Photo: Mandi Backhaus
Though David and Kristen Finch had been friends since high school, it wasn't until after they married in 2003 that David's repetitive rituals, bursts of anger, and stunted social skills convinced Kristen that something was seriously wrong. In 2008 Kristen, a speech therapist, followed a hunch that led to David's being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. In his new book, The Journal of Best Practices (Scribner), David, a onetime audio engineer, chronicles how he and Kristen set out to make him a better husband, father, and person. O's Abbe Wright talked to both Finches about their journey.
Q: You make it clear in the book that as an "Aspie" you struggle with understanding what others are going through. Can empathy be learned?
David: I'm finding empathy is not something I've mastered, and that's okay. What I've learned is that I might not be able to divine what Kristen is feeling, but I do know when something is up, and I know to ask for clarification. If I can pinpoint what she's feeling without having to ask, that's great. But even if she has to tell me, as long as I can show that I'm sympathetic, it's all good.
Q: What other behaviors have you had to work on?
David: Kristen couldn't believe she had to tell me things like "Company's coming over; now is not the time to take an hour-long shower." And most wives don't have to teach their husbands that they can't flip out and storm away from the table at Thanksgiving dinner over something that happened three days earlier.
Kristen: Dave hates getting splashed with water and having his clothes get wet, so he had to adapt to bath time with the kids; now he wears his swim trunks, because he's okay with them getting wet.
Q: Reading the book, it seems like Kristen is always the "teacher" and David always needs fixing. Do you ever find those defined roles frustrating?
David: I've never thought about it from her perspective, but I never wanted Kristen to feel tasked with the responsibility of fixing me.
Kristen: I think we realized our marriage was not going well. Dave always had a great sense of humor, and he totally gets me. I wanted to return to that bestfriendship. So if he needs me to write a list of things he shouldn't say when we go out tomorrow, I can do that.
Q: How can your experiences help marriages that have nothing to do with Asperger's?
David: I realize, the more I talk to people, how relatable our situation is. Everybody could benefit from learning how to manage themselves better in any relationship. The Asperger's thing informed the book, but really it's not a story about Asperger's; it's a story about marriage. I wanted to write something to give people hope. If you're sitting there feeling unhappy and stuck, there's probably a reason and you can get to the bottom of it.
Kristen: I remember thinking that this is my one and only shot at life. Why wouldn't I do everything I could to have the best marriage we can? Life's too short to let it be ho-hum.
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From the January 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!