- Alone Time
- Restricted Touch
- Gentle Encouragement
- Love and Understanding
- Less Empathy, more solutions (mainly an aspie male thing)
and that NT's have other needs;
- Spontaneity and Fun
- Social Time
Many of the aspie needs have a corresponding opposite in the neurotypical world. There's no happy medium - and the compromises you make need to be dynamic with minor adjustments happing on a daily basis as your situations change.
I'll try to cover the balances between these needs individually.
It's no big secret that the answer to the conversational divide between aspie and neurotypical partners is compromise. The real trick is determining what compromises to make. This is a very personal decision since the tolerances of people will vary considerably not only between couples but also over different periods of time.
The Alone-Time and Social Events Balance
The key to getting appropriate alone-time when in a relationship is to find appropriate balance with your partner. This is much easier if the NT partner has a group of friends that they can go out with and if the aspie side of the relationship is supportive enough to allow this to happen.
Unfortunately, particularly in family situations, this isn't always possible. To get around this, the NT should be clear about where and when they need social support. This satisfies the aspies need for structure and planning and makes them less resistant to social events. To get maximum benefit out of your aspie at a a social event, you should let them have some alone-time both before and afterward.
Planning for Conversation
In normal day-to-day conversation, particularly with aspie partners who have a lot of unavoidable social contact at work, it's important to allow for some alone-time. This conflicts with the NT's need for conversation as well as other home duties such as helping with kids, kitchen duties etc. The best way to satisfy both sets of needs is to follow a loose schedule. It doesn't have to be perfect but you really need to respect each others needs a little or it won't work at all.
A good example of such a schedule could be;
- 6.00pm - Arrive Home - Time with Children (and dinner)
- 7.30pm - Kids in bed, exclusive time with partner
- 8.30pm - Alone time
Adjusting and Respecting the Schedules
The schedule should be loose enough to compensate if, for example the "partner time" is interrupted by telephone calls. Alternatively, if you have an answering machine, you could decide not to accept calls during partner time. The important thing is to respect the boundaries. Don't give your aspie 5 minutes of settling into their alone-time and then keep interrupting at regular intervals.
This is a problem I often have at home. My "alone-time" periods are always longer during weekdays than on weekends - because weekdays I have to work in social settings and I need to "recharge my batteries". My wife tends to watch cop shows on TV and I have alone-time by sitting near her and watching a DVD on my portable player. I used to take alone-time on the computer in a different room but my wife explained that this was unhealthy for our relationship. She was right - and we're much closer now because we stay together even during that "alone time".
Unfortunately, my wife tends to want to talk during the advertisements and forgets that the movie I'm watching doesn't have them. I'll put it on pause to listen to her and then start it again when the conversation is finished. Often, things that my wife will want to discuss will bob into her head in five minute intervals. After stopping my movie several times in a row, I'll have an exasperated expression on my face. This doesn't do our relationship any good.
What really should be happening in these periods is that my wife should realise that this is one of those times when she wants to talk to me. It would be better if she turned off the television and asked for my full attention. That way, we can discuss things properly without her feeling like she needs to break things into smaller conversations (to get back to watching her show) and without me getting irritated. We don't have this problem every night but on the nights that we do - it's obvious that our approach needs to be modified.
Finally, there's the listening problem. As aspies with special interests, we're well aware that our niche subjects are usually uninteresting to others. In particular, our partners have heard more than a lifetime's worth of material on our special interests. The problem works both ways though but most NT's aren't as aware that their subjects are "uninteresting" to aspies because to other NT's, these subjects often are.
Aspies find it very difficult to concentrate on things outside of their immediate interests. Things that seem to be exciting and "real-life" for NTs are just as dull and lifeless to us as our special interests are to you.
The problem is simple - we have two people who have lots to say but are not interested in eachother's conversation. Conversation by definition is a two way street. There's only one fair answer - compromise;
- You both have to listen to each other
- Aspies need to maintain at least fleeting eye contact as this reassures your NT partner that you're listening to them. By the same token, the NT needs to accept that they won't get 100% eye contact but that their partner is still listening to them. (just make sure that other distractions such as TV and kids are out of sight).
- The Talker needs to be aware that repetition is not required.
- When the NT is talking, often they are seeking empathy from their partner. Aspies need to learn ways of showing empathy... but that's a different post.
- In general, during discussions, men like to hear answers from their partners while women tend to prefer empathy. The problem is that we each give eachother what we ourselves want, instead of what our partners need. (this is a big generalisation but it's suprisingly true - though I suspect that female aspies have more male-type wants - I'd be happy for a clarification though).
Example: If your female partner had an incident where she spilled coffee on herself before a big meeting, she wants you to say; "Oh you poor thing, that must have been so embarrassing"... "were you ok? did you scald yourself?" and possibly also... "oh... that's happened to me too - I felt so clumsy".
If this happened to a male partner, he'd be more keen to hear, "oh.. you can get coffee stains out by washing in lemon juice (I made that up - so don't try it)" or "did you buy a new shirt?".