Dealing with a non-neural-typical spouse

Jay Dee

Dealing with a non-neural-typical spouse

Aug 04, 2013

Lately, it seems we’ve been getting more and more comments from people with non-neural-typical partners and struggling to deal with it.  What is a non-neural-typical partner?  Well, if we say neural has to do with how the brain functions, and typical is … well …

Dealing with a non-neural-typical spouseLately, it seems we’ve been getting more and more comments from people with non-neural-typical partners and struggling to deal with it.  What is a non-neural-typical partner?  Well, if we say neural has to do with how the brain functions, and typical is … well … “normal” (by that I mean their brain is the way most peoples are).  So a neural-typical person has “normal” brain function.  And thus a non-neural-typical person has a “non-normal” brain function.  OK, that doesn’t explain much.  So, I’ll give you two examples that I’ve fairly well versed in.


I’m not going to get into an argument about whether it’s ADHD or ADD, or if they are the same or different, or whatever.  The resources I’m reading from leading work says it’s all ADHD whether or not you have the “H” (hyperactive) component defines the sub-type. So I’m going to call it ADHD.  Now, ADHD is probably one of the most common examples of non-neural-typical, but it’s also probably the most over-diagnosed.  I think there are a ton of kids on stimulants that have no reason to be, and there are a ton more than should be and aren’t.  Many people think it’s a myth (I was one of them before researching it), probably because of the poor diagnostic quality we’ve been seeing in the world.  But, live with an adult with ADHD and you’ll soon believe it’s real.  You’re alternative is to believe they are lazy, crazy, and/or stupid, which by the way is an amazing book on the topic.  Another good one is Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?  Neither are Christian books, so filter as needed, but they are both worth the read.  I’d recommend the first one to the person with ADHD and the second to the spouse.

So, what is ADHD?

Most of these types of things have extremely complicated lists of symptoms, subtle things that are hard to pin down, because we’re working with a brain, and, the logic isn’t always readily apparent.  I mean, how do you know someone is hyper-active instead of just really rambunctious?   How do you know they’re hypo-active, and not just lazy?  There is no clear defined scale where you can point and go “oh, see where they sat there for 3.4 seconds staring at the wall, that’s the cutoff, 3.3 would have been fine”.  But the underlying cause is actually quite simple, but it requires knowing a bit of how the brain works.  So, let’s see if I can break this down.  I want you to understand, because a lot of people with ADHD (diagnosed and medicated) have no idea what their brain is actually doing.  Usually the doctor diagnosing it doesn’t either (sorry if you are good, responsible doctor, but I’ve seen it for myself, too often).

So, this is my understanding of what happens in the brain.  Keep in mind, I have absolutely no medical training, so go check this stuff yourself (and don’t cut your brain open, the parts we’re talking about are too small to see anyways), by reading a book or asking a doctor, and challenge their answers too.  So, here we go.

You’re brain is not a big singular mass that just magically works.  It’s made up of neurons (and other stuff, but we’re going to skip that) that do the thinking, but a single neuron isn’t able to do much on it’s own, so it networks with other neurons to increase brain power.  Do this through the brain, and you get your ability to think, and move, and feel, everything.  The connections are key.  Now, just about everyone has heard that the brain has uses electricity to transmit data.  That’s mostly true.  But, where these neurons reach out and touch another neuron (we call that “arm” that reaches out an axon), there is a space between the axon and the next neuron.  We call that a synapse.  It’s basically a gap, and that gap is too big to send electrical current across.  So, what happens is that the axon, when it receives an electrical current, it shoots a bunch of neurotransmitters (which are chemical based) across the gap to hit receptors on the other neuron.  It sends a burst of them, not a single one, per electrical impulse.  The neuron, on the other side of the synapse (the gap), if it picks up enough of these neurotransmitters, it accepts it as a valid signal, generates an electrical signal, and sends it up to the neuron to process.  It’s designed this way, because typically you won’t catch every neurotransmitter, some get lost on the way, or misfire, or whatever.  So, this is sort of an internal verification system.

OK, got that?  Neuron (thinking cell) fires > sends electrical signal down the axon (arm) > turns into a bunch of neurotransmitters (chemical) > shoots across the synapse (gap) > picked up by receptor > IF enough hit, electrical signal created and continues on.

This happens every time you brain wants to do something.  Have a thought, or part of a thought, feel something, do a task.  This happens, I don’t know how many times a second in your brain.

OK, so what does this have to do with ADHD?  Basically, that part where the neurotransmitters shoot across the synapse (gap), there aren’t enough neurotransmitters shooting.  I’m not sure of the ratio, but say if 16 normally jump across, the receptor might need 8 to say “this is a signal!”  So, in an ADHD brain, it’s sending maybe 10, but still needs 8 to complete the connection.  So there is a much higher chance that the signal will not be completed.

So, if you understand how the brain works, it’s as simple as saying “not enough neurotransmitters are sending”, and a room full of neuro-scientists will go “oohhhh!”  That’s what I mean by a simple cause.

How this plays out, the effects, are another matter, I’m going to try to write a post about how ADHD affects marriage and specifically sex in the next couple of weeks.

Asperger’s Syndrome/High Functioning Autism

Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism are really the same thing.  Often doctors disagree with that, but basically two groups found this non-neural-typical type case and named it independently.  To this day, many doctors still think they are different, but they aren’t.  Most of you have some knowledge of this, even if you aren’t aware of it. If you’ve watched the TV Shows Community or Big Bang Theory, you at least have been in contact with a representation of it.  As High Functioning Autism suggests, it is on the autism spectrum.  On the lower end of that spectrum, you get the people who are trapped in bodies that won’t cooperate, rather they are trapped in brains that can’t make their body cooperate.  On the high functioning side, you can get very close to neuro-typical, to the point that they can fake being neuro-typical so well that you may never know.

So what is Asperger’s Syndrome?


Image from

Like ADHD, the root cause is pretty simple to explain.  Now, again, for those without a background in neuro-science, let’s walk through this.  Neuro-scientists categorize the brain by different sections.  They subdivide it in many ways, but the major subdivisions are: Frontal lobe, Parietal lobe, Temporal lobe, Occipital lobe and Cerebellum.

In the frontal lobe (which is basically the area right behind your forehead), you further subdivide into smaller categories.  One of these is the pre-frontal cortex.  What does it do?  Well, it does some really cool stuff that people really have trouble explaining how it works.  This is where a lot of psychology comes in.  So, it’s responsible for controlling emotions, for intuitively navigating social interactions, for recognizing body language, for a lot of the stuff that you can’t really explain how to do it, you just do.  You can explain why 1+1=2 (math), or why you drive on the right side of the road (laws/history), but try explaining why you don’t wear a baseball hat to a wedding.  Usually the answer boils down to “you just don’t”.  So, that’s some of what your pre-fontal cortex does.

In an Asperger’s/High function autism brain, the pre-frontal cortex is under developed.

See, simple.  Again, like ADHD, the implications of this are vast and intrude on every aspect of life.  An excellent book on the subject is The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome.  Again, I’ll write a post about this in the near future as well, how it impacts marriage and sex.

How do you deal with having a non neuro-typical spouse?

So, how do you deal with examples like this, and these aren’t the only two.  There are things like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), and a host of others.  And in all these cases, the person involved can’t really help it.  It’s how their brain is wired.  So how do you deal?

Recognize that it’s not their fault

In cases where the make-up of the brain is affecting them, they can’t help it.  They had no input in how they were formed.  Some of these are genetic, some are environmental, most, no one really knows exactly why.  Accept what you were dealt and learn to deal with it.  But being upset at the person with the non-neural typical brain is not helpful to anyone.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.

Jeremiah 1:5

Now, I’m not going to say that we are all appointed to be prophets to the nations, but I think it’s clear that God has plans for us, and God knew how we were going to be before we were born, and he still counts us as his heirs, if we accept him.

Recognize that it’s non-typical might not be worse

Sometimes, non-typical doesn’t mean worse, it just means different.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Some of these non-neural-typical traits can be quite helpful, and in some jobs and situations, the non-neuro-typical person handles things better than a neuro-typical.  God has a purpose for each and every one of us.  Don’t doubt that.

Learn everything you can about it

This is an odd process.  When you start reading a book about how your brain works, or how your spouses’ brain works, it’s like a light bulb going off every chapter, sometimes paragraph.  You will understand them better, you will know them better.  All the confusion behaviors, habits, fights, will suddenly make sense.  You’ll both learn to navigate better knowing what the field of their mind is.  Somewhere in there, you might feel sad.  You might lament that it’s never going to change.  This is the way their brain is.  You might also feel relieved, and you finally have an answer.

This process can change a marriage, just knowing.  This has a larger impact than any treatment or medication.  What’s my basis for such a claim?  My wife has ADHD, and I have Asperger’s Syndrome.  We only found out in the last year.  I spent weeks learning about ADHD, and then spent weeks learning about Asperger’s Syndrome, and my wife and I talked about every bit of information we came across. We’ve been through over 10 years of marriage without knowing about each other’s brains.  Knowing makes all the difference.

Adjust your life to fit your strengths and weaknesses

In this process, we’ve learned more about what our strengths and weaknesses are.  We’ve discovered strengths and weaknesses we never knew about, and we’ve adjusted out lives, our communication, to suit them instead of constantly fighting against them.  There is nothing worse than trying to live in a neural-typical world when you aren’t neural-typical.

You’re Turn

Of course, this process works for neuro-typicals as well.  It’s always of use to learn more about your spouse.  The best way to do that?  Communicate.  Ask them what they think, how they think, why they think.  Ask them what they feel, how they feel, why they feel.  These are the types of questions that lead to understanding.  To knowing your spouse, regardless of how their brain is configured.

If you have questions/comments/concerns, please comment below and we can start a discussion.

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