If you’re like many women in the BTR.ORG community, you’ve spent hours scouring the internet, researching the question – why does my husband show no empathy? Is it mental illness? A history of trauma? Is it physiological? Due to addiction or pornography use?
Or is it a choice? Is he choosing to exhibit little to no empathy in the marriage?
Nora is on the BTR.ORG podcast with Anne, taking a deep dive into why some men abuse their partners and refuse connect in a compassionate, healthy way. Listen to the free BTR.ORG podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
All The (Wrong) Reasons…
Many women in the BTR.ORG community have tried to find the cause for their partner’s cold, distant, abusive behaviors that do not include abuse – hopeful that their partner can change or be fixed so that the marriage can stay intact. Therapists, clergy, internet research and others may point them in the direction of:
- Mental illness
- Anger problems
- Pornography use
- Personality disorders
- Childhood trauma
- Poor examples of marriage/relationships
While abusive men may have any combination of these, abuse is a choice that men make – not a condition that they cannot control. So alcoholism, for example, may exacerbate abuse, but it is not the cause of abuse.
Abusing You Is His Choice: Now What?
Understanding that he is choosing to abuse you, despite any number of addictions, illnesses, disabilities, or disorders, can be scary.
Victims may feel trapped, wondering how to proceed.
When a disorder, addiction, or other external issue is to blame, then there is a solution – but when it’s his choice to be abusive, only he can make the choice to change.
Women seeking education regarding an abusive partner may benefit from these resources:
- BTR.ORG Individual Sessions
- Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That?
- BTR.ORG Group Sessions
- The BTR.ORG Podcast
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
At BTR.ORG, we know the mixture of deep emotions that come up when victims begin to accept the realities of abuse.
We are here for you on your journey to healing.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne.
I have Nora Taylor on today’s episode. She is a 45-year-old academic and solo mother of three boys who lives in New England. She’s also a victim of betrayal and emotional, psychological, and financial abuse. Her ex-husband, who is a former police officer, and diagnosed on the autism spectrum, is currently serving a sentence in federal prison.
After a child pornography conviction, events revealed that the illegal behavior likely began before the 18-year relationship started in their college years. And the marriage unraveled when blame-shifting, lying, gaslighting, and infidelity escalated. During Taylor’s third pregnancy, her ex-husband staunchly denied knowing anything about the child sex abuse material on his computer and has insisted that Taylor is responsible for quote unquote planting it there in an effort to extort assets and secure child custody during their divorce. Taylor is a member of a support group for mostly women co-parenting with an ex-partner on the spectrum and is committed to understanding and educating herself and others on the intersection of autism and abuse in romantic relationships. Welcome, Nora.
Thank you so much. Glad to be here.
The Intersection of Autism & Abuse in Romantic Relationships
We are glad to have you. This autism question is really interesting because as women are trying to figure out what is going on, like is he an addict? Does he have a personality disorder? Some women also end up with maybe an autism diagnosis with their husband and they start going down that path a little bit. So I think a lot of women will be really interested in your story and also the takeaways that you have found, or the ways that you have processed this. When we’re talking about autism, how do you believe autism played a role in your ex-husband’s abuse and betrayal?
I’m thinking about all of the lists that you just made and I went down all those paths to0, and autism ended up being where I landed. And before I go any further, there’s this often quoted autism advocate you’ve possibly heard of. I think he’s at Ad Alli University, Dr. Steven Shore who says, “When you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.” And I by no means mean to suggest that every person on the spectrum is like this. Every person is different. I have so many friends from all my research and learning and support who have autism, have children on the spectrum. I’m talking specifically about what I learned about my ex. There are some traits that I think stand out for him and for some of the people in my support group as well. Their partners are ex-partners and I can run through a list of a few of them and we can kind of maybe talk a little bit about how they intersect with his behavior primarily.
Some Key Traits of Nora’s Ex-Husband
I saw a lot of mind blindness with him. He didn’t seem to understand that I had feelings that were different from his. He had a very rules-based, logical way of thinking that didn’t tap into his emotions or mine or he wasn’t aware of them as keenly as I think we would have needed it to be, for us to be on the same page. He was highly anxious all the time about things that didn’t necessarily worry me. He wasn’t capable of compromising very often. Context blindness was another aspect of his profile that, you know, it was the forest for the trees issue that he really couldn’t see what I call the connective tissue between decisions that we were making or things we were arguing about. He cannot take responsibility for his own actions as one of the primary issues. He believes he is always right despite plenty of evidence.
And maybe the most central issue that I didn’t see fully for what it was for the duration of our marriage is that people on the spectrum often have a special interest and it’s very often a very positive thing for them. It gives them a space to go to kind of decompress and be able to engage in a social way again, you know, kind of recharge their batteries. And he had lots of them and there were some interesting ones that even once we shared, like hiking and wine tasting. But unfortunately I think the primary one for him and the most long lasting one was something that I don’t even know that I can categorize completely. Cause I could say that it’s porn, I could say that it’s child sexual abuse material, but it’s also just an interest in women in general and girls.
A Fixation on Child Sex Abuse Material
So he had a hard drive filled with images of girls clothed, so legal, and then clearly illegal and abusive materials. But you can see this whole cluster, he spent our entire marriage thinking any emotion that I had that he couldn’t understand was wrong. So I was just whining. So if I was hurt by the time he spent on his computer, even if I wasn’t aware fully of what he was doing, it was pressure on him. And if he didn’t understand my feelings about wanting something small, like where we would go on a trip to something large, like decisions about having a child, he just couldn’t plug into that because it wasn’t logical to him then it wasn’t an acceptable feeling and an acceptable thing to discuss and pursue.
You know, it’s interesting to hear that list. I wanna reiterate that this is not a podcast that is connecting autism with abuse, right? This is not an episode where we are saying that autistic people are abusive, right? So that’s, that’s not the point of this episode. But I do really wanna talk about some of the things that you just said on that list are the traits of abusers who do not have autism, for example. They can’t have empathy with other people. They sort of see other people as objects. They don’t have a feeling that other people are real or they can’t understand their point of view and things like that. That’s one reason why women wonder sometimes is my husband autistic, who knows if they are or they’re not. It seems like women would prefer their husband with these specific traits to be autistic rather than abusive because of the consequences, because of what it means. If there’s kind of a reason for it and there’s way to manage it, maybe they don’t have to get divorced or their family doesn’t have to fall apart, for example. But if it’s abuse, there’s just no way around that because that would mean that that person is making those choices. And I don’t really know where I wanna go with this, but do you have any thoughts?
“We’ve Hit a Dead End Because We Don’t Have a Willing, Collaborative Partner”
It’s something that I’ve grappled with too because I’ve thought, you know, personality disorder, narcissism, abuse, abuser, and I have fallen in the camp of believing he was abusive. But it comes down to intent and understanding and you know, I’m not in his head. So I don’t know. I’ve only done as much research as I can and loved him for as long as I did wanting to fix things and yes, buying into this idea that, oh, it’s autism, we can, we can address this now because we know what it is. But he would have to accept that diagnosis for us to work together. Both of us would, and only one of us was accepting it, but I never will know for sure to what degree he intended to harm anyone, me, our children. And certainly, I don’t know if he truly understands that in this case it’s girls, right?
It’s female victims of of all ages really. Whether he understands the harm he says he does in his, in his courtroom testimony. But I think he follows a script a lot of the time. It was, it was something I clung to, but the reality is that he wasn’t willing to buy into it and nothing is really going to change. Unfortunately, he was not diagnosed until his forties. He’s hardwired anyway. The autism is, you know, you’re born with it, it is who you are, it’s your neurology. But he’s not inclined to explore ways in which he could be more flexible. So it’s in some ways it ends up at the end. A lot of us in my support group end up in just as much pain as anybody who has, you know, a partner who’s whatever, a narcissist, what we consider to be maybe a traditional abuser because we realize we, we’ve hit a dead end because we don’t have a willing, collaborative partner.
Blame-Shifting to Avoid Accountability
So when he received his diagnosis, how did he think about it?
As is often the case with spectrum and certainly with the way he and I interacted, he didn’t really share his thoughts and he may not have had words for his feelings. So we didn’t talk about it much. And the, the marriage was already fairly well over and that was kind of the nail in the coffin. So I don’t know fully, we drove to the assessment together, I booked it, I paid for it. I went home with him and he stopped and he was in tears on the drive home. But the next day it was, you know, this is not me. This is, this is huge. You are just looking for an excuse to deflect and to minimize your responsibility for the problem that we have and the situation we’re in now. So I don’t know, I don’t know that he’ll ever accept it.
Just a non-acknowledgement.
Yeah, it was right back to the script that he was following for the entire time that we were breaking up, that I had done something wrong and I needed to toe the line and get my behavior back in order so that we could put our marriage back together again, that I wouldn’t take responsibility.
“The Marriage Was Already Very Nearly Over”
Okay. So just a few logistical questions. When he was diagnosed, how long had you been married?
I think it was about, yeah, I think it was 14. Um, the marriage was already very nearly over, but we had been together 19 I believe, because we met in college. So it was a very long relationship.
Okay. And how many children did you have?
Our third was a year old at that point.
Okay. So you had three kids and your youngest was a year. And then I’m assuming, and correct me if I’m wrong, that throughout this 19 year relationship that you had with him, or as long as you knew him, you kind of sensed something wasn’t right and you were trying to get to the bottom of it.
“I Wasn’t Allowed To Have a Different Perspective”
I did, although so much of what I’ve learned has only been in retrospect once it really blew up, I think I thought it was normal to disagree as much as we did. It was frustrating, but I couldn’t get to the bottom of it and I wasn’t aware of how pervasive it was. You know, we would fight over things and sometimes I, you know, I wouldn’t even walk away remembering what the argument was, but I remember the refrain being, But I feel this way. And he would respond with, Well, I disagree with you. And I said, But you can’t disagree with my feelings. You can feel differently than I do. But that never made sense to him. So that was kind of the core of all of our major arguments that I wasn’t allowed to have a different perspective and to have a feeling about it if he didn’t understand what that was. So it was always there from early on, but I didn’t see it for what it was until things really blew up. And I said, How did this go so far sideways and started doing my research?
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
That’s really interesting cause even an abuser without autism would say the same thing. I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.
You said your marriage started to fall apart and then you got this diagnosis. Were his behaviors just kind of escalating at that point? Were you thinking of divorce at this point? Like can you just kind of maybe summarize the stage that you’re calling, sort of the fall apart stage?
The “Falling Apart” Stage
Yeah, the fall apart stage was after the birth of my second child when I decided I wanted a third child. And I mean, I guess it’s the biological imperative, right? When you have those feelings it’s because, you know, nature is telling you to reproduce. But I didn’t have a logical reason for why I wanted one and he didn’t want one. So that became the fight and it just spiraled. It was the same fight through all those years. But I held my ground with what I wanted for the first time, thinking that surely this time I will convince him. He became so stressed. And this is a very common thing that the marriage does fall apart when children come on the scene. Maybe he was more capable and that it didn’t completely disintegrate with the first two, or maybe I was covering more of the load, but he just couldn’t accept it as a logical outcome.
But he did agree. And so I got pregnant and within months there was a lot going on in our world. He was involved in a shooting incident in work as a person in law enforcement. So I was assuming PTSD, but he said, “No, you’re my problem and you blackmailed me into having this child and I can’t accept it.” And so here I was, pregnant with two little guys, and he was ready to move out and I only learned, honestly, I did not learn until two days after I testified at his federal trial that he like confirmed 100% that he was cheating. But it was during that same time period. So we were on a family vacation and he was cold and distant and you know, all the signs that I think women, but maybe any partner who’s sensitive and attuned to these things, I started guessing that he was, that he was having an affair.
TW: Discovering an Affair
And then when he left the house, he originally said I was sticking him with the children as much as possible at every spare moment he had. So he didn’t want them. But then I said, Okay, I’ll keep them. And then, then suddenly he wanted them and he was taking my children off to hang out with his mistress and I had a six year old and he started talking about it. So that’s how I, I suspected, but I kept putting it aside because I, I wanted to believe at the time that it wasn’t really happening and we could still fix the marriage and if I didn’t allow myself to believe it, then it wasn’t true and we could fix the marriage. That was months and months and months before I got really suspicious about that behavior. And some spending, he was, he was saying that we didn’t have enough money for a third child, but he was spending a lot of money and that’s when I logged into his computer looking for evidence of whatever was going on with him.
And that’s when I found quite a bit of adult pornography. And then I thought it was being deleted from the hard drive. So I set it aside, turned it off, disconnected it, still wanted to work on the marriage, this was pre-diagnosis and decided on a divorce after his diagnosis. And his behavior was erratic then too. It was through this whole period he would disappear with my kids and I thought he was taking them for good. He was just doing very suspicious things like putting a trash can in front of my car, uh, in the driveway in front of the garage door. So I would have to get out and move it when I opened the garage door or trashing the house and saying, the dog spread garbage around. So he was started getting really manipulative in that way or I, I still don’t quite know what that was, but ultimately that’s kind of what the lead up was.
TW: Discovering Child Sex Abuse Material on the Abuser’s Computer
I said, I have to investigate what’s on this computer because I said to myself, and this is where I think it connects with what you talk about a lot here on your podcast, is that I thought surely the courts will say, Well this man has hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands anyway of images on his computer that he is downloading all the time. He can’t be an effective parent. And I would get custody, my kids would be safe. Not knowing it was illegal, I had the computer investigated cause I was starting to get suspicious that things were being deleted. And I had a local computer expert tell me, his lawyer advised him to pay in cash and be done with it. So I sent the computer off for forensics, still not believing, still not letting myself believe any more than moments at a time and then dismissing it. And it came back with CSAM.
CSAM is the term child sexual abuse material, which is a more accurate term than child pornography because all child pornography is and ever has been is photos and videos and evidence of child abuse, child sexual abuse. So that is the term that we’re gonna use today is CSAM, child sexual abuse material. Many men at this stage where things are falling apart and stuff, they would not go in for a psych eval. Right. Or some kind of testing. So what prompted the test in the first place to, to get a diagnosis?
“He Was Willing To Do That… To Prove I Was The Issue”
It was of course my idea because I came out of, I think it was our second couple’s therapist of three, I came out of a session where the therapist was telling him, Oh, well it sounds like you had a baby with, you know, a third baby because needs were important to you and you wanted to honor those. And his immediate response was, Well, no, I thought she was gonna leave me if I didn’t have one. So I had to, and it was just so devoid of any sort of care for me or even an awareness that he should be at least putting on a show that he cared. And it just hit me wrong. And that took me to autism. It’s, it’s a vast majority of, of individuals on the spectrum who experienced some level of this. So I pushed and he was, I think so wholly convinced that I was the problem, that he was willing to do that because it was going to prove that I was the issue and there was nothing wrong with him.
Okay. We’re gonna pause the conversation right here, but stay tuned. We’re gonna talk more about what happens with Nora and her story next week. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.
“That’s really interesting cause even an abuser without autism would say the same thing.”
💯 It’s hard to de-center what we hope is wrong with these abusive husbands – to the point their “label” explaining the abuse can become something of a rabbit hole we fall into in our recovery from the abuse. My label for my former husband was “cluster b.” Another friend’s label for hers was “depressed to the point of needing lithium.” And yet these men are really all the same abusers. Hugs!
Thank you for sharing your story, this is so helpful. I have a related question. It can become incredibly difficult to discern diagnosis related behaviors and patterns of abuse, especially when gaslighting and manipulation are happening. I have so much empathy for my spouse’s “challenges” but am realizing that his diagnosis may have become an excuse to treat me poorly and not show up to our marriage. I am wondering about the weaponization of a diagnosis in an abuse situation. Are there books, articles, resources that discuss this issue? Thank you so much.
At first I wasn’t even going to read this episode as I thought well my H isn’t autistic and he’s never been into anything like child sex abuse material.
But the more I read the more I realized he certainly has a lot of those traits – eg mind blindness, missing the forest for the trees, anxiety, and although he’s not had an affair for 12 years, I’ve found pictures of attractive women – actresses, news anchors, that he’s googled. The last one was our daughters age – late 30s so certainly not a child – but it’s just creepy and I find myself so turned off.
When I confronted him – seriously? You’re still doing this? He hemmed and hawed and I said so you plead the fifth and he kind of smirked and said “I just can’t remember.” Later I asked if he cherished me. His answer was “I don’t know”. I said, “Then why are we married?”
He said, “Well you’re the one who’s talking about moving out.”
“I said because among other things, you tell me you don’t even know if you cherish me!”
He said, “What?! I never said that!”
I said: “What?! You just said it!”
“I did not!” Yikes – we’ve been doing this demon dance for so long. I want to leave, but then feel so utterly lonely as there are many times he seems to come out of the fog and say, “What have I done to you?”
I’m sure my dilemma fits many women! Too bad to stay, too good to leave . . .
My ex had hundreds of photos of middle school/high school cheerleaders on his hard drive as well, painstakingly organized into folders by grade level.
“What have I done to hurt you?” is exactly what he asked me.
You can do the dance forever, or find fulfillment and happiness, inside or outside of the marriage. At the very least I highly recommend surrounding yourself with other people who fill you up, or you will be very lonely indeed.
“The demon dance”. That’s a good name for it. The famous gaslighting behavior, game of chess, conversational warfare etc: When they say something and then what they said backfires in the conversation. Then the warfare begins. All of the sudden, they either never said it, they claim to have said it differently, they backtrack on what they said, change the wording or meaning of what they said etc. it has been the story of my marriage for 17 years. This conversational warfare is enough to make anybody lose their mind.
My SAH was diagnosed with Asperger’s (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in July. It explains a lot and I often feel confused by what he says. We have been married 36 years. We have been empty nesters for 7 years and Dday for 8 years. Now that my kids are gone I’ve noticed a lot more of his Autism traits and can’t figure if a specific issue/discussion we may have at the time is because of SA or autism.
I would like some resources for wives os SA and autism please.
My SAH is willing to receive help but boy is it hard to feel like the parent in the marriage because of his autism.
Seems to me that autism and narcissism are very closely related. I have gone down this road as well. But I agree it has to do with intent. The ex is very much out to get me and does not seem to care so I feel he is narcissistic. We have a daughter that is autistic and she does not understand some of what she does, whereas he seems very understanding and intent on making me pay. Kind of wonder if he started with autism and turned narcissistic?
I appreciate that you Anne kept reiterating that this guy being Autistic wasn’t the problem, him being abusive was the problem. I know both you and Nora said this on the podcast but there were some mixed messages and I want to emphasize that being Autistic does not cause someone to be abusive. I am Autistic. I am not abusive. I have been a victim of abuse in many situations. Of course some Autistic people are abusive but Autistic people are more often victims of abuse than perpetrators.
It’s a misconception that Autistic people lack empathy. Actually most (not all) Autistics are overly empathetic. I have so much empathy as a highly sensitive Autistic person that it often overwhelms me and this is the case with many Autistic people. I have learned from BTR, that porn use can lead to decreased empathy. That is more likely the case with Nora’s abusive ex.
Also being Autistic does not make someone a bad parent. Many Autistics are excellent parents. Our high sensitivity often make us well attuned and extra compassionate with our children and our partners. Abusive people are not good parents.
Nora’s ex-husband may be Autistic but that did not make him abusive. He had an abusive entitled mindset. My husband is not Autistic but he has been abusive and did many similar behaviors to Nora’s ex-husband. I really did not appreciate Nora saying that her abusive husband’s Autistic “special interest” was girls. No. Using CSAM is abusive, not a special interest. I am Autistic and have many special interests that I am passionate about. I do not exploit and abuse and harm people as my special interest. I am horrified at the usage and weaponization of Autistic terms like “special interest” to describe an abusive man’s use of CSAM.
I am so sorry and relate to the pain that Nora went through in her marriage with her abusive ex. I understand that Nora is just doing her best to make sense of her trauma and how and why her ex-husband was abusive and learning about autism seemed to help her explain her experiences with her abusive husband. But her ex-partner being Autistic is very separate from him being abusive. There is a lot of stigma and misconceptions around autism. I know this wasn’t the intention but talking about Autistic people and our traits in this way unfortunately contributes to more stigma.
Thank you to your thoughtful reply about these episodes! I totally agree:).