Is Your Sexless Marriage Really Hopeless? Maybe Not. Please Read My Story!

The question of hopelessness in a sexless marriage really depends ultimately on what the root problem is. After several years of being on this post, I have come to realize that there must be a thousand different reasons why a spouse will refuse intimacy, so if a solution is truly desired, action toward the solution must be custom-fitted to the problem.

Discovery of the problem, however, is often extremely difficult, since one partner might play cat-and-mouse with their feelings, as we have seen from many of you in this group. The refuser may not even know what his or her problem really is, so trying to drag it out of them will not work.

While this may be age-old advice, it still may also be the best - get the right kind of counseling. By right kind I mean a professional counselor who is equipped to deal with both parties involved. Even if you have to go to counseling alone, keep trying. If one doesn't seem to offer helpful advice, or does not seem to "get" your situation, try someone else. This is what I did, and after a dozen years of being in an sexless marriage, I finally had a breakthrough.

My refuser is a highly successful professional woman, extremely intelligent, divorced, with several children and a list of accomplishments that would make a Fortune 500 entrepreneur sit up and take notice. On top of that, she is beautiful, sometimes flirty, funny, and vivacious. We share common morals, values and interests, and she is my intellectual equal. She is without a doubt my best and closest friend. The problem is, she had no interest in sexual contact whatsoever, not even holding hands.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, while being treated for some anger and depression issues, that her doctor suspected that he might be dealing with a woman with an extremely high-functioning form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. Her high intelligence gave her the ability to develop many complex coping mechanisms, which allowed her to appear to be normal in a world that was actually completely foreign to her.

When my refuser told me about this possibility during one of our year-long separations, I did a fast study in the subject of this unusual form of autism. I learned that while the vast majority of Asperger’s people are male and are diagnosed fairly early in life, there are a few rare women who are affected by this neurological disorder and go relatively undetected for many years. Some Asperger’s women, especially the ones who are extremely intelligent and high-functioning, even marry and have children, although they are essentially neutral (asexual) in their sexual orientation. For the very few who ever marry, they are usually divorced within a few months to a few years.

I also learned that Asperger’s, being a neurological disorder in which the brain is simply wired that way from birth, does not respond to any kind of counseling, therapy, or drug treatments. People with Asperger’s are simply that way for life.

It was only a few weeks later that my wife's doctor’s suspicions were verified through extensive testing at a highly-respected university medical center specializing in autism spectrum disorders. The experts there classified her as a “textbook case” of Asperger’s Syndrome, worthy of further study. My wife was even compared to Temple Grandin, the most well known autistic person living today. Ms Grandin has been the subject of many books and autism studies, and a film on her life won many Grammy awards a couple of years ago. I was told that my wife is so much like Temple (although Temple never married) that they could have been clones of each other. I was told that my wife was literally one in a million.

In my situation, I now felt that I had only two options. I could either continue to put up with the pain of living in a sexless marriage, or I could justify filing for divorce due to her previously unrevealed sexual orientation. However, after a great deal of soul-searching, I realized that there might be a third option – actually doing something about her disorder by us leveraging off of her high intelligence and extensive, well-developed coping mechanisms.

My attempts to treat my wife as a “normal” person would often backfire, with her becoming angry and even showing outbursts of physical violence called “meltdowns.” It took us a long time before we were able to find counselors who actually understood how to deal with marriages between an Asperger’s and a neurologically normal ("neuro-typical" or NT) person. There are very few out there, but now that we knew what we were up against and what type of counselors we needed to find, we were able to locate one.

It would be a misrepresentation to say that our journey these past two years has been easy, because it has been anything but that. However, even after being told that there was little chance for a marriage like ours to survive, we have had some surprising and unexpected successes. Our challenges are unusual, but the small victories we have gained in getting closer together have been worth the hard work. Our marriage is still a work in progress, but then, isn’t every marriage?

Knowledge gives us the power to make good, informed decisions. It is my hope that everyone in this ILIASM group will look into the possibility that your refuser might be dealing with some form of autism. If you even suspect it, run, don’t walk, to a qualified counselor, psychiatrist, or clinic that deals with Autism Spectrum Disorders in adults and find out. Please let me know of your journey, your setbacks, your findings, and your successes. My best wishes will be with you all as you go through this.
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61-65, M
17 Responses Jan 20, 2012

Now that aspect I had not thought about,because my lady is exactly like that......intellectually we are fine,well,I do tend to trail behind on literature as she reads two or three books a week!
It may be difficult to get her to test her abilities this way but our years of sex seemed to be just for the children....then it stopped suddenly!
You could be so right.....but it could be me that is hghly sexed in the same way...a sexual intellectual so to speak!!!

I have wondered this about my wife many times. I know that even she was looking it up. It's certainly in her family.

@maryryan, thanks so much for your comments. I agree mostly, as my experience with Aspies (not just married to one but have a grandson, step-son, and two sons-ion-law who are all clinically diagnosed Asperger's) tells me that high intelligence enables many Aspies to function well professionally but not so well in intimate relationships, especially marriage and child raising. Many of the comments so far point out that a lot of Aspies are capable of learning new ways of doing things (behavior modification) even if their feelings don't always follow the behavior. They can even be taught to read non-verbal cues - which just don't come naturally to Aspies. <br />
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My wife is actually very good at reading certain types of non-verbal cues because she has trained herself over many years (she is now 60) to recognize them and what they mean. She literally “programs” herself, as ChangeWillDoYouGood said above. Don't get me wrong – my wife is still not very good at reading most body language, facial ex<x>pressions, inflections, and tone of voice, but she is making progress. As for asexuality, that is common among Aspies, but it is not absolute. Some may actually be overly-sexual, depending on the setting. My wife has shown sexual responses to certain stimuli and has had children (just not by me), but backs away from most men because she finds their physical presence threatening, even if they are making loving advances toward her. This has been my experience since our marriage a dozen years ago. <br />
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However, one of the tricks our counselor taught me was to simply ask for permission to touch her and even to have sexual intimacy. Getting her permission is giving her a choice to make physical contact and puts her in control of the process. This is important because Aspie behavior is all about control of one's surroundings. Asking permission doesn't often work, but it has worked often enough to indicate to me that behavior modification, even in the sexual area, is definitely possible with Aspies. <br />
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My wife still does not understand what the big deal is about romance, but she is at least now able to intellectually appreciate its importance in relationships. She just doesn't get much out of it herself, at least not yet. <br />
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I'll get into my experiences with the topics of living with an Aspie spouse in the areas of love, affection, empathy and attachment later, but I have to get back to my day job right now. Thanks for all your posts so far, everyone! They are all very helpful to me, and even the negative ones help me to understanding where others are on this topic). Hopefully this discussion thread will result in some meaningful changes in the lives of others living in AS/NT marriages. We actually are all “special” in that we and our situations are not exactly alike, so we need to look at, and try, different ways to respond to our refusers.

My son and brother deal with Aspergers. My sister-in-law is recently seeing my brother slide further away from her. She is as well equipped as she can be to deal with this, since she's a trained mental health professional. I fear that my son may slip someday. He's improved so much in the last 18 months. He's blossomed socially as he has been in his first ever romantic relationship (he's 24).

I unwittingly married an Aspie. I researched and designed a detox and dietary protocol that helped keep him stable. But he is what he is. Lives in the now, no sense of consequence etc etc etc. He was my best friend. I miss that. But do not miss all the other behaviors. We lasted 14 years. I think primarily because I am a Myers Briggs INTJ. <br />
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InterestIngly, Aspies generally are beautiful to look at. Mine was incredibly handsome and erudite. I loved that. He was expressive and fed my soul in ways that I know I am unlikely to find again. <br />
But the calm of not being with him outweighs all the positives of being with him.

I can attest to the beauty part. My Aspie wife has always been a real "looker," has a great figure, and wears just about any clothes well. She dated a lot between her first marriage and ours, but the dates never went anywhere once they discovered her "odd" ways of looking at things. Apparently I saw a diamond in the rough in this lady and, even though I had never heard the word Aspergers or even understood that she might be autistic, we got married. Yes, it was rough for a dozen years or so, but after her diagnosis things got better. I love it when even younger men give her "the look" when we are out together, and she is over sixty!

I am sorry for your loss, however. Some AS/NT relationships are simply too intense or dysfunctional for the NT to handle them and many will part, even regretably. I am an ENFP, so maybe that helped in our situation.

CWDYG, I am fascinated by your post and it resonates with me so much! The Aspies I've worked with (across the spectrum in all areas - ages, severity, etc) have always found it hard to get those social cues. I've mentioned previously that, in class, I'd tell the kids:<br />
"Time for lunch!" and they'd all rush to pack up their desks and get out as fast as they could. And then I'd say to the boy with Aspergers:<br />
"You can go to lunch now too." Because he could NOT recognise that the general remark included him. I soon learnt what you are saying - program EACH and EVERY response. Preferably in advance so the person isn't mortified or hurt by their own failures to recognise and react to social cues.<br />
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The same thing happens in people with some mental illnesses. My mother has dementia for example. If I say to her on the phone:<br />
"Well, Mum, I won't keep you any longer", she no longer recognises this as a polite way to extract yourself from the phone conversation. Nowadays I have to say:<br />
"I'm going to hang up now Mum."<br />
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The thing is, once you KNOW that you have to do this, it is relatively easy and makes sense - from both points of view. But when people DON'T get it (like those girls at the College) it is utterly confusing and seems totally bizarre!

I never would have thought of that in a sexless marriage, but you're right.<br />
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Behavioral changes for Aspies are definitely possible, but the earlier the intervention the better the results at least in my experience. I have an Aspie young adult son. I work with him regularly on "writing programs" (his words) to understand and respond to social situations.<br />
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Perfect example: One day I found him ripping up papers over a garbage can muttering to himself. He was lost in his own world but clearly angry which is unusual for him. I asked him what was going on and he started shouting "I just don't know." He went on to tell me that he had met some new friends on his college campus. They had spent lunch together a few times and then at the library. One day his last class was cancelled so they spent time together. A lot of time. Towards the end of the meetup these friends (female) called campus security and said he was stalking them. He was escorted off campus and his information was taken down in a nuisance report. Come to find out, these particular girls had said several times to him "Ok, so we are going to go to (this place) or (that place). We'll see you later." To which my 18-year old Aspie said "That's ok I will go with you." This happened at least three times before the girls called campus police. <br />
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What he was tearing up over the garbage can were the papers they had given him with their email addresses on it. This kid has not a single malicious bone in his body. He genuinely did not know he was breaking a social rule and that "We're going to go to X place. See you later." is a nice way to say goodbye to someone. Now he does because he wrote a program for it. <br />
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But he can't generalize that social cue to other similar situations or similar ways to say goodbye nicely to someone. Each one has to be written as a separate program. It takes a LOT of intervention from me and his twin sister to help him sort through and catalog appropriate responses, but he has made a lot of progress. That means he has to go through each thing, recognize that he missed something, come talk to someone about it and get help interpreting it in his way every single time to learn how to maneuver it. For him it is a ton of work. For us it is a lot of work too but worth it because it works. I don't know if counseling could help him though because this has to be in the moment stuff as it happens for it to work.<br />
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But you know what??? He does it. We talk for at least an hour every day and he gets what he needs that way. Also, there are things about him I wish I had more of. He doesn't get his feelings hurt easily and unlike his twin very dramatic sister he is no fuss, no muss. While he will talk to you for hours if you let him about his specific passions, he will not take offense if you cut him off and tell him "I have to go now. let's pick this up later." He prefers you to be abrupt about it actually. While his sister prefers to be handled with kid gloves.<br />
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I honestly have worried about his ability to maintain a romantic relationship long term. I was worried more about intimacy and that the person he ends up with is going to have to be patient and a bit mothering to be able to keep teaching him new social skills. I never considered the possibility of a SM for him. He will have trouble with intimacy naturally, more than likely. Something for me to think about...

I've worked with a lot of Aspies over the years - and they do occur on all points of the spectrum. In your case it would seem that your wife went undiagnosed for a long time - probably because (a) she is female (b) she is highly intelligent and (c) she is in an age bracket where Aspergers was not a known quantity in terms of diagnosis.<br />
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What I find interesting about your post is that counselling is effective. You state that you see a counsellor who is Apergers aware - but even so, I find it difficult to see how the counselling model would be effective with an Aspie. Their "wiring" is just contra-indicated to any type of therapy because they just don't "get" social relationships and most are seriously empathy deficient. . . This makes them (as you said earlier in your post) therapy averse and non-responsive.<br />
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Can you give some information about the techniques and insights used by the counsellor to "reach" your wife - or perhaps I should say, to bridge the gap?<br />
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And has your increased understanding lead to any improvements specifically in your intimacy and / or your sex life? I think this is the point that the (rather harsh!) comments above are trying to say . . . It is helpful to obtain insight into the reasons for the lack of intimacy and sexlessness, but unless those insights can and do lead to significant behavioural change, you really are still at the starting gate with everyone else . . . . I'm sorry if this seems pessimistic, but it is true nevertheless.<br />
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Hopefully you can tell us that the changes HAVE engendered behavioural changes for the better. I hope so for both your sakes.

Whoa! Who's passing out the nasty pills tonight????<br />
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Some of you missed the clinical issues here and totally misread the OP's point, IMO.<br />
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1). He never said that his wife and Temple Grandin were "normal". In fact, he says his wife is so abnormal, she is one in a million.<br />
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2). Temple Grandin is able to excel in the world professionally...also see Penelope Trunk and John Robison as other Aspies with significant career success. He is saying his wife's professional accomplishments are also freakishly it was curious that she couldn't navigate a profesisonal life. <br />
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3). Many adults with hidden disabilities suffer deeply from people misunderstanding their capabilities. Would you ask a blind person to drive a car? No? Then don't ask most Aspies to read non verbal cues. They. Can't. Do. It.<br />
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4). Asperger's doesn't mean asexual, Rose is right. But Aspies who are unable to read people and intuit from the interaction will end up with spouses who feel rejected. They are often completely oblivious to their NT partner's need for romance. The Aspie and the NT are wired completely differently.

hmmm.....I'm with Maryryan on this one...interesting...<br />
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Thanks for sharing that.

So she's a highly intelligent refuser....good luck to you

OK. Your missus in intimacy averse because of "autism".<br />
Her "why" is autism. No doubt, close the book, that is the definitive reason.<br />
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So now, YOU start equal with everyone else in here. Their "whys" may be different than your missus' but whatever the "why" might be, "intimacy aversion" is the outcome.<br />
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At this common starting point, your missus ain't special. Nor are you. Nor am I. Welcome.<br />
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Tread your own path.

Absolutely no one whose ever met Temple Grandin would mistake her for "normal". Either you're an idiot, this is bullshit, or there's more than one highly impaired person here. <br />
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Princess DoesntBuyIt

@princess, you must have missed something. Please see maryryan above. She summarizes it very well. Oh, and btw, I have met and talked with Temple (and her mother Eustacia) on several occasions and so has my wife, so I have had a chance to compare my wife's and Temple's communications skills and intelligence directly in person.

I wish you well in you ongoing situation...and may things work out in your favor...and perhaps there are members here who can see similarities to your story, and perhaps they will investigate that possibility..

Aspergers does not equate to asexuality. It is just as likely to show in overly needy sexual behavior as in sexual disinterest. That is a broad statement, and while your wife may manifest on the asexual end, it in no way encompasses the full range of sexuality experienced by those with Aspergers. <br />
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Good luck with your marriage. Sexless marriages, regardless of cause, are highly stressful and challenging situations.

I think the interesting aspect of your story is not the specifics about your wife and the autism but rather you found a key to a situation that in most instances would lie undiscovered. I think that may be the issue in many of the experiences of posters here. You were fortunate that in the circumstances a criticality was reached and a bit of good fortune was involved. Not everyone gets that good fortune but sometimes they just lack the means, the resources to find that key. Which if true makes it all the more tragic. However, it is also possible to be philosophical, phlegmatic about it and say sometimes some resolvable problems remain unresolved and that it is just easier and more predictable to move around the problem rather than try to solve it.

Fascinating...and quite likely the issue in some marriages. We do have some aspie members here and some that have come and gone. I think people who have spouses who behave in a way that mirrors Asperger's (won't outline here, you can google it) should consider this. And regardless of whether your spouse is willing/able to get a confirmed diagnosis, you could likely use the behavioral/cognitive strategies to manage the relationship.<br />
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Thank you for your intelligent and insightful post. Great contribution. <br />
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And congratulations on finding another way....