Before I go into details in this post I feel it is important to emphasize that I am no expert on the matters of autism but merely a mother whose son has been diagnosed and is likely to get a diagnosis for the other one too. Hence, my writings are but accounts of that experience and how it affects the family. One important aspect of that is how all this affected my husband and I in different ways.
As already discussed in my post ‘Are They Both Autistic‘, I went into a period of temporary depression after it became clear to me that not only was our older son autistic but probably our younger son too. Fortunately, it was only a short period of about three weeks where everything felt utterly hopeless but during that time, I felt as if the sun would never shine as brightly as it had before. Meanwhile, I was unwilling to admit to anyone, myself included, how I really felt and thus, all the emotions just boiled inside of me. It was not until I began talking about what had happened with people I felt trustworthy that the floodgates of emotions came pouring out, releasing the tension, helping me make peace with this new reality.
It was a little different with my husband. At first, we both felt numb but as the realization sunk in, the downward feelings came crushing down on me at a more devastating force. However, I was also faster pulling myself up again. As I began to take better care of myself, started going out again to meet friends for lunch etc. his low-spirited period carried on. He often stayed up late, refrained from going outside, and wasn’t very interested in his studies. He wasn’t being the emotional wreck that I’d been but it somehow felt as he was avoiding dealing with what had happened.
While I had been consumed by downward feelings, he had built a wall of distance and mostly avoided talking about the boys being autistic and how it was affecting him. Thus, I had a hard time understanding what was going on inside his head. As I was getting back to my normal self, I couldn’t understand his lack of interest in getting back into the tempo of normal life. As his inactive behavior prolonged I became increasingly concerned but every time I said anything to him he became frustrated with my meddling.
A few more weeks passed until one day he finally hit rock bottom. I was sitting in the living room when he came out of the bedroom clearly feeling upset. It was as if he was suddenly ready to let go of the emotional wall he’d built. He started talking about his feelings of being utterly useless since he couldn’t do anything to make the boys get better. He talked about the blame he’d been feeling, convinced that it was somehow his fault. He was ashamed of himself that he seemingly couldn’t make “healthy” babies but felt horrible at the same time for even thinking like that! All these suffocating emotions were the reason he’d been so down and when he realized that he wasn’t giving me and the boys the usual care and attention, he only felt worse. My heart went out for him because I could so easily put myself in his position. At the same time, I was extremely relieved that he’d finally opened up.
This was most definitely the turning point for him. He’d rid himself of the burden he’d been carrying alone for so long and he immediately felt better. Yet, it took a few more weeks before he came to terms with the changes that were happening in our lives and started acting more like the humorous person I know so well. But it wasn’t until that moment that I understood just how differently we had been coping with the news.
As it turns out, this is nothing unusual. Many studies show that men and women react differently to trauma. One particular article of Psych Central Blogs, that I highly recommend reading, describes this in a very simple way: “in the face of traumatic loss, women need to speak about what has happened, men need to do something about what happened”. These different reactions are often the cause for confusion and tension between couples that go through trauma.
I took the liberty to quote another great part of that article about couple considerations:
- Men and women actually have different reactions in the aftermath of trauma.
- Many different factors can affect the meaning and reaction to trauma in anyone.
- Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time – there is no right way.
- When in doubt don’t assume the worst about your partner- assume you don’t know.
- Curiosity about the impact of your reactions on your partner is more likely to improve things than criticism about the impact of his or her reactions on you.
- Celebrate the differences. Sometimes the best traveling companion in life is someone who sees and reacts to things you might never see.
Again I recommend you read the article as it gives a good insight into the difference between men and women in regards to trauma.
I think there is no dispute that trauma puts a strain on relationships. I totally get that – it hasn’t been easy. But I also think that trauma can make a couple stronger and believe that to be true in our case. The fact that we got through this difficult period fills me with pride and joy. Yet, there are still days where it all becomes a little too much but it’s farther between them and we’ve started to see the bright side of life again. I know our journey is far from over. There are years of challenges ahead of us but my hope is that we’ll be able to go through them together, strong and united in our common goal to help our boys reach their full potential in every way possible.