you lose your power to make things better.

Even if there had been some kind of miracle diagnosis and medicine that made him into the best husband ever (like he is now), it wouldn’t have helped save our marriage.

I was in the habit of being miserable and complaining.

I focused on things outside of me (his diagnosis, for example) instead of focusing on my own self.

And because of those terrible habits, I rarely felt happy.

That was what was really wrong.

I needed training and skills on how to be happy, dignified, and respectful, and on how to honor my desires. I eventually got it from women who were happily married even though their husbands had at least the usual number of idiosyncrasies.

Your Husband Has Just the Usual Amount of Quirks

Mental illness or no, your husband isn’t perfect–but he is wonderful. Of course he is—you wouldn’t have married him otherwise. Chances are he has just the usual amount of quirks and that they sometimes seem larger than life because he is right there living with you.

If he doesn’t seem so wonderful right now, it could be that you’ve been focused on what’s wrong with him—his deficits and disorders.

That’s an easy problem to fix.

Start by making a gratitude list for the qualities you appreciate about your husband. Revisit your gratitude list daily to keep your focus on the things you want to increase.

Before long you’ll remember what it was you fell in love with about him in the first place—and that’s how you get to the promised land.


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17 thoughts on “Does My Husband Have Aspergers or Another Mental Illness?”

  1. Your blog is unbelievable
    I have been focusing on thinking he has some kind of mental disorder or PTSD and its glaring me in the face that i throw him off each time i do something severely controlling

    Thanks for sharing this!!!

    • TA, this is great to hear. I already made that mistake, so let’s not both do it, right? You’re gonna be so pleasantly surprised at his reaction when you implement some skills. Can’t wait to hear how it goes.

  2. Laura I want to let you know that Asperger’s (or Autism Spectrum Disorder as it is now referred to) is not a mental illness. It is a processing disorder that is the result of the brain processing information differently. My husband and son have diagnosed ASD.

  3. What really stands out for me is this:
    “your husband isn’t perfect–but he is wonderful. Of course he is—you wouldn’t have married him otherwise….If he doesn’t seem so wonderful right now, it could be that you’ve been focused on what’s wrong with him”
    Thank you for that great reminder! My husband has some very wonderful qualities.

  4. Wow, this is so great. My husband has been going through a huge mid life crisis/breakdown and it has been very easy to blame him for all the problems between us. What a great tool to try and concentrate on what I love about him, rather than what I don’t. Unfortuately he has just moved out…to move in with his mistress [who is very controlling ;-). Even though I have been practising gratitude and respect and being in charge of my own happinessfor over 1 year the self care and controlling aspects perhaps have not been my focus, which they are now. I am practising all the 6 ways to intimacy. I don’t know if my husband will come back but I know I have made many changes in our dynamic which he has commented on and acknowledges but which he doesn’t trust or it isn’t enough for him to come back. If only everyone was told these simple techniques. Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with our connection but I know it was destroyed by my controlling helpfulness and dis-respect, which I did not see. Thank you for your work. It has helped me so much.

    • Julie, So sorry to hear of your husband’s affair and your separation. Sounds painful. But I also hear your self-respect and dignity shining through in this post as you’re practicing the intimacy skills–good for you.

      We have a saying around here: A wife with intimacy skills trumps a mistress every day of the week and twice on Sundays. If you want your marriage back, we can show you how to restore it back to it’s original glory. Consider a complimentary discovery call, which you can get here:

  5. My mom, who turned 80 today is in 3 months is celebrating her 60th wedding anniversary, gave me the best advice on my wedding day, which is so similar to what you said. She said, “Every day, say some nice compliment to your spouse and you will have a wonderful marriage.” It took me about 3 years to get it, and with the enormous help of reading your book, I am finally coming to feel so blessed in my own marriage. It is so much easier to blame others, but it goes nowhere. Thanks, Laura. You are a life saver.

  6. I think the message in this article is really solid advice, but I have an issue with the title. I wish it was ‘Does My Husband Have Asperger’s or a Mental Illness?’ Asperger’s is not a mental illness.

    “Despite Asperger’s being listed in the APA’s Diagnostic manual it is not a mental illness, it cannot be caused by trauma or neglect and it cannot be cured with therapy or a change in lifestyle or attitude. Current research suggests it is not even the result of brain damage and is in fact, at least in part, genetic.”

    Thanks for considering a more accurate title.

    My best,
    Erin Johnson
    A mom of a wonderfully imperfect child with Autism,
    and another wonderfully imperfect child without Autism.

    • Erin, You’re absolutely right–I got it wrong! Thanks for pointing this out and keeping me honest. I guess ASD pops up so often on my client’s lists of reasons their marriage is struggling or hopeless I just lumped it in with mental illnesses, but that was a mistake.

  7. Thanks Laura, I will apply for the complimentary discovery call as I would like to save my marriage. Yes, I am dealing with the situation with dignity. My take on the whole expereince is to view as a huge learning experience, and if I am lonely or sad I ask myself what I need to learn or do to take charge of my own happiness. Your blog and books have really helped me understand what so many other ‘self-help’ books could not. The 6 intimacy tools really help me with actual practical things to implement, which I really needed.

  8. My husband was suffering from depression and I felt like our marriage was going nowhere. I felt like no matter what I did or how hard I tried, nothing was good enough. Once he went on medication, there was a huge difference. I felt like I got my husband back without changing anything about myself. Medicine can help and make a difference and I felt like you kind of discouraged that and people who really need help won’t get it because of what you said.

    • Chaya, I’m happy to hear about your husband’s success with medicine. It’s certainly the exception and not the rule with the thousands of women I hear from. In my experience, depression in husbands is typically a symptom of feeling disrespected and unsuccessful in their marriages. I hear your happiness and relief to have your husband back and I think that’s great.

  9. Chaya–I’m so glad things are better for you. For what it’s worth, my husband has some depression issues too, but I found that as long as I was angry, worn out and anxious, that gave him an excuse to think I was the only source of his feeling depressed. After I’ve practiced the 6 intimacy skills, it gave him the space and confidence to get some help on his own. Even after that, I’m still working on my side of things!

    Laura, could you write a post on the “in between” time which so many women here have posted about? The time after you start making changes, but your husband doesn’t yet trust you? I think many of us have become more thankful of our husbands, but that is met with hostility or being accused of being manipulating. Since I’ve stopped starting fights, but husband has and he gets really angry when I don’t engage. How do you deal with time before your husband trusts the changes? Do things sometimes get worse before they get better?

  10. What about when you are not controlling but your husband actually does have a mental illness and is possibly gaslighting you? Are you still just “focusing on the wrong thing”? Your advice sounds wonderful and helpful for the average person but it doesn’t seem to fit with actual illness. Instead it seems to be geared toward perceived disorders. Is that the case?


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