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How Facial Expression Dyslexia Affected My Marriage

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Hands down, my favorite sitcom of all time is “Everybody Loves Raymond.” In season 9 episode 2, Frank and Marie move to a retirement home, but shortly after moving in, the chairman calls Ray and Debra into their office and says, “We need your parents to move out. Your father’s been tearing around on his golf cart, endangering pedestrians. When our security guards warn your father, he turns his cart and aims for them. One time he shouted, ‘Hit the monkey, win a cookie!’ If this were the only issue we might be able to work through it, but your father’s overall demeanor is sort of like a maniac.” Next the assistant chimes in, “But as bad as your father is, your mother has brought the morale of our community to an all-time low. None of the other woman want to be around her. She has this way of appearing to give a compliment, when actually she’s insulting you! And she’s critical of everything. Our clothing, hair, cooking. And when I tried to talk to Marie about this, she said my rude tone might be the reason why I don’t have a husband.” Then the chairman and the assistant both state, “We would like you to take them with you. We have people to help you pack.” Debra then stands up and says, “Now hold on. We are not going to sit here and let you run down these good people! I don’t think you even considered that the problem just may be everyone else!” The chairman replies, “I understand that you are upset.” But immediately Debra cries out, “Please don’t make us take them back!”

So obviously this news came as no big surprise to Ray and Debra because they have dealt with it their whole marriage, as Frank and Marie used to live just right across the street from them and did the same type of things.

So, you ask, “How does this episode apply to someone in a relationship with Asperger’s syndrome?” Excellent question. Thanks for asking.

I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I was 39 years old and had already been married for 15 years. At that time my relationship was severely on the rocks. However, once I really began to dig into the research, I found out many people with autism have what’s called facial expression dyslexia. This basically means we misinterpret facial expressions. One common example is when someone is surprised… my brain interprets it as fear. But the main one that causes conflict is when someone is experiencing pain… my brain interpret it as anger. You could see how this could lead to serious problems. Couple that with the fact that a couple years ago my wife’s disc degeneration reached the point where she had to have a spinal fusion, and now she can’t work and is in pain. Now try to convince someone who has facial expression dyslexia that his wife isn’t angry when that person has no idea they’re autistic in the first place. People might ask, “Well didn’t she just say she was in pain?” My response to that is, “Yes. But I thought she was taking her pain out on me. To me, she looked like she wanted to kill me.”

In retrospect, I now realize this has been one of the main reasons I’ve struggled so much socially my entire life. I’d go somewhere and think, “Why’s this person looking at me like that?” So, when you put all the pieces together… the autism and facial expression dyslexia caused paranoia, and that of course created conflict.

Now try to imagine living your whole life just walking around thinking everyone who’s just a little stressed out, or in pain, is actually looking at you like they want to cause you physical harm. Yeah… not good. So, like Debra said when she was talking about Frank and Marie, I actually thought the problem really was everyone else. Nope. Like Frank and Marie, I was oblivious to how I was affecting everyone around me. Once I became aware of this and accepted it, it was like a rebirth. My marriage is now better than it’s ever been, and my hope is now to help as many people I can who might be dealing with the same issue.

If you have autism/Asperger’s or know someone who does, please follow me along this journey as I try my best to give insight into my world and mind. Follow me on Steemit.

Getty image by David De Lossy

Originally published: March 29, 2018
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