My 20 year marriage has died largely as a result of undiagnosed ADHD/Autism spectrum (high-functioning) on the part of my spouse, along with the coping and camouflaging, and the PTSD she surely experienced as a child growing up in an undiagnosed ADHD/Narcissist/Histrionic/Anxiety/OCD household (her parents and siblings). We have two adolescent children. Her denial strategies are deep, deeper than our marriage. She is otherwise smart and sweet and mostly a loving parent, within the limitations that her condition brings, such as gaslighting the kids, being quick to rage, and some of the same impact her hyperfocus and task inertia and inability to connect emotionally had on me.
But I am stuck in this, I have long ago given up on trying to help her discover her condition and acknowledge it, so my role is to be a "parent" to her (typical spouse of ADHD strategy), and my goal is to continue to co-parent under "in-home separation" as long as I can. I do not trust her to be a sole parent in any joint custody arrangement, and I believe divorce would be worse for our children than staying together, for the time being at least. Also, I am not without my own emotional challenges, so the one thing we do well for each other is tag-team when one parent is unable to deal with the kids in a healthy way.
I have gone 20 years without sex or intimacy or emotional partnership. I stayed loyal and did my best the whole time and never cheated. But I don't want to die lonely and sexless. I want to feel a loving touch without rules, a whispered word without restraint, a sense of connection and continuity that lasts more than a day, and a collaborative sexual partnership again before I am done on this earth.
One big challenge is that her highly-practiced camouflage strategies are very effective at deceiving other people, she seems to many people to be very calm and thoughtful, successful at work, etc. This is all true. but obscures the fact that she comes home and falls apart, and lives in a world of severe symptoms of the above that in the end led to her being utterly passive and passive aggressive as her marriage fell apart. She sure as hell fooled me (actually things got worse as she got older, and definitely worse after we had kids). I am, by comparison, very human in wearing my emotions on my sleeve, and my coping strategy is to acknowledge issues and get them on the table vigorously, I have a low threshold for denial and unacknowledged dysfunction. (so we are a tragically inappropriate mix).
So, at root, her family is deeply in denial about mental health issues, and has built itself around enabling them and never acknowledging them. My quiet, compliant, and watchful spouse slipped under the radar in the chaotic and unhealthy environment she grew up in. Those patterns were too ingrained to overcome in adulthood. But acknowledging her mental health is essential to continuing whatever our relationship turns out to be, and will certainly become an issue in a divorce (I use this term "mental health" as short-hand for the mix of mental illness, cognitive challenges, and PTSD/coping).
I have so far suffered this alone. But am starting to wonder if reaching out to a family member of hers might help in the long run, regardless of which way we go. I am worried that at some point, she will go on the offensive and flip to rage mode, and also that she will use her camouflage skills in ways to play the role of "wronged saint" that will lead to a lot of unnecessary ugliness. Having a family member of hers informed and involved might help smooth some of the worst parts, and might actually help her to acknowledge and to seek help.
There is a sister, and aunt, and a friend I think I could reach out to. I would lay it on the line: I need your help keeping this together and navigating the next steps. It's a bit of a minefield of course, but I will eventually be putting her cognitive issues on the table and in the open, so it's only a question of when and how that happens. I am pretty sure each of these people has at least an inkling of what's going on, and presented with the evidence would come to see that my insight is probably reasonable. But of course I could be wrong. Denial is powerful.
I have utterly failed to find a way to get her to acknowledge herself, even as her marriage failed; the worse the marriage got, the more she was passive and checked out. In fact, I became "the threat" and she actively alienated me. Perhaps a family member might succeed where I failed. Her emotional world, her coping strategy is built around telling herself she's "normal" and "fine" (her words), which she repeats like a mantra. Despite volumes of evidence that something was not working, she resolutely refuses to take the lid off and actively seek out explanations and remedies.
It's time for me to recruit some help.