Sunday, October 29, 2017

It takes two, two sides to every story (Relationships and Aspergers)

It seems strange to say it but I’d never heard of Katy Perry until she hit the headlines for dressing “inappropriately” on Sesame Street back in 2010. Even then it was at least a couple of years before I listened to her music properly. 

Apart from her music, which I now love, I’ve also got another reason to really like her as an artist. She’s always defending those who are different and in 2012, she did an awesome duet of Firework (an amazing and empowering song in its own right) with Jodi DiPiazza a young girl with autism. I tried to find this on youtube again but sadly the full version isn’t available now. 

Rest assured, it was incredibly moving.

Lyrics with Meaning

One of the great things about Katy’s songs is that a lot of them, though obviously not all, have deep meanings. I was listening to the song, “it takes two” recently and I was thinking about the message within it and how it applies a lot of common sense to couples in relationships.

I was also thinking that it’s a good way for people on the autism spectrum (or in a relationship with someone on the spectrum) to be mindful of their own faults as well as those of their partners.

You can see the music video for the song here and you can read the lyrics here.

It takes two to Tango

There’s an old saying that “it takes two to tango” and if you’re on the spectrum you could be forgiven for thinking that it refers to the need for a dance partner.  In fact, it means that in any relationship, there are two people “driving” - even if one of them is the “victim”.

It’s very important to realise that while victims in relationships feel trapped, they’re essentially perpetuating a bad situation by staying. If you can’t make it work, if you’re unwilling to seek help or if the help has not alleviated the situation, then apart from certain illegal situations, you can always escape.

If you’re being physically harmed, then it’s particularly important to get out of the relationship.

If you stay -- particularly if you stay and accept your partner’s bad behaviour, then you’re allowing it to continue.

"I’m not that Innocent"

One of the lines in the song is “I admit, half of it. I’m not that innocent”.  As people on the spectrum, it’s very important to realise that if things are going “off the rails” then at least part of the blame has to lie with us. Sometimes it’s our expectations which can be too high, sometimes it’s simply our poor choice of partner. Often though, without realising it, we’re doing a lot of harm to our own relationships.

Some of the ways in which people on the spectrum harm our own relationships include;

Focusing on our special interest to an extent that excludes our partner. 

This particularly applies when our special interests are to do with television, computers or gaming but it can also apply if we involve ourselves so deeply in a sport or a hobby that we’re never home or if we focus all of our conversations around our special interest.

It’s very important to remember that our partners won’t necessarily share our special interests, particularly not at the level of detail that we do.

We need to make time for our partners and for their interests, even if that means scheduling some regular activities.

Applying rules and restrictions to everything.

One of the hallmarks of people on the spectrum is the need for rules and procedures which don’t always make sense. Sometimes we find ourselves subconsciously putting things into order or straight lines. We may for example, find ourselves “avoiding right turns” or certain places because their ambience causes us sensory issues.

While it’s important to look after our senses, it’s also important to remember that our partners should not be subjected to all of our rules. They must be able to make choices for themselves.

Sometimes we have to try to deal with our sensory issues for our partner. 

Weddings, for example, can be sensory nightmares for us but they’re often very important occasions for our partners. We can take steps to reduce the impact that they have on us by wearing sunglasses, comfortable clothing or earplugs but continually cancelling all such events - or misbehaving at them is not healthy for the relationship.

Failing to listen

This is a particularly difficult problem for me. I’ve gotten so good at predicting the things that my wife, friends and work colleagues will say that too often I finish their sentences for them. It might feel like the right thing to do but it’s demeaning. It means I’m not listening properly. Right now, I’m working on this and I’m trying to improve my listening skills but so often I remember only after the damage has been done.

Your partner probably isn’t saying anything about this but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hurting them. Listen, breathe and emote “in their language”. 

Emoting in your partner's language is quite difficult, especially for those of us on the spectrum. We feel emotions strongly but we communicate them very differently. Unfortunately, our way of communicating emotion is often lost of neurotypicals so if they're the ones who are upset, it's best if we can try to convey our feelings in ways that they understand.

Try to cut them a little slack, listen to their ideas and praise them. Give things a try even if you think they might not work. Sometimes it’s more important to be supportive than it is to be right.

Most of all, try to resist problem solving everything. Sometimes people just want a little empathy from you.

Being aggressive

Meltdowns can be a big problem for people on the spectrum, particularly if they have specific hang-ups. In my case, I hate trying to be a handyman because my skills are so poor in this area that I always feel I do more harm than good. In the early days of my marriage, I'd get "cornered into doing jobs" that I didn't feel confident with and something would often get smashed, chipped or crushed because of my temper. My angry shouts and finger-pointing would also do a whole lot of damage to the relationship.

It’s something that I had to work very hard on to find ways to stop the meltdowns from affecting me so badly and to ensure that my partner knew how best to help me.  I also needed to learn how to say "No" when I didn't feel confident. 

"I point my finger but it does me no good"

Of course, the whole point of “it takes two” is that you can only be responsible for your half of the relationship. You can most certainly blame your partner for their actions but unless it leads to change, it’s pointless.

Neurotypicals in relationships with people on the spectrum can cause a lot of problems too. 

For a start, a lot of neurotypical behaviour is too “loud” for us, particularly if we’re introverted. I have a lot of problems when I go to restaurants with my wife. If the food is bad, she’ll get annoyed and let them know. For me, that destroys the mood and ruins the experience.

We’ve talked about this and she’s made a few changes. She still challenges poor service or poor meals but she’s willing to let a lot of things slide. If she does feel the need to “raise hell” then sometimes we’ll collaborate on a bad review and sometimes she’ll confront the management without making things quite so confrontational for me.

There’s a lot of other ways in which neurotypicals harm relationships. Treating their Asperger’s partners like second class citizens is one, as is telling them that they have no emotions or no empathy.

It’s surprisingly common to see neurotypicals discussing the failings of their partners online without even considering how their partners may feel when they read those posts. The same goes for mothers or fathers who discuss their children’s failings. One day they’re going to find them online -- are you sure that you’re keeping your comments respectful?

"Let me be first baby, to say I’m sorry!"

I could go on about the things that neurotypical partners do that affect our relationships but the sensitive places differ from one couple to the next. It’s far more important to learn how to say sorry … and how to actually BE sorry.

Sorry is a very powerful word in every relationship but you have to mean it otherwise it quickly loses its effect. The key to nearly every relationship problem is communication. If your partner is making you uncomfortable or is not meeting a need, then you need to discuss it openly and without blame.

Instead of trying to blame each other, try to find a solution that works for both partners. This means that you have to compromise and sometimes one partner will have to give up something they love. It's important to take turns in compromising so that one partner doesn't always have to give in.

It’s not too late to change.


frances pickard said...

Fantastic post - very helpful! Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

'It’s surprisingly common to see neurotypicals discussing the failings of their partners online without even considering how their partners may feel when they read those posts.'

Trust me, how you feel about it is their TOP consideration when doing this!

Anna said...

Wonderful article as always.
Good point to bring up about the insensitivities of NT's criticizing partners and family on line and in forums. It is often ill informed and I think it can do a lot of damage.
Thanks for continuing your great work.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at before you again accuse a victim of an abusive relationship of allowing it to continue:

"...When a woman finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship there is a tendency to ask, "Why doesn’t she just leave?" If we ask that question, we are blaming the victim and not addressing the issue of stopping the violence. There are many complex factors involved, especially when a woman leaves an abusive relationship; it is the most dangerous time for them. The abuser is enraged and may carry out the threat to kill themselves, their children, family members, or their partner. When an abused woman faces the constant threat of death or retribution, she will tolerate the abuse rather than risk her life or the lives of her loved ones..."

Of course, all of this applies even if the victim isn't a woman and even if the abuser isn't a man.

Anonymous said...

Also, *both* lists above are good for Aspies *and* NTs *and* people who are neither (because they have Downs Syndrome or Willams Syndrome or something) to keep in mind.

For example, "Applying rules and restrictions to everything" can also apply to an NT who was taught a very strict belief system and still believes in all of it.

For example, "discussing the failings of their partners online without even considering how their partners may feel when they read those posts" can also apply to an Aspie who doesn't care what other people (such as his or her partner) think (about things including those posts).

Avid Spectrum Blog Reader said...

“We feel emotions strongly but we communicate them very differently. Unfortunately, our way of communicating emotion is often lost of neurotypicals....”

I know everyone is different, but could you provide more explanation about communicating emotion? I’m an NT who is often working hard to understand her Aspie boyfriend and his emotions, just as he works hard to understand me and mine. For all the many things he is able to explain to me and the ways he lets me into his world, emotions are generally not among them. It can be very hard for me to know what he’s feeling and how best to offer support.

Thanks, and great post, as always!