Affective Deprivation Disorder and Alexithymia in Marriage

I have written somewhere in here that my marriage has been difficult.  If you’re married for nearly two decades, then I think, at some point, there will come hard relational times.  It’s inevitable and normal.  I am someone who doesn’t like to put up with hard times.  I feel driven to fix them.  I want to know what’s behind the problem.  If I am experiencing what I feel is pointless suffering, then I will do whatever it takes to either end it or, at least, add meaning to it.  I am the opposite of passive.

I seem to be married to my foil.  If I am a hare, then he’s a tortoise.  Nay, a rock.  I run around him.  Over and over again.  This can be good if it creates stability in a relationship, but it has created inertia and so much more.

After a while, one must ask: What is going on? Why am I in such pain? Why am I sick all the time? Why does he say that he’s happy when I feel like a black hole has opened up in my chest?

Let me introduce you to Affective Deprivation Disorder:

Affective Deprivation Disorder (AfDD) is a relational disorder resulting from the emotional deprivation sometimes experienced by the partner (or child) of persons with a low emotional/empathic quotient or alexithymia.

Coined by researcher Maxine Aston, AfDD was first applied to partners of adults with Asperger Syndrome, many of whom showed disturbing physical and psychological reactions to the lack of emotional reciprocity they were experiencing in their relationship. Maxine was later to broaden AfDD‘s applicability to include disorders other than Asperger’s such as depression, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, and substance abuse disorder in which the same low emotional intelligence or alexithymia is a key relational factor.

To qualify for a diagnosis of AfDD some or all of the following indicators in each category must be present:

One Partner must meet criteria for a diagnosis of one or more of the following:
• Low Emotional Intelligence
• Alexithymia
• Low Empathy Quotient

Relationship Profile includes one or more of the following
• High relational conflict
• Domestic abuse: emotional and/or physical
• Reduced marital or relationship satisfaction
• Reduced relationship quality

Possible Psychological Symptoms of AfDD
• Low self esteem.
• Feeling confused/bewildered.
• Feelings of anger, depression and anxiety
• Feelings of guilt.
• Loss of self/depersonalisation
• Phobias – social/agoraphobia
• Posttraumatic stress reactivity
• Breakdown

Possible Psychosomatic Effects
• Fatigue
• Sleeplessness
• Migraines.
• Loss or gain in weight.
• PMT/female related problems.
• ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis).
• Low immune system – colds to cancer.

Similar symptoms experienced by the SAD sufferer, are experienced by the AfDD sufferer. Yet there is an even more damaging effect for the AfDD sufferer insofar as it is another human being, they probably love, who is unintentionally responsible for their emotional deprivation. Emotional reciprocity, love and belonging are essential human needs, if these needs are not being met and the reason why is not understood, then mental and physical health may be affected. Awareness and understanding can eliminate this.

AfDD is a consequence of the relational situation a sufferer is in, therefore it is possible to find ways to rectify this. Just as sunlight restores the balance in SAD – emotional input and understanding can restore the balance in the person affected by AfDD. Relationships when one partner has alexithymia can work if both partners work together to understand their differences and develop a better way of communicating, showing emotional expression and loving that works for both of them.

The following treatment issues can be explored with those suffering AfDD:
• Rebuilding Self Esteem
• Having a voice
• Looking at negative responses.
• Looking at self image.
• Building confidence.
• Becoming assertive.
• Attending a Workshop.

Finding Self
• Identifying Parent – Child roles.
• Changing learned helplessness.
• Rebuilding self.
• Rebuilding family and relationships.
• Rebuilding a social life.
• Finding support.  (Maxine Aston)

What is alexithymia?

Alexithymia/ˌlɛksəˈθmiə/ is a personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self.[1] The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating.[2] Furthermore, individuals suffering from alexithymia also have difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which is thought to lead to unempathic and ineffective emotional responding.[2] Alexithymia is prevalent in approximately 10% of the general population and is known to be comorbid with a number of psychiatric conditions.[3]

Alexithymia is defined by:[9]

  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style. (online source)

My husband is alexithymic.  He also has crippling anxiety combined with what looks to be disturbances in his personality.  He has low emotional intelligence to be sure and poor cognitive empathy.  He cannot name his emotions, and he has no idea why he does things.  We are not able to have meaningful discussions about anything.  We have never been able to do this.  When we were in the first year of our marriage, I thought he was being difficult.  I had never encountered another human being who could not name their own emotions.

“How do you feel?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I understand not being sure about something, but…”

“No, I mean I don’t know what I feel.”

He couldn’t identify or describe any of his emotions outside of feeling “depressed” or very angry.  He had constant feelings of getting sick (somatic complaints).  He lacked empathy, and he didn’t understand why I expected him to be able to anticipate needs or intuit things.  I assumed that he was capable of that.  As an example, when I was pregnant with our first daughter, I was put on bed rest for the last few weeks of my pregnancy due to an inability to walk from pelvic instability.  I had no friends where we lived as I hadn’t lived there very long.  I was, therefore, unable to go to the kitchen and prepare food.  I would have to sort of slither up the hall on my side to make it to the bathroom.  I literally could not walk or stand.  I was famished when he would get home.  He was never able to remember that I was home and unable to meet my needs.  One evening, he came home with food and ate in front of me.  He didn’t ask how I was, talk to me, or even engage.  He just sat there, glazed over, and ate his food while playing computer games.  He rarely greeted me.  I was so frustrated and angry.  He looked at me with wide-eyed innocence and asked, “What’s wrong with you?”  Obviously, nineteen years later I can see the flaws in my much younger self’s hidden expectations.  Just call him and ask him to bring food for you, younger self! He can’t read your mind! The point I am making is that he was completely unaware of the “other” in almost all circumstances.  Pregnant wife on bed rest unable to walk? He just didn’t get it or understand why that had anything to do with him or why he had any responsibility there.  It bewildered him.

That is, however, a typical interaction.  It has played out over and over again in different contexts over the years from him not visiting our baby and me in the hospital when she was thought to have meningitis to his bringing the Lord of The Rings trilogy to my labor and delivery because, “There will be a lot of waiting around.”  It ranges from the comical to the spectacularly hurtful.  For years and years, our daughters and I have observed this very obvious lack of emotional response and wondered why he didn’t like us.  What had we done wrong? My oldest daughter has spent the last six months coming to me in tears over her feelings of loss where her father is concerned.  She has wondered if something is wrong with her.  She has asked the classic question:

“If he loved us, then why doesn’t he try?”

Last night, I sat on the edge of my bed and cried.  I felt like I was crazy.  It is so hard to describe what it feels like to be married to this.  I told myself yesterday that if I could make myself more like him, then maybe it would be better.  If I could remove all emotional desire from myself, then I would be able to do this.  I actually asked God to make me like Spock.  That has to be one of the weirder prayers to ascend.  Like some warped psalm.

“Oh God, make me like Spock.  Purge me of emotion.  Oh my soul, shut the hell up so that only my brain will speak and my heart will sleep a thousand years.”

Poetic but not possible.  I found a better thing to ask.  I asked for a sense of being accepted and validated by someone.  I felt so misunderstood.  Like not one person understood the exact nature of what I was experiencing, and this was so isolating.  This sense of isolation is intolerable to me.  This morning, I found all this.  I just stumbled across the word ‘alexithymia’ and AfDD.  I then immediately found a paper about AfDD.  Read this:

The lack of empathy in these relationships is one key to their impacts. A lack of empathetic attunement disables the individual’s ability to recognise, interpret and to verify subtle emotional signals expressed by intimates and contributes to an impoverishment of emotional interaction. The interaction becomes further compounded when the unverified partner or family member reacts negatively to feelings of being misunderstood or neglected. In this sense the affective deprivation experienced in such relationships refers to the deprivation of emotional-attunement, emotional validation, and intelligent emotional responding. To the extent that people look to their significant other for validation, the lack of such validation can corrode their sense of self and lead to a discouragement of self expression whereby large portions of the individual’s emotional repertoire become deleted from the relationship (Goleman, 1996b). In Asperger’s relationships this tendency to eradicate emotionality and take on Asperger’s characteristics has been labelled becoming “Aspergated” (Stanford, 2003). The failure to understand and validate legitimate emotional experiences or behaviours of the other typically creates or exacerbates negative emotional arousal in the invalidated individual/s, potentially leaving each member of the relationship displaying some measure of dysregulated affect (Fruzzetti, A.E., & Iverson, 2006). (Affective Deprivation Disorder: Does It Constitute A Relational Disorder?)

This phenomenon does not just apply to intimate relationships with certain people on the autism spectrum.  This would apply to other contexts as well.  I cannot tell you how validating this paragraph was for me, and I see just how important my being in DBT with my daughter was.  I was there to learn to self-validate.  The notion was introduced to me two years ago in David Schnarch’s landmark book The Passionate Marriage in which he says that self-validation is the key to differentiation in marriage and, thus, success particularly if there is gridlock.  That struck a chord in me then.  I learned how to self-validate in DBT.  I learned on a much more practical level how to be mindful, how to suspend judgment, and how to be effective in relationships without sacrificing self-respect.

This has been my greatest downfall.  I have slowly given up pieces of myself.  I truly have deleted large pieces of my emotional repertoire in this relationship because of repeated rejection.  How can one not do that? Knowing, however, that I am not the only person to experience this is tremendously validating.  Knowing that there is a white paper written about this very dynamic tells me that there is a common experience out there, and common experience means that I’m not isolated.  I am part of a group.  I may not know anyone else who is experiencing this, but I now know that others know exactly what I know.

The interesting thing about alexithymia is this.  It is a trait that can be comorbid with other psychiatric disorders:

Alexithymia is considered to be a personality trait that places individuals at risk for other medical and psychiatric disorders while reducing the likelihood that these individuals will respond to conventional treatments for the other conditions.[6] Alexithymia is not classified as a mental disorder in the DSM-IV. It is a dimensional personality trait that varies in severity from person to person…

Alexithymia frequently co-occurs with other disorders. Research indicates that alexithymia overlaps with autism spectrum disorders.[8][41] In a 2004 study using the TAS-20, 85% of the adults with ASD fell into the impaired category; almost half of the whole group fell into the severely impaired category. Among the normal adult control, only 17% was impaired; none of them severely.[41][42] Fitzgerald & Bellgrove pointed out that, “Like alexithymia, Asperger’s syndrome is also characterised by core disturbances in speech and language and social relationships”.[43] Hill & Berthoz agreed with Fitzgerald & Bellgrove (2006) and in response stated that “there is some form of overlap between alexithymia and ASDs”. They also pointed to studies that revealed impaired theory of mind skill in alexithymia, neuroanatomical evidence pointing to a shared etiology and similar social skills deficits.[44] The exact nature of the overlap is uncertain. Alexithymic traits in AS may be linked to clinical depression or anxiety;[42] the mediating factors are unknown and it is possible that alexithymia predisposes to anxiety.[45]

There are many more psychiatric disorders that overlap with alexithymia. One study found that 41% of Vietnam War veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder were alexithymic.[46] Other single study prevalence findings are 63% in anorexia nervosa,[47] 56% in bulimia,[47] 45%[16] to 50%[48] in major depressive disorder, 34% in panic disorder,[49] 28% of social phobics,[49] and 50% insubstance abusers.[50] Alexithymia also occurs more frequently in individuals with acquired or traumatic brain injury.[51][52][53]

Alexithymia is correlated with certain personality disorders,[54]substance use disorders,[55][56] some anxiety disorders,[57] and sexual disorders,[58] as well as certain physical illnesses, such ashypertension,[59]inflammatory bowel disease,[60] and functional dyspepsia.[61] Alexithymia is further linked with disorders such as migraine headaches, lower back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, nausea, allergies, and fibromyalgia.[62]

An inability to modulate emotions is a possibility in explaining why some alexithymics are prone to discharge tension arising from unpleasant emotional states through impulsive acts or compulsive behaviors such as binge eating, substance abuse, perversesexual behavior, or anorexia nervosa.[63] The failure to regulate emotions cognitively might result in prolonged elevations of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and neuroendocrine systems which can lead to somatic diseases.[62] Alexithymics also show a limited ability to experience positive emotions leading Krystal (1988) and Sifneos (1987) to describe many of these individuals as anhedonic.[5] (online source)

I’ve discussed personality disorders at length on this blog, but I’ve never discussed alexithymia.  I have never had a therapist discuss this with me either.  Many of us leave families where there has been abuse or trauma with symptoms of AfDD, but those clusters of symptoms have never been named.  It’s all been lumped together under depression, or anxiety, or PTSD, or “Stop whining and get over it.”  I would like you to read this:

Emotional reciprocity, love and belonging are essential human needs, if these needs are not being met and the reason is not understood, then mental and physical health may be affected. (Maxine Aston)

Yesterday, I asked someone if it was normal to want reciprocity and belonging in a marriage.  I didn’t know if that was a normal thing to want.  I felt extremely confused.  Was it something that was bad to want?  Reading this statement this morning has been a powerful validation for me.  It has been the plumb line that I have needed so that I can see where long-term exposure to wrong thinking and unhealthy behaviors and beliefs have landed me.  I also asked these questions when I was emerging from my family of origin.  You will find yourself on shaky ground if you are in a relationship with someone with a Cluster B personality disorder.

If any of this rings a bell for you, I encourage you to look through the resources at the end of this post.  One of my takeaways has been that I didn’t get here riding his dysfunctional coat tails as it were.  I helped.  I participated in creating the current atmosphere, and I will be the one to rebuild my own happiness.  It has always been this way.  Knowing, however, that my experiences have names is powerful.  Knowing that what I want is legitimate is equally powerful.

Validation is healing.  I hope I have provided some for you should you need it.

Post script: This post has numerous comments some of which are very brave and personal.  I would ask that people who comment refrain from judgment and psychoanalysis.  The comment section is a place to share thoughts, ideas, and common experiences.  It is not a place to “concern shame”, judge, and go on the offensive out of a defensive posture.  Thank you for civil and kind discourse.  Remember, everyone is trying to heal.  So, let’s contribute to that process–not hinder it.


Endnote: As of 2016, I have been separated from my husband; we are divorcing.  An excellent resource is Lundy Bancroft’s book Should I Stay or Should I Go: A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can–and Should–Be Saved.

Related blog post: Should I Stay or Should I Go?


180 thoughts on “Affective Deprivation Disorder and Alexithymia in Marriage

    • He is highly successful in his job. His job, however, is reflective of his most enduring obsession–computers. He is highly intelligent and sensory-seeking. He is also highly anxious and must always have something to do as in information flooding his brain. He actively avoids all forms of ennui or boredom. He has always been like this. As long as I’ve known him. If stress is higher, then he becomes more “autistic” as in he requires more and more solitude. He will display more meltdowns. He will become hyperational with very poor distress tolerance. This is when you will see passive aggressive behavior peak. Currently, I am not able to hold a meaningful conversation with him. He struggles with change and loss of ritual.

      • If he’s highly successful in his job, then he’s able to determine parameters for that success, and recognize expectations he has to meet to succeed. Would that be correct?
        Has he ever behaved differently towards you (made more effort to converse, show affection, show consideration etc.) even if just for a window of time?
        My husband’s passive aggressive behavior also peaks under stress. Yet even then, I’ll see him hold it together to interact with clients.

      • MJ, this has been tremendously enlightening for me. Thank you for sharing your life. We are very near a divorce. Two young kids. I wonder if awareness would make counseling possible? I wonder if it could ever change? Or, if it just is what it is. I hate how this has changed me. Separation has helped me to find some of myself and rebuild a little. But, my heart longs for him to wake up and feel deeply.

        • I understand these feelings. These longings. I lived many years in that place. Wondering and hoping. What I can tell you is that alexithymia is a symptom. It is not just a “thing”. It’s a bit like anemia. When people are anemic, there is always a reason. Blood loss is often a reason for anemia which is why women are often anemic. Low ferritin stores contribute to anemia, but then why would someone have low ferritin stores? The body not producing enough red blood cells would cause anemia. But then why would a body not produce enough red blood cells? Diseases like celiac disease would cause chronic anemia due to an inability for the body to absorb nutrients. So many causes for one symptom. It’s the same with alexithymia. To bring about change in this area, change and healing have to be brought about at the source–that which causes the alexithymia. And that requires willingness and desire in the person.

          Does this makes sense?

        • I still hope he will “wake up”… he wont. it has taken me 2 years in therapy to finally understand that he will not ever change and that if I want to spend my life with him, it will be the way it has been. I would have to accept that this person would never emotionally and financially support me or our child. I said, “no thanks.” I am so much happier and freer now than I was with him. I backslid for a few months… but I’m doing better than ever now. I gave myself the time to process ALL my feelings while I kept looking forward, and keeping strict boundaries with him. I think for me, that was step one.. knowing that I was entitled to my feelings, there was nothing “wrong” with me having feelings and putting up boundaries to protect them. He was VERY angry with me at first and things got worse before better.. but it did get better!

          • It sounds like you are doing better. That makes my day. I hope you really enjoy your holidays, however you celebrate them. Shalom…MJ

      • Oh my goodness, that is my boyfriend too! The higher the stress, the more he requires solitude! And his mother is a HUGE stress factor! His obsession is snowboarding and he would gladly drive 5 hours one way alone to snowboard than spend the weekend with me. Wow, this article has been such an eye opener. Thank you

        • I’m glad it was useful, but…I’m sorry that it was useful if you know what I mean. But, insight is good, too. It’s good to get a sense of things. That always helps, I think.

      • I have been desperately searching for answers for 7.5 years. I do not believe my husband has aspergers but he fits this alexithymia very well. I feel like what I took from this is they don’t have to be on the spectrum to have alexithymia, is that correct? I feel like I’m going crazy trying to figure out exactly what it is. I’ve completely lost me looking for answers…

        • I’m sorry for your situation and your personal suffering. Yes, you are right. Alexithymia is a symptom that can be common to ASD but not just ASD. HIgh anxiety is another for example. I hope this makes sense.

  1. MJ, I’ve still rather new’ish to your blog, so I’m probably asking questions that you may have answered along the way in posts unread yet by me. I’m unsure if you’re communicating that your husband can’t behave in other ways, or chooses (even if by default of not trying) to behave in ways that are hurtful to you.

    I’m also one to pursue understanding. I remember explaining a light bulb epiphany to my husband years ago about a particular dynamic in our communication style, and fully expecting that with understanding would come (mutual) change. (It didn’t.)

    Your article was fascinating in the way that validating information can be. I didn’t think deeply about why I asked until you asked me why. I think the answer to your question is that I was trying to understand more about you.

    • Well, as you’ve explained, I, too, have had myriad conversations with my husband about dynamics in our communication style. I have shared, shared, compromised, tried, pushed, backed down, gone under, over, sideways, and stood on my head…and he has not changed. He…can’t. He, in fact, told me this week that he already knew that he had Asperger’s. Our daughter has Asperger’s. I was surprised to say the least, but, in many ways, he has viewed this as a way to be excused from the relational table. “See, honey? I don’t have to learn cognitive empathy or try because I have an ASD.” Many people have this picture in their head of what autism looks like. They think of Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. The man upon which Rainman was based didn’t even have autism; he had microcephaly. But, many, many HFA individuals are highly successful in their careers. Think of Dan Aykroyd, Bill Gates, Temple Grandin, Steve Jobs most likely. I know screenwriters and writers who are inordinately successful, and they are far from neurotypical.

      The relational aspects of their lives, however, can be a bloody mess. I am raising an ASD girl. I write books for ASD children. It is such a complex spectrum disorder and no ASD looks the same. If you’ve met one person with an ASD, then you’ve only met one ASD. Every person who meets my husband says the same thing: “He’s so affable and kind. He has such a great sense of humor!” It’s true. He can be those things, but the toll it takes on him to direct all his emotional and intellectual energy into that sociable persona is great. When everyone leaves, he hides. He does a lot of work from home which is good for him. When he has to go out, he needs a lot of ritual and time to come back to himself. He is brilliant at his job because he is a brilliant guy on many levels, but he has little to no social drive which is not uncommon to ASD folk. So, that desire that many of us have to emotionally connect with others is not high in him. That need to bond with someone else? Not really there. A sexual drive? Meh.

      Communication is key, but if you have nothing to say outside of discussing esoteric Python scripting methods combined with governance, risk, and compliance in the larger corporate context…why bother expanding your cognitive empathy? If emotional connection isn’t meaningful to you, then everything is fine, right?

      Parallel play is the name of the game here, and that’s as intimate as it has ever been. It is essentially playing next to but not with. I am laughing out loud as I write this because the first thing that comes to mind is my sex life. I am amusing myself to no end. “We have sex next to each other.” How does that work? Honestly, I have no idea, but that’s exactly how it feels. His idea of a good time is putting his laptop on the table across from me. We are now together. That’s parallel playing.

      I don’t know if this comes close to answering your questions. I know that he doesn’t try to be hurtful. Some of the rage is actually ASD meltdowns. I call him Lizard Man when he does this. Early intervention during childhood is what mitigates a lot of this in adulthood, but he didn’t get any of that. So, I am now dealing with what feels like ASD childhood issues in an adult which makes me feel parentified in the relationship. That provokes very yucky feelings in me. This is why I have been pushing for therapy and meds for so long. Anxiety is an ever-present problem for him. It’s crippling. The only time he has ever seemed human and the most himself was when he got drunk. Not that I want that either, but it was the only time I felt I could make an emotional connection with him. His anxiety fell away and he actually talked freely.

      • Do you believe that the ASD is entirely genetic? Has there been any research that would explore how the child of an ASD is impacted if entirely raised by non ASD parents in a healthy environment? What results have early intervention looked like for adults? I’m wondering how much the answers can apply across the board for other disorders, even if the methods applied to intervention are different.

        Parentified in an adult relationship. Yes, it’s rather repulsive, and I even remember the first strong moment that I recognized it. I was a newlywed, and we were just semi napping one weekend afternoon. He sort of sidled, cuddled up to me, laying his head on me with this sigh.. and I jolted away in a fast recoil away from him and said, ‘Ick! What was that! Don’t ever do that again! I’m not your mother!” I was twenty years old, entirely unfit to mother a twenty two year old man.

        Parallel play is a great description In its proper time and place, it sounds like it could just be comfortable companionable, and familiar. And I just realized that I’m on the verge of tears.

        Here is another question then. Do you feel that your husband could significantly change his behaviors with you, even if not his feelings? From past experience, I can see that my husband can behave in more caring ways if he tries, although it often seems to tire him at some point. Should I laugh or cry now? I feel like doing both.

        I hadn’t come across your term of cognitive empathy before. I read it as ‘thinking empathy’ at first. I think my husband ‘feels’ to a degree, but his feeling has a stop limit; i.e. the feelings hit a hard wired wall and then he becomes uncomfortable. Can he feel past that point? I really don’t know. Is his hard wired wall genetic? From being raised with abuse, mental illness, and dysfunction? Some of both? He cries at movies more than I do. He cries at a sentimental or tear jerking movie… but he can be entirely unmoved by my weeping. I can see him attempt to behave in caring ways, but my gut tells me that he’s not feeling sorrow with me. (I’m looking it up now.)

        Good old wikipedia. “Cognitive empathy: the capacity to understand another’s perspective or mental state”
        I think my husband understands in a cognitive way.

        Affective (emotional) empathy: “being affected by another’s emotional or arousal state (emotional contagion)”

        This same article references personal distress: “self-centered feelings of discomfort and anxiety in response to another’s suffering; There is no consensus regarding whether personal distress is a basic form of empathy or instead does not constitute empathy”

        Bingo. I don’t think the pain and sorrow of someone else is ‘contagious’ to my husband, wherein it causes shared feelings. Well… not past the surface. I do think he recognizes and understands cognitively when he’s seeing pain, sorrow, fear, hurt etc. I think he can even ‘feel’ sympathy, but it often looks (to me) like he’s experiencing discomfort and anxiety in his response. He’s most easily sympathetic to animals, babies, and young children. He has a strong childlike aspect to his nature, although he’s in a profession known for the non-emotional types.

        I also found this subdivision of cognitive empathy fascinating:
        “Perspective taking: the tendency to spontaneously adopt others’ psychological perspectives”

        This might explain how my husband can assimilate some of my likes/dislikes/perspectives/feelings/preferences/convictions in a kind of Borg like identity theft or assimilation.

        You said that you know your husband doesn’t try to be hurtful. I think that mine can occasionally definitely intend to be hurtful, but that’s not the status quo m/o. My experience has been often that my hurt/distress/need seems irrelevant to him. More the narcissistically driven kind of thing (if he’s not feeling it, it’s less real or relevant).

        • There are studies being done that correlate activation of specific genes to ASDs. It is inherited. It’s on the same genetic spectrum as schizophrenia spectrum disorders which is very interesting to me because I have another daughter with childhood-onset schizophrenia (COS). We hit the genetic lottery. What has just been recently discovered is that it’s not a certain gene but how certain genes interact with each other that cause SCZ to manifest creating 8 types of SCZ which is probably why it’s a spectrum disorder. My guess? This is what they are going to find with ASDs as well since ASDs and SCZ share genetics.

          My husband has done the same thing with me! Sidled up beside me, curled in, and behaved much like a child. It was repellent. I felt very weird. I didn’t like it. I would just lie there and feel sick. I wouldn’t understand it at the time. Now, of course, I look back and see that he needed mothering. I wasn’t going to meet that need, but when there’s a void there’s a void.

          Well, my husband does indeed try very hard to change his behaviors, but he can’t sustain it. Behaviors are fruits of thoughts and beliefs. Ideally, behaviors change for good when what we believe changes. I act in a loving manner when I love someone. It’s really hard though to behave in the long term like I love someone if I don’t. It’s this dynamic that exists here. It’s hard for him to cultivate true intimacy and a bond when he’s putting the ‘aut’ in autism.

          Another way to think of cognitive empathy (theory of mind) is this: I know what you are thinking. In autism, the general belief is: You think what I think. You want what I want. You know what I know.

          So, communication issues can be a real pain in the ass if it’s always assumed that I know what he knows. This can be learned! But, this is a classic statement. I had this conversation with him in the first few weeks of our marriage:
          “Why do we only do what you want to do?”…”Because what you want to do doesn’t interest me.”

          1) He assumed that what he wanted to do interested me more.
          2) He had no sense that what he said was hurtful.
          3) He wasn’t engaging in perspective-taking as in he could not put himself in my shoes and see it from my perspective.

          And there’s that ever-present entitlement. Entitlement is a big issue. That is a narcissistic tendency, and we’ve got that in spades. I’m on crutches. I can’t do much of anything. He’s had to do more, but he isn’t THAT put upon. But, when he’s had enough, then he’s had enough. Even if the needs of his kids haven’t been met. “I’m taking a break. I need time to myself now.”

          That’s just not how it’s done! But, in his mind, his needs supersede theirs. He doesn’t see that as a problem. I could go on, but this is another dynamic, and I’ve been overcompensating for this for years to the point that it’s made me sick. If I try and address it, then it leads nowhere good. There is a very unpleasant, tantrum-like wall there that I just don’t want to deal with anymore. So, I’ll compensate.

          Does this make sense?

          • I’ve been reading this page and those comments because I am highly alexithymic (quite possible have a mixture of ASD/borderline disorder), and I can very much relate to the portraits painted here. I’m not as extreme, thankfully, and I want to get therapy so my couple life can get better and so I can hopefully qualify for parenting.

            My interest here was piqued by the mentions of childlike behaviors however. I am childlike too, and I’ve found out thanks to my partner that I am a Little, which is to say, an adult with a child personality. Littleness can cause age regression in certain individuals, which, in more extreme cases, can cause a temporary inability to perform adult tasks such as driving or cooking. In better cases, Littles may be capable of separating the moments when they choose to behave as responsible adults, and the moments when they allow their childish side to be expressed. This expression can be necessary, with the guidance of a caregiver/parenting adult in order to revisit childhood trauma and overcome them in a therapeutic way.

            This topic is very largely undocumented and unstudied, so I try to gather information as much as I can (with hopes to start a population study). So far, the elements I collected give me ground to form a hypothesis that Littleness is more likely to occur in adults who had higher levels of stress during childhood, possibly due to parental abuse, sexual abuse or other traumatic events. I was also starting to hypothesize that my sample of Littles had a rather high representation of ASD, SCZ and some other disorders. At first I wanted to tone it down over the assumption that those profiles tend to function better on Internet social media than real life social media, and are thus more likely to show up in an online population sample than in a real life sample. But given now that alexithymic people seem to be more prone to PTSD and anxiety issues, including in childhood, I wonder if alexithymia could be a correlated factor in Littleness.

          • Thanks for commenting and contributing to the conversation.

            My first question is: Where are you getting your term “Little” from? I know that it exists in the BDSM community and in other role playing communities, but, in terms of a DSM 4 or 5 term, what is its equivalency? It sounds like is a term that is a criterion or a descriptor for criteria that fit under the heading of a cognitive and/or social/emotional issue. The topic is actually not largely misunderstood, but the terminology that you are applying to it might be. Playing as a “little” in role playing is viewed as a kink in many circles, and there is research, although niche research, that has gone into the psychology of kinks and their origins/etiologies, if you will.

            In ASD-HFA, what you describe is actually a delay in social and emotional development based in a lag in theory of mind development, and there is a plethora of research done on that by Simon Baron-Cohen out of Cambridge.

            In SCZ, which is a neurodegenerative, biologically-based brain disorder, a regression in social and emotional function would be caused by loss of white matter in the brain, and this particular set of behaviors, when displayed, would be a manifestation of that. It would be called a “negative symptom” in some cases or “cognitive symptom” as SCZ is described by positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. It is important to know, however, that SCZ is a spectrum disease so what one patient experiences will be different than another.

            ASDs and SCZs, both heavily researched BBBDs), aside, socially regressing without intention without the presence of neurological problems and/or mood disorder or even a TBI, would be personality based. And there are many personality disorders including factitious disorders that would manifest in something like social/emotional regression .Even something like selective competence in which people intentionally act incompetent either socially or emotionally to avoid doing something is a personality issue. The idea of “littleness” in the context of a personalty issues sounds, primarily, like a very effective albeit highly maladaptive avoidance strategy based in very poor distress tolerance. And that avoidance can also be a function of dissociation triggered by perceived distress.

            I can think of one time that a regression would possibly be healing–a deliberate regression to return to the emotional age at which a trauma occurred in order to begin to heal from the age of trauma and emotional stunting in order to begin re-development and continue to grow.

            Alexithymia, however, is a symptom, and it can’t only be explained with cognitive deficiencies. A person lacking a vocabulary for their emotions isn’t the same thing. Knowing how you feel but lacking the words to express is different.

            But, dissociation? That would cause alexithymia..

          • A nice thing, that you do know about Littles in relation to the BDSM community. There is no DSM equivalent to Littleness. The closest to this would be that Littleness involves regression. However, the way regression is approached in scientific literature doesn’t angle very well with all it encompasses to be a Little. I am interested in studying this population in particular, so to figure out what about their regression is so particular, in which condition it can be harmful or therapeutic, and whether inner age might be an identity component alike to, say, gender identity –less or more fluid in individuals, with specific comfort zones in the spectrum. In this regard, I find it important to account for co-morbidities in the profile, so to evaluate if this population has higher statistics in matter of representation of certain experiences, traits or disorders (well, it does have higher statistics, but refining them is what is interesting).
            Considering that children aren’t mature yet in matter of emotional intelligence, I think it would be interesting to see how the adult Littles perform both in and out of Little space, and if the representation of alexithymia (especially secondary alexi) among them is normal or higher. I am also interested to study the couple dynamic in Littles.

          • Well, the first thing that jumps to mind in the context of Littleness and BDSM is the role of the Little which is usually that of the sub. And “subspace” would play a role in this case in terms of regression and the overall Little experience. This is niche research to be sure but, nonetheless, interesting.

            In terms of a legit study, i would think that you would need to find a specific population where the Little phenomenon is more prevalent. And, in the BDSM community, which is wide and varied, there will no doubt be co-morbidities. The question that I would ask is: When a Little is in a regressed state, are they alexithymic? If s/he is able to identify their emotions and name them in a regressed state, then you are dealing with a co-morbidity rather than what the current DSM likes to label a “personality trait”. EQ doesn’t determine alexithymia necessarily. Young children can often name their emotions. So, clearly, something else is at play, but what is it? Is it unique brain formation when alexithymia is present but absolutely no co-morbidities and no past trauma? Alexithymia is not uncommon in people with certain forms of epilepsy, some stroke patients, and even after TBIs. So, this is a complex issue broadly, but, in studying a very specific demographic, it could be very, very interesting.

          • I have just now come across your article at a very crucial time in my marriage! As in, going to my second counseling session this week today , to try to make this work! I recently learned my husband has Aspergers, after getting married two years ago and two babies later! I was about to leave recently and then was given this important piece of information that I have tried to understand and just can’t! But after reading this article and all of these comments, my world just shifted I believe!!! And I was trying to read all of the comments before responding but I stopped on this one and have to ask , before I get side tracked and forget, how you can handle the “entitlement” and “narcissist” type traits?! It is proufoubdly difficult to overlook that or know how to deal with it! No matter what I know he “can or can’t help”. This is all very new to me and I’m definitely learning but having two young babies back to back and basically feeling like a single parent and having a husband that doesn’t seem to have a single feeling or regard towards me is wearing me down! Which now after reading all of this I’m realizing why I feel so physically and emotionally worn down. (On top of being a new mom to two new babies of course) This is all new to me and I’m going to give it my all ….. but how do you deal with this aspect of the behavior? Like putting his needs before the needs of the kids…… I can name several times where he has been “starving” and goes through somewhere on a road trip and doesn’t even acknowledge that it’s lunch time for everyone else also! And doesn’t even offer ! Which as I’m typing this out sounds stupid for me to even worry about… but it’s not! And that’s another thing I’m dealing with…. anxiety about my feelings and frustrations and feeling as if my problems aren’t relevant ….. but they are! I find that type of behavior SO ODD! I mean….. we are a family …… you take care of your family. So confusing! Thank you for all of this information and insight thus far! I am blown away at how much better I feel knowing I’m not crazy and a lot of others are going through the same type of thing!

          • Firstly, I am very glad that you are going to a therapist. I think that, in terms of dealing with the invalidation of your environment, this is the first step. You have to know what is going on and what is and is not going to be tolerable within your relationship.

            Secondly, in terms of dealing with the overt selfishness (I don’t know what else to call it really), I can refer you to a post I wrote on classifying behaviors, and this you would do with your therapist. You have to be able to know which behaviors are based in “cluelessness” and can therefore be addressed and which behaviors are based in a low capacity and cannot be changed. Which behaviors are abusive and which behaviors are self-serving and based in learned helplessness or feigned incompetence? The issue that many partners have when they live with an emotionally abusive or even emotionally “lazy” partner, that I’ve observed–and this used to be me—is that they (your or me) say, “I’ll give it my all” or something like that meaning that they will overcompensate for the inequities of the other partner. They will absorb all the deficiencies of their partner when, in reality, it is up to the deficient partner to do the repair work that his or her behavior has caused. We do not give it our all in terms of building a bridge to *their* island of isolation and withdrawal. They have to meet us halfway. We end up so vacant and broken because we’ve been overcompensating for so long. So, part of stopping that pattern is sitting down with a trained therapist and deciding what you will and will not tolerate from a partner (and read Should I Stay or Should I Go by Lundy Bancroft). Here are some posts I wrote when I was starting this process with my therapist that might help you. I don’t know if this will shed any light on your situation, but it might. I was deliberate in documenting my early visits to my therapist so that anyone in this type of relationship would have a roadmap. I wish you all the best as you continue moving forward. You are definitely not alone. Please keep in touch should you need to. Shalom, MJ

            1. Categorizing Behaviors (

            2. Should I Stay or Should I Go? (

        • Oh, as for the ASD child raised by NT parents? Yes, they can do exceedingly well depending upon the functionality of the child. I know a guy who has Asperger’s, and he is getting his Master’s Degree in ESL. He’s in Mexico now. I would have never known had he not told me. His parents did right by him for sure. He had early intervention and was given a lot of opportunity to learn. So, it’s not a curse!!

        • “Parentified in an adult relationship. Yes, it’s rather repulsive, and I even remember the first strong moment that I recognized it. I was a newlywed, and we were just semi napping one weekend afternoon. He sort of sidled, cuddled up to me, laying his head on me with this sigh.. and I jolted away in a fast recoil away from him and said, ‘Ick! What was that! Don’t ever do that again! I’m not your mother!” I was twenty years old, entirely unfit to mother a twenty two year old man.” – What the hell?? Unless I’m missing something, you sound like the autist here. Or just a jerk.

          • “Unless I’m missing something”…I’m going to go with that self-assessment. You are missing something. It’s too easy to accuse and judge a complete stranger sharing their pain on a blog that either they are 1) autistic or 2) engage in an ad hominem attack while choosing to remain anonymous. Don’t judge what you don’t understand. You *are* missing something, and you had the insight to suggest that before you engaged in highly judgmental behavior bordering on trolling. If you took the time to post the comment, then take the time to ask yourself why this comment bothered you enough to cause you to engage in such behavior. From what you’ve written here, you are not sincerely attempting to gather information to gain better insight into another person’s experiences and, thusly, expand your own empathy and worldview. You wrote what you did to accuse and judge. Why bother to write anything at all then unless you like being inflammatory in which case then you really are missing something.

        • “Parentified in an adult relationship. Yes, it’s rather repulsive, and I even remember the first strong moment that I recognized it. I was a newlywed, and we were just semi napping one weekend afternoon. He sort of sidled, cuddled up to me, laying his head on me with this sigh.. and I jolted away in a fast recoil away from him and said, ‘Ick! What was that! Don’t ever do that again! I’m not your mother!” I was twenty years old, entirely unfit to mother a twenty two year old man.”

          I do not qualify this as parentifying someone, though I understand why in the context it might come across as such. However, I think one should be very careful with categorizing behaviors and crediting them to a diagnosis, when they might also just be normal behaviors from a normal person.

          I am a woman in a relationship with an Alexithymic man, and I know very intimately the pain that it can cause. However, I think one should be very cautious about ones own analyzis of various behaviorisms – in your case, why did the curling up disturb you? Because that is not something I understand at all, for me it is entirely normal for a partner of either gender to curl up and look for safety and intimacy. Is it because he’s a man and not socially expected to display this kind of attention seeking? A type of attention seeking that, by the way, is considered to be normal for a woman in a heterosexual or gay relationship. If that is the case, then I would rather see it as a bit of sexist or normative thinking, because a behavior that is not frowned up in women, should not be frowned upon in men either. I am not sure if you wanted to come across like this, but it is the impression I have been given.

          Please do not misunderstand me, I’ve been in abusive relationships before, and I know how difficult it is to, once you start really disliking someone out of defense of your own sense of self worth, to bundle up all things you dislike with them and blame them on a specific diagnosis or personality trait. Perhaps you have not healed to the point yet where you can distance yourself in a manner where this kind of self critical thinking is relevant yet. You can hang onto these ideas for as long as you need to – as I have with ideas in the past that I have later come to re-evaluate and discard.

          I personally feel like there is a danger in ascribing negative experiences and negative flaws to a diagnosis, when those might in fact not be linked. But I understand the temptation and the tendency, it is human nature, after all.

          • As moderator of the comments, I would like to observe:

            1. Alexithymia is not a DX. It’s a symptom.
            2. Looking to establish intimacy isn’t attention seeking behavior, but both people within a partnership must be comfortable and feel safe within the constructs of how that intimacy is asked for and gained, and no one can judge another person’s reaction or response if it is unfavorable.
            3. What the cited comment elucidates is “fear of engulfment” which is far from gender bias and social stereotyping.
            4. The comment left here, while well-meaning, is just as judgmental, heavy-handed, and leaning towards ascribing “negative experiences and negative flaws” towards the person who wrote the cited comment as the commenter feels the writer of the comment in question has done.
            5. The comments left on this post are all entirely experiential in nature. Common experience is validating. People are trying to figure their experiences out in order to reorganize past and present emotional experiences. It takes bravery to share very personal information because fear of judgment on the Internet is very high, but all the people who have left comments on this post have done that. And for that alone, I admire their courage.

          • You are incorrect though, my partner IS professionally diagnosed with Alexithymia, it does exist as a stand alone diagnosis, he has no co-morbidities. Maybe your standards are different from where we live, I don’t know, but here it is absolutely a viable diagnosis. And while you are correct on point two, I must say that unless a couple discuss what they are comfortable with, you can’t expect the other to know your limits, NT or not. Being personally uncomfortable with the way someone else wants intimacy is one thing, being hasty to pin it on the other’s condition can however be dangerous.

          • The ICD-9 only codes alexithymia under “other somatoform disorder”. The DSM defines it as a personality trait and not a mental health disorder or diagnosis. So, I am not incorrect in terms of where I live. A clinician is certainly free to diagnose, but, as far a standards go, that’s where it’s at, and the international community can do what they will. Personally, I do not think that it’s a personality trait.

            I understand your points, and they do have merit. You are talking about perspective taking. Partners often fumble about quite awkwardly with each other learning what works and does not. However this: “being hasty to pin it on the other’s condition can however be dangerous” while true, is what you engaged in towards the commenter as well. That was my final point. Attributing her comment (her negative experience) to sexism, gender stereotyping, and fear of intimacy which is a “condition” often rooted in greater ills is what you are telling her NOT to do. That is my ultimate point.

          • I was not saying she was sexist, I was just sharing that from my perspective it could potentially come off that way. I apologize if it came off as an accusation, it’s not what I meant for it to be. If I was sure it was sexism, I would not have asked for a further explanation. I do feel like you put words in my mouth that I have not said – at no point have I implied she doesn’t want intimacy. Where do you get that from? People are diverse and prefer diverse ways of intimacy, that is normal. That she wouldn’t want his kind of closeness because it disturbs her on a personal level is also normal, but not necessarily linked to Alexithymia. For instance, my partner, while childish, does not curl up next to me that way when we sleep, he never has, we sleep an arms length apart (and in different rooms when he snores). One of my exes of five years, who was not Alexithymic (they were an extraordinarily empathic and compassionate person), had the habit described above. Hence my reaction.

            I get the feeling that you’re being defensive, which honestly is making it a bit difficult for me to uphold a good conversational level, because I get a bit anxious and I don’t want to hurt people or come off as a jerk. So this will be my last post here. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

          • I’m not personally defensive at all. I am defensive of my commenters because this particular comment has been viciously attacked in the past. I am not trying to put words in your mouth at all. Moderating blog comments is difficult because it’s not an in-person dialogue; so, it is very difficult particularly because there is no tone or facial expression to decode.

            I did say that your observations have merit. You observe something important. Why respond so viscerally to someone else’s reaching out for closeness? That is the issue at hand. Or, is it two questions? The potential harm of projecting one’s own struggles with something onto another person using their DX as a scapegoat? That happens quite frequently.

            From what I can tell, she felt, in that moment, like a mother rather than a partner, and that she herself named as feeling “parentified”. Attributing this to her larger experience in her relationship with alexithymia? I can’t judge that because I don’t know the whole story. And I don’t feel comfortable suggesting gender stereotyping even if that’s a possible issue simply because I do not have enough information. But, sexism and gender stereotyping are almost synonymous terms, and that was something that was insinuated. Also, that is a possibility. There are all sorts of possibilities because humans are complex.

            It can be important but difficult to discuss the topic and just how complex all the perspectives are. How can it be done while making sure everyone is validated? That is my largest concern. That is why I defend the people who disclose so much in the comment section.

            As for you being an inconvenience? Not at all.

          • I have also “parentified” my boyfriend. I had a similar moment. He always asks me to scratch his back. I thought it was cute until one day we’re with his mother and I watched them have the exact same interaction. It made me sick to my stomach.

          • I think when the boundaries are not clear or there are past issues of trauma, it is *very* hard to figure out what is nurturing behavior and what is parentification. Holding a partner is normal and healthy. Nurturing behaviors are normal and healthy. But, an inequality isn’t meaning if you are the only one doing the holding and nurturing. If the partner can’t reciprocate. If one is the parent while the other absorbs or takes. Or, if you find yourself in need a back scratch or holding and consolation and your partner can’t meet your need at all. I think, for me, that felt…well, it made me feel funny inside. Hard to describe. I had no one to turn to when I was in pain. I felt emotionally exsanguinated. There was no mutuality. That became very, very hard. Does this make sense?

  2. I’m wondering what spectrum of behavior there is for people who are autistic or have Asperger’s, and if the lack of emotion is really a common lack of feeling, or just a shared gap in expressing it. I have a friend whose son is autistic, quite brilliant, yet he shows empathy and caring in how he behaves with his family. He definitely relates differently, but he’s definitely caring.

    When I said I was trying to understand more about you, I’m trying to understand more how you view your husband and marriage. My husband often seems unaware of his emotions, feelings, why he does things etc., but I’ve learned over the years that he has more awareness of his choices and their impact than I thought. Still, it’s an area that I find myself constantly wondering, checking, and second guessing in the moments of interactions or attempts to communicate with him.

    • There are two forms of empathy when we’re discussing ASDs. There is cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. Social cognition and, hence, cognitive empathy is classed as ‘theory of mind’, and that’s what we’re talking about when we discuss empathy and ASDs. That is where there is a breakdown. Emotional empathy, however, is usually present.

      My daughter has no problem with emotional empathy, and my husband, when he’s mindful and present, can be emotionally empathetic as well. Emotional empathy is that knee-jerk response to suffering. Someone is crying and you can respond to it. It affects you. You want to make it better. Children have this. Little children have this. They bring other children a stuffed animal. They go over and pat a crying child on the arm. My husband isn’t a sociopath. He definitely has emotional empathy. Combine emotional empathy with cognitive empathy, and this is where there is the breakdown in the relationship.

      For example, when I was pregnant with one of my daughters, I went into the basement and found a mountain of laundry. I was so overwhelmed I started sobbing. He heard me sobbing and came to see what was wrong. That’s emotional empathy. He asked me what was wrong. I pointed to the mountain of laundry and told him how overwhelmed I was. He patted me on the arm and said, “I’m sorry. That’s a lot.” And then he left.

      See? No cognitive empathy. He could not imagine what I was thinking then which is “I need help with the laundry.” That’s a theory of mind failure. Theory of mind asks: What do I think the other person is thinking? That’s first-order belief. Second-order belief asks What do I think that person believes that person over there is thinking? Third-order belief asks What do I think John believes that Sally thinks that Jane thinks? For an ASD person, these questions are HARD! You have to look at contextual clues, read social cues. It requires intuition that is not a skill that ASD people have. They don’t intuit. Neurotypical people absorb social skills through intuition and observation. ASD people do not. They memorize the skills and learn them as they go often through skills classes (now) and social thinking groups.

      And often, if there is a comorbid anxiety disorder, which there often is, combined with a Sensory Integration Disorder (SID/SPD), then you’ll have sensory defensiveness or sensory seeking plus anxiety in an adult! That throws a spanner into the works. So, if you have an emotionally empathetic adult with SPD and anxiety, OMG…who is untreated? In a relationship?

      Uh…huh. I’m ready to laugh…or cry.

  3. (I started typing more before I read your last response. Unholy cow… too much to resonate as you explained. I’m going to post this, and head back to reread your comments, because it just raised more questions in me.)

    My questions weren’t really rhetorical. I had to sit and think of my responses and I realized that when you responded that I was trying to communicate something, it might presume that?
    Your post stirred up more questions for me. How much could my husband ‘help’ or determine his behaviors? Where is he accountable, and am I possibly lacking the love I vowed, to accept what he can’t help?

    When you recorded your husband’s comment, “What’s wrong with you?” or your daughter’s comment saying, ‘if he loved us’, those were eerily familiar. Your article was full of information that seemed to be about people who possibly shouldn’t be held accountable because they lack the basic tools that accountability asks them to use. Question after question started up inside of me. The fact that I was starting to wrestle with the questions (which is fairly typical for me falling on the neurotic end of the spectrum) probably felt (in hindsight) disturbing somehow.

    • Oh, I’m a big believer in accountability because of skills training and tools. There are TREATMENTS available!!!! I know people in mixed marriages (one NT/one non-NT). And they are working their asses off in therapy. They are addressing their psychiatric disorders. They are learning HOW to communicate properly. They are seeing exactly where they are screwing it up, and they are keeping their promises. An ASD brain doesn’t have to produce abusive behavior or alienation. We all have our limitations. That is true in every person, but those limitations should never limit someone else’s ability to flourish through abuse–even if the abuse is neglect and perpetuating an invalidating environment.

      Everyone can learn validation. Everyone can learn to be more mindful. Even ASD people can develop cognitive empathy. You can develop better ToM. True emotional empathy? They already have that. It’s just a lot harder for them. IT takes enormous commitment.

      It takes passion and desire. That is the bottom line.

      Their marriage/relationships/family have to become their obsession. Hell, yes, accountability applies here, too.

      • I’ve been interrupted a handful of times in big chunks to navigate conversations with himself here. My mind kept leaning back to this conversation, but I think I’ll try again in the early hours tomorrow when I’m up usually alone.

        I saw the words passion and desire above. My brain almost fainted with futility and fell with a thud. Back to business here, but I wanted to quickly add that I appreciate this conversation, and your time to explain and share.

        • I understand. And you are more than welcome. I understand that sense of despair that comes and go particularly when you think about your relationship. It feels like if any sort of meaningful change has to come through them, then settle in for a long, cold winter. It ain’t gonna happen.

          I understand that.

  4. I’m going to add a small comment to your long, interesting thread- my (ex)-pah was capable of a degree of empathy, I saw him express it with his friend and he would get angry on other’s behalf. But he knew the lack of communication distressed me so it was an effective way of punishing me for expecting him to take responsibility. How can you tell how much of this is deliberate distancing?

    • That is a great question. My other half is capable of empathy. He gets angry all the time being the bleeding heart liberal that he is. That is emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy isn’t about emotions per se. It’s about thinking. There are theory of mind tests that are done in neuropsychological testing. The most basic ToM test is the Sally Ann test. I suppose the first question to ask is: Is he trying to punish you? He might know that you find it distressing, but does he take the leap and do it with intent? I am the first to admit that I have accused my husband of punishing me. “You hold our relationship hostage, you won’t talk to me for days, you hide in the bedroom, and I feel all alone! You’re punishing me!” And he just blinks at me with confusion as if he has no idea. It is mind-bending.

  5. Pingback: The Other Side of The Story | Out of the Mire

  6. Oh. My. Gosh. Only yesterday I cane across Alexithymia and finally could put a very relieved finger on ‘it’. Finally, a name to the curse of our marriage! I immediately sent it to my husband and he agreed it was all too familar.
    Today, I’ve come across your post and especially all of the commentary that followed and I cried. It’s all there. All of it. All of those experiences! What I have been going through with him has a NAME and I’m NOT alone. I cant express in full my gratitude for your sharing and eloquent depiction of life with these experiences. I feel like I can breathe!! ♡

    • Well, I am beyond pleased that you found validation and relief in coming here. You are definitely not alone. Common experience is so affirming, isn’t it? This post is one of the most read on my entire blog. So, I would say that many people are looking for an explanation to whatever “it” is. There’s fresh air out there. Keep breathing! Shalom, MJ

  7. Finally after 16 years of marriage my husband was diagnosed with
    Alexithymia. The pain still exists for me. Thank you for making me feel that I should not be placed in a straight jacket and left to rock alone in a chair. For everyone thinks that I have a problem. I share with you words in times of complete despair……….

    Ask me what I want and I shall tell
    I may cry as the pain is sharp and raw
    I promise myself I won’t yell

    How do I voice what I feel
    When I have done so many times before
    Before I finish, long before my words are out
    I’m silenced in my heart by your look of steel

    My words become angry my yelling starts
    I’m no longer in control of me
    Your comments show no empathy

    They don’t make sense not even in the same context

    It infuriates me to the core
    Why can’t you see? Why can’t you see?
    Why can’t you see what you are doing to me?

    I start screaming I’m now enraged
    I’m like a wild bird placed in a cage

    I feel trapped by something invisible to all except me
    Why can’t they see, why can’t they see
    Why can’t they see what your doing to me

    I now know I’m in flight or fight
    I’m willing to fight
    My anger and fist bear all that I feel
    I’m sobbing I’m hitting I wish it weren’t real

    You mock me now I’m so low
    To make me feel worse is all you know

    You show no comfort just disgust
    I’m begging pleading telling you how I feel

    I’m tired I can’t keep pretending I’m ok I’m not
    I talk with you about how I feel
    Well do something about it! You yell back at me
    Of course with no empathy

    I’ve given all that I can
    I given it all to my man
    My husband, my soul mate
    He made a vow to be there for me in sickness and in health
    His broken that vow too many times now

    You see the answer seems to be that he can’t find the words
    The words to tell how he feels
    But he uses words that cut like a knife
    Words you would not say to your wife

    I need words from him that shows he cares
    I need it as much as I need air
    I’m near the end my last breath is near
    I’m suffocating without the air

    Why oohhhh why can’t you see what your doing to me..

    • Your words are so brave. So authentic. Thank you for sharing them here. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it to you. Of all my posts, this post is the most widely read. It is the most popular one. It is read every day by so many people and few comment. What you share is uniquely yours, and, at the same time, it is part of a common experience. You are not alone, dearest. I offer you a warm hug and encourage you to do whatever it takes to care for yourself and know that you are worthwhile and worthy of love in both action AND words. Shalom, MJ

    • Hi,
      Been reading these comments and your poem struck many past experiences for me.
      I would like describe my relationship and any I sight would be wonderful.
      I found love of my life truly. I love her in ways I never knew possible. You know, just staring at her makes me smile. Sitting at table not talking is good way! Get pic.
      I write her love letters which she doesn’t have time to read or never comments on. Not acknowledged.
      When I tell her I love her she says she loves me but is not in love with me. We don’t kiss when we make love. If I ask her what feels better or what do you like she won’t respond.
      She does say I have nice body and she sexually attracted to me but does not love me.
      She lives with ex husband who is in love with his first wife. He is fifteen years older than my gf. They don’t communicate fight all time. She spends more time at my house than his but lies to him about her whereabouts. But don’t lie to me supposedly.
      She gets mad easily and its over this time and usually followed by silent treatment for couple weeks.
      I begged her say something nice to me and she couldn’t. Later she said I have told u that u have nice body.
      Never initiates touching or cuddling etc.
      Its always about past and love her life 25yrs ago no future no plans no hope.
      Doom and gloom.
      No social life.
      I got so desperate I lied to her said I had tumor inoperable in brain had six no this to live. Not once did she touch me or say any caring words..not one. Always about her. I would tell her I was picking out my gravesite and she would go off about her day. Then told her truth and got silent treatment. Later I did go to Dr and he saying g I was showing early stages of ms. I told her and said I could fight and beat it. She said people that fight it die too. I said geez thanks.
      Her excuse was she knew I was lying.
      I have cried and cried in front of her and not once has she cried but says she does alone.
      Always always about her no matter what event has happened.
      Claims to have a big heart and cares so much. But never verbally.

    • My Aspie spouse is incapable of expressing his feelings beyond frustration, stress and excitement and I am so done it’s not funny.
      It’s kind of like living with a perpetual 14 year old boy.
      Years of wondering how to connect with this man who likes to speak in monosyllables, rarely makes eye contact and is mostly focused on his needs and his needs only. I am so thankful for my therapist, my children who don’t seem to resemble him emotionally and the fact that he has consented to a divorce. Not to therapy mind you because he would have to expose himself emotionally and that is his Fort Knox of highest value. I am so glad I never put the house in his name and funded my own retirement before I got married. I’m sure he will figure out how to make getting divorced as nutty as possible because he hates when he is not in control. If I ever meet another Aspie again I will run in the opposite direction.
      I have paid dearly for my children in the form of sacrificing my needs to get along with this man. So much loneliness and crying myself to sleep.. Life without him cannot come soon enough and I’m sure it will take years to get him to remove all his stuff. Everything I read tells me that an aspberger has a knack for a high conflict divorce. Hopefully my attorney will shield me from him and hang tough on my behalf. With any luck I will be divorced before the end of the year!
      Something to hope for…

      • I’m sorry it took me so long to approve this! I was on vacation! I hope that you are on your way to a bigger and better and HAPPIER life. Thank you for contributing to this ongoing conversation. I think that every comment added helps broaden understanding and increase validation. Thank you again and all the best…MJ

      • I can sense the enormous frustration and finality in your post. Your description of your husband sounds eerily like mine. I have recently (verbally) made the move towards divorce as well. I have also recently brought it to his attention that I have suspected he was ASD for some time. I never knew the term “alexithymia” and when I heard it and found this site, the light came on! I’m wondering how you’re doing, and if the divorce has been finalized? It is indeed a reprieve to communicate with others that share in this experience. Thanks so much for sharing, Robin

        • I am doing very well. It has been 2 years, and it was the right decision. I think that everyone is happier. We are not on bad terms. We don’t see each other. Most communications are through text. My health has slowly turned around. I went back to grad school. My kids are doing much better. I won’t lie. The first year was rough in terms adjusting because all the damage done came home to roost. Therapy is a must. I was married for almost 20 years. Support for re-entry as it were matters so much. But, I have no regrets. I wouldn’t go back.

          • MJ, So glad to hear the tide turned and life has improved for you. I feel very grateful and fortunate that over the years I have invested in my education, completing graduate school as well, and can at least survive and feed myself. I decided years ago to stay at least long enough to complete the raising of my kids because they’re sons and I felt needed the male guidance of their father. I also had great fear that he would begin a relationship with another woman that would have unrestricted influence in boys’ lives. That was not even an option for me as his (the husband) lack of emotional experience and sourcing seemed to effect his discernment in others around him. Simply put, he is a very poor people judger! It is as if the filtering and sensing of the intentions or trustworthiness of others is completely absent. On the other hand, one of his well developed survival strategies is to “be liked” by everyone. So in that sense, any kind of interaction or relationship with others is really one sided. “Like me.” Our sons are grown now, the youngest returning home recently for a brief stay until leaving for the military. I had developed a day to day way of distancing myself from my husband and putting all my energy into getting my ducks straight for the very near future when I walk out the front door. Having our son home and the re-triangulation of the 3 of us has been stressful. Love having him home but resisting the pulling us back into family/couple mode and keeping boundaries is exhausting. I intend on a strict no contact rule when I leave that he has no idea about. I feel like it’s a self-imposed detox of a long suffering 30 year alexithymia marriage I desperately need. I’m inspired and encouraged by reading how you’ve found a way out and saved yourself.

          • 30 years. I totally get the preparation period–getting the ducks in a row. I did that. I just went underground so to speak and started building out something that would sustain me. I’m still doing that. And, in some ways, I’m still paying for the 20 years, but, at least, it’s on my terms to a greater degree. I feel like I’m building a life that *I* choose rather than feeling subject to his choices. Does that make sense? It’s worth so much more. The living in limbo is very hard. One eye on the door while having to sustain yourself in the present in a reality that no longer fits or makes sense. I wish you every good thing. I think you’ve earned that. All the best, MJ

          • MJ, you said, “…I feel like I’m building a life that *I* choose rather than feeling subject to his choices. Does that make sense? …”
            Does it make sense?!!!! Oh my God, does it! I have tried to verbalize this to him so many, many times. “His choices” for me were not superficial where we ate dinner, or color to paint the walls. My experience was simply that every single aspect of emotional, social and verbal exchange we ever had was determined by his wants, needs, and abilities. The length of our conversations, the topics, the level (always shallow) of intimacy and emotion shared, and the togetherness we could enjoy. I can’t remember one single interaction with him that left me feeling heard, felt or understood. I have told my sister at least 500 times in trying to describe the nature of my marriage, that I get exactly what the cashiers at the grocery store gets. No more and no less. Ring a bell for you?

  8. Wow. That’s all I can say.

    I divorced my ASD husband 10 years ago after 16 years of marriage. I just couldn’t take it anymore. The problems in the marriage were hard enough (as described well in all the previous writing). What was hardest for me was the lack of validation. To the world he was smart and funny and kind. That was the man I married. But then the honeymoon ended. He was also anxious and clueless and sometimes just plain mean — in that laundry pile kind of way. He desperately needed me to “mother” him — translate the world for him and talk him down from panic attacks (the first one scared the daylights out of me — I though he was having a heart attack). But when I was diagnosed with a potentially serious complication during my second pregnancy, he not only hung up on me when I called from the doctor’s office to share the news, he then pretended that it wasn’t happening at all. For three weeks. When I told him he HAD to attend a surgical consult with me (both for emotional support and to make some potentially tough medical decisions), he told me he didn’t want to take the time off work until he knew for sure how ill I was. I made him go, the appointment was terrifying, and then he tried to leave me — sobbing my heart out in the hospital parking lot — because he wanted to get back to the office. We lived 5 minutes away — he told me to catch a bus or a cab home.

    No one outside our home would have believed him capable of such behavior. At the time I never told a soul what was happening. I was embarrassed to be in this predicament and I protected him. But I was really protecting myself. I didn’t think anyone would believe me because he seemed like “such a great guy.” Before this happened I used to say “I know it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, but it CAN’T be a duck.” But once this happened I KNEW it was a duck. Quackers for sure. But there I was with a 3 year old and, god willing, another on the way. (Yes, baby 2 made it.)

    Everyone who writes about this talks about the isolation. I felt like I was losing my mind. How could my husband seem like such a decent lovable guy to the world, but be so “cruel” to me? How could he do such mean things and not even realize they were mean?

    Now our two sons are 24 (AS) and 21 (bipolar). Raising them has been harrowing because their father, who really does love them, refused to participate in their diagnoses or treatment. If something was wrong with them it was a failure on my part to parent them correctly. After all, they are his sons and they couldn’t possibly be imperfect. And anyway, if I was right about them . . . couldn’t it be possible I was right about him, too? I begged him for years to get help or go with me to do so, but he refused. It wasn’t until he knew I was leaving that he finally sought help — he was on the verge of a breakdown. But it was too little too late. Ironically his therapist told him he lacked empathy and he made me invisible in our marriage. Which he came home and dutifully reported, but he lacked the ability to do anything meaningful with that information. I get that now, but it was pretty weird at the time.

    The day he moved out he said three things to me:
    1. “My family says you pathologize the boys.” So much for speaking for himself or acknowledging his sons’ needs.
    2. “I assumed you were sleeping around during most of our marriage because I knew you were unhappy and I figured that’s what you would do.” God, I would have hated being married to that woman, too! Of course, she didn’t exist. But HE did sleep with a good friend of mine while we were in marriage counseling. (My therapist introduced me to the concept of “transference.”) I get now that this is part of that cognitive empathy problem, but it still hurt. A lot.
    3. “I expected you to fix me.” I had pretty much figured that out along the way although I was surprised that he admitted it. Especially because he expended a lot of effort saying that he didn’t need help and that I was the unhappy one.

    Sometimes I wonder if I had understood more about him, would we have stood a chance? But the boys needed so much of my time and attention — there just wasn’t enough of me to go around. I needed a partner. He resented that I stopped mothering him when I had REAL children who needed me to be both mother and father to them. At the very least, I think the information would have made it possible for me to stop beating myself up for not making our marriage work. Because, after all, we NT spouses are the project managers of our marriages. It was my job to solve our marriage problem.

    Anyway, I can’t tell you how much it means to know that other people understand what this is like. I have spent most of my adult life trying to keep my head while those around me are losing theirs (add my sons to the list now). I’m exhausted. I feel like I have used up a lifetime’s worth of energy and I’m still a fairly young woman. I compare it to carrying a heavy rock everywhere I go. When I was married and the boys were such a worry, I wanted my husband to help me carry it. His response: What rock? Now that I’m doing it on my own (because divorce has not made him a more responsive parent) I can’t put the rock down. So I go through life carrying this rock. Reading all of this made the rock seem a little lighter. Thanks.

    • Boy, did this hit home for me. I could have written this. Your husband and my soon-to-be ex husband are cut from the same cloth. I am amazed at how similar the stories are, and it just drives home the point that we need to tell our stories. What you said about fearing disbelief from others really resonates with me. That was something I felt very recently. “Who is going to believe a word I say? He’s so awesome publicly.” I relate to that so much. Needing a partner. Craving intimacy. Needing help. What you enduring during your pregnancies and the lack of support. ::raising hand:: I so want to see people struggling with this coming forward into the light for support, but this will drain a person of life and bring illness in its wake. That rock you carry you needn’t carry alone. It would get a whole lot lighter with other people there to share the burden. I firmly believe that this is how it is supposed to be. We were never meant to walk alone. Thanks so much for your honesty and willingness to speak up. I am hoping that it encourages and validates others. It certainly encouraged and validated me. Shalom to you, MJ

      • I could write my story, and it would so closely parallel that of Wordlass’s. I’ve been dealing with all of this for almost 10 years now, feeling like I had unrealistic expectations of my husband because the rest of the world thinks he’s such a “nice guy”. Reading all of this has been so validating, and it’s a relief to put a name to the madness and know that I’m not the only one who deals with this in their marriage. Thank you SO much for putting all of this out there!!! Now where do we go for support?

        • You have asked the magic question. Where do we go for support. A reader asked me to start a Facebook page so that others could start a dialogue there. Some kind of online forum/online support community. I actually did do that. This is a hard one to answer. I ended my marriage about a year ago, and healing from almost 20 years of this has not been easy. It’s on-going. There are therapists who have never heard of any of this which shocks the hell out of me. I guess I will keep posting resources. They exist. And let people know that the FB is open for online discussion. Connecting people together who can start supporting each other is really important. That’s where it starts. Building supportive relationships. That’s my first suggestion. Knowing that you are not alone. And connecting with others.

          • Thanks, MJ! May I ask the name of the FB group? I sometimes wonder, if I ever extract myself from this loveless marriage, if I’ll ever be able to open myself to being vulnerable to another person again. For now I know I just need to take care of me and take care of my kids. One day at a time! And connecting with others in similar situations would help too!

          • There’s a link for the FB group on my blog. It’s very new so there’s not much action. I completely understand the fear of being vulnerable again. Boy, do I! It’s possible. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. With an empathetic and kind partner, so much is possible.

  9. Thank you Shalom for your lovely response and your hug believe me I felt it and I need as many as I can get! I met my Hubbie at 21 I’m now 44. I just thought his behaviour was a male thing for most of the early years. Then came along our first child who is now 12. I dreamed of the doting Hubbie asking if I’m ok, rubbing my feet protecting me during my pregnancy oh no none of that. However he is a good father just not on an emotional level. Along came our second child 6 years later and by this stage our relationship was far from normal. I was working, pregnant and just not getting any emotional support, zero. Two days before our daughter was born I was advised of complete rest due to an unstable pelvis. Hubbie comes home from work and asked me what I’ve done all day? This led me to tears of complete disbelief. This was really the start of the realisation that this was not normal. A few years later I ended up breaking my ankle and really needing support. It was during this time that I was sent to the depths of despair by his total lack of empathy. My son 9 at the time showed me more caring and empathy than his father could. He refused to take time off from work to look after me when I was upset he would just leave he just had no idea how to deal with the situation. During this time I ended up very ill and was then subsequently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I sometimes wonder what caused the rheumatoid the accident or my emotional state from the complete lack of empathy from my husband which I may add at the time was soul destroying.
    Last year enough was enough I said to Hubbie that I felt he may have Aspergers and to see a physcologist. I said I would leave if he chose not to as I could take no more.
    After 4 sessions and a barrage of behavioral assessments he was told that he struggles to identify the emotions in others, he finds it difficult to find the right words to express his feelings or what to say if I’m upset. We were told that in physiological terms they call this Alexymthia. This word stuck in my head and left his within a second. I have googled the hell out of this word desperately trying to comprehend and or understand maybe more about me and my sanity than his diagnoses.
    Thank god I persevered as finding this site was finding my prescription!
    We were told that his was a learnt behaviour due to parents that did not express their emotions or have their children explore their emotions when they were young . His sister who is 60 was interviewed as part of the assessment. She explained to me that she could only ever remember their mother saying she loved her twice and that she has struggled also In relationships.
    Since his diagnoses I feel I’m still in mourning. Mourning the words I crave for i won’t hear, the random cuddle I won’t get unless I ask. Conversations about our future our dreams, plans and so much more. If I’m strong enough to stay knowing what I now know we will have dreams and plans and cuddles and laughs. As long as I have the strength to continue to start the conversation create the plans give the cuddles we may make it…….

    • Your situation is familiar to me. It seems that there is a pattern of behavior where there is alexithymia. Alexithymia seems to be a symptom of a much larger problem because it sounds like there is impaired empathy present. This is the same here. Your grief is healthy. And you have such great insight into yourself and your own process. That is such a strength even though it probably doesn’t feel like it right now. It all just feels like pain. But, that is what is going to save you. Have you been able to take care of yourself at all? See a therapist for yourself?

  10. Yes albeit only a couple of sessions with a counsellor. These sessions focused solely on me and controlling my emotions which is extremely difficult. We have been advised that Hubbie should have individual sessions to help develop more effective communication skills his had a couple so far. We should then continue with marriage counselling to work on our relationship together. Then if I can fit in some sessions alone for me would be most beneficial. There are lots of moments where I feel I just don’t have the energy, time and support to keep fighting for what should just come naturally. A recent post mentioned how old they feel even though they are relatively young. This is how I feel. Today is a new day only I have the emotional power to make it a good one. Some days this is tough really tough. Thank you Shalom I will continue to read your posts and really encourage others to share. It took me a long time to post my feelings I am so glad I did. Emotion is a feeling just is support and your comments and those of others have given me a comfort of not being alone. Alone in terms that you can be surrounded by friends and family they don’t understand they don’t see it. It can take years to find out that everything you feel is normal and that your not a complete nut case you just haven’t been given the love that we so need. Your a beautiful plant that gets a sprinkling of water every so often but is that enough. It’s enough for me currently his done everything I’ve requested to save our marriage. I just need to keep topping up the water can.

    • This is not an easy journey. I am glad that you are seeing a therapist even if only a few times. It is so easy to become so focused on the other that we forget who we are. That we were once people, too, before we met them. But, we are. We have dreams, hopes, and the ability to make plans for a future that has the potential to bring us joy even if our feelings tell us otherwise. We can build a life for ourselves outside of our marriages that is rewarding and fulfilling. That is what I did, and that is what helped wake me up to myself.

      Keep going. Life is all around you.

  11. I’m wondering, for all of you following this thread: How is it that our (ex)husbands are unable to understand our emotions, but seem to have no trouble doing so out in the world?

    Mine would come home from work and tell me all about everyone in his office. He knew more about his coworkers’ personal lives than he did about mine. And we lived together! I could have told you what they ate for lunch, where they were going on vacation, who was having marital difficulties . . . My husband NEVER once asked my how my day was when he walked in the door (including when I had a full-time job out of the house). I finally told him that as long as the appropriate amount of money was deposited in our joint account every two weeks, I could be walking the streets to earn my paycheck. He’d be none the wiser. He had no idea who I worked with, what I worked on, or who I worked for. One night I came home very distraught after a difficult day and I tried to talk it out. He fell asleep sitting in the chair across from me. Talk about soul crushing.

    How was he able to absorb, retain, and share (at great length) the details of other people’s lives yet not see me at all? I always found this very confusing and it just seemed to prove how little he cared about me. The world revolved around him.

    • I should do a post on this. This is the case with my husband, and, in fact, one of the reasons I held on for so long. My therapist and I went round and round on this. My husband is not autistic, and the tell was this. In an ASD, lack of skills are generalized. An ASD doesn’t show up in one place fully functional and skilled and then in another not. My husband is a secret schizoid with a comorbid anxiety disorder. The alexathymia fits well here. Looking at it from this angle, it comes down to skills learned. Where are the investment of skills? In the job. Not at home. So, all of the energy is put forth into an investment of a persona which is high functioning, skilled, and perceptive. This is the Nice Guy persona. At home, there is no need for a persona. The lack of interpersonal skills is evident. The utter cluelessness, entitlement, and dysfunction is also evident.

      This is often what a secret schizoid personality looks like. It’s what my husband looks like anyway.

      • Holy cow!! Yes! That’s exactly, precisely, and squarely my experience. As I’ve mentioned before, I suspected he may be ASD, but your (or your therapist’s) distinct explanation of “showing up” different in different places is exactly the identifier I needed to understand why ASD is probably not correct, but schizoid is. He loves a solitary existence and it has been 30 years, yes, THIRTY YEARS of trying to interact with him and dealing with;
        Takes pleasure in few, if any, activities
        Does not desire or enjoy close relationships, including family
        Appears aloof and detached
        Avoids social activities that involve significant contact with other people
        Almost always chooses solitary activities
        Little or no interest in sexual experiences with another person
        Lacks close relationships other than with immediate relatives
        Indifferent to praise or criticism
        Shows emotional coldness, detachment or flattened affect
        Exhibits little observable change in mood
        ALL of these are exact descriptions of him, with the exception of indifference towards praise. He does seem to respond to that. I have also mentioned that I am currently pursuing a divorce and it can’t come too fast.
        Thank you so much for your serendipitous brilliance!

        • Ooooh, yes, I see. Yes, an ASD DX is generalized. They are the same across the social situations. That is a distinction.

          30 years. From one woman to another, there is a sea of life, adventure, and opportunity out there waiting for you. The waters are choppy at times and you might get sea sick, but there is nothing like the fragrance of the fresh sea air and the ocean breeze of hope blowing through your hair. I really hope you’ll let me know what it’s like for you when you unmoor and set sail.

  12. Pingback: Alexithymia and the Secret Schizoid | Out of the Mire

  13. I relate to all of this with my husband of 40 years. I don’t know if it is Asperger or Alexithymia or both. There is Asperger Syndrome in his family. He is dyslexic, can’t read or write. I suspect one of my sons may be Asperger but he is very intelligent especially at Maths. My 5 year-old grandson is also super intelligent. My husband isn’t. One thing that hasn’t really been spoken about is the sexual side of the relationship. Twenty years ago I found out my husband had been having an affair. I was devastated with the cruel things he said to me at the time. Could not understand that this would upset me. He said things like “She was breaking up with her partner so what’s wrong with it”. He is impotent with me, we haven’t had sex for 10 years, in fact, no form of intimacy at all, which I’ve read can be a part of Alexithymia. There are so many examples that agree with what I’ve read. When I try to talk to him about my feelings about it, he gets angry and goes and sleeps in another room. He has got violent too. I have a very serious chronic illness and suffer depression. Life is getting harder and harder. He says he can’t go and get help because he works long hours (at a very low paid job). I am too sick to work and no longer drive.

    • Thank you for sharing your story here. I am very sorry for what you have been through and what you continue to endure. You will find other women here who can empathize with you and, hopefully, comment and offer you validation. I know from experience how hard it is to live within the parameters of these circumstances and a resultant physical illness. My thoughts are with you. Shalom…MJ

  14. This sounds a lot like my ex. Living with him became progressively more and more unbearable; still he would never communicate with me. He was humorless and always was occupied, not at making money, but at projects like taking his VW buses apart, cleaning every tiny part with a toothbrush and then reassembling the whole thing. He spent every waking moment on this kind of stuff. He wasn’t very interested in sex. He never never communicated anything resembling a feeling. He was very passive aggressive, also abusive in many ways, always punishing me and the kids for imagined minor infractions. I’m so happy to be free of him, but the entire road has been so long and so hard. He deliberately kept us in the poorhouse, although he has many talents and abilities, he basically refused to work or to give anything whatsoever to me or the kids. He took up all the space to himself in the house, the garage, in the yard. My daughter and I had to park our cars elsewhere since his collection of vehicles took up our 4 parking spaces. I could go on infinitely about his refusal to give anything to any of us, even down to a smile or a hello. For the last 7 years, I believed I was dying, finally I had to run away from my own home and my own children to save my own life and my sanity. While he sat in his chair on his computer for 7 years, never lifting a finger, I had to come every day to the house to do all the work and take care of everything for all of us. I have been struggling with not enough money the entire time. Yet, as you said, the outside world perceives him as normal. that’s all for now 🙂 gotta do stuff

    • The stories are strikingly similar. I’m sorry that you and your family have suffered. You do not deserve that. No one does. I hope that you are in a better place now. Perhaps getting there? Best to you, Lili. Shalom, MJ

      • Thank you for your kind words MJ. I am rereading this blog and I just noticed your response to me and it brings tears. Yes you are right, no one deserves being stuck in a marriage or in a family home with a person who brings nothing but misery. Sometimes I used to think he represented all the misery in the world: miserable, miserly, miser, misery. I didn’t deserve this and I didn’t deserve my other relationships with men who seem to be emotionally blocked and abusive, yet looking at my relationship history, that is all I see. For now, I plan to stay out of relationships, try to find myself, try to move forward with work and self-sufficiency. It’s nice to be out of relationships altogether. Very nice.

        One point I might make is that I think both my mother and my father may have had this emotional problem that you describe. My mother, to this day, and she is now 83, is always positive. She is much better now, but in the past, it felt like she was unable to be there for me. Especially since I suffered from depression and trouble pretending to be positive. I think my dad was narcissistic and abusive…. My 3 oldest kids are basically grown and doing well. My 4th is16 and lives with me. He is doing pretty well too, but I see signs of Asperger’s in him.
        One final note: you are a wonderful writer !! Do you know that ?!! 🙂

        • How do you find it moving forward? Do you find it exciting, or is it difficult? Or a bit of both? I think it’s bittersweet. I am so thrilled to be moving out and on, but, at the same time, it’s not easy. But, I like it. The hope is such a welcome change. Thank you for your compliments. Very kind.

          Do you have any passions in life that light you up? That really fuel your inner fires?

          Relationships are not easy. The good ones are so worthwhile. I really love being in relationships. But, even the great ones require a lot of us. Trust is hard to give, isn’t it? It’s a crucible, yes?

          Best, MJ

  15. Well, I’ve been separated from my marriage for 8 years and had 2 boyfriends in a row since. The first was abusive and the 2nd was emotionally absent. But I was madly in love with each one, which was exciting and fun. Recently I broke up with #2 since all along I was in torment. He is always positive like my mother. If I would break up with him, he’d say, “Okay well have a great day !! Are we still friends? :)” and he’d be off that night enjoying himself at a rock concert or a party. I realized I needed time and space to heal from all of these relationships which date all the way back to the abusive boyfriend I lived with when I was in college and only 18.
    Yes I have many passions. I love to write and can spot great writers. I am a thinker who reads philosophy. My favorite philosophers are all French: Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil and of course, JP Sartre. I love to walk, jog, bike. I love making love. I love coffee & beer. I love travel. I’m adventurous. I love flowers and trees. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
    …Bittersweet yes. But I’ve barely ever spent time being “single” or out of a boyfriend relationship, so I’m enjoying it and discovering myself which is actually very enjoyable. I’m 54 and as I mentioned the end of the child-raising road is just on the horizon which is nice. I’m really enjoying my adult kids and feeling good about them.

      • Do you have passions? Probably while i was still with x passions were suppressed. I worked on finding joy after realizing I’d felt none for 20 years.

        • Thank you for giving me hope. I have felt so little preference for anything other than making sure everyone else is ok. I hope in the future I will find some passions.

          • Oh, this I completely understand. Being so other-focused that the idea of even thinking about yourself is utterly foreign. If you can find one thing to do that pleases you, then do that. No matter how small. A nice smelling soap in the shower. A hot cup of something that you love. A certain meal that you have always liked. Or, something very personal maybe? A nice pair of underwear that only you know you are wearing but that makes you smile. Starting small is very meaningful AND it is sustainable. Plus, once you have built the habit of doing something small for yourself with just one thing, you will find that you like it. This is what I did. I found it much easier to add to it from there. There is no rush. When changing a life trajectory, every little change no matter how small makes a big difference. I don’t know if this will speak to you, but it might. xo

    • Your post gave me alot of hope. I seem to have lost connection to all the things I like and enjoy, but I have a little more faith they may come when I get out of this rabbit hole (I’ve been down for nearly 20 years). My youngest two are 9 and 13 and the eldest two have already left home. I can see the top of the hill now. If I can survive until they are adults or almost, I will make a bid for freedom then x

  16. Pingback: Therapy Tuesday: Rewriting History | Out of the Mire

  17. I am currently dealing with a 5 year relationship where my partner seems to have every single one of these traits. I was wondering if there was a way I could message you privately for more knowledge on alexithymia?

  18. I know exactly how it feels. Thank you for validating!!! I have been seeing someone for 5 years with Alexithymia and couldn’t bare it so I tell myself and others its 2 years and 3 as friends for my self respect. I think to myself that I would rather give birth 4 times back to back than to go through the deprivation. I don’t even know how I keep functioning. Thank you for validating!!!

  19. Pingback: Alexithymia and the Sexless Marriage | Lady J Revisited

  20. I’ve never taken part in a group like this but after reading this article, I feel compelled to contribute. I’ve been with my boyfriend for a little over a year now. I’ll start by saying that he is the most kind and generous person I’ve ever had in my life. He’s highly intelligent and has enriched my life in a way I didn’t know possible. With that being said, for the duration of our relationship I’ve always felt something was “off”. I don’t feel like we connect on a deep level like I’m used to having in previous relationships. Any time there is an argument, no matter how big or small, he seems to completely shut down. He’s unable to share personal stories and feelings with me. At first I thought this was because he had been hurt so badly by all the other women he had dated. He was afraid of being vulnerable again. But the more time passes the more I realize that it’s deeper than just being insecure. When I do try to have conversations with him about serious issues or beliefs or really anything, I often walk away feeling confused and dumb. He seems to have a complete lack of emotion and empathy. I too am the type of person that is proactive and needs to fix things, which is how I discovered this blog and also Alexithymia. We had a discussion a few days ago and I expressed my concern for his failure to feel his emotions and avoidance of all confrontation. He believes that these are not negative traits. I have not presented him with this information about this disorder but I believe this is what the issue is. I’m unsure what to do next. I don’t know how to tell my boyfriend that I believe he has a personality disorder. I love him too much to leave without trying to help but I’m beginning to feel neglected and lonely in our relationship. I guess I’m just trying to get advice on what I can do to help him.

    Thank you for listening.

    • Your story is familiar, and it takes courage to tell it. My first comment regarding what to do would be, for yourself, to find a therapist. Diagnosis of a personality disorder is serious, and that needs to come from a licensed therapist. That’s a pathology that needs long-term treatment. But, alexithymia, if that’s what he has, might very well be related to something else like generalized anxiety disorder or simply shutting down his emotional processing from a past trauma. Honestly, my advice would be to find a therapist for yourself first. Address your own issues. That feels counterintuitive when it feels like your partner is the problem, but it is not possible to change or fix another person. We can only change ourselves. I was on that “If only I could get him to do x, y, and z, then everything would be so much better” treadmill for years, and, in the end, I was the one who needed to change. I needed the healing. The reason I say this is: Why would I be willing to stay in a relationship where I continually lowered the bar on acceptable treatment until I felt hollowed out, miserable, and desperately lonely? Yes, I loved him, but I needed to love myself, too. You must follow the 51% rule in relationships particularly if there is a dysfunction present–take care of yourself 51% more than you take care of them or consider them. This helps prevent codependency. This may not be the advice you were looking for, but, from my own experience, I can tell you that when you start wondering how to fix them because you’ve hit the “I’m not happy anymore,” then it’s time to bring your focus back to yourself. Once you are seeing a therapist and figuring out what happiness means to you, THEN you can bring them into a session with you and start addressing those questionable behaviors that started causing you to feel dumb or crazy or made you question your reality. This is the best advice that I can give you based upon 20 years of experience with a man with alexithymia (and slew of other issues). I wish you all the best on your journey, and please don’t hesitate to keep in touch. Shalom, MJ

      • Thank you for your quick response. I had a feeling that the answer would be to get help for myself first. Unfortunately, disfunction is not new to my life. This is, however, the first time I’m dealing with someone who possibly has a legitimate illness or disorder. My relationship seems in many ways to mirror yours, right down to the occupation of choice. He’s a software engineer who works from home. I think all the similarities are what compelled me to write in the first place. I know our relationship is very important to him and he, on his own, has mentioned seeking counseling. The next step is to get help for myself. Thank you again for your help. It’s very comforting to hear that other people have experienced what I’m going through.

  21. Hi. Thank u so so so much for writing abt all u hav faced. I can’t write so much o may b I have forgotten to express too. I’m 23 and he is 28 years old… All I now do I cry b cry my heart out. Where did I do wrong? U ppl are so brave n been still going through it and married. All I tell him n beg him is pls express pls express everything I wil not judge u. I love u pls tell me. There are many guys, friends, colleagues who does tremendous things for. They have that fear to loose me nd is scared if I stop talking even. Few of them r still waiting for me n few of them loves me for 8 to 9 years BT I have never felt ne thing for them. BT the man for whomn I feel the whole world of emotions doesn’t feel any thing abt me. I have pushed myself started behaving like him nothing works, all he tells me is ‘ its not that long only 9 years n we r not married if u r not happy pls forgive me, u torture me mentaly so much what u want from me is I can’t give u . all u do is complain n same nagging OK u will stop this n that, u will change urself n blaa blaa, u try techniqs to seduce me, are u horney all the tym? I dnt understand’ I still can’t typ, I thought god has made the most emotional fool on earth. Our discussion doesn’t continue, all his answers end with I dnt know. I’m tired of fighting n changing myself. We never had sex n still he thinks I’m horney.. Pls help me how should I behave wid him

    • This is very heartfelt and sincere. So, I’ll just ask you a question to make sure I understand. Are you in a relationship with this man? A romantic relationship?

  22. Wow. All of you have written my life story in one way or another and yes, it’s good to know I’m not the only one going through this. My husband of 44 years is very kind, very patient, and very emotionally absent. We have together read the book “Alexithymia: Emotionally Dumb” and we both agree that he has it pretty severely. We’ve been to 2 therapists though that hadn’t even heard of Alexithymia, and all the information we can get about it has been online and in books, which, while informing us has done nothing to help us. We are at a stalemate where he insists he can’t change (it’s like being color-blind, he says…I wouldn’t expect him to see green or red, would I?) and I need to accept him the way he is, and I’m ready to separate so my “alone-ness” isn’t so lonely.

    What kills me the most is my expectation of emotional support and intimacy and his expectation that I accept the “what is” which is that it’s just not there for him. I know for a fact that he totally accepts me with all my flaws (read, he doesn’t really care that I have them) but I can’t accept his emotional distance. It came to a head about 4 years ago after another of our periodic discussions, where it’s usually me doing all the talking, when I asked him if he loved me. He said “with my mind I love you” and I know exactly what he meant because that’s exactly what I felt. It was crushing to realize I’d been married for 40 years to a man who loved me with only his mind. It was like I had some kind of scales over my eyes that dropped off that day. That’s when we started therapy.

    Intellectually, he knows things aren’t right but emotionally and experientially, he has no depth of feeling to draw from to make sustainable changes in himself or, frankly, to give of himself. He’s tried and it’s almost kinda sad to see his efforts. He’d come up to me and say “oh, I need to hug you today, don’t I?” and I’d get what I call the mechanical hug, still from the mind and not from the heart. One therapist told us that he could create new neural pathways by doing the actions and the feelings would eventually follow. Didn’t happen, whether because he couldn’t sustain the actions for long enough or whether that assessment wasn’t accurate, I don’t know.

    In 44 years I have never once seen my husband angry (this is not an exaggeration and believe me, I tried), I’ve never even seen him upset, I’ve never seen him enraptured with anything, and I’ve seen him cry once for about a minute when his father died. No tears for his mom. He loves our 2 adult children in his own way, but has no real relationship with them or anyone else in his family of origin. It’s my job to do the relationship building. Everyone sees him as kind, funny, patient, wise…and he is those things. But he’s also distant, emotionally unavailable, totally blind to my emotional needs, passive, self-centered, and not willing to fight for our marriage. When I tell him I’m ready to leave he says “OK, I just want you to be happy” and I know he means it but it’s infuriating that he won’t even try to keep me.

    So now I’m thinking I’m the idiot for putting up with this for so many years. Obviously I’m committed to my vows or I’d have been out long ago. It’s just recently that I’ve come to realize that yes, this is the way it is. I don’t think therapy is going to change his fundamental nature and I’m not really interested in mechanical hugs anymore. I totally identify with feeling crazy about this. Totally. We now have separate bedrooms at my insistence since I will not lay with him anymore with him refusing to touch me as he no longer needs or wants sex. It’s kept me semi-sane but I’m surely settling, not thriving, and I need to decide if this is what I’m willing to take for the rest of my life but it’s so hard. So hard. I do love him, but that doesn’t mean I want to suffer for the rest of my days.

    Sorry this is so long but it’s a mini-purge to people that actually understand. I’ll just leave you with this. Within the first month that I met my husband back in 1972 I had a dream of him sitting on the other side of a maze. I kept trying to get to him but I couldn’t get through the maze, and he just sat there watching me. I never did reach him. I think now that I knew even then what was coming but I didn’t know how to interpret it. I do now.

  23. Steps to take when dealing with a spouse or loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorders or other disorders that are not just weaknesses, but bondages in life. They need to be dealt with. If you want true peace first within yourself, you need to become a child of God and ask Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior. This is a free gift, not to be earned. Repent of sins, and turn to God and ask God to help you obey Him. We won’t be perfect, but if we love God, we will try to obey Him, though we will mess up because we are human. Once you’ve become a Christian, and you want healing for your loved one’s here are some steps:

    1,) Seek the Lord. “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4).

    2,) Study the Word of God concerning healing. “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

    3.) Pray and fast for NAME OF THE PERSON deliverance and healing. “He said to them, ‘This kind cannot come out except by prayer and fasting’ ” (Mark 9:29).

    4.) Obey the Lord. “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it’ (John 2:5, emphasis mine).

    Stand strong, and do not give up. Ephesian 6:13- 13Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

    • An autism spectrum disorder is a biologically based brain disorder. Is this the kind of advice you would give to someone with MS or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease? They not only have a weakness but also a “bondage in life”? Furthermore, if they choose not to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior but choose a different path, are you suggesting that they would be denied “healing”? What about those people who do, in fact, follow the formula you have lain out here but who never receive any kind of healing and continue to suffer until the day they die?

      What you have done here is proof-texted. I’ll be honest here. This is poor exegesis, and it’s an example of Christian gnosticism particularly if you are going to imply that autism is a form of demon possession. It is highly judgmental and lacking in compassion and love. The next time you sit down to comment on the pain and suffering of people you do not know, spend at least an hour in 1 Cor. 13. It does not matter what you think you know. Without love, it’s meaningless.

  24. I can’t express my amazement at how liberating and harrowing today has been for me. Thank you to everyone here who has shared your stories on here.

    From a few months into my relationship i realised my partner had autism, and he confirmed this and told me about his past. Anger issues, being sent to a school for Autistic children, his mother sending him to live in a mental health facility for 4 years. I couldn’t believe half of it, as to me he seemed so well adjusted despite it all.

    From everything he has told me over the years (emotions related to it were extremely limited), i honestly believe he was shaped by his parents to be how he is. His mother is a textbook psychopath, incapable of feeling empathy for others or love, yet she is incredibly charming and is surrounded by friends. His father undiagnosed and untreated is clearly on the ASD. I feel possibly with my partner being on the ASD and that combination of parents led to incorrect labeling of behaviour and over diagnosis. He spent his childhood being told what he felt was crazy and his actions always wrong, sent away to be corrected.

    He is a strange mix and hard to keep up with, my keen interest in mental health, being a registered nurse, highly intuitive and having a high emotional intelligence i feel has aided me in helping myself understand him more. I am an extremely deep emotional person and seek richness in life through it, my partner is incredibly logical in his actions and decisions, though he “conducts social experiments” where he says certain things to other people or sets up situations with other people just to see how they react. He constantly observes other people, even while we go on a date, he finds it hard to maintain eye contact, yet will eyeball someone else while we are out. It took me a long time to understand that his attention elsewhere is just him attempting to make sense of all the emotionally fueled actions and conversation around him. He was comfortable with me and “figured me out” to some degree that his attention was more strategically placed elsewhere. Only issue with that is myself being so emotionally driven…unpredictability!

    Don’t get me wrong, he cares deeply for me in whatever way he knows how. He wants me to be safe, and finances whatever that takes and wants me to succeed and supported me through university. He asks how my day is, he tries to cheer me up when i seem ‘off’, he goes through all of the motions because he wants me to be happy. Though as genuine as they feel and seem, i can see that they are learned behaviours, that he knows they are the right things to do, as once he finishes the action he disappears to his computer or book, then an hour later be so confused as to why i’m not a blinding ray of sunshine.

    He has quite good insight into it all at times, explaining how he gets frustrated at times not being able to know what he feels, knowing he should feel things but doesn’t and cannot understand why people feel certain things or react in certain ways and struggling to feel empathy. This especially happens when we argue, he is logical and outcome focused, i want to know the why and have him understand WHY i am upset. Yet other times he will blindly refuse that his ASD and my emotions have anything to do with any disagreements or his actions that upset me vice versa.

    I am very lucky in the fact that he has this insight, as when he struggled with naming his emotions one i told him i worried if he felt love and what it was he felt for me and he said he felt for me what he thought should be love, which was he wanted to protect me, provide for me, see me happy and doesn’t ever want to see me go. Which i see as a great expression and probably at its base couldn’t describe love more logically 🙂 He mostly struggles with understanding what emotions are and why anyone acts on them and what others are feeling.

    Today i came across the term Alexithymia. I had never heard it before, but reading its definition i had tears in my eyes. It made so much sense to me, i sent the link to him and asked if he had ever heard of it. He seemed quite affronted, which i understand, and said oh i fit a few categories but do you need a label for me? I told him no, it just helps to make sense of things. He replied you know me, you don’t need to make sense of it. I replied that i do know him, but it helps to understand certain cognitive behaviors and reactions as behaviorally we compare others reactions and emotions to ours to understand them and we are chalk and cheese in that category.

    After finding out about Alexithymia i came across Affective Deprivation Disorder which is where i think most of our issues have come from. I have a very high need to be validated in everything i do. For lack of a better description he is lower on the spectrum of autism and Alexithymia, but due to my high emotional intelligence and demand, i need more than he can give or comprehend. As heart-wrenchingly devastating as some parts of our relationship can be, others are absolute bliss. I believe despite how terribly we are matched, we can be the perfect “cure” for each other. We have become better at fighting, in that he now reflects afterwards and often apologises, and i am learning to reign in my emotional drive for everything and be more understanding to his limitations.

    At times i can feel quite alone, i love him more than life itself and want to spend my life with him, there is no doubt about that. But at times i worry are we going to get better at this? I have spent weeks depressed due to inattention and need to feel validated by him, infuriatingly jealous of his inattention to me but his curious investment in conducting social experiments and trying to figure out other people including women.I came from a history of being cheated on while blissfully naive and over trusting, which turned me into a suspicious, untrusting, snooping horror. Which made our first year an absolute nightmare, bad bad mix ha ha ha.

    Does anyone think it is possible to get better or even stay the same for life? We have only been together for a couple of years, i want to ensure i can nuture this for life. I am becoming better at recognising when he is struggling to make sense of things, and when to drop something. My main issue is self validation. I have always struggled with it, and to begin with i researched it before i knew about Alexithymia, i knew i needed to take better care of my own emotional needs and couldn’t rely on him to, though at the time i thought it was because we were failing as a couple. Now i feel it can be something that makes us stronger and helps us.

    I’m sorry this is so long winded, but i’ve never had the chance to get any of this off my chest before! Such a relief! I have quite a lot of hope for us and he does make me feel loved and deep down i’m pretty sure he does feel some semblance of emotion, he just doesn’t yet have the tools to understand or utilise them, they seem….useless to him after all this time.

    Anyone who can make sense of my ramblings or my situation i welcome your advise, especially those who have lived with it for so many years.

    Thank you all again for sharing your stories, it’s truly humbling to read and finally have a sense that i’m not alone in this 🙂

    • Thank you for taking the time to write things out. It’s good to do that. And, it’s helpful for me or anyone else who has commented if you are looking for common ground. You will most likely find it. What you describe is very familiar.

      What I want to say is that 1) something like alexithymia is not the root issue. It’s the fruit on a tree. Sort of like hearing voices is not the root issue for someone with a biologically-based brain disorder. Hearing voices is scary, distracting, and confusing, but it also points to a larger problem, and it’s that larger problem that must be addressed. It is the same with alexithymia.

      Alexithymia has been best understood within the autism community, but I have a daughter with autism who is not alexithymic. Alexithymia can be overcome through education and therapeutic intervention. These social experiments that your partner is doing intrigues me. Can you elaborate? Typically, an adult diagnosed with an ASD who has not received any early intervention will not succeed at social experiments due to a deficient theory of mind. If his social experiments or even social thought experiments are successful and he is successfully anticipating what people are thinking and, thusly, going to do, then I genuinely question his ASD DX. Keep in mind, thought experiments are safe because they are done in a vacuum. There is no element of anxiety. The most common comorbidity with an ASD is anxiety. Anxiety activates the limbic system shutting down the decision making parts of the brain. So, you end up with a reactive person in social scenarios who is no longer as functional as they wish to be. People with insight overcome this in different ways (social drinking is often their choice). Is your partner anxious?

      I was married to a man who sounds eerily a lot like your partner. Too much. Many people thought that he was perhaps autistic. He was not (I write books that serve as resources for parents and professionals serving the ASD population so this topic is in my wheelhouse). What is a tell? My husband was amazing at his job. Stellar actually. His social skills on the job were fantastic. People would try to lure him away from his current job to work elsewhere. He was sent in specifically to work with difficult customers. A person on the autism spectrum would NOT meet that description. It was when he would come home that he would dump that persona and disappear into our bedroom with his laptop. He had invested himself for the day. He was done. When asked why he refused to interact with me or his children, he looked confused: “You mean I have to be ‘on’ when I get home, too?” I once asked him if he felt like he was punching in a timecard when it came to spending time with me or his children. His response? “Yes.” We were a formula. Variables in his life.

      Connection? Emotional? Sexual? Anything? No. He was not interested. He did not know how to do that, and he really didn’t care. Or he did care but only to the extent that it would exacerbate his anxiety.

      Yes, he, too, financed my life. He was a great patron. That is how I would describe him. If I was sad or upset, he would suggest that I go out or do things to make me happy. He did care, but he did not see himself as part of that. This is not autism. Autists feel empathy. That is a misnomer thanks largely to the media.

      What I believe was present in my ex-husband is a personality disorder. What you describe? No matter the diagnosis of your partner, I would encourage you to think in terms of connection. This is where the AfDD comes in. Removing talk of pathologies like ASDs or anything else, we all need connection. When we are with someone who does not need or want it, then we have a problem. It’s really that simple. And if we spend an inordinate amount of energy and time within the relationship overcompensating for our partner’s lack of desire for us, then we create a codependency within the relationship. We reinforce their lack of desire by our enabling of it. We seek them out. We build the bridge to them, plank by plank. We reinforce their insular relational habits. Sure, we love them.

      But, in any relationship that looks at all like this, you have to adopt the 51% rule. You must put 51% of your energy into yourself and your well-being. Not them. Why? Because your focus is not on your own well-being and development. It’s on his. And the only time in life when our focus is more devoted to the well-being and development of another human than our own is when we are parents. Your partner is an adult. I was not my ex-husband’s mother, but I sure played that role stupendously in terms of attempting to nurture him and care for him. And he took me on the ride of my life. He used me as his emotional crutch to function, and I did not see it until after we separated.

      You are right to expect connection. You are right to expect his being able to discuss his emotions. You are right to expect his choosing you. You are right to expect getting your needs met, too. You are right to expect feeling like you’re wanted and special. If he is deflecting his failure to perspective-take, empathize, and meet any of your needs for intimacy (which is why we are in relationships in the first place), then take note of that and be careful. That is gaslighting behavior. It’s manipulation, and it’s wrong. If his first response to you after your sharing your emotions and heart with him is to blame you or defend himself rather than to meet you where you’re at and comfort you, then this is your tell.

      You cannot fix that. You cannot bridge that. He is the only one who can do that.

      So, take care of YOU. Put your focus back on YOU. David Schnarch’s book The Passionate Marriage is very good. It’s about relationships and individuating and differentiating in relationships. I highly recommend it. Start there. Differentiate. Ultimately, this will save you and throw a lifeline into the relationship and prevent any further codependency.

      • Hi Mj,
        Sorry i never replied to your comment, i never even knew you replied. I never did check back though, self preservation possibly, what we aren’t told we can’t believe haha.
        I come from a different place this time, 6 months after writing my comment i left my partner. It was a long time coming, but i finally put myself first firmly and fought tooth and nail for what i needed. He couldn’t provide that, so i left. I didn’t look back, not once. We were both heartbroken, and he tried to pull me back. But despite grieving the loss of love i felt for him at the time, i knew so well that leaving was one of the best decisions i would make. And it has been. I do not miss him or our relationship the slightest bit, and it’s such a relief.
        I lived alone and found myself again, loved myself again and felt okay to be myself. I am now in another relationship (9 months now!) and i haven’t been happier. I laugh every single day instead of cry.
        If i hadn’t of been in my previous relationship, i doubt i would have the appreciation i have now for my current relationship. Things so many take for granted in relationships i feel so fortunate for having been so deprived of them previously.
        In hindsight i am far better equipped to see my previous relationship for what it was. And my ex-partners misdiagnosis. He was never nervous in social situations, never an anxious person. He thrived on being in control and manipulating people, yet would say he struggled to understand emotions being motives for actions of others. We struggled so much because i couldn’t be completely passive or submissive, and he needed complete control. I was far too lively and loud, even underfoot. This is confirmed also through a friend i have who is related to my ex, telling me his new partner is incredibly dull and lifeless, perhaps a perfect match.
        Anyhow, i thought another outpouring was overdue! Thank you for all of the insightful content you continue to produce. I’m glad i found it all over again 🙂

        • Wow! Well, I’m just blown away. I am extremely happy for you. Just thrilled. I am sorry that you experienced suffering, but I am overjoyed that you have come out on the other side. It is my privilege to have been even a tiny part of your journey. I wish you every bit of joy and happiness and all that was lost repaid with interest.

          Best, MJ

  25. I am so glad I came across your blog!! It describes my 3 1/2 year relationship that recently ended with my boyfriend almost exactly. I tried so hard to make sense out of the relationship and his reactions, emotions (lack of), inability to connect emotionally, inability to recognize my emotions or my needs (big or small), his canned inappropriate responses to anything negative (large or small) of usually “That’s a drag”. I grew more and more confused, depressed, upset, and desperate to figure it all out. About 2 years into our relationship I figured out he was on the highly functioning autism scale (Asperger’s). It was like a light turned on and it all made sense. He wasn’t doing what he did to be intentionally mean, he just didn’t see that there was anything wrong with it. It made me able to be happy in the relationship longer than I would have otherwise and not feel as bad about what he would do/wouldn’t do, say/wouldn’t say. The term and your description of Alexithymia and what it does to the partner in a relationship describes the emotional aspect in him so much better than the generic ones I found in the autism articles. It was like I was reading about my relationship and experience. We have broken up, which was upsetting but something I knew (for years really before it happened) had to happen, but it is so good to see that I was not alone in this type of relationship and others understand. Friends I tried to explain it to and seek advice from really couldn’t get it. It also shows me that I could not make it work and I could not have been happy had we stayed together no matter what I did. I could not have continued to endure it, and I was loosing parts of myself trying to. It also tells me that he will have the same problems in future relationships (and helps me make sense of the failed past ones more easily too). He is a very exciting, interesting, highly intelligent man I still care for, and I feel badly that he is unable to his emotions or those he is close to or be able to see that this is a problem.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts and helping those of us out here not feel so alone in struggling to make sense of it all.

    • It is a privilege for me to write and share particularly if it helps anyone make a leg of their journey. This is a tough thing, too, and you are not alone in it. I had no idea until I wrote this post. It was so enlightening. And so validating. I’m glad you found that here.

  26. I happened to click on a link to your blog from another article two days ago and have been unable to stop reading. For the first time in my 33 years of married life, I UNDERSTAND. I have been desperately seeking answers after so many years of not having any, no one understanding, being told by my husband how I am the cause of all the misery in our lives, how I caused pain to my daughter when (as some say here) I raised her single handedly from the day I became pregnant to now that she is 28. I went to every doctor appointment by myself, was left by my husband after I delivered her because he wanted to go to Home Depot, to the first night home from the hospital when he told me, “get her quiet, I have to go to work in the morning” and on and on and on for all of these years. The only thing is that I considered his behavior and comments so terrible that I never told anyone about them. Not my friends, not my family, not his family. Aside, I am very close to his family and truly love them and they say they love me also. In Feb 2015, husband saw divorce attorney but never told me he was going to do so. In April of 2015, he filed for divorce but never told me about it. I found out when I got served! I couldn’t understand how he could divorce me when I am the one who does EVERY thing. How would he do all that I do? In fact, in my stupidity, that is the reason I thought if there was going to be a divorce, it would be at my initiation because he could never talke care of all that I do and work the hours that he does. My husband is highly functional (physician), loved by patients and colleagues alike. In fact, even today if anyone I knew needed a good doctor, I would recommend him because he is so dedicated that if a patient presents with a problem that he does not understand, he will read and research until he figures out what it is and than seek out the best treatment. It was about 3-4 months ago that I started reading about narcissistic personality disorder and then alexithymia. All of that reading helped me understand why my husband said and did the things he did over the years that I could not understand. I always thought, why is he hurting us (daughter and me) so much? And I always thought it was intentional on his part. Then I thought it is one thing if he hurts me, but why is he hurting our daughter? I couldn’t understand why he hated me so much, why he could never spend anytime with us, talk to us, etc, etc. If I ever said that I wanted to do something, go somewhere, whatever I wanted, I could rest assured it was NOT going to happen unless I did it on my own. There is so much I could say about things that happened over 33 years that I could not understand but also I couldn’t understand why I had become the way I had. I was not always a bitter, angry, quick to yelling, etc, etc. person. Over the years I even told my husband that very thing that I was not always this way, I became this way because of you. But I didn’t understand how his NPD, alexithymia, detachment, etc. made me the way I am today. Reading your article, and additionally all of the comments, validate what I have been feeling and going through all of these years but could not put my finger on. Thank you so much to all of you. I hope you realize how helpful it is to those of us out here living this life and then also made to think we are crazy and at fault. It is such a relief to have the validation that I have never had in my marriage for anything I have done. Even my own family doesn’t understand me. They keep bringing up all of the things that I did wrong over the years (to which I admit and regret) and how I caused certain problems. I know now how my behavior also caused my husband to behave in a more hurtful manner but I never understood how I was contributing to my own pain. For the first time in many years, my shoulders are a little relaxed, the knot in my stomach is a little loose, I feel I can breathe, I feel I can smile! Thank you so much for validating that my hurt and pain also mean something. That I am not crazy. That, even though I didn’t understand it, I was acting out in self defense as a response to my husbands actions/comments and I was not just a bitch! I wish I had understood some of this years ago because it could have saved my marriage if I hadn’t allowed myself to be hurt by some of the actions/comments as I did. We are at this time still in the process of divorce and don’t know what will happen. Sometimes, now that I understand some of this, I feel guilty about going through with the divorce. Maybe I should stay and continue to take care of him, his family, the household, etc. the way I have all of these years? Maybe I won’t be as hurt now that I understand why he does what he does and it is not intentional? But at the same time I feel so suffocated and lonely in the marriage that I am not sure I should continue living this way for whatever amount time I have left on this earth. I am just very confused but feel lighter by being validated. Thank you to all of you.

    • I am just floored by your comment. Such courage in your transparency. I would like to encourage you to keep going. Life is fuller, brighter, more peaceful, more hopeful, and far more joyous on the other side of a relationship like this. Keep going. You are not alone. You made it this far. I’m walking this road, too.

      Keep going.


  27. I can never adequately thank you for the article and the subsequent feedback from bloggers. I ended a relationship of roughly 5 months following a conversation with by boyfriend who could not verbalize that we were in a relationship that had the potential for a future; however he wanted me to spend all weekend evenings nights and daytime hours with him while he worked on his activities at his house. He made me feel great but when I asked him about his 8 year relationship with his ex-girlfriend he responded with it was not a serious relationship, just long… WTF. I expressed that he was high risk as I want a partnership and marriage. He stated very clearly that he was open to marriage but just never felt like he liked someone enough…. I decided that loving him was enough if he loved me back even if he could not show it…. I felt like that was enough for me as long as I know he loves me just as much. After reading the article and blogs, I have a thorough understanding of the importance of loving someone who has the capacity to be in a loving and giving relationship. My love for him does not matter if he cannot find a way to let me know he loves me back. I am heartsick for everyone on this site who has had to endure a loveless experience as I know most people who choose to love ASD guys are simply rare and remarkable women who love too much and give too much. Keep your side of the street clean. Maintain some hope in your relationships but be open to the world and know that handing over your power to compromised individual is insanity. I loved all of your posts. I feel that my life has changed from gaining this insight. You are all in my hopes and prayers. ME

    • All I can say is: I am so glad I wrote what I have written. If it helped you, then it’s all been worth it. I’m so glad…

  28. One of the themes I explore in a forthcoming novel is how and why people break up , and why it’s so painful. But I must say I don’t understand how you’ve remained sane. If ever a person needed to leave another — now, no excuses needed — it’s you. A pet rock would have been more fulfilling. I sincerely hope you find love and many hours of stimulating conversation about history, the arts, anthropolgy, literature, the elections — anything and everything outside the black hole. The world awaits you.

    • I laughed out loud when I read your comment. Most unexpectedly, I did find love–when and where I wasn’t even looking–and the waiting world is indeed glorious. O, the things I now know…

  29. I have been trapped in a marriage for seven years, never knowing what was wrong with my husband. I had never known anyone who was literally devoid of emotion and who could see my pain and anguish and yet look the other way to watch TV, completely unaffected. I have never felt loved or validated and when asked why, his only response has always been a shrug of the shoulders while watching a show on his phone. I am a highly intelligent person and I have literally thought that I was going insane. Every single thing you have written here is an absolute mirror of our relationship, even down to your daughter wondering why daddy doesn’t try. I am completely floored that there are people who can identify with me. None of my friends or family truly believe he can be “that bad” and that I must be contributing to “making him that way.” Thank you so very much for writing this. I know he will not change, but it has done wonders for me to know that at least this silent struggle is not mine alone. I know now that there are others in this dark pit who know the indescribable darkness, loneliness, and decimation of self-worth that come from living with an alexithymiac.

  30. Pingback: The Up-cycler | Serve Him in the Waiting

  31. I appreciated the description of the differences with empathy. I sat crying after the death of my mother and he never looked away from the computer. Our seemingly normal sex life died just a few weeks into my first pregnancy. Later, I realized our sex life had always been related to his interests and never mine. Never once a moment of post-coital anything. He would just get up and walk away. He was very able to pay attention to me while courting but that ended after marriage. The concept of parallel play has played out for 24 years. We have two kids that he has never even remotely tried to parent or influence. The entitlement has been astounding. He won’t take care of his vehicle and gets mad if I try to, which has resulted in 2 blown engines over the years. Which of course he didn’t have the money to fix or replace so it fell to me.

    Much to his chagrin, I have started reclaiming my time, money, energy, sexuality, life, personal interests and self-esteem. He has also commented that he thought I was cheating on him during our entire marriage (paranoia?) yet never acted as such or even mentioned it until I mentioned leaving him. Every time I’ve ever asked how do you feel or why did you do that the answer has been, “I don’t know.” His money has been spent strictly on himself over the years. We’ve never had couple goals (including buying a house!) EVER. He seems completely puzzled when people show concern and actually angry when I show too much empathy for others. The list goes on!

    This blog post has been such a relief. Something has always felt “off” about this nice, quiet, loner. I look at him sometimes and think I have no idea who you are. I am unbelievably relieved to find others like me. I can feel the winds of change coming as I just can’t be 100% responsible for a clueless individual any more. I’m exhausted but recovering. The lack of empathy, help, or support over the years has been crushing.

    Of note, I don’t think the anxiety /depression causes the digestive issues. I think that it all goes hand-in-hand. My hubby has what was termed as “probably IBS” in his late 20s. Anxiety and depression set in over the next 5 years then a severe porn addiction along with semi-impotence and the paranoia/distrust/suspicion issues. The lack of empathy has always been there. He finally admitted that he didn’t think he was like other people. He also said that he has never felt like a parent or that our house is his house. It’s almost as if he is disassociated from literally everything.

    After some research, I think there may be a gut dysfunction that causes some of these problems as a cluster, rather than as a cause/effect relationship. The gut has important functions related to several neurotransmitters.

    Best of luck to you with your new beginnings. I am in the process of reimagining my future to save my sanity. I have begun the process of raising the bar back up off of the floor. Yay!

    • Your description of your experience of your marriage is starkly similar to mine. I am so glad that what I wrote resonated with you, and I wish you every wonderful thing that is surely well deserved. All the best, MJ

  32. I am so happy to have found this information, to feel validated. I am at a crossroads in my 14 year marriage, husband suffers with PTSD from childhood trauma, and depression. I cannot thank you enough.

    • I’m so glad to know that you’ve found something helpful here. I wish you all the best on your journey. You aren’t alone even as you figure it out. Best, MJ

  33. I came across your blog after someone told me my husband may be suffering from alexithymia. I had never heard of it, but I immediately recognized my husband in the descriptions. This is actually our 4th reconciliation. I have broken it off with him three times in 15 years. I would last about a year or less, get sad and frustrated, try to get him to work it out with me, of course he wouldn’t, and I would leave. He’d always want to get back together and for some reason I did too. This last reconciliation was a decade in the making. We broke up for good in 2006, but started to reconcile in 2009. I ended up meeting someone else and we lost touch until 2015. He seemed so happy to have another chance with me after all those years. So was I. He really did seem like a changed man, but as soon as he moved in about six months later, the same troubles started.
    I guess our main problem is communication. He literally has nothing to say past what happened at work and what is for dinner. I can not get him to talk about anything personal. He has no childhood stories. Good lord, I have hundreds, maybe thousands of stories and also opinions and dreams, etc. He has NOTHING. The man even told me that baby animals do nothing for him. I am an animal freak! I love them all. They do nothing for this man. The second big problem is that he isn’t interested in intimacy or sex with me. He doesn’t get aroused unless he wants to be aroused. He is the only man I can think of that has ever rejected me. He was all over me while we were reconciling, so I feel tricked. The third problem is that now when I try to work out problems with him, he gets super defensive and gaslights me right into the ground. He used to just look at me blankly and maybe would blurt out “you do it too” as his only (weak) defense. Gaslighting is like his weak defense on steroids. He probably picked it up after so many failed relationships. It has been a full year of me constantly trying to fix our communication and intimacy problems. I have tried everything I can think of. If he doesn’t get defensive, he still doesn’t actively listen. He just looks at me blankly. According to him, he has no opinion or needs. I have asked. I have also asked what he needs from me. He says nothing. He will look at me blankly while I sob hysterically about this. He may even ignore me. It is crazy making. The weird part is that he is a really nice guy. This isn’t a narcissist or sociopath. He is genuinely nice and quite thoughtful.

    I am finally done this time though. This is the last time I’m going through this with this man. I have moved into the guest room and I no longer touch him or let him touch me. I don’t really talk to him, but I’m not rude. He doesn’t enjoy intimacy, but really enjoys patting my knee or giving me a couple quick pecks every day. I hate it. I shut that down without a word.
    I have emotionally withdrawn and it feels great! The kicker is that he hasn’t said one word about any of it. Not one question and it has been about three weeks. He mostly acts like nothing is wrong, but he is definitely withdrawing too. I guess we’ll keep playing this game forever because I refuse to be the first to communicate the problem. I’ve done it for a year and it fell on deaf ears. This should be interesting.

  34. I have been married for 16 years, my husband fits every single description here. I thought I was crazy, needy and unreasonable. I gave him excuses and always put the extra effort to keep it together. I eventually broke down in the middle of a party and asked him if he was ever happy. He said he doesn’t know what that is. He doesn’t love me but doesn’t love anything else. He feels nothing. He wasn’t sad when his dad died, he doesn’t care about his mother he doesn’t feel anything. When I asked him why he chased me for 18 months to get married, he said he wanted to, but he has never felt anything for me! I don’t understand, why do they want to be with anyone, why do they seek a relationship if they don’t feel anything? This is the part I’m not understanding or able to reconcile. Also a few years ago, he decided he wanted to read to (I’m an avid reader and he was not), so I was reading the outlander book and he started it, finished the series and during the 18 months it took him to read all 7, he was the emotionally connected I’ve ever seen him to be. He was finally intimate and at that time I was seriously considering leaving him then I thought maybe it was all in my head and he was just stressed. But the moment the books ended, he switched back to robot mode. I am so confused. How can a book make him behave like he feels and then he tells me he doesn’t have a single happy memory with me.. not one in 16 years. Despite all the effort I put to make a home and have friends and go on trips and do all the things I know he enjoyed but he says he didn’t. Does he feel and repress them so he does t recognize that he feels or does he really not feel at all. He promised he would get help once I stumbled across the alexi personality trait but he is only doing it because he has an acute sense of morality and he thinks it’s the right thing to do. There is no desire to anything. Should I wait and see if the help will make a difference? He’s a good person I just feel so incredibly abused – I fail to see it like you do that I allowed this to happen. I am also a good person and refused to believe that I couldn’t fix this, or I couldn’t work with his personality issues.. I stayed because I loved him and cared and tried – how am I an agent to my own misery?

    • There is a lot in this comment, and I don’t want to add to your pain. I have experienced similar confusion, questions, soul-searching, and the rest of the spectrum of emotions. On occasion, I still do. I don’t say this with any pity so please understand that when I say I’m sorry for what you have and continue to endure, I say that with empathy and from a place of common experience. No one should experience this kind of relational alienation and sense of, well, crazymaking.

      That being said, I do not mean to imply that you or I or anyone else is the sole agent in their own misery per se. If that is what I implicitly stated, then perhaps it is a failure on my behalf to communicate well. What I do believe is that I have a responsibility to understand my role in a relationship with a person who is in no way interested in relating to me in a way that builds mutuality.

      Looking at this from a logical standpoint (and sometimes that is the place to start), if I were to continually try to engage a person in meaningful and mutual relationship who has no interest in me or in relating to me with reciprocity BUT I placed all my hopes for a life-giving interaction on that exchange, what could I expect the result to be (knowing that this person has zero interest in relationships in general and probably zero interest in my well-being and details about me in specific)? Well, the result would be suffering and enormous disappointment for starters.

      Does it matter if said person is a “good person”? Can a “good person” shun relationship and see no point to them? Can a “good person” simply not like people? In other words, can a “good person” engage in misanthropy? People love the character of Sherlock Holmes, for example, and he is a classic misanthropist. Can a moral person dislike being around people or engaging in the messy business of relationships? Well, yes. It is not necessarily conventional, but they can.

      And, from what you describe, this sounds like where you are. Your partner is a moral man who simply doesn’t want relationships. And, you want love and relationships and reciprocity and all that goes with that. That’s normative and healthy.

      So, how does one resolve that? How do you get your needs met then because these are totally legit needs that can and should be met?

      1. You can’t change your partner. He is who he is.

      2. You should not change yourself in these terms. You deserve to be loved and cared for, and you deserve to be a part of mutual relationship in which you flourish and grow and your growth catalyzes growth in your partner.

      So, logically speaking, if your partner cannot and will not change yet you spend all your time, emotional and intellectual energy, beliefs, hope, and physical energy attempting to morph into something who you are not in order to meet his needs while ignoring yours believing that he will change or you can change him in self-sacrifice, then, yes, you are an agent of your own misery to a degree because you already know the starting premise: your partner is not interested in you. Your energy is wasted. Your needs are not met. He is the receiver of your best self, and you get nothing in return but further invalidation simply because you believe that you can change him or if you try harder something will give (BTW, that was me for most of my marriage).

      So, if you changed your belief to “Nothing I do can change him. He is who he is. I will now focus on loving and supporting myself,” then what might change for you? Simply change this belief. That’s it. All change starts with a change in belief and thought. Make yourself the focus rather than him. (and read Should I Stay or Should I Go by Lundy Bancroft. It’s a book about what good relationships should look like. Changed everything for me.) It will feel awkward and strange. Foreign. But, if we are responsible for our own well-being, then it is a good place to start. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, easy about this. I know that. You, however, are so worthwhile. SO worthwhile. You deserve a partner who is utterly caught up in you. Transfixed. In love. Willing. Present.

      You deserve reciprocity. We all do.

  35. WOW! As so many commenters before me have mentioned, this post has blown my mind, completely validated my experiences, and brought tears to my eyes. THANK YOU for sharing and for your extraordinary wisdom and compassion.

    Right now I feel fragile and broken, as my partner of 15 years (married for 9) has just left me. It’s only in the aftermath that I began googling “no empathy” and came across the definition of alexithymia and now, this extraordinary blog post.

    I would like to tell my story because others’ stories have validated my experience so much. And also, I would love insight if anyone has any. To be honest, fragile and broken is an understatement, I feel decimated and destroyed. I am an intuitive person with a lot of connection to my own emotions and those of others, and although early on in our relationship I had “gut feelings” of anxiety and even despair over not fully connecting with him emotionally, I always thought that we were nevertheless a good match because of our compatibility in other ways. We share a very strong and unique sense of humor, and intellectually connect marvelously. We could spend every meal together every day and not run out of things to talk about… lively discussions about politics, culture, opinions about the world, all very academic but highly engaging for both of us. Many shared activities, including sports and outdoor trips. Mutual friends. But I never really got the emotional connection from him I craved… I can see now that I suffered from affective deprivation disorder over the past 15 years, but I always interpreted my suffering, which was occasionally debilitating, as originating solely from my own severe anxiety disorder and depression. Surely these things are very conflated anyway.

    Why did he leave me? I do not truly know, and I am in agony trying to understand. He had an affair, which I discovered almost a year ago when that woman contacted me. It turns out that he had been having this affair for years. I was devastated, but we both were completely forthcoming with each other about wanting to try to work it out. We began couples counseling immediately. He was quite game to participate in counseling, and we each got our own psychiatrists at the same time for weekly talk therapy (and meds, for me, for my anxiety). But the couples therapy was like spinning wheels. I got an enormous amount of validation from the therapist, who was brilliant, but… my husband was simply devoid of empathy. He was able to express regret over the affair, and while he could not say he “felt” shame, he was clearly very pre-occupied with having fallen from grace. He agonized with this identity of being “bad” now. It felt good to me that he exhibited this sort of tortured remorse, but I was completely uninterested in labeling him as good or bad. I wanted empathy. I wanted him to understand how deeply he hurt me, and feel regret for hurting ME, I wanted him to use words to apologize for his betrayal and use words to describe how and why he loved me and what he wanted for our shared future.

    But of course this extremely articulate man, the best writer I’ve ever known, a phenom at his job (which is entirely based on social interaction and verbal and written communication), and a heralded academic in his student days, literally (ha ha) had no words. I would have breakdowns of grief, sobbing hysterically in front of him, and he would become immobile, stony, leave the room. Even with our therapist giving him actual scripts to say to me, like “you are crying, what do you feel right now?” he couldn’t do it. He confessed to being nearly unable to stand it when I got upset (and often my tears were gentle, as I asked him to talk to me). He said in those moments he wished the world would swallow him up and he would disappear. I know now he was utterly unable to tolerate this “emotional arousal” given his alexithymia.

    I have never seen him angry. We’ve never had a “fight”. I’ve never seen him upset. I always thought he was the most stable, good-natured man and I cherished that. Now I am re-interpreting everything with my newfound understanding of alexithymia, and my head is spinning.

    It turns out the woman he was having the affair with was blackmailing him, she threatened his work life, stalked both him and me, and repeatedly declared to him that she was going to “get him” to divorce me. I discovered later that he had broken up with her many times, only for her to manipulate him back into the affair. (She is a piece of work.) I was dumbstruck by the initial revelation of the affair, because he has an extremely low libido. He has said many times that the affair was “not about the sex” and in fact that he hated the sex. He said he found her physically unappealing (she is well groomed but not conventionally attractive) and her personality off-putting. I do not know why he, a grown man with autonomy, engaged in this affair… but there is something deeply dysfunctional and disturbing in the dynamic between him and this woman. My husband is extremely passive, and this woman is extremely socially aggressive, manipulative, and extroverted. I am also aware that the stories he’s told me about the affair may be lies or twisted truths, but from my own observations it is true that he is profoundly passive and that she is pathologically manipulative.

    But it ALSO turns out that my husband had been hiding from me the fact that he has completely ruined himself financially. Apparently his financial irresponsibility long predates the affair. I don’t suspect any chemical addiction (though alcohol was an excessive and unhealthily part of his affair) or of a gambling addiction. Or any other addiction, though he shows obvious signs of compulsive behavior that I interpret as avoidance. He has managed to utterly destroy his credit and lose a massive amount of monetary investments through sheer passivity and avoidance behavior. This is not unlike other behaviors he routinely exhibits in our domestic life, including extreme procrastination and the ability to fully distract himself from any anxiety and engage in pleasurable activities and hobbies. (This is something I struggle to understand, because when I am anxious my world stops on its axis.)

    During the course of our incredibly difficult, exhausting, what-I-thought-was-committed counseling, he restarted the affair. I’m embarrassed to admit that I continued to try to work things out, because after the revelation of the Affair Round 2, our interactions changed dramatically. I thought we were finally breaking through somehow, making an emotional connection. He was was no longer distant, he sought my company and was cheerful. He said he was profoundly relieved to have escaped her again and not to have to maintain the affair (she was requiring him to “check in” with her every couple of hours when he was in my company—in our shared home!—which led to some incredibly toxic, gas-lighting behavior and inane social media shenanigans, all to avoid her spilling the news to me again). Things did get better, it seemed like we made some progress in couples counseling, but after she stalked our home again I had more tears, and he became withdrawn, and I became more upset, and… A few days later, after nearly a year of couples therapy, of weekly affirmations that he was utterly and unequivocally desiring of a committed future with me, he decided, within the space of a few hours, that “he didn’t love me, was pretty sure he never did, definitely wouldn’t in the future, and was ending the relationship”.

    Within a week he had decided to move to be with the other woman. He left me for her, someone that I am pretty sure he can see is a highly destructive, personality-disordered, awful person.

    It’s only in the aftermath of the past couple months, after I had a breakdown and am now recovering, that I have begun to understand with such clarity that he has extreme alexithymia. I can see that his skills for understanding his own emotions and motivations are non-existent, but this is still pretty brutal. What is he seeking from her?

    He claims to never have had dreams. He was unable to articulate any kind of imagination of a future we might build together. I almost feel as though he has no imagination at all. He says he has trouble with memory, making or recalling memories. He is not passionate sexually, and has admitted he might be asexual. We have always had a very physically affectionate (though not highly sexual) relationship. Yet he claims to be disinterested in physical touch… all the hand-holding, cuddling, hugging that I craved so much and received so much pleasure from he claimed to “not really mind…” (This blew my mind!) He said he has never been in love, never had an infatuation, never had butterflies for someone.

    But alexithymia does not make someone have an affair, ruin themselves financially, self-destruct. I think all his behaviors might be interpreted as self-destruction or self-sabotage via extreme passivity. I was especially fascinated to hear your opinion, MJ, that alexithymia is a symptom. I wonder what his root cause is. Anxiety seems a likely culprit though I’d guess there are a lot of things going on with him. I wish I understood whether he is capable of either emotional or cognitive empathy—these are fascinating questions that this post has raised for me.

    I no longer crave to be back with him. In my head, I’ve known for weeks that he was profoundly destructive to me and that I’m lucky to be out after 15 years. This extraordinary blog post, and the extraordinary stories of so many commenters, helps my heart to begin to feel this too. My life feels like it is in tatters, but it also feels, for the first time in ages… possible? fresh even! maybe one day I will be alive again.

    Thank you so, so much for this post, thank you other commenters for your stories, and forgive me for this novel!

    • Thank YOU for posting this. I am so sorry for what you’ve endured. It’s too much. I think what I’ve told everyone who has the “a ha!” moment after reading this post is, “No, you are not alone.” I think that your story will speak to people as will your process and kind honesty.

  36. I’ve been thinking about what I wrote in my previous post and I want to acknowledge that my story might be upsetting to some people if they think I’m conflating alexithymia with infidelity. I don’t mean to do that! Although I’m very new to exploring and understanding these things, I think it’s pretty clear from the brave truths that have been posted here that many people’s experiences of a partner with alexithymia, while terribly painful, do not share any of the deception and deceit that was part of my experience.

    For me the whole nightmare has been a mish mosh of ugly revelations. It seems parsimonious that my husband’s alexithymia is rooted in the same issues that have caused his self-destructive behavior, which is the lens (is it warped?) through which I see his affair. But maybe there are a lot of separate, individual pathologies. I may never know. I think his lack of emotional skills injure him as much (MORE actually) as they wounded me, as his inability to understand his own desires and motivations has surely contributed to his terrible decisions.

    • I was going to comment more here as this was the addendum to your first post. I found your first post very sensitive, and, personally, I related to it. It was very validating. There was deception in my marriage, emotional abuse, and domestic violence. And a possible one-night infidelity. What you describe, however, is very similar to my husband’s behavior. I don’t think your experience is unusual. How you got along. Great intellectual connection. Shared activities. We could hang out at restaurants and talk about any manner of things but no emotional connection. No sexual connection of the kind that I craved. We also did not fight. He was too passive for that, but it was when I pushed him for more in terms of intimacy of ANY kind that something would quickly emerge. Just a quick snap. That’s when I would get hurt. Mostly when alcohol was in use. He would never remember or claim that anyway.

      There is a foundation of dishonestly in this kind of relationship because, from what I’ve seen, there is duplicity at the beginning in terms of emotional capacity. They have appeared to match you in emotional capacity. They seem to be able to empathize. They seem to want what you want in terms of sexual intimacy. And then when the partnership is settled in some way be it a certain measure of time passes or marriage occurs, the glamour fades and the true capacity emerges i.e. there is no capacity. I felt very tricked, and I was a wreck for a few years. I kept thinking that if I just did X or Y, then he would come online. It only got worse. The things I thought about myself. It has taken meeting someone who is very kind to see that what I went through for 20 years is in no way normative.

      I am fairly certain that he has a personality disorder. My father is also alexithymic (I’ll let Freud have at it…) and he, too, has a PD. My ex, however, behaved nothing like my father. Weird dynamic.

      Narcissism, schizoid PD, and borderline PD could all have alexithymia as a symptom with comorbid anxiety. My ex is extremely anxious but also narcissistic/”secret schizoid”. It manifests as someone who appears highly competent, sought after in his field, socially gregarious and very witty, well-versed in all politics and geo-political current and past events, etc. That is his social and/or external self. At home? He was avoidant, passive aggressive, neglectful, preferring solitude, begrudging to give up his time for anything that inconvenienced him, cultivated a well-developed fantasy life through gaming and fantasy fiction and various esoteric reading, cynical, and malicious in use of humor aiming it at me and his kids. He was judgmental, and, in spite of his bleeding heart liberalism, he holds racist, misogynistic, and, anti-Semitic attitudes that emerge through his humor. He would never admit to feelings of anger even when he brandished a knife at me. He did not like participating in family life if it meant “working”. He wanted the beautiful house and yard, but I had to do it. His idea of support means money. He also knows more than anyone else (grandeur) particularly doctors.

      That was the most confusing thing to me. He was and is two people. That’s why I lean towards “secret schizoid”. (

      All this is to say, I think that your situation is so very relatable EXCEPT for the mistress stalker. I am just speechless over that. Margie, I am just so sorry for what you have and continue to experience there. I desire that you move into a place in your life where you are showered with inordinate love, affection, and adoration to such a degree that the next half of your life obliterates the first half. That what you have known becomes like gossamer web in the wind, slowly drifting away leaving only a memory of a once crafted web that no longer exists. You will be so fascinated and full of wonder at the life and adventure surrounding you that, in a moment, every step you took to arrive at that space in time will feel like something to be grateful for. That is my wish for you. Shalom…MJ

      • This response has me dripping tears. Thank you!

        Thank you especially for acknowledging the craziness of the mistress stalker. Yes, it is bonkers! I did understand it to be bonkers when I first learned of her, her behavior, and his unfathomable behavior in response. But… so much has happened since that astounding revelation many months ago. I had multiple breakdowns. We had much therapy. My life churned with madness. Often I questioned whether I was just… too emotional. Maybe this was just a typical midlife snag. Even since he left me, sometimes I catch my mind slipping away from any grip on a fixed point. Maybe this is just a normal breakup! It’s not illegal to fall out of love with someone, and fall into love with a new person…

        But no, the mistress stalker situation was truly, utterly bonkers. That was some crazy shit and moving out of that toxic flotsam debris, into the calm clear waters ahead, feels so very, very right.

        MJ, I’ve begun exploring some more of your blog and have learned of some of the unconscionable violence (figurative and literal) you have experienced in your past. I think it is rarely helpful to tell someone in great distress, “At least you don’t have it so bad as so-and-so!” However, coming across others’ stories of more extreme suffering can provide such relief. Your stories do that for me. Not because I think the crimes I suffered were “as bad” (and such a comparison is not helpful anyway), and not because in the face of yours my problems seem petty. I think it is more like, hearing your clear voice, and seeing your path of healing, connects us. That’s where our shared humanity is. That is so powerful, and empowering.

        Just read that you’re going back to school for a new degree. GO GET IT, SISTAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • Aaaw, thank you! I honestly didn’t think I could manage my household and daughters AND go back to school, but then i thought, “What the hell…” There’s no time like the present. There will never be a good time to do what I really want. So, I’m doing it now. It’s not easy. I’ll say that.

          I’m still in a state of shock and awe over your story. I try to remember that everyone I meet has a story, and they are living it in front of me even if they are hiding it. Last year must have just been a brutal narrative for you. Sweet Moses…

          There is a shared experience here. Common experience is very bonding, and it encourages. It encourages me. When I see someone get up again after a terrible fall, I want to know how they mustered the energy and courage. How do we take the hits and still keep going AND create a life that WE want to live?

          I am so rooting for you. What might be next, I wonder, for you? The story that is yours…it’s like you are on the cusp. There is greatness here woven into the narrative of the dramatic one act plays that have been so painful for you. There is something very positive approaching, and I don’t often say that for people. But, I can feel something very good. By the pricking of my thumb something…wonderful…this way comes. Take heart. Life is opening up, and you deserve it.

  37. I think I am experiencing this also, my boyfriend seems no empathy most of the time. Everytime he says sorry I cant feel any emotions at all. He will say that he is really sorry, however he is aware that he don’t sound like he is. He is aware that he find it difficult to express and verbalize his emotions. Everytime he will break up on me, he will cry, but he doesn’t know why tears is coming down on his face. He seems decided when he is breaking up on me, but after we fixed things, he will say that he dont feel any emotions doing it and he is getting frustrated to himself why he is saying such things. we really don’t share the same level of emotions in anything. Yes, we are very happy, we are good together, its just that we lack in emotional connection. He acknowledges that there is a problem on him. I want to leave but I love him very much. It’s very hard that its hard for him to feel my emotions as well. He said that he needs me and asking me to help him change. what should I do??? 😔

    • Hi, Fhey. I’m sorry that you are experiencing this. Well, I am not one to give out quick advice (at least I don’t think so) because your situation is probably complex and unique. That said… Were I you, I would ask myself: 1) What do I really want?

      And, the answer probably isn’t “Stay.” My guess is that you’d like to experience a meaningful change in the relationship. So, if you list that out, then you would have a solid list of what changes would you like to see. Your emotions start to feel less ethereal, and you start to feel less confused. For validation for this list and a sense of what to do next, I’d refer you to Lundy Bancroft’s superb book “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” It’s not at all a scary or confrontational book. It helped me very much. I’ve written about it on this blog. This kind of soul-searching and validation work can give you a much more solid sense of self and what you want which prepares you to talk to your BF.

      Your BF has said that he needs you and has also asked for help in changing. That’s a big deal. If he is really sincere in this, then he needs to find a therapist who can help him do that. YOU cannot do this. Only HE can do this with the help of someone who can teach him skills. Truthfully, if your BF lacks empathy in a real way, then there isn’t much point in having a relationship with him. BUT, if this is an interpersonal skills issue in which he 1) lacks interpersonal skills 2) doesn’t know how to perspective-take 3) has character issues at play like selfishness and entitlement and 4) needs to learn emotional regulation and distress tolerance, then he could learn these things over time and with healthy support from other people who can hold him accountable. Deep change in adults takes time.

      In the meantime, based in my own experience, I would suggest that you start building out your own life so that you feel more healthy and whole as an individual. This will build your self-esteem and sense of resiliency and make you feel less dependent upon his choices for your happiness. That’s what I would do because that’s what I actually did when I was in a similar spot. I don’t know if this is helpful, but maybe it’s a start. Best to you…MJ

  38. Hi MJ,

    You have such a powerful voice, and I just want to thank you for sharing your story. As an outsider, it can be so easy to say, “Why didn’t you…?” or “Couldn’t you just…?” But looking into someone else’s life it can be so easy to forget the perspective of “you.” Lack of validation in a close relationship affects your self-image. It’s different being on the inside.

    I think that you are incredibly strong and brave. Even though your daughter may have a similar diagnosis, I feel so excited for her and for you. I feel like everywhere I look, autism is being researched and treatments are being developed.

    And lastly, though I didn’t read all of the comments, I did come across some scripture verses. The Christians I know would be offended by that comment; so one behalf of a few thousand of us, I’d like to apologize. I should disclose that I’m an epileptic Christian; so, my apology may mean nothing.

    Be well!

    • Thank you….i really appreciate your comment. Btw, an epileptic Christian? As in having epilepsy? Well, I was born with temporal lobe epilepsy and have complex partial seizures. So…it is all good. 🙂

  39. This post has stunned me. And is the first time in my life I have felt less alone. I met my partner 12 years ago. We seperated 4 years ago, but are still very closely intwined in each others daily life, both of us have had other relationships, but neither of us have seemed to properly move on. Because of this, I am still trying to understand him.

    He fits all of the descriptions of alexithymia. He is exquisitely talented and intelligent. He has a huge amount of friends, however I’m not sure if any of those friendships are very deep or close. He has so many friends, because he is so out going and charming. But after getting to know him over the years and watching him to talk to people, I have realised that he doesn’t talk WITH people. He just spews out and endless stream of facts and stories about himself – never stopping to gage the other persons response, never talking about how he feels, never asking about the other person. I have watched him keep talking to people enthusiasticly while they slowly back away from him.

    His behavior towards me has been the most confusing thing I have endured in my life. I have been left wondering if I am insane, selfish, unreasonably demanding. When our first child was born I had a c -section in the middle of the night. He went home a short while later to shower. The nurses assured him that I would be fine and needed sleep – so he said that he’d return in the morning. The next day he didn’t return. I called him in tears saying that I was still unable to get out of the bed, and I coudn’t reach our sons crib to pick him up to feed him, and that I needed him with me to help me. He said, yep, I’ll be there in an hour. Hours past and he he still hadn’t come and again he told me on the phone, yep I’ll be there in an hour. Eventually he turned his phone off and he went to work and never showed up that day. Years later It has come up in converstation how hurt I was, but he just says “they needed me at work”.

    In my most difficult times in life, if he sees me upset (over something unrelated to him) he will get angry at me if I display emotion. I have said….all I need is a hug. And he will say something like “well thats not going to solve your problem so whats the point”. If something has left me upset in my day – his response would never be any words of comfort – his immediately response is to tell me what I must have done wrong to cause that situation, OR to say he will beat up the person or persons involved in my shitty day.

    He frequently ( 2 – 4) times a week since I have known him, lets me down and wastes my time. He makes a promise, “oh yeah meet me there at 11am and we will do x y or x” He does not show up. He does this on minor occasions but also occasions that would consider very important like birthdays. When I express how devestated this makes me feel that he completely disrespects my time and my hopes, he doesnt say sorry. He just says, “yeah but I was doing something else”. I have asked him, “do you understand how hurtful it is that you have done this to me literally over 1000 times?” He just says, but thats just how I am”.

    Now when he garuntees he will be somewhere, I question him. “Are you sure?”. This makes him angry. I explain that I almost expect him to let me down so I have to reinforce how important it is. He says “relax!!!! OF COURSE I will be there”. But then he still doesn’t show up. And is still bewildered at why I get upset again.

    I have swung back and forth from believing I am being abused. To believing I am crazy and I have made it all up. Because I actually believe he is a decent person. He does adore his children. He would do any physical act of problem solving to help me if I ask him. (fix my car, fix my washing machine) but he will not engage in meaningful conversation or extend any empathy in any circumstances even if I beg for it on my hands and knees.

    He was an alcholoc for a very long time and thought his problems would disapear when he stopped drinking. But they didn’t. They just became more obvious.

    I have tried to talk to him about what went wrong and to delve deeper into his emotions. I made it clear that there is alot of water under the bridge now, and I still care for him, and there’s honestly nothing he can say, no hidden feelings that might have inside that I would possibly hold against him now. I told him if he always loved some other woman instead of me, or if he had a double life, or if he couldn’t stand the sight of me now, whatever…… I’m perfectly ok with any of that. I just want to know if there is SOMETHING. ANYTHING in his head. at all. So I can rationalise my confused perception of reality. I am genuinly perfectly ok with our relationship being over, but I cant get peace because I feel I have an overdose of empathy FOR him, I am not sure if he’s ok, and I cant get an answer from him, and can not assertain what he wants. This is complicated by the fact that we are still in each others lives alot with parenting, so I am still effected by his daily behaviors.

    I asked if he still wants something from me. He said, you can do whatever you want. I asked him if he feels relieved to be seperated, or sad. He said he doesn’t think about things like that. I asked him if he has any feelings about entire relationship, good or bad, he says no.

    I asked him if he imagines what his life might be like if he found a woman who makes him very very happy. He said no, why would I think about that. I asked him has he ever had someone in his whole life who he talks to on an emotional level. He said, I don’t understand what you mean. I just get things done. I don’t need see the point of talking about things. I just do things. Thats all I do.

    To me, he is like a robot. Being with him has destroyed a big part of me. It has left me at times feeling like there is no possible happiness for me in this life. Because I feel dead inside.

    When I have been in the state of mind that ‘YES, he is an abusing controling asshole”….it strengthens my resolve to forget about him and put myself first. But then I come back to the idea that no, there is some genuine underlying emotional defficiency causing his problems….. and then I feel sorry for him. And I feel as if it is my duty to be there for him even though he crushes me.

    I feel as though I have an extremely long road to recovery ahead of me.

    • I am very sorry for everything that you have experienced. You are not alone. This post that you have commented on has receive more comments than any other post I’ve written. I’ve received emails. It sounds like your ex-partner has a personality disorder. You cannot fix him. Nothing you say will make him change. There is absolutely nothing you can do to persuade him to be different. He cannot be.

      There are many things that I could say, but the one thing I will say based upon my own experience is to start taking care of yourself and addressing your own needs. Put that ahead of his because this is what he has and will always do. That is the compatibility factor that existed in my marriage. He took. I gave. The more miserable I became, the more I believed I was the problem. So, I gave more. He took more. I asked more questions hoping to find an answer to the nagging feeling I had that something was wrong. There was a problem and I had to solve it. No answers. Ever. So, I gave more until I was very ill and a shell of person. And still…he was immovable.

      You will never get the answers you want from him. Never. My ex-husband did things to me that I cannot understand. My therapist can’t even understand it outside of pathologizing it. It’s incomprehensible. So, the bottom line has become: If he didn’t do something, no matter how ludicrous, it’s because it did not meet his needs to do it. He didn’t help you in the hospital? It didn’t meet HIS needs to do it. He didn’t show up on time? Of course not. It didn’t meet HIS needs to do it. He didn’t hug you? It did not meet HIS needs to do it. And when a person operates in life like this, they are relationally dangerous because you are simply an extension of their own ego. You are never you. You are an amorphous blob that shifts from one thing to the next–whatever shape meets their need.

      I highly encourage you to read “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by Lundy Bancroft. You’ve already left, but it succinctly discusses in a very supportive manner the aspects of abusive relationships that women miss. I was one of those women. And, it addresses the common questions like: Am I just demanding? Maybe I ask for too much? Expect too much. All of these things are discussed. It recalibrates your expectations and sheds light on what a healthy relationship SHOULD be as opposed to what you grow accustomed to. It helped me enormously.

      I am very sorry that you have suffered in this way. A few years ago, I could have written what you wrote in this comment. With commitment to a healing process, your life can and does change in remarkable ways. I wish you all the best. MJ

  40. I have a lot to process and consider, but I will say with a very small, cautious voice that I am the partner with alexithymia. I have cut myself to feel anything, have struggled my whole life with making friends, taken medication for depression, have been to therapist after therapist asking if there was a chance I was a sociopath only to be told over and over, no, definitively no because I experience guilt and sadness. I am the wife, not the husband. But all of these comments have helped me better understand my husband’s constant illnesses and frustration with my inabilities to meet his needs. I want to connect. I don’t have ASD. But I also know I find it SO. FUCKING. EXHAUSTING. to be constantly asked what I am feeling or what I want and to be accused of lying when I answer ‘nothing.’ I will be going to my long time therapist with this word tomorrow and hope to someday report back more information from ‘the other side.’ I do want to be a good mother, to save my marriage… but it is so hard to understand. Just, please know, for those of you searching, I have absolutely cried as many tears over this as you have, often with a partner screaming at me that if I could just communicate instead of shutting down things would be better. Ha, as if I didn’t feel broken enough already.

    • Thank you for commenting. I think the other point of view, your point of view, is valid and important. I’m sorry that you feel broken. Speaking only for myself, I would greatly value your perspective. Really listening to the “other side” is how we learn and grow and develop empathy. Thank you again.

  41. I left my husband after 28 years. It was all I could do to leave. It took another year and a half to file for divorce. About a year ago I realized he was an emotional and sexual anorexic. He was verbally abusive, angry, and totally unaffectionate and void of emotion. It turns out he was a porn addict too. I would beg him to hold me and say I love you. He wouldn’t even sign cards he would give me. He would sign the kid’s cards. (I am glad for that!) I stayed in the marriage to raise my two kids. They are wonderful by the way. I was a preacher’s daughter and stayed because I married him and that is what you do. He wouldn’t take me to the hospital to have my kids. The only time he touched me or showed affection was at church in front of other people. I lived in a pretend world and felt like a heathen if I acknowledged the truth of my existence. I don’t have one memory of his touching me in desire. That is what has kept me from feeling sorry for him and taking him back. He was so manipulative. It was always after I got so upset that we had sex. It makes me sick to think of how void of love my life has been. I can’t tell you how many counsellors we went to. I would tell them what was going on and he would say he didn’t know what I was talking about. At one point I thought he had asburgers. But I realized he could turn it off and on. My kids feel that he was always distant to them and aren’t close to him. I have never even heard of this until today. I have spent thousands of dollars on counseling. I am in a relationship and he wants to marry me. I love him but I am unable to FEEL loved or believe he loves me. I am terrified of never being loved. I wish there was a camp I could go to for counseling and make it all better. Wishing…

    • As I was reading this, I wanted to give you a hug and then take you out for coffee. I so hear what you are saying. I felt exactly as you describe, and my kids have felt the same. He stopped signing their cards. I had to present them and ask.

      I am so happy for you–you have met someone who loves you and wants you. I didn’t think I could ever feel loved again or FEEL love again. I am with someone now, too, and he talks to me a lot in terms of how he feels about me. And this helps me. The repeated validation and almost proclamations of love and affection. I think, for me (and I don’t know if this will help you), it has been my fear of being duped and taken in that has kept me from accepting new experiences of closeness. I felt so tricked and deceived by my ex. I tried and tried for 20 years, and, in the end, I left feeling defective and broken. I felt alone and completely diminished. And now I see that it wasn’t my fault. And every time he tells me that he loves me and I’m significant, I try to let it sink in. Allow myself to believe that it’s true. It’s not a lie. I don’t know if you will find this helpful…

      I wish you every wonderful thing. You deserve it.

      Mazel Tov…MJ

  42. I can’t thank you enough for this post. There is a long road ahead but somehow it helps to label things and know I’m not the only one. I married a bit later in life (37) to a man I absolutely adore. We’ve only been married a year. Everything about him is wounderful EXCEPT the very odd emotional responses that seem like memorized lines bc i hear over and over. In particular situations I can see and feel his emotions and feel loved (although short lived) but they never come with words just behavioral observations. He seems to have only a handful of emotional states with nothing in between and no ability to transition out of the downer ones beyond sweeping things under the rug and pretending the trigger didn’t occur. There also seems to be something involved where if i have a bad day or feel low, he mirrors this and is unable to provide caring words/actions to me bc of he immediately is upset and identifies his feelings as my fault (even if my original downer feelings have nothing to do with him). Which means I cant talk to him when I’m down. I don’t think I have every heard him say I’m sorry, even for tiny silly things. Does this seem to fit in your experience?? BIG Question: To a husband who sees nothing wrong with his behavior EVER, and me as the emotionally needy one… do you have advice on steps to help him see his role in what’s going on? I’m a bit unclear if there is hope or if this is all on me to work around if I want to stay with him (at this point I absolutely do). Thanks!!

    • I’m going to try to reply to all of your questions.

      Re: the odd emotional responses: You don’t have to answer this publicly. I’m just asking for you to think about. Did he have a childhood that arrested his psycho-emotional development or caused him to have a lowered capacity in terms of interpersonal or relational skills? Trauma can cause that. Being an only child or first-born male can cause that. Oftentimes being a first born male in families where being male is valued culturally less is expected in terms of emotional development, and there are no real consequences for bad behaviors. You get a “Golden Boy” situation which can cause a few personality issues in adulthood. Also, childhood neglect can cause arrested development and capacity issues in adulthood. So, were it me, I would think on that. My ex experienced long-term childhood neglect. He had zero reason or context to develop interpersonal skills nor had he ever experienced a consequence for negative behaviors or maladaptive coping skills because there was no one around to parent him or help him. Because he seldom externalized, everything thought he was emotionally fine. He wasn’t. He never developed psychological flexibility and remained at a younger age emotionally than intellectually.

      His mirroring behavior: I’m only going off what you’ve written, but this sounds like blaming behavior behaviorally. Blame is the externalizing and projection of our internal distress onto someone or something else. So, from what you describe, you share with him, as you should, something that has upset you. He then, because of poor boundaries, takes on your emotional state, experiences it, finds it distressful, and then blames you for it and cannot regulate himself emotionally at that point. The problem is that he has not learned where he stops and others begins (that’s a boundary issue and perhaps an identity issue on a personality level). He has conflated his emotional state with yours. He then blames you for his distress.

      Not saying sorry: Yes. That fits. Saying sorry is an act of humility and an expression of remorse couple with a desire to make amends. So, the first issue is: Does he know he’s done something wrong and, therefore, needs to feel remorse and make amends? If he does not, then there is a communication issue. If he does know this and he still feels no remorse or desire to build a bridge to you, then there is a problem. He could be very anxious. He could see no value in doing that “The past . is in the past. Why bother? Get over it.” I’ve known people who think this way, but they were generally not great people. That rationalization tended to hide deeper issues particularly childhood abuse. He may know exactly what he’s done but feel special and exempt. In that case, you’ve got something else going on.

      Has he called you emotionally needy for wanting connection in your marriage? And has he said to you that he sees absolutely nothing wrong with any of his behaviors?

      Most of what you have said here rings true, and I’ve experienced it either with my ex or with my mother.

      Keep in mind, my ex and mother both have personality disorders. What I will say is this: If one person in the marriage is the only one willing to work on the marriage, then there is a problem. If the other person sees nothing wrong with their behavior, but the partner is in serious pain most of the time? There is a huge problem in the relationship. If your partner knows this or you’ve said it and he STILL is not willing to listen and look at what his role is, then my advice is to go to a therapist and lay it all out. You need support and help in untangling this.

      My other question, and I’ll just be straight with you: Why do you want to save a relationship when you are the only fighting for it AND you have to heal yourself so often just to be in it? (I don’t ask with judgment. I ask because I had to ask myself that. I hated the question then. I did. But, it needed to be asked. When I first heard the question, I didn’t have an answer. It offended me. And that’s okay. But, it’s a question that needs to be asked of us when we are heading into trouble in relationships that are not good for us.)

      Also, read Should I Stay or Should I Go by Lundy Bancroft. That sounds like a scary book. It isn’t. The first chapter lays out what a woman should expect in EVERY relationship. The entire book is worth it for that. It helped me ENORMOUSLY. I can’t recommend it enough. Lundy Bancroft is a therapist who works with women from difficult marriages.

      I hope this helps. Feel free to email me if you need support or have more questions:

      Best, MJ

  43. Wow, this blog you have is so informative. Your experience sounds so similar to mine. It is actually shocking to find out that there are other women/men out there going through this with their spouse. In real life, I have never met another person who has experienced this kind of emotional abuse, neglect and pain. I have been reading and searching through blogs for many years about spd, asergers, etc.

    I have never ever had the courage to actually leave a message, until now. I dont even know where to begin. Let me start by saying I was at a very low point a couple hours ago, and I cant even begin to describe what my marriage of 12 years (together for 15) has done to me. I am not a shadow of the woman I was before I married my husband. The relationship started when I was 22. He was a secret schizoid and witheld most of his spd until right after the honeymoon, literally the day we returned home. A couple years ago, a therapist diagnosed him to have traits of both schizoid and aspergers, dont know if that is a common diagnosis.

    My husband was raised by 2 malignant narcissists that disowned him after we got married (they didnt approve of me because I was pregnant when we got married and I had a daughter from my previous marriage, which according to them made me unpure). Fastforward to now. I am 37 and miserably married, I have gained an extreme amount of weight, unknown autoimmune diseases, possible lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, profound anxiety, mental health issues, you name it. We have 3 daughters ranging from age 4 to 17. They have all been severly affected by this. My 17 year old has aspergers, my 11 year old has been diagnosed with ocd and bipolar, and the 4 year old is showing signs of aspergers.

    I have given all I could to try and help him to change, I’m the one who has been doing all the research and pleaded with him to get help. Everytime the pain becomes too unbearable and I tell him to leave, he just sits there and says nothing. He doesnt leave, doesnt show a bit of emotion, doesnt even try to meet even an ounce of my emotional needs. I have invested so many years on worrying about him and begging and pleading for him to at least put a little effort or even show the children an ounce of love. I feel like I no dignity or even a shred of self-esteem left. I doesnt help that I am completely isolated and have no friends. The worst part, my health is so poor, I completely rely on him financially. This vicous cycle has to stop and I know how to stop it. I need to leave him. But if it were only that simple. I dont have the physical nor emotional strength to raise the kids on my own, and I know he will cut all of us off financially if we get divorces. On top of the fact that he doesnt even budge when I get fed-up and tell him to leave……

    Sorry to ramble so much, this is the first time I have ever shared this info online and, I guess I just needed to get a lot off my chest. Thx again for all the amazing info and resources!

    • Isabel, your story is my story in so many ways which is why I can say that it is possible to leave. The health issues? Check. By the time I was ready to get out I had been DXed with Fibromyalgia, Lupus in my CNS, celiac disease, PTSD, chronic migraine disease, complex partial seizures, and I had undergone a labral repair for an injury he caused as well as over 5 surgeries for endometriosis and an ablation for severe hemorrhaging that was beginning to return. I was in terrible shape. I believed that I could never leave due to my health. I could not work for sure because there were days that I couldn’t get out of bed.

      My second daughter is on the bipolar spectrum. My third daughter went through two years of looking like she had childhood-onset schizophrenia which was a bloody nightmare, and my youngest has high-functioning autism (Asperger’s). I understand where you are coming from. He was not a participant in their process of healing or diagnosis. He just….sat there. The longer we were together, the worse it became. I did not believe that I could do anything on my own either, but then I thought about it. Wasn’t I already doing it on my own? And how much of my energy was being used up by pleading with him? How much of my energy was going to him? In very real ways? How much of the stress, tension, begging, fear, management of my own anxiety due to him, etc was eating up my personal stores of energy? So much.

      I also thought that he would cut us off financially. Well, he can’t. And, he didn’t. i’m in an unusual spot, but you would be VERY surprised to find out what sound legal advice would provide you. I got A LOT of legal advice, and that legal advice helped me understand things a lot.

      Also: STRATEGY. I can’t say that enough. If your goal is to leave, then start strategizing now. Really start thinking about it. And, the thing that will happen for you first is that some of your health issues will improve. Stress is one of the biggest exacerbators of autoimmune conditions. Feeling trapped and without options? That’s a 10 on the exacerbation scale. But, if you start changing your mindset about your situation and imagine yourself moving into the driver’s seat, something will start to shift.

      This is what I did two years ahead of the end:

      1. i started building a social life and stopped looking to him to meet my social and emotional needs. I told him this outright. “I can see that you are not interested in being my partner socially or emotionally. I finally get that. I will no longer look to you to partner with me in the development of a social or emotional life that is rewarding, fun, or even a little bit dangerous ::wink, wink::”. And that was it. And that was the beginning. I started going out more and doing things that made me feel like a person. Things that went to restoring my dignity. I stopped looking to him for any kind of validation. I started learning to self-validate. He didn’t seem to care.

      2. I started investing in my personal care. This was a big one. Self-care. Whatever was meaningful to me. Haircuts. Make-up. Whatever restored my dignity.

      3. I stopped treating him like a partner (because he never was one) and started treating him like a roommate. Our exchanges became transactional. Yes, this was painful, but it was solidly truthful. He did notice, but he did nothing to stop it. He did amp up some of the abusive behavior which became evidence for me that I was doing the right thing. Also? I started getting my feet under me emotionally, and my health did NOT deteriorate. I started climbing out of the pit of despair.

      Two years later after he moved out…my life looks NOTHING like it did. I’m in grad school. I would not have been able to do that married to him because all my excess energy went to him. My health is…stable. I have a new diagnosis, but the new DX may be the root cause of all the other diagnoses. I’ve been in therapy solidly for two years. I’m in a great relationship with an amazing man who is exceedingly supportive (and who spends quality time with my kids!!) I tell you this because you NEED to know that where you are now is NOT where you have to be. I thought that a different life was an impossibility three years ago, and I would never have believed otherwise. If you need support, reach out ( It IS possible. It is a step-by-step process, and it takes time. But it is possible. And YOU.ARE.WORTH.IT.


    • Hi again,

      Your second comment is only showing up on my phone and not even showing up in my comment section online. How weird! I wanted to let you know that I read it. I also wanted to let you know that how you met your husband, the seemingly serendipitous connection, and his kindness pre-honeymoon are all familiar to me. I met my ex-husband in a rather serendipitous manner as well. And, he was everything, at the time, that I wanted. A few things seemed a little off to me in retrospect, but it all seemed rather perfect to me those small things aside. The night after our wedding, he spent 24 hours vomiting, and then everything changed. Everything you shared about his lack of empathy towards you during illness and pregnancy? Check. Same here. I was literally left to die a few times. He would just walk away while I sank into anaphylaxis. My daughters would have to help. During the last three years, I started figuring it out. I had to have an emergency surgery. He got me to the ER, and then I just sent him home. I was better cared for and consoled by hospital staff than him–he would stand there with his eyes glued to his Android. My daughters thought that all men were like this. That men never helped out or cared for their partners. My daughters became little parents to each other and watchdogs over me.

      When my boyfriend came on the scene, they were shocked. He is the opposite in every way. He cooks. He talks to them. Looks them in the eye. Pays individual attention to each of them. He helps me in meaningful ways. He does his own laundry even if I tell him I’m starting a load. He’ll do it instead (yeah, shocker). He puts together menus for the week when he stays. He’s a vegetarian so he actually cares about what he puts in his body and theirs, too. He exercises! You know, on purpose! He doesn’t sit around and do nothing. And…if I have an allergic reaction to something, he is all over it. He doesn’t just stand there, stare at me, and leave the room.

      There are quality people out there. There is a quality life to be lived. You just have to start healing from the one that you’ve been living and start re-imagining your life. And, you have to start to become the partner that you want to have, and you can’t do that when you’re running defense. You can’t stay in a bad relationship. Also, no one should have to beg anyone for anything. I begged. And that was my low point. I started hating myself for begging. I felt humiliated. IF you’re begging your husband to love you, then…it’s important to draw a conclusion about whether he loves you or not–in a way that is meaningful to you (anyone can say that they love you. Does it translate? How many batterers have killed their partners all the while claiming to have loved them? A lot). I know how hard this is having lived it. I also know that when you’re in it, you can’t see well. Up is down, and down is up. You don’t know anymore if it’s really that bad. Your standard for proper treatment becomes so skewed that you start to believe that maybe it’s all sort of normal.

      No. None of what you have described is normal. Everything that you have described is either dysfunctional at best or abusive. I strongly encourage you to read Should I Stay or Should I Go by Lundy Bancroft. Why? 1) You will never fix him or change him. He has, however, changed you plenty. 2) You cannot love someone “enough”. You can, however, give so much of yourself away that you end up a shell of a person with little ability to self-advocate. 3) You can’t get the years you spent with him back, and you can’t change anything that has happened in the past. But, you can make real changes now so that you have a future life worth living. 4) You have kids, and they are all looking at you and him as models of how adults behave. You have a chance to teach them something about resiliency, character, and self-worth as well as what it looks like to get up again and build something good out of something bad. You are in a great position to model courage and grit, risk-taking and authenticity.

      I’m glad that you felt safe here and were able to share your story. It’s really important to be able to do that. It isn’t selfish. It’s vital to speak out a narrative and have it witnessed. That is how we heal. If you are able, I strongly encourage you to find a therapist trained in domestic violence and trauma. That is the first thing I did when I knew I was going to make a play to end it. I needed the support. And I needed someone to hear my side of things. Plus, therapists are tied into local support groups. You need a community of people around you who will care for you and lead you down that path. Having needs is normal. Wanting love is normal. Needing companionship and support is normal. You are normal. Deprivation is not.

      Keep going!

      Shalom, MJ

      • Thank you so much for the reply. Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. In a way, I am glad my second comment didn’t show publicly. I put a lot of personal info out there. I really do want to leave him, I just need to make plans and really get the motivation to actually go through with this. His behavior will never stop. Thank for all of your advice, best advice I have ever received! I am very happy for the happiness you have found and that gives me motivation to find happiness. Take care!

  44. Over the years, the one of the most reveling characteristics is gifts. She has never given me a gift that hits to the heart of my needs, tastes or desires. Once, she gave me a set of hand crafted spinning wooden tops. This set of about 8 tops must have cost hundreds of dollars. They were signed and came in a special case. I opened the present and just stared, and was empty inside.

    She has never really given me anything that had an emotional ring to it. Even the practical gifts are always lacking in some utility. I believe this goes to her lack of understanding of who I really am. Conversely, I study her. I know what gifts will ring her bell. When I buy her a gift, it is after much consideration in my mind. I weight the possibilities, the emotional impact vs. the utility. I make the decision mainly by my emotions regulated by a little common sense. Sometimes these gift ideas boil in my mind for weeks and months or even years. On the other hand, I feel her gifts to me are made like she blindly threw a dart towards a gift wall. And by the way, I never expect gifts from anyone. I’m not needy of gifts.

    After over 28 years of marriage, we have never gotten to the point of having an in-depth emotional connection. I never recall a time where we were in bed and she had her head on my shoulder and we just talked. And forget the head on the shoulder, I don’t remember where we just talked at length. Something always comes up during those times. She must vacuum the rug, she is “exhausted” or sleepy, the cat needs something, the clothes must be folded…

    After about 6 years of marriage, she encouraged me to take a night job in a business owned by a woman friend of hers. This was in her native country and I didn’t speak the language. I was in the dark during those times. This job was about 3 hours per night, it was easy. I had just sold 2 businesses where I had been working 7 days per week for 10 years. So we really didn’t need the income, but she pushed.

    One night she picked me up after my shift and she was dressed differently. She was wearing eye make-up, (she never does that) and was frantically talking about what she had been doing, which was “going to a new food market that had just opened.” Her attitude towards me was different during those weeks. She was constantly pushing her “story” on me, that is, where she has been, etc. One night I said, “you are seeing someone.” She exploded back at me and screamed, “Well, you never want to do anything!”

    Over several days, weeks, months and years I asked her to explain what happened, that is, give me the truth. I explained to her that I would forgive, but I couldn’t take the lies any longer. There were several years where we lived apart, (this was after her affair) she in Europe and me in the states. She visited often. We phoned daily, and were, on the surface, a happy couple. Many times, before her visits, I would say, ‘will you tell me the truth about what happened when you get here?” her answer was always the same: “Yes I will.” She never told me, she never came clean. Amazingly, I counted about 40 times this happened, 40 times she promised and 40 times she broke the promise.
    On one of her visits that lasted about 10 days, after 8 days she had said nothing, and I asked, ‘are you going to tell me? She exploded in rage; “I was just going to tell you but you are always pushing me.” On her next visit, and after another promise, I waited very patiently, and she said nothing about the incident. I waited until she was in line at the airport. We were saying our goodbyes. She was in the TSA line and I had to let her go. I said something like, “you didn’t keep your promise to tell me the truth.” She stared at me.

    She is beautiful, tall and slim. Her eyes sparkle. She wears a smile at all times. She has several degrees. She works very hard at all she does. I love her, at least, I think I do.

    During our marriage, I have had a major depression lasting over 20 years, gained 50 pounds, (which I have been slowly losing for about six months) and have suffered extreme fatigue. I am now nearing 70. My businesses are gone. She proclaims her love for me daily.

    I’m inclined to leave and start over. The big problem is my age, lack of physical and mental energy and lack of capital to start a new business. I have no degrees or marketable skills. She would do fine. She has earned several degrees since we married and would do well. I want her to do well.

    I can imagine our friends and family thinking: “Why would he, an old, grumpy and overweight man leave a beautiful, highly educated woman like that?”

    Should I stay and live-out my life in an emotional void, a void that steers my mind towards constant suicidal thoughts, or should I go and work nights in a convenience store until they question my utility and live in a trailer park until the day a neighbor calls 911 and reports the smell of a rotting body?

    Any why would all of that matter? My soul rotted away decades ago.

    • You describe the plight of many people in situations like this, and I’m so sorry for it.

      Many of us have been taught to hang our happiness on another person, and then we believe that somehow, based upon their promises, they will make us happy–someday. Our hope sustains us because there is only hope. There is no real evidence. No proof. That was me.

      What I would say, if you’ll allow me, is that if you are alive (and you are), then happiness is possible. A full life is possible for you the caveat being that you will not find any source of that happiness or fullness in your wife. You have evidence enough to prove that premise. I will say, based upon my own life experience, that you must begin to believe that your soul is not at all rotten, but you might very feel as if you have lost all your dignity. When you persistently and consistently rely on another person to meet your needs–needs that you can meet for yourself–and they dupe and betray you over and over again–it is humiliating. And humiliation of that caliber leads to a loss of dignity and disillusionment with oneself and with humanity as a whole. Your soul is very much there. Restoring your dignity and sense of personhood are what I have found to be key to healing after living like this for so long. What you have experienced is what author and researcher Brene Brown calls the “betrayal of disengagement”.

      How does one go on to rebuild oneself and one’s life? Age does not matter. I was 40 when I started realizing that I was in over my head–married to someone who didn’t give a damn. I had four kids. No family. No job. I was dependent and ill. Well, now what? I know that you are older than I am, but the premise still holds. I figured that step 1 was to start building a life for me. I stopped relying on him and looking to him for as much as I could in terms of emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual satisfaction. He didn’t look to me for that. We didn’t have a partnership. And that was the beginning of how I left. I rediscovered myself. I remembered who I used to be. I started making new friends. I started taking care of myself. You can do all of these things. I also found a therapist to explore all the ways I had contributed to my own situation in terms of expectations, repetition of past patterns, etc.

      Your life is worth living. You are worth the effort.. There are people in this world who would invest in your life. They exist. As with myself, I had to begin to believe that I was worth the investment. You are.

      No, I am not 70, but I have been where you are in terms of feeling helpless and powerless. Comparing myself to my partner and coming up short. Seeing no way out. Wondering if I was even worth the time or effort. Some of this is depressive thinking resulting from years of longterm neglect. You lose your way.

      Neglect is abuse BTW. It is NEVER too late to start again. I believe that you can do it. It will take time, but the effort is not wasted.


  45. Pingback: The Betrayal of Disengagement: Reloaded | Out of the Mire

  46. Can these people get help? My husband had a drug problem. He only can show emotions when he’s drinking. Will a therapist be able to help? Thanks

    • Hi there, I just happen to be on WordPress as your comment posted. My ex could only show emotion when he drank as well. My answer would be: Anyone can get help if they want the help. It is the wanting the help, the subsequent engaging in the process of healing and recovery, and the commitment to that process while rebuilding relationships that is key. If a person is willing to do that and desirous of that, then I imagine that almost anything is possible. I wish you the best, MJ

  47. Have you tried to get your husband to do things like Rolfing or Feldenkrias or other types of bodywork? I got my wife to do commit to the ten-session series of Rolfing and it took about a year later when I began to see some personality changes. The major resistance of unwillingness to consider the possibility that she processed feelings and information differently was what Rolfing seemed to help her get past. Next, I’m going to get her some sessions of Feldenkrais. I try to get her to do the types of bodywork that I have lots of experience with myself.

      • Thanks MJ. I have seen that bodywork can help. But, at the same time, I know that loving her will always be a facsimile of the real thing. She can’t reciprocate the emotions of love or gratitude. She has no capacity for emotional intimacy. She’s trying to change, but I don’t think she can change that much. I go back and forth between urgently needing to get out and on the other hand, saying to myself that it’s not that bad, I don’t know of any really happy couples anyway. My sense of normal and what is a healthy relationship is not calibrated to reality anymore. I don’t know if I should stick it out or cut my losses and move on.

        • I think that what you have share here is a good example of how many people feel in their gridlocked relationships. One partner is trying to fix the relationship, engaging in reflection and contemplation, and asking questions–trying to reason with things. It is common–even your final rumination. Should I stay or go? You are in no way alone in your struggles to figure “it” out.

  48. Thank you so much for making this space for us to come together and share our experiences. And thank you and everyone else for your courage to put your story out there. I’m curious because I’m not sure if I noticed a pattern. It seems like a lot of our Alexithymic partners are super heroes at their workplace. They put everything they have into performing at their job and then come home emotionally void.

    Early in our marriage my wife accused me of essentially behaving like I had Alexithymia. Of course she didn’t use that word, but you know what I mean. After we had that argument, I assessed myself over the next couple of weeks and decided that I had to change. I changed, and what I realized was that at work I was getting a “high” through all my super competent activity and adulation from those around me. At work I was a demi-god and everything else seemed uninteresting, boring, or even a drain. But, I let it go because I reasoned that I was somehow just trying to perpetuate a self-centered, emotional high. To my chagrin, as I dropped out of Alexithymia mode, my wife picked it up. In fact, I would sometimes ask her what happened because she became ten times worse than I ever had been. I reminded her of the complaints she told me about being disconnected and asked her what happened. She somehow blamed it on me. I said that I was like that for less than one year, and changed as soon as I realized. But you have been like this for 16 years!

    This whole mess leaves me with an impression. That is: being super-charged at work and the resulting “high” somehow rewires the nervous system. Just like a drug. I’m not saying this work/high dynamic is true with everyone with Alexithymia. But it might be true for some.

    This is just the beginning of my thinking in this direction. But as I reflect, and think about past vacations, after the first three or four days, my wife becomes normal and more connected. Then once we go back home, she slips right back into busy, busy, busy mode and I lose her. I am very interested to hear your thoughts about this observation of work-euphoria addiction possibly inducing or perpetuating Alexithymia.

    • Thank you for your openness. All of these comments have helped a lot of people–validated them.

      I think that you bring up something important–the dopamine dump provided by good performance and adulation/admiration.

      One of the things I said to my ex-husband (after observing it for years) was that he was a high achiever in his workplace but not at home. He wasn’t even present at home except in body. His response? “You mean I have to be ‘on’ at home, too?”

      When I observed to him that he has reasons to be ‘on’ at work such as: building a solid reputation, praise, doing a job he likes, avoiding boredom, financial gain in the now and increased financial gain in the future, etc, he agreed. Yes, there are a plethora of reasons for him to work like a boss. Not to mention that admiration provides a hit of dopamine as you suggested. Also, it costs him something to suck at a job. More than he is willing to pay.

      At home? What does it cost to be a loveless, emotionally unavailable, self-centered, sometimes abusive, neglectful, antisocial person? If you compare the evident values? What does it cost him? What is it costing your partner? Not you but them?

      If he doesn’t value intimacy, then loss of intimacy costs him nothing.

      If he doesn’t value mutuality, then loss of mutuality costs him nothing.

      If he doesn’t value a well-developed character which includes knowing that he is a kind, generous, and emotionally compassionate human, then what does acting as he does not cost him? Nothing.

      He is simply acting in line with what he values. It’s just that his values never matched mine even though he endorsed the opposite. People can easily say that they wish to support the poor, but words are easy. If they never donated money or acted charitably, then you would see that their declaration of value didn’t match their true values. So, it is partners.

      Your wife could very well be acting in line with her true values. Sure, she loves you–but only to the extent that she is capable and to that which matches her capacity. Your capacity supersedes her capacity, and your value for congruity in words and behaviors doesn’t match her value. You value different things in a partnership. Furthermore, if partners have zero interest in expanding their capacity and growing as humans in order to be better partners, then what? Are we to delete portions of ourselves in order to become compatible with a lesser life?

      Figuring this out was very helpful to me. A fundamental incompatibility. I could try to say that my ex loved the dopamine hit (and he does), but, more than that, we did not want or value the same things. I wanted him to bring the same level of commitment and energy to all of his life because that is what I do, and he did not. And that disparity led to exploitation and abuse. My willingness left me wide open.

      Workplace euphoria (which is the dopamine dump after the perceived reward) is another symptom of something else just like alexithhymia is. The larger question is: what is manifesting as dopamine seeking and alexithymia?

      • So much of what you write are the things I’ve struggled with for so long… Especially this, “Are we to delete portions of ourselves in order to become compatible with a lesser life?”

        This is horrible. I threaten or even prepare to leave and she collapses into a crying mess. She changes for a while, only to eventually go back to full disconnect mode. She simply cannot understand the entirety of the situation. And I have this illusion that she can and will wake up one day like Sleeping Beauty. But the years are passing by and I still feel alone. Right now we are getting along and it’s because I’m giving up parts of myself. She will come home and talk 20 minutes straight about her day. When I open my mouth to share something, she’s already left the room and she’s on the computer or has made herself too busy to listen. Whenever I do say something, she either doesn’t reply or replies with a non sequitur EVERY TIME. And what the hell is with the whole talking to me while walking away from me? Worse, what hell is my problem that I keep expecting something different? I can’t wrap my head around the fact that it won’t change.

        We recently went to a therapist and he somehow didn’t see the severity of the disconnect. He said that she’s just really passionate about her job and has communication issues from the way she was brought up. It’s like she knows what to say and how to say it to avoid anyone from looking deeply. Everything is superficial. You’re right, it’s a difference of capacity. She has no capacity for emotional intimacy. None at all. I feel an authentic energy that has been building for years that will soon cut this marriage out of my life. Because, you’re right… she does not value intimacy, reciprocity, shared attention, synergy, gratitude, spontaneity, etc. The cost to her for not having those things is zero. The cost to me is loss, sadness, grief, loneliness, etc. I have tried, but I can’t give up my human nature to be the robot she can successfully cohabit with.

        • I am very sorry that you are dealing with this. What you describe is a reality for probably every person who has commented here. It is extraordinarily painful–in a way that is almost impossible to describe. Having been through the darkness of a very bad marriage, i can empathize and say that the best strategy i found was to start building out your life and identity into something that you want. Stop looking to your partner to meet your needs. They cannot so they will not. It has nothing to do with your worth, attractiveness, or anything else. Expand your vision for what your life could be. And open yourself up to what life might become if you invested yourself again in your personal expansion — without their validation. Doing that was the beginning of huge change for me.

  49. What an amazing lady you are? To devote your time and energy in improving your life and others. I know you changed my thought process on my current relationship. You know I always believed we are in this world and in this body to experience and learn and improve and better ourselves. You are setting a good example for me and your life is very inspirational. I can’t thank you enough.

    I am married, we been together for 9 years.

    Ok my marriage can be described as a big wait in my part. Waiting that breakthrough– ladies you know what I mean.. Waiting to have connection.

    I have 10 month old baby. I had difficult birth ended up sever tear and that left me very traumatized about having sex. Then Sex stopped being part of our relationship ritual then I think he lost value in me or the need to try in our very difficult relationship.

    And yes he fits high to medium spectrum of alexithymia profile.

    The past 6 month we agreed to be “friends” and focus on raising our cute baby. We kind of agreed we have bigger fish to fry than our little petty emotion. I welcomed it, I thought the space will give us to appreciate our relationship and will make us thrive on mending the relationship. Oh how wrong was I?

    Basically he have this unquenchable thirst for space– when I give him a kilometre he wants acreages…and I was naively thinking when I give him space he will get to miss me so I just keep giving him space to the point I have become obsolete to the marriage and to him.

    At the start of the relationship I find him a breath of fresh air, I came from very emotional family, my sisters and me all are “emotionally strung” so I thought being with him was a breeze that I don’t get to exhaust myself emotionally but I didn’t know what I was signing up for—a marriage devoid of passion, sometimes I can’t even talk to him without he looking so bored or without he showing me I am talking nonsense.. Then I started to fell I am full of nonsense, I need to be more quite—may be that is the problem.. and so on and so forth..

    I changed my self emotionally to meet his…many times especially recently since he lost any value in me to sustain the relationship he says to me I am highly strung, I am too intense, I lack sense of humor, I am too serious, I am too much—”you are too much for me” this is his words after 6 month of quite, friend zone, less intense time with him. In my part that took a lot of effort to modify myself as emotional barren to fix the relationship.

    We had stable yet passionless time during the past 6 month until last week. While I was brushing my teeth he came to me and said casually “ Is it ok if I catch up with a work friend on Saturday just for two hours, we want to go for a drive” and I said “ of course no problem” and he didn’t stop he continued “it is a lady, her name is ….” Then I said half joking “ is it a date?” and he went “I don’t thinks so” then I lost it man, I was crying, begging him to leave , I was crying loud and at one point he came and closed the door in my room so he won’t be disturbed by my cry…He went to a motel and I found it hard to raise my son on my own with no support system and after two days I called him to come back… instead of apologizing he said “I don’t want to be married to you anymore 100%” so now he is back in the house, he is great with our son. I just reasoned my son needs his dad and my son future is more important than my “petty” need and emotion. Now business is as usual no passion, but stable, friend zone and we are a good team raising our son.
    I don’t know what to do? I have strong Christian background and belief that one will never and ever dissolve a marriage unless there is infidelity… and I have low self-esteem. I feel trapped. Please share your thought? Thanks

    • Dear Seadi,

      I am gobsmacked. Your description of your situation is beyond the pale. I cannot fathom the emotional intensity of the pain you must be experiencing.

      So…my thoughts?

      1. I wrote a post on divorce recently–whether God hates divorce or not. I grew up in a very diverse Christian culture, some of it extremely conservative, and almost all people proclaimed that divorce was a no-no because it was forbidden. Well, it’s not. This post explains the Biblical stance on divorce ( God does not hate divorce. The NT position on divorce is founded upon infidelity and abandonment. From what you describe, your husband has abandoned you. The OT stance on divorce was even broader. In your description, your husband is not a husband to you any longer. He is in breach of the marital “contract”. He did not promise to be your “friend zone” mate. He did not promise to neglect you. He did not promise to be a “team player”. He promised to be your life partner and love you. It appears that he is not doing that, and he has committed to that position for a long period of time to the point of visible intractability as well as cruelty to you. Your marriage contract, as it were, no longer exists. There is more than one kind of infidelity–sexual infidelity is only one kind.

      2. My second thought is: We none of us receive an award in the afterlife for long-suffering in terrible marriages. We waste our lives doing that largely because marriage is about reciprocity. If there is no mutuality in a marriage, then what is the point? We waste our emotional gifts. We waste our health. We deplete our spiritual and physical reservoirs. Think of the Parable of the Talents. Staying with a man who clearly no longer wants to be your husband is burying your talents in the ground. You can easily raise your child as a “divorced” team. You will be a better mother when you are a happy mother. On this, I can speak the truth.

      3. A man who interacts with you in the way that you describe does not want an intimate, healthy relationship. And, you deserve so much better. Please read this: And note this: “Expecting too little can keep you trapped in an unhealthy relationship. You will tend to keep second-guessing yourself, feeling that you are to blame for having unreasonable desires.” God did not create you for that. You were created for emotional fullness, full expression, intimacy, an experience of being loved, respected, feeling safe, feeling accepted, opportunities to grow with your partner, adventuring, and so much more–at a minimum. And that is available to you, but not in an abusive or neglectful relationship. Period.

      Those are my three initial thoughts. I understand how hard this is. I was in a situation much like this less than three years ago. I know what it costs to leave. I know how hard it is. I know the pain. But, I also know what’s on the other side, and I can tell you how much better it is. I would do it again every time. YOU ARE WORTH SO MUCH MORE. But, you have to fight for yourself and your child.

      Don’t hesitate to email my public address: jamaisvue72atgmaildotcome.

      Please take care of yourself…MJ

  50. Thanks for your generous replay.

    The whole day I was walking with lump on my throat, your words gave me energy to move on.

    For the first time I admitted to couple friends we are in the process of separating

    I got used to being invisible so much just finding your replay in the morning was enough for me to cry unstoppable.

    He noticed a change in mood in me and wanted to know why? I said it is private, and he was just eyeing me to know what is going on–I know he is triggered by the mystery than genuinely to know what I am feeling. The unknown bothers him a lot. I didn’t tell him not because I wanted to be mysterious and interesting rather I know if I told him he will pooh poohed me and make me lose the best thing I found –he is good in that. He will roll his eyes, then he will say “whatever rocks your boat” in such a way that I lose value on what I am doing.
    I remember long time ago before our son before I was pregnant writing on my diary ” The frighting part is if I leave[him], he would feel relived than missing me”
    Now I know if I leave, I shouldn’t expect anything. I used to think if I leave may be he would realize how wonderful I am….I wasted a lot of energy and lot.
    I think I will leave by the end of this year. I have a lot of work to do. I need to sort things, I need to let go off the illusion of perfect family.

    Thanks for sharing your thought

    • I am very sorry that you are facing these circumstances. One thing that I highly recommend is that, whatever choice you make, do it with a well-qualified therapist. Someone who is invested in YOU.

  51. Thank You! Thank you for sharing your experience, your knowledge, your heart! This is the most understood I have felt in almost 2 decades of marriage. I don’t even know what to share at this moment because so many of your heartbreaking stories are the same as my own. I showed my husband the article and he jokingly asked if I wrote it under a pseudonym. The best part was that by reading your stories it actually got through to him for a second. He felt genuinely sad that my story was so much like yours and said he will seek more help than his current therapist. I have no delusions that this understanding will last, but I will savor this moment! I think that’s all any of us can do – deeply savor and acknowledge any good or progress! I know I am not alone, I am not crazy, and my husband said he will get more help! I choose to savor and be thankful for these things today! I do not know what tomorrow will hold!

    • If what we all wrote here has done this for you and your husband, then I am profoundly moved and grateful. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I wish you every wonderful thing as you and your husband make your way. Shalom…MJ

  52. My heart goes out to all you who have written here.

    I am the husband from The Other Side, living in my own world for too long and not seeing anything wrong with it. Over the years I have tried hard to meet expectations of me, or more probably trying to match up to my expectations of how a supporting husband and father should behave. As I look back on my life, I see that I have been constantly apologising for things I have said, or done that did not have the result I intended.

    In early 2016 I was formally diagnosed as having an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (commonly referred to as Asperger Syndrome), by a specialist counsellor (MA) with knowledge of Affective Deprivation Disorder (AfDD). We also agreed that, although there is no formal diagnostic test for Alexithymia, I do fit the criteria. Like many with ASD, I am very sensitive and I do feel emotions, but I cannot explain them in words (even to myself) and I generally cannot talk about them.

    Until recently I had never heard of Affective Deprivation Disorder, but that does describe much of what my wife seems to have experienced, and I am trying to change things for the better.

    It probably took me longer that 10 years to learn to make eye contact. Initially, I would feel a strong physical reaction of discomfort when looking at someone’s eyes, which would increase rapidly until I could no longer bear it and I had to look away to relieve that feeling. I started to practice by trying to focus on the eyes of strangers as we approached each other in the street. Most people look straight ahead while they are walking and ignore everyone around them. The encounter was always over within seconds anyway. On the rare occasions when our eyes met, I could either look away or just smile and keep walking. My wife’s autoimmune illness often shows up in her eyes when it flares, so that was another good reason to practice. Making eye contact while talking to someone for a period of time, I had to learn how to hold that contact, so I started to count to 3 before looking away. The next step, and where I am now, is noticing eye colour. I am technically slightly colour blind, so I do take me a little longer to register the colour, and that is something I am still working on. By all accounts my eye contact appears normal now, although non completely natural to me yet.

    Following my ASD diagnosis, and at the suggestion of my counsellor (MA) I went on an 8 week Mindfulness course and have continued to practice regular mindful meditation. This has helped me to focus more on the present, to be more aware of others and to participate more.

    Until MA mentioned it, I had never realised that living with ASD is hard work; requiring more effort because of the constant need to analyse the world logically and relate experiences to past events in order to gauge the appropriate response. As the sole wage earner in the family, and with other family issues, I have a lot of responsibilities. Following my introduction to Mindfulness, I tried the Self-Compassion Test. ( After reading the questions I was not surprised that I scored lowly. Like so many others, I have been mainly focusing on others and my work, but not on what I need. After that I completed an 8 week self-compassion course (similar to which certainly helped me to get in touch with my emotions, and my relationships with others. That had such an impact on me that I am repeating the course in the coming weeks in preparation for a 5 day silent meditation retreat in April.

    The next step was an ‘Introduction to Counselling Skills’ course. Basically this was a 12 hour course over 4 weeks, looking at communication skills. Each week there were a series of short structured conversations. Some 1-2-1 and some as a small group, with feedback as how the conversation went, and on eye contact, body posture, non-verbal communication, etc. There was also some teaching about active listening, non-verbal communication, empathy vs. sympathy, and very basic principles of counselling. The positive feedback I received from others on the course gave me a sense of achievement, and did show that I do have the sensitivity to pick up on non-verbal signals, even with a limited ‘theory of mind’.

    I am getting to understand my ASD, and how to live with it, but addressing the Alexithymia aspects are harder. I have been reading ‘Emotionally Dumb’ by Jason Thompson, which has been fascinating, if slightly depressing to realise what I might be missing in terms of an impaired imagination and difficulty understanding metaphors in a non-literal sense. Interestingly, at the same time, I also purchased my first ever book of poetry (Go In and In by Danna Faulds). I was introduced to Danna’s poems at the end of some of the Mindfulness practices I have been to. I love the poems, but as Jason suggests, I do have a degree of ‘poetry blindness’ in that I cannot ‘see the limitless possibilities and ambiguity presented by the poetic image.’

    I like to think that I have not been more supportive than in some of the experiences recorded here. That is certainly the case with regard to your experience MJ. When I married my wife, I knew she experienced frequent periods of ill health (for a condition that was not yet diagnosed), and over the years I have tried to show that my commitment really was ‘in sickness and in health’. I knew she frequently became very tired and sometimes had a raging fever. Sometimes, when I returned home from work, I had to immediately call the doctor out. I took time of work to take her to a London Hospital, where she received the initial, but incorrect diagnosis of ME. One time when she had a high fever and was finding it difficult to even get to the bathroom, I cancelled a foreign business trip at short notice, so that I was not too far from her. Over the years I have taken her to practically all of her numerous hospital appointments; taking her there in a wheel chair on one occasion. When she finally had a correct diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disease, I was there for her, and I have probably been there for every hospital appointment.

    I have generally been aware of my wife’s physical needs, but probably from a logical view point than an empathic one. As MA pointed out to me, I life my life in ‘doing mode’ rather that ‘being mode’. That is something I am now addressing.

    To WritesinPJ’s, let me say this in response to your comments regarding genetics and empathy.
    My father was a brilliant mathematician who never expressed or discussed emotions and was almost certainly autistic, so there may be some genetic link, but my sons do not seem to be affected the same way. That may be due to the positive influence of their mother.

    As I continue my journey, I have gained a lot from reading this blog, and the comments. I thank you all for that.

    • BR, I am extraordinarily grateful for your willingness to leave this comment. Once we all have a chance share our narrative and feel the burden of it lift a bit, it’s important to listen to another kind of narrative. The Other Side as you put it. You, to me, represent one of the best stories or outcomes of what so many of us here have experienced. You became a man of action in an area of your life where you had previously not been able to succeed or perhaps even tasted success. To me, this is the definition of courage, and there are rewards for this sort of tenacity-even if they are slow in coming. Please continue on. I for one am here cheering you on, and I hope that your wife is doing better. Happy New Year!

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