Contempt in NeuroDivergent Relationships
“You live out the confusions until they become clear.”
~ Anais Nin
The range of Contempt.
Cheryl has no contempt for her ASD spouse. Long ago she decided there was no hope for her NeuroDivergent relationship, but she has no desire to leave. Instead, she has affairs with men who are not terribly emotionally available either. They give her a sense that she is in charge of her life when her spouse makes her feel invisible. She tells me “she sort of loves him. . . like a family member.” Why does she stay? It’s convenient and the children have a home.
Martin adores his ASD wife. They met on a sunny Spanish beach, while on vacation. When they get away, just the two of them, he still enjoys the time with her. But back home he is tortured. She is busy with all of her special interests and expects Martin to busy himself too. They argue each night because Martin cannot accept that he is married to an ASD woman who wants no connection with him — unless she determines she has time for him. Why does he stay? Because he can’t concede there is no hope.
Starr is so angry with her ASD partner Mara, that she snaps on a daily basis. She is caustic to Mara, even when there is little provocation. Mara is a low key “Aspie” who is comfortable with her strong-willed partner Starr. But she offers little to the relationship. If Starr has a strong opinion about anything, Mara disappears from the room, frightened of the encounter. This makes Starr feel like “it’s not OK to be me.” Why does Starr stay? Because she can’t explain to others why she would leave a “nice” person.
All of these NeuroTypicals have a form of contempt for their NeuroDiverse loved ones. Perhaps you do too. Contempt emerges when you have tried everything you can think of to resolve the lack of connection with your NeuroDiverse loved one. However, it is tough to accept that you can’t figure it out, especially for those who are smart, articulate and “good with people.” Rather than accept and surrender to the mystery, some people develop animosity toward the person who makes them feel inadequate.
The guilt of contempt.
Magda feels guilty for behaving contemptuously with her ASD spouse. She reports that she has yelled and screamed at him. She has threatened divorce. She has withdrawn into passive aggressive silent treatment. And she feels terrible for choosing such immature behaviors. But at least she is asking for help from her therapist, a specialist in treating NeuroDivergent couples.
Magda’s therapist comforts her. “You aren’t alone with these feelings, Magda. Becoming frustrated, angry and even contemptuous is very human when confronted with an unsolvable problem.”
“It is made worse when we have NeuroDiverse partners who are frustrated, angry and contemptuous too.”
“Remember that you can’t solve a problem within the system that created the problem. If you are using an interactional approach, seeking a conversation, and a mutually agreeable solution (which is NeuroTypical)—- and your partner is using a transactional approach, seeking information/facts, to determine who is right or wrong (which is NeuroDiverse)— how do you get anywhere?”
“The first step is to forgive yourself for not understanding what was going on for so many years. How could you have known? Accept and forgive. Your anger is human. So is your ability to forgive.”
Guilt means you are taking responsibility for the outcome of the problem. While it is important to take a look at your part in creating a problem, blaming yourself doesn’t help. Instead take responsibility to seek other options. One of those options is to learn more about NeuroDivergence.
NeuroDivergence means that the systems of NeuroTypical and NeuroDiverse clash in significant ways. I discuss this more in my books and online course, “Asperger Syndrome” & Relationships.1 It is important to arm yourself with information if you are to resolve the contempt that has plagued your relationship.
No ordinary contempt.
If you just can’t stop blaming your partner, or your parents, or your therapist — you may not have ordinary contempt. Or if your partner, parent, or child can’t stop blaming you — you are not dealing with ordinary contempt. You may be confronting serious narcissistic dysfunction.
Rarely have I had to deal with a client or student or colleague who is stuck in narcissistic contempt. This is not the norm, and it probably doesn’t apply to you, but I bring it up so that even this level of distress can be recognized and helped.
Nan is a social worker in the Midwest. She has a level of contempt for her ASD spouse that is so extreme that she is filled with rancor toward her spouse and her therapist. She complains that her therapist doesn’t understand her pain and suffering. She complains that her therapist is not helping her fix her NeuroDiverse spouse. She complains that her spouse has contributed to her health problems and most everything that is wrong in her life.
While it may be true that her NeuroDivergent relationship is a major contributing factor to her problems, contempt and blame is not the solution. As painful as it is to face, it is important to accept the complications of a NeuroDivergent life and seek to rise above the conflicts. Take the high road. Forgive each other. Focus on what you can do with your life, not who’s to blame.
When someone blames incessantly and will not take a step back to evaluate their own part in the problem, then this may be a situation where either the NeuroTypical or the NeuroDiverse person are a Narcissist. In this case, you can’t move forward with a solution until the abuse stops. Remove yourself from the abusive person.
I tried to run away.
I love this quote by Anais Nin: “You live out the confusions until they become clear.” I wish I had understood this sooner. I kept trying to run away from the people and things who traumatized me. That’s what contempt is. It is an unwillingness to face your fears, your uncertainties, the mysteries that surround your life.
Once you accept that contempt just means you don’t know something — that you don’t have the answer — that you are lost and confused — then you can begin to resolve the problem. You may not have the answers right away, but at the very least you know you are just experiencing the human condition. You are not alone.
The solution to your contempt is to forgive yourself the confusion. Stop blaming yourself or the other person. Seek the guidance of a wise therapist who is well trained in treating NeuroDivergent couples. Lean into the problem with the supreme confidence that you have what it takes to clarify a new way of being.
No doubt this new way of being will not look anything like your idealized version of the relationship you thought you would have. On the other hand, you might discover the incredible power of forgiveness and self-love. Self-love goes a long way toward strengthening your relationships.