Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lack of Empathy/Empathic Response

There are many strengths an aspie can bring to a marriage. And, honestly, more often than not all is well with us! But when illness strikes and say, for example, my spouse comes home to find me coughing, congested, and moving slowly due to aches and pains, I expect an empathic response. My toddler hears me cough and says "You okay, Mommy? You okay?" But my aspie spouse may not even think to ask "How are you feeling?" once throughout my illness.

This can be extremely depressing and upsetting. I try to remember that it just doesn't come naturally for an aspie to have the typical empathic response. But when I am sick or weak and am not offered any help or emotional support I tend to be filled with grief, anger and self-pity at how lonely and uncared for I feel.

I don't know how to properly react during such times. I sometimes say "It hurts my feelings that you haven't asked how I'm feeling." He then feels guilty and/or criticized. I wonder if I should continue to do this. Will it one day 'stick' that a simple "how are you" could actually make me feel better?

Recently I heard a sermon on loving your enemies. The pastor said that sometimes our enemies are in our own families. (That seems a strong word to apply to a spouse, but sometimes lack of empathy, no matter what the cause, can honestly make you feel as if you are with an enemy rather than a friend!) The pastor said we are not to curse and be angry with our enemies but are rather to love and bless them. Interestingly enough, this was followed up with the pastor saying "The Bible requires empathic response. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad." I almost fell out of the seat. :o) I can't change my spouse, but there is One who can and I need to pray about this!

But what am I to do during the hard times? As a Christian I know I must turn to the Lord to meet the needs that my spouse can never meet. Christ is the perfect friend, spouse, and comforter. He knows my pain and can heal it.

This "Hymn of a Hurting Heart" helps me to keep the right perspective.

I need Thee, How I need Thee.

Help me love and bless my aspies.

When no empathy is shown me

You will meet my every need.


  1. I'm sorry that you're having a difficult time. Aspies however need to have things spelt out. Please don't expect your husband to automatically notice your mood - it's possible but there are easier ways.

    Instead of waiting for him to notice, you'd be better off to talk directly to him. Say, "I'm feeling depressed today". Be direct and ask for empathy. "I need some empathy here". Give him ideas on what you'd like him to say and do.

    If you do this every time, he'll learn that when you say "I'm feeling sad", he needs to show empathy. He might never be confident enough to read your feelings but at least he'll be able to react to a "mood statement".

    Also, John Gray's "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", would be good reading for him (and you) at this point. I learned a lot from this book because it taught me how to show empathy.

  2. Thanks for this good advice, Gavin! Another aspies sometimes react negatively when someone is overly happy, too? Like, if I hear something I'm really excited about and he just rationally shoots down the idea without "being happy that I'm happy".....

  3. I'm new to this aspergers thing. My husband was diagnosed only months ago. I'm happy to find your blog. I'm trying to meet other people with a similar family life.

  4. Gavin's advice is good. It's always better to be positive, in the sense of asking for what you want instead of commenting on what you don't like. Saying how you want things to look contains more information than pointing out what makes you unhappy.

    Sometimes I will react negatively if somebody is 'too happy.' It's not that I don't like them to be happy, but that they can be noisy and startling or seem unpredictable.