It’s not your typical marriage. But it can work
Hashem made all kinds of people, both neurotypical (“regular”) and neurodivergent (“different”). Many of us have neurodivergent children: lovable, pure souls with a variety of challenges. Some may have ADHD. Some may be “on the spectrum.” Some may have severe anxiety and some of those might have OCD; some might have sensory issues and some, difficulties with mood or emotional regulation. Whatever challenges they have, they need and deserve a life filled with love.
Married to Neurodivergent
“How should I have been able to identify my husband’s symptoms when we were dating? No one said anything about Levi’s problems. Of course, that’s because the kind of problems he has would probably only be seen by his family. I’m sure his teachers knew nothing about his picky eating habits or his aversion to showers. I’m sure his friends wouldn’t have noticed how forgetful he can be.
“And in the few weeks we dated, he showed his best side, of course. So I only found out the truth about my husband after we married — and it didn’t take long.”
What did Shoshana discover? She learned that Levi was disorganized, messy, and forgetful. “I was pregnant and exhausted and I got angry with him a lot in those early months. Couldn’t he just wash his own dish properly?” The first few years of family life were hectic. Shoshana managed to make a Jewish home, work full-time, and see to it that her family was well cared for. She learned the hard way that asking Levi to do car pool, pick up items from the grocery, or watch a soup to make sure it didn’t boil over, was futile. “When he neglected to pay a bill, I thought Levi was just being lazy. I’d get so upset with him over these things, and we had lots of fights.”
“Even though I complained a lot, I knew that Levi had a heart of gold and I figured he wasn’t doing any of this stuff intentionally. In fact, I could see that he was just as disappointed and frustrated as I was.
“Also, there were lots of things Levi did do right. He’s the father of my three gorgeous children, and they love him as much as he loves them. I know how much he loves me too, even if he sometimes gets upset with me for criticizing or complaining. Levi is my husband, and although it’s not what I thought it would be, this is my marriage. It’s just different.”
Unfortunately, the unusual nature of the relationship wasn’t taken into account by those the couple turned to for help. “They didn’t seem to understand. They gave me advice that probably would have been fine for a normal couple but definitely not for us. One marriage counselor told Levi that he had to share more of the housework and when I explained that this wouldn’t work because Levi just couldn’t do it, she said that my negativity was the real problem here!
“A mentor we consulted wanted to build up Levi’s confidence. Levi wanted to be in charge of our finances, and the mentor advised me to take a step back to allow Levi to ‘take the lead.’ But what the mentor didn’t understand was that Levi was absolutely incapable of taking care of our money. That was terrible advice for us that led not only to a significant financial loss but also to some of the worst conflict we ever experienced.
“Fortunately I eventually found someone knowledgeable about neurodiversity to help guide us — and that’s when things finally turned around for us. With assessment, treatment, and specialized marital counseling, Levi and I were finally able to work together to create a life that employs our individual strengths to create a healthy, loving, and functional home.”
The Right Tools
Marriages in which one or both parties are neurodivergent, or have a mental health diagnosis, or in which there’s a spouse who is dealing with addiction, trauma, or illness, will require specialized support. It’s important for couples to understand this, and it’s equally important that those who help couples understand this too, and strive to acquire as much knowledge as possible.
A one-size-fits-all approach to marriage counseling will not only be unhelpful for many couples — it may be downright harmful. Since couples will often not be able to determine that they need specialized help, they can save themselves time, money, and pain, by seeking their initial assessment and direction from highly trained professionals. All kinds of people can be happily married — when they acquire the uniquely appropriate tools that they need.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 769)
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