Saturday, February 21, 2015

Taking Ownership of Problems in Your Relationship

Taking ownership of problems is something that is important in every relationship but it's especially important in a relationship where one or more partners have Autism Spectrum Disorders, including Asperger's syndrome. This is because partners with ASDs have low tolerances for specific things, such as certain smells, sounds, events or arrangements. At the same time, people with ASDs are often the loudest or most disturbing people in a room due to their stimming behaviours or misunderstanding of social "norms".

In this post, aimed at all parts of the relationship (neurotypical, ASD, male and female) I want to provide a tips on ownership which may make the "road" less bumpy

What is meant by "Ownership"?
So often, arguments in relationships include the words;  "You made me do ...."   or "You made me feel....".

It's not true though, unless your partner is a mad scientist with access to your brain, a magician, a hypnotist or a sociopath -- in which case, getting out of the relationship isn't such a bad idea.

Nobody can make anyone DO or FEEL anything. You do it to yourself. 

Ownership means that you recognize that YOU are responsible for YOUR actions and YOUR feelings. 

Once you accept this, you can then move on to deciding how and why you feel or act a certain way. For example, you might find yourself being upset because the house is messy.  It's easy to blame your partner for not cleaning but then they may not feel as strongly about cleanliness as you do. The reason that you're upset isn't because they don't keep it clean but because you value cleanliness.

There are three simple solutions to this particular problem;

  1. You take more responsibility for cleaning, which would probably involve cleaning up after your partner more and may lead to feelings of resentment.
  2. You reduce your personal reliance upon cleaning and accept the fact that things will never be entirely 100% clean and tidy.
  3. You find a way, perhaps via incentive, bribe, agreement or even denial of services to convince your partner to do more of the work.  For example, if your partner relies upon you to do ironing, you might suggest that ironing won't happen unless they do their share of cleaning.

Owning the Problem
When my wife and I were first married, some of my OCD quirks were quite noticeable. For example, all of my books, CDs etc were in strict alphabetical order. My wife liked playing CDs but she would never put them back in the right place.  We got around the problem in two ways.

First, I realized that I was the one who valued order, not my wife. I told her that if it wasn't obvious where the CD should go that she should just leave it out for me to put away. Thus, I owned the problem. 

Going a step further though, I bought blank CD cases and fill them with letters on the spine (A-Z).  This made it easier to find where things should go but more importantly, it occupied blank spaces. We got to the point where my wife would take a CD out and when she went to return it, there was only one empty slot where it could go.

This made things easy for her -- and it reduced the problems with my personal issues with order.

Taking the Problems Away

One of the classic and most often cited relationship problems is about toothpaste and whether to squeeze it from the middle or from the end.

This problem dates back to the days of aluminum toothpaste tubes and is less relevant today however the solution is still a good one.

Clearly one person in the relationship cares about the problem more than the other, so... have two toothpaste tubes and have the fussy person responsible for putting theirs away when finished.

Having it out of sight will ensure that their partner picks up the tube that they are meant to be using.

Walking away from Unimportant Issues
The other half of problem ownership is the dis-ownership of unimportant problems. There are many times when your partner will want to involve you in decisions in which you really don't have an interest. As you get involved in the decision, you'll find yourself making a choice and then wanting to stick to it.

Picking floor tiles or room colors or household items are obvious examples of this, as is picking Hi-Fi equipment or cars with non-technical partners.

The problem is that once you've made a choice, and your partner has disagreed, the argument becomes one which is less about the choice you've made and more about the fact that your partner asked for your advice and then ignored it.  It's perfectly normal to feel some resentment about this.

One of the best things that you can do is recognize that this is a choice that you do not have an interest in and refrain from making a choice in the first place.

Non-Ownership of problems that are not important to you is just as important as ownership of problems which are. 


LrdVapid said...

In your first example you state that one could end up feeling regret. Did you mean to say resentment? It would make a bit more sense.

Gavin Bollard said...

Thanks for that, yes the word was supposed to be resentment.