Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 1: Changes

In my last post, I talked about how much aspies hate being asked "how was your day". It was entirely from an aspie point of view and I made no apologies for our behaviour but simply told things as they are.

I got a lot of feedback about that post including a few messages from NTs about how much strain this puts on the relationship. I started to think about how this affects my relationship and discussed it with my wife.

She replied that "it's downright rude" and she has a point though I'd probably use the word "direct" rather than "rude".

Who should change?
You may have gotten the idea from my last post that I think the NT should change to accommodate the aspie and if I was speaking only as an aspie, I'd probably agree. From a relationship point of view however, it's obvious that this isn't the answer.

My intention with this series of posts is to try to see both sides of the story.

But first... a bit of a meander...

Changing People
It's my firm belief that you can't change people. In my life, I've seen this demonstrated time and time again and I've come to accept it as a universal truth. Admittedly, there are some heroes out there who can turn their life around by successful avoidance of addictive substances, crash dieting or a change of religion. These people are few and far between.

I first started to think about changing people when I was going out with my wife and she'd say "oh... you won't be doing that after we're married" (usually about spending inordinate amounts of time on the computer). After a few rocky early years though, we both came to accept that we'd married each other because of who we were - not who we could mould each other into.

I still spend inordinate amounts of time on the computer but I accept that it is my wife's role to remind me that there is life outside of it. I find that I compensate by swinging pendulum-like between too much time and too little time. I strive for balance but rarely find it. Computers are in my "blood", they're a special interest and I can't avoid them. The best I can do is fight back against their call.

It's true that people change as they get older. I eat rice now (I hated it when I first got married) and I actually love chilli and curry, which were big no-no's then. Of course, I still won't go near sultanas, grapes, dates or prunes - so I'm not completely changed.

Limiting Change
What really concerned me about the responses to my last post was the suggestion that people "changed" after marriage or changed after their diagnosis. Don't get me wrong... it's impossible to not be changed after big events, such as marriage, children and a diagnosis of a condition but there are limits to be imposed on these changes.

I'm sensing that the catalyst for change isn't so much marriage as diagnosis - or perhaps the acceptance of the diagnosis. It's good to relax into your condition (aspergers) and be yourself for once. It's something that I'm often encouraging aspies to do.

It's good to acknowledge that you don't enjoy a lot of conversations or social gatherings but at the same time, you can't forget family. You should take care not to change so much that you stop being the person your partner married.

Having obtained an aspergers diagnosis at last cannot be an excuse to abandon society.

Now, before you get up in arms about this.. let me explain;

Scenario 1: Aspie Bob.
Aspie Bob has always had a lot of social issues. He never was a particularly well adjusted aspie and he always felt uncomfortable. Luckily for him, he still managed to get married to a girl who loved him for who he was. Of course, he didn't know that he was aspie - he only found that out after he was married.

The diagnosis changed aspie Bob a little. He realised that it was ok to hate social gatherings and he didn't feel so bad about avoiding them. He still spent time with family and friends but now, at least, they understood why he felt so uncomfortable. His diagnosis brought more understanding to his family and ultimately more happiness.

Scenario 2: Aspie Dave.
Aspie Dave was a well-adjusted person. He disliked social gatherings but still attended and would often be the centre of attention when he got there. He was always telling jokes - actually, he was always talking non-stop. Sure, often he'd say the wrong thing and this would cause some friction but most people just said... "oh, that's Dave, he doesn't mean it".

Aspie Dave was married with a family too - and he received a late diagnosis. As he read more and more about his condition, aspie Dave began to act more and more aspie. It was mostly subconscious (hypochondria) (Correction: psychosomatic) but aspie Dave started to attend social gatherings less frequently. He accepted that, as an aspie, he wasn't great at this social thing, and more or less withdrew inwardly. He stopped talking to his family.

In the second case, the diagnosis itself is a catalyst for change - and not a change for the better. In fact, Aspie Dave's acceptance of the condition caused him to throw away the adjustments he'd made over the years to compensate for the condition.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that aspies shouldn't be themselves. They certainly should. There's no reason to "pretend" to be anything other than what you are around your family. The problem is that it's part of human nature to be a hypochondriac (Correction: psychosomatic). Whenever we watch a documentary about a rash, we find ourselves sub-consciously itching. The same is true for mental conditions - but worse, since the immediate effects aren't always so visible.

In my next post, I'll try to look more on the conversational side of things without getting side-tracked (I hope).


Anonymous said...

I remember the first time I meet you Gav, I knew you were different and quirky, with a quick wit sense of humor, but thats why I fell in love with you, I didn't want boring, you were like a puzzle - exciting to finish but something of a challenge. As Billy Joel says in one of his songs "I love you just the way you are!" - From your loving wife

Anonymous said...

I don't think the point is who should change. For me, more to the point is how does an NT and an Aspie develop a communication style that helps them understand and relate to one another better? From the point of view of an NT, an Aspie can come across as rude and somewhat self absorbed. I'm guessing from the point of view of an Aspie, NT's come across as overly sensitive and maybe even nosey. I personally love my Aspie friend, and I wish to understand what would make us able to communicate better. That's how my NT mind works. And my Aspie friend also wants something from me...but what? If we can't understand one another (which is where my values lie), and we can't change, then what is it that makes an Aspie return again and again to a relationship with an NT who is so differently wired than they? In other words, I'll ask my question again, Gavin. What does an Aspie want from an NT? Understanding? Patience? Can you help with this?

Gavin Bollard said...

It's precisely my point that there should be no question about who should change. Nobody - because "you can't change people".

The best you can achieve is a compromise.
There's more to this, which is why I've labelled the post Part 1 but in the meantime, in answer to your question, I'll cite the first present my wife ever gave me (when I was in year 11 at school).

It was a little sign for my desk that said it all - and I still have it.

It read;

"Don't try to understand me, just Love me".

Proof that she did understand me after all.

LizzieK8 said...

Late diagnosis for me.

I succumbed to my diagnosis and avoid as much contact with others (outside the family) as possible. Less anxiety, deal with too much input much better.

Why should I change my behavior to make (the collective) you more comfortable?

"to throw away the adjustments he'd made over the years to compensate for the condition"

Why should he/I have to compensate for who we are?

I know it's a discussion in semantics but I just don't see the benefit, at my age (56) to trying to play nice-nice when that is so hard and painful for me and the only one reaping a reward is the NT who isn't uncomfortable around me.

I have an autistic grandson that lives in his own world much of the time. We get along famously. I ask for a hug and when he finally feels comfortable I get one. Not ever time but he knows it's okay... if he's having a bad day, he doesn't have to.

Acceptance rather than change....

High Quality Mothering said...

Once again, helping me to learn "Aspergian", slowly but surely...
I love the post, as it gives me confirmation.
My hubby is "Aspie Bob" in your 1st scenerio. I married him w/ his quirks, not expecting change. He was different & refreshing. He is STILL different, but not quite as refreshing, after 12 years together, but I'll take him. He has the same special interest as you & has the same wife reminding him to be a father, wife & friend & I have to pull him away, sometimes gently, sometimes not, but he accepts either approach.
He is adaptable enough to be married to me, as a NT & to not bash me for it.
We have learned a lot & come a LONG way since we found out he has AS. I grieved, fought, then accepted. He accepted, accepted then accepted. He was not surprised- he did not change after being dx'ed. Okay, so I learn something from your posts & thank you for posting your wisdom for us all to read.

Anonymous said...

Well, that's just plain sweet Gavin. What a great response. Now I feel like an overly analytical NT. :)

Gavin Bollard said...

LizzieK8, I'm not suggesting that you should change to make the collective "you" more comfortable. Instead I'm strongly advocating not-changing. Specifically though, I'm suggesting that you be "yourself" but that you don't accept your diagnosis and allow it to make you even more closed than you already are. It's actions like this that make it unfair to your partner and family.

Why do you have to compensate for who you are?
Everyone compensates to some degree, for the sake of society. We all ignore some of our base/self instincts and work with the majority. Usually this compensation is almost subconscious and certainly an adult will have learned automatic compensating behaviours in their school years.

I'm simply saying that you can't let the diagnosis "go to your head" and suddenly start behaving completely differently. It's not good for your relationships.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gavin, looking forward to part II. : )

John F said...

I think there a song by the Kinks that says it best " Don't try to change me.... I'm doin the best that I can."
Compromise is the best solution. As an Aspie I simply hope to be understood and appreciated for who I am at that moment. For her part my wife trys to do this. As such I too try and understand and appreciate her viewpoint. In essence she is my counterbalance.
I yam what I yam - Popeye

Edward Denham said...

Dear Mr. Gavin Bollard,

First, I appreciate all you have done for the Asperger's Community. Your posts on your weBlog have helped me to better understand myself and my son.

The only criticism I have is in your most recent post you used the word hypochondria incorrectly.

The actual definition is -

abnormal anxiety about one's health, esp. with an unwarranted fear that one has a serious disease.

I believe the word you were looking for was -

psychosomatic -
(of a physical illness or other condition) caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress : her doctor was convinced that most of Edith's problems were psychosomatic.
• of or relating to the interaction of mind and body.

The last thing in the world I would wish to do is to humiliate you publicly. I assure you I would have e-mailed you directly, but I could not locate your address on your website.

At any rate, I know you must approve the comments before they are posted publicly, therefore I have no fear that you will receive this message privately and can delete it if you wish.

Thank you for your time,

Edward Denham

Gavin Bollard said...


You're quite right and psychosomatic is definitely a much better word - much closer to my intended meaning. Thanks.

Many of my posts are actually done while on the run via the blackberry and as a result, I often introduce spelling, grammatical or syntactical mistakes.

I also made a promise to myself that I'd let all comments through unless they were legally difficult or obvious spam - even if I didn't agree with them. So far I've only ever denied one non-spam comment on this site (and I felt bad about doing so) because they used another person's full name in a negative concept.

You're not humiliating me, you're correcting me and I appreciate it. I'll adjust the post when I get a chance.


Anonymous said...

I would like to mention that there is a difference between actively changing to conform to the diagnosis and relaxing the huge burden of forcing normalcy. I'm currently looking for ways to coexist with neurotypicals without hastening my death via stress, likely including weird but not socially harmful behaviors.

Andreas said...

Now that I'm getting external information about the inner workings of my mind, it has had some subtle effect on me. I'm a lot like person 2, Dave, except that I haven't spiraled out : )
I do sometimes second guess myself, in areas, where before, I was completely comfortable. I'm the type that makes constant eye contact, without any feeling. Now that I know it regularly makes others uncomfortable, (rather than discomfort being the exception), I feel self-conscious and try to look away once in a while. It sucks for me, but it probably makes other people happier.

Personally, I think it's ideal when each party understands the other's position. Whether or not they compromise, if they at least understand the other's intent, the disappointment can be bypassed, and offense can be avoided.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gavin! My point of view is to learn is to change. Everyone grows via learning. It doesn't really matter how much and what the change is, as long as both sides in the relationship learns from each other or even themselves. I agree with you that in the relationship, love is above all, the utmost important. It makes both sides stay together, not give up, and put in all effort to save the relationship alive.
I am very sad that my aspie BF gave up and left mercilessly cold, no matter how desperately I tried to communicate and make compromise with him. It's heartbreaking when he said he still loved me. I don't want to say I love him more than he loves me, but at least to the very last minute I didn't give up and I never thought about leaving him. I really doubt how he understands love. I accept the fact that nt and aspie have different views of the world. But it is so disappointing and sad if they have different understanding about love, which is the very fundamental issue of the relationship.
He told he would move on to start his new life. After having been together for 20months, he left. I clearly remember his words: I want to be selfish. I don't want to change. I am who I am. I want to find someone who accepts who I am.