Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Roses and Cacti: An NT/Asperger Relationship

"Roses and Cacti @ Copyright 2000 Marguerite Long"

The author grants permission to copy this document provided it is for non-commercial purposes, is complete, unaltered and retains this copyright message.

I see people with Asperger's Syndrome (aspies) as cacti, which are soft and vulnerable inside - but very soon in life they develop very cruel prickles to protect themselves from painful contacts with neurotypicals (NTs). Aspies belong in the desert. They are happy there. Occasionally they bloom - and it is so wonderful they light up the whole desert - but it is short-lived. Being natives of the desert they have the ability to withstand long periods of drought. When water is available they absorb it quickly and store it in their fleshy stems for times of need.

Cacti have a right to be cacti, and to live in the desert, and to have prickles.

I see neurotypicals as roses. The roots of roses must not be allowed to dry out. They need to be in a rose garden where they can constantly connect with other roses and be watered, fed and mulched. They need to be protected from the fierce heat of the desert and from shredding desert sandstorms. Most roses do not survive in the desert. The ones that do mostly become stunted, lose their flowers, develop larger ugly thorns, move into denial and often need medication. Medicated roses no longer see the harshness of the desert.

When the rose begins to wilt and tries to explain to the cactus that it needs rose food, the cactus will look out from the comfort of its stored reserves and ignore the rose. This is a form of passive aggression. As the roses's needs become desperate and the rose becomes increasingly demanding, the cactus can escalate to mental and emotional abuse in his lack of understanding of the rose's needs. The cactus does not mind if others are present - adding public humiliation to his abuse of the rose. When the pain of deprivation takes the rose beyond the boundaries of caution and reason, the cactus may escalate to door-slamming and physical abuse. The abused, starving rose retreats and grows a little more stunted and ugly.

Aspies do not understand that roses need rose food (emotional connection, tender loving care, appreciation, communication, time out for chatting complete with an emotional component, understanding, romance, etc.) Cactus food cannot nourish, or even sustain, a rose.

Aspies can only provide cactus food. When the rose begins to wilt and tries to explain that it needs rose food, the cactus will not understand and may call the rose "selfish" and "ungrateful". In the desert, with a prickly cactus, is a scary place for a rose to be. The rose will be deprived of intimate emotional connection, communication and love. Home-making will become a nightmare, because the cactus in his desert environment has no need for all the finishing touches that a rose would consider essential in her rose garden.

If a rose tries to bloom in the desert, the petals will be shredded by the merciless onslaught of the most ferocious desert sandstorms. In the process of desperately trying to provide myself with some mulch, water and food, I have mapped out a basic survival plan for a rose living in the desert with a cactus.

Survival plan for roses
1. Encouragement

When I have any sort of a petal on my rose at all that has not been shredded in a recent sandstorm, I try to apply myself to encouraging and acknowledging the strengths in my aspie cactus.

The soft, vulnerable part of the aspie is very receptive to praise and compliments and appreciation (like we all are, but I have found them to be more so). He has many good points. The problem is that the cruel sandstorms and the empty spareness of the desert have so stunted and shredded the rose that is me, that mostly I cannot even enjoy the good points. Nevertheless, I have found that encouragement and appreciation cause him to bloom in a very special way.

2. Quick forgiveness
There will be no remorse or apologies on the part of the cactus, because it only sees that it has been unfairly attacked and that the rose is ungrateful and too demanding. Eventually the rose has to find a way to forgive and keep going. This is survival because bitterness only hurts the rose and the cactus won't notice whether the rose is bitter or not.

3. A whole-body exerciser
Some means of exhausting the physical body is pretty much an essential first-aid emergency treatment for the larger, cruel, shredding, searing desert sandstorms. The clue is to stay with the exercise until the tears come. This is exhausting but healing and needs to be followed by step four.

4. A good book and a video
Roses need these as a first-aid measure to take the mind and emotions out of the desert and back into some sort of rose-garden environment.

5. Good friends.
Understanding friends are the remedy for the loneliness and the isolation of the desert. The problem is, to have a good friend you have to be a good friend. That is a very difficult thing to do for a stunted, shredded rose who is unwell through humiliation and lack of rose food. Internet support groups like FAAAS can be life preserving and a privilege at times like this.

6. Telephone counseling services that run 24 hours a day.
These are valuable for the desperate loneliness that hits around midnight and after. Just to hear another voice that is caring, accepting and non-judgmental does wonders.

7. Rose food

Roses have to supply their own. This is difficult when the cactus controls the budget and sees rose food as wasteful and extravagant. Gardening, reading, writing, painting, knitting, crocheting and loving chats with neighbours can often be invisibly worked into a desert budget.

8. Sleep
A cactus can be asleep within minutes of a desert sandstorm. A rose, however, will be hurting and desperate and may need to work through points three and four above.

9. Summary
The cactus is in the desert and easily survives the sandstorms. The rose cannot survive the shredding without lots of insight and protective measures on hand. Even then it is tough going!

Regarding marriage
Cacti have areas of brilliance that become their obsessions. Common obsessions are computers, technology, engineering and religion. Sometimes a male aspie will turn his obsessive interests towards a female neurotypical.

A cactus in full bloom is magnificent and very difficult for a rose to resist. At this early stage of the relationship the rose has not experienced, or been shredded by, the desert sandstorms - and has not been stunted by the emptiness and lack of nurture and food. The early cactus bloom stage may last some time (particularly if there are no children and the rose is financially independent).

However, the rose is now in the desert - and the desert does not sustain it. The wilt is inevitable. I am sorry to have to say it.

Many of the neurotypical women most likely to end up married to aspies had aspie fathers so the awful feelings of abuse and loneliness seem normal to them and almost comfortable because these feelings are so familiar.

Invisible wheelchairs
To a neurotypical, an aspie may seem emotionally disabled. Many people marry severely disabled people (such as quadriplegics) and with a lot of support and help manage to live reasonable lives. The difference here is that the quadriplegic knows he has the disability. Aspies mostly do not recognize their disability and mostly they judge the emotional interactions of neurotypical people as weakness and lack of self-discipline. Also, as you push around the quadriplegic's wheelchair people generally will make way for you, support you, even probably smile and affirm that you are doing a good job.

When a rose marries a cactus, the rose may come to feel that she is pushing an invisible wheelchair -on her own- without support and without help. People cannot "see" an invisible wheelchair, so the rose often may feel uncomfortable, even humiliated, when out in public with the cactus. In addition to this there may be a strong chance that offspring from this marriage could also be cacti. From the rose's perception - this amounts to more invisible wheelchairs.

Raising baby cacti
It is my opinion that young aspie cacti need people of insight to go in to bat for them. They need a kindly advocate. They are soft and vulnerable and do not yet have their protective prickles established.

I believe that whenever possible the young aspie's obsessions or "special interests" (and they may change as they get older) need to be nurtured and supported. These special interests are often computing, engineering, mathematics and science.

If the young aspie can be led into earning a living from his area of "special interest", I believe he will be content and functional in his world as an adult.

It is my belief however, from observation and experience, that this state of contentment and stability will be completely destroyed if he chooses to marry a neurotypical.

I believe the different brain patterns in people with Asperger's Syndrome do not allow for functional social interaction except on a very surface, factual level. I believe the aspie can be trained to say the right things at the right time, but have found that does not supply the emotional connection that is necessary for intimate relationships with neurotypicals.

Baby roses in the desert
Perhaps two cacti may exist happily together in the desert. However, think of the consequences of two cacti producing a baby rose. The baby rose, without any intention or effort from the cacti, would be subject to emotional deprivation and would be shredded in the desert. It is likely it would grow up stunted, without flowers and with very large thorns. Then it would look more like a cactus than a rose and would not fit into, or be accepted by, the rose garden.

Ultimately, the stunted, cactus-like rose would probably attract to itself another cactus rather than a rose. Unwittingly, then the rose would place itself in a marriage where all the pain, and more, of the rose's childhood would be revisited.

I wonder how many roses that are married to a cactus were in fact brought up by at least one cactus parent?

Roses and Cacti @ Copyright 2000 Marguerite Long

This revised edition of Roses and Cacti @ Copyright 2003

Marguerite Long, Email author marguerite@rosesandcacti.com

The author grants permission to copy this document provided it is for non-commercial purposes, is complete, unaltered and retains this copyright message.


  1. To put it bluntly, this is a truly horrendous piece of writing (I understand that it isn't yours).

    It simply presents one embittered partner's biased view of a relationship with someone who seems to be more sociopath than aspie without any consideration for the feelings of the aspie or any concept of individuality.

    All aspies are individuals. They are not all sociopaths.

    Even the terminology (Cactus and Rose) is, for want of a better word, "Evil". Why can't the aspie be the rose? I can think of plenty of people with aspergers who are perfectly suited to be roses, just as I can think of many neurotypical people who are as abrasive and non-inclusive as cactai.

    I can understand that when you're feeling down, something like this might make you feel better but the reality is; Aspergers cannot and must not EVER be used as an excuse for poor behaviour.

    Aspies are capable of learning and they can be good partners with the right teachers.

    Sociopaths on the other hand cannot. Be very careful not to get the two confused as sometimes they can look very similar - and can be misdiagnosed.

  2. Gavin,
    I'm glad you shared your perspective on this piece of writing. Honestly, your perspective and your blog help me understand so many things about AS better than some of the books out there do.

    It is very depressing to read this. But at the same time, it explains so clearly what it feels like to be the NT in a relationship with an abrasive Aspie, especially one who is abrasive, but WILL NOT admit that he is abrasive. It lets the NT in that kind of relationship know she has not "lost her mind"...her pain is real and is not even all that uncommon. And there are things she can do to feel better when she is hurt (however unintentionally).

    I wish I had the keys to help my aspie learn to be a good partner. I don't know how, what, where to start..... When they won't admit there is anything amiss and they believe that their partner's unhappiness has nothing whatsoever to do with them...what can be done?

  3. I see your point and as a regular reader of this blog I know exactly where you're coming from. I follow your struggles and I'm always asking myself - why can't this situation be rectified?

    I did consider that your husband might not know about (or read) the blog but that's probably quite unlikely.

    I guess the issue is that regardless of one's diagnosis, everyone is an individual. Some individuals react to problems in a positive way while others bury their heads in the sand.

    I don't quite know why but it seems that when an aspie buries the problem they can cause a lot more harm than when an NT buries one. Perhaps because when we ignore things, we ignore them too well.

    A failure to even accept that the problem exists is something that isn't going to go away. Nobody should have to live like that.

    The question that you might be asking yourself is; "If it's obvious that the problem is never going to be recognised, let alone solved, why are you still in a relationship which opresses you as a person". Surely it's in your own interest to cut ties and recover your self esteem before it's irreversibly crushed?

    BTW: I apologise if this comment is way too direct and public (feel free to just delete it) - No harm was intended. After all, it's not like I have any insight into you as a person, it's just a question that I think I'd be asking myself in the same situation - despite my strong feelings against the "D" word.

  4. Gavin, I responded to your above comment with a post on my belief about divorce. For me, that is a very serious spiritual issue.

    I am God-fearing. I believe that the Bible teaches the goal of the Christian's life is holiness, not personal happiness. At the same time, there is joy beyond comprehension that comes in our obedience to the One who made us and cares for us.

    I am also a human, and an emotional woman at that. So the struggles are real. It's very hard to live the Christian life, whether aspergers is in the mix or not. AS is a particular struggle in my journey. I blog in hopes that other Christian women (those who know exactly what I am going through) will find comfort in knowing they are not alone in the struggle. And of course hope that something I share will help them in some way, too.

    I very much appreciate your comments and insight.

  5. My aspie spouse knows I blog and has absolutely no interest in reading my blogs. But is that really surprising? Do aspies generally care to find out what their spouses think, feel, believe, or blog about? Or maybe they do care, but don't think about putting forth the effort to find out....

  6. My Aspie husband was diagnosed about 2 months ago. After 30 years of marriage, this has rocked my world. I keep telling myself that "nothing has changed" and yet everything has changed. It is a roller coaster ride of frustration, impatience, pity and compassion for him when I realize what his world must have been like for all of his life and despair over what the future may hold since he will never "get better". But I love him and am commited to him no matter what---how can I be otherwise when I know that is how he feels about me? I have no doubt that he loves me in his own aspie way and with God's grace we will get through this and hopefully come out loving one another more. Thank you for writing, it has been very therpeutic for me to know that I am not alone--it sure can feel that way when you are an NT married to an AS.

  7. Wow! 30 years...that's wonderful! Do you have a blog? I would so love to find out how you've managed the day-to-day issues over the years. Thank you for commenting.

  8. I found this post after doing a Google search to help me understand the NT mindset better. I found this very discouraging and depressing. My wife and I had a fight this morning and I am dumbfounded by how much I apparently offended her while all time I was actually trying to help her. I thought I was doing everything right but I just kept making things worse.

    Anyways, I am glad that the comments shed some more light on the post. I am glad that not everyone feels this way about aspies. I love my wife and I am committed to living the rest of my life with her. I found out about my Aspergers a few years ago and she has been through many trials with me as I have failed over and over again trying to meet her needs. There just is not very much material out there for the adult Asperger married to an NT and how to survive. We have been walking blind for years now and I am scared that she has finally reached her end with me.

    I did identify with the post about many things that I have heard her say about living with me. It is depressing to think that my heart has always been all about trying to meet her needs and yet I keep failing at accomplishing this. I often fear that I am just not ever going to be what she needs. We are both conservative Christians and we have, so far, been committed to never contemplating divorce. I just need to learn how to reach her and understand her. She is tired after all these years (married 16). I want to be her knight for once, instead of her always having to be the glue. She deserves the rest. I need to get plugged in somehow to someplace that can translate for me. I need to learn how to speak NT.

    Sorry, didn't mean to vent on your post. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in hopes of finding some insight.

    Nice to meet you.

  9. Shardoin,

    You shared exactly what I needed to hear today. I need to hear that my aspie husband really, truly cares, and really truly tries, and really doesn't intend to hurt me, and really feels bad that he does hurt me anyway.

    Just TELL your wife all of that, all of the time. And then ask her to tell you specifically and practically each and every time, exactly what she wants you to say/do. And then say/do it. But keep telling her how much it hurts you that you aren't making her happy and that you really want to make her happy, and really need her to HELP you know how to do that. That's reaching her emotionally and that's what we NT wives want from our aspie spouses.

    May the Lord bless you! Thanks so much for your comment.

  10. I am glad that I could be of encouragement to you. I had left the webpage up accidently (providentially?) and my wife saw your blog. She began reading it and identifying with many of your posts. While I think it is always comforting to know one is not alone, I am not sure how encouraging it was for her that day. Sometimes she just gets overwhelmed with knowing that she has to abandon the dream of having a normal marriage. She seems to be feeling better since then but I know she needs her batteries recharged as much as I do, even if they are different kinds of batteries.

    I know she is maxed out as a homeschooling mom of 4 and an emotional caretaker to 2 aspies in the house. She was reading your post on prov 31 and saying how she wants to be that woman. I think she sells herself short. She is a big facebooker and she put out an invitation to her friends to start a support group for spouses of aspies but noone has responded. I feel so bad for her because she really needs someone to talk to who is experiencing this from her side. There just does not seem to be a lot of people that she can really relate to about this.

    We both hear from the church that we have a call to each other despite what circumstances we find ourselves in. I agree with that completely and I have never let my aspergers be an excuse for failing my wife. She in turn has worked very hard to be the buffer I need to survive in this world. There has to be more though. A couple who has a crippled partner can get help in understanding their condition and how to be a help meet. One can find help and training to help your partner with most any disability, even many mental issues, but what is the aspie wife to do when she wants to obey God and be good to her husband but there is no training to teach her how to be. Or for the Aspie himself to learn how to relate to his NT wife as Christ relates to His church?

    God help us pioneers who will forge the way for the next generation to have healthy marriages.

  11. Missy, I am not posting your comments. But know that if I could chop out the parts about abuse in the above piece of writing, I would, but the copyright forbids me to edit it. I do not believe the abusive characteristics written above are at all applicable to all (or even very many) people with Asperger's. If you read the rest of my blog you will see that I do not consider aspies as abusive, horrible people. I have and love a lot of aspies in my life!

    What relates to me and many other NT wives is just the "emotional deprivation" part of this writing and not the few sentences about true abusive behavior. The emotional deprivation is real and very misunderstood/not comprehended by our aspie spouses. Knowing others have experienced the same emotional deprivation (and knowing it's not all in our heads) helps us deal with it better. I would certainly divorce a truly abusive man and would encourage others to as well.

  12. Sorry for all the NICE Aspie's out there but this article comparing the cacti and roses is EXACTLY how it is in my marriage. My husband even bluntly says I'm not loved anymore by him, or "just a bit maybe", doesn't feel the need to apologise ever (in 24 years) because HE is always right and I have "just" an IQ of 135. If I tell we have a problem together if I'm not happy in this marriage, he tells it is MY problem, not his. Nothing I ever do is done satisfactory to his standards. And he refuses a therapist, since they are all dumb, and threatened if he was ever diagnosed he would not accept it and divorce me. He is been treating me with asshole behaviour (pardon my French) and thinks it is ok. Not all Aspie's are acknowleging their condition and some are plain mean to the people around them and do not care. I know because I have lived it for over 2 decades now. I'm a doctor, so I think I should know what a disorder in the Autism spectrum is. Emotional abuse is just as bad as physical abuse (wich has been occasionally too btw). I would strongly advice NT's never to marry an Aspie since you will be set up for disappointment. I know I would never do it if I had the chance to do it all again :(

    1. He sounds like someone with narcissistic personality disorder and Asperger's both. The asshole elements I would say are coming more from NPD than from Asperger's.

  13. The quadripalegic comparison is good but maybe comparing it to another neurological disorder would be better to convince people.

    Schizophrenia would be good, similar symptoms, lack of empathy, apathy, poor memory, and more. I have seen forum posts of their spouses, they have to deal with psychotic episodes, almost no interaction (in some cases it is even less than autism, the schizophrenic may just stare at a wall all day and repeat the same phrase), some even have become full time caretakers and are afraid of going home for fear of their life. But unlike Autism everyone knows what schizophrenia is since people knew about it longer so more support is given. And people with schizophrenia are told to hate their own condition (in a constructive way) so they make a stronger effort to control it.

    If a neurotypical is a rose, an autistic is a cactus, what is a schizophrenic?

    1. The mosslike vegetation that grows in the artic tundra. Yeah that seems about right.