Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 3: Compromises for Alone-Time and Social Time

Building on the last few posts, we have determined that aspies have a few obvious needs;
  • Alone Time
  • Restricted Touch
  • Routine
  • Gentle Encouragement
  • Love and Understanding
  • Less Empathy, more solutions (mainly an aspie male thing)

and that NT's have other needs;
  • Conversation/Listening
  • Affection
  • Spontaneity and Fun
  • Social Time
  • Empathy
  • Love
There is also a different set of needs related to meltdowns but that's a whole different story, and I'll deal with it in a later set of posts.

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.

Conversational Compromise
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.

Listening Problems
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;

  1. You both have to listen to each other

  2. 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).

  3. The Talker needs to be aware that repetition is not required.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?".

Next time, I'll look at some of the other balances we need to maintain.


Becca said...

Hello Gavin, I was lucky to stumble upon your blog. I am married to your "Aspie Bob" 1st scenario on your post below. Interesting to marry someone and wonder for so long why they are the way they are and be so frustrated. It was a relief to have Asperger's discovered to make me feel like it wasn't my fault the way he was or just to make me be able to accept his quirks. Our son was diagnosed with Asperger's almost 2 years ago, and that is how we found it was my husband that had the most Aspie traits. It is wonderful to get a view of Asperger's as an adult and how you relate things with your wife. We have a blog also, almost similar to your title, ours is Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

The Rambling Taoist said...

I must say I greatly admire the fact that you have children!! I don't think I could cope with a bunch of youngsters running around.

Don't get me wrong! I love kids. I used to be a social worker with children's services, but I liked the fact that, when I went home, they didn't go with me. :-)

Fortunately, I met a woman who wasn't that interested in birthing babies. So, we have animals, not children.

I realize this comment is a bit off-topic, but I find the interplay between kids and compromise interesting. I hope, in the future, you'll share more about the parenting angle.

ASpieboy said...

As far as eye contact goes, I usally go back and forth across the person's face, it's something I fret about, am I giving enough eye contact, am I staring the person down...

I get so caught up in that tricky balance, I can't keep track of the conversation I'm trying to keep alive.

Anonymous said...

I've just read many of your blogs for the first time. It takes a very special NT person to be married to someone with Asperger's and special NT people are very rare.

I know you're dedicated to helping NT/Asperger relationships but when it comes right down to it, the two personalities cannot achieve true intimacy.

Gavin Bollard said...

I can understand your point and it's obvious that you've been involved in a difficult relationship but I don't want the blog to get into a negative cycle of "cannot achieve" or "impossible".

It might surprise you to discover that I, the aspie of the relationship often feel that my partner isn't as intimate as I would like. That she doesn't feel the same sorts of extremes that I do.

This isn't a slight on my partner. I'm simply suggesting that the intimacy problems that NTs have with Aspies are often similarly reversed.

I'm really not sure why you'd think that an aspie/NT relationship is less capable than any normal male/female relationship. There's much greater differences between genders.

Anonymous said...

I guess it would depend on the background of the NT woman in a relationship with an Aspie man. If she's from a loving-touching-stop-by-for-coffee-and-a-chat family, she will feel total isolation after she gets over the cute quirks of her Aspie mate.

But you're right. This isn't the place for this discussion.

But the questions must be asked. Even though you love your wife, do you not resent her display of emotions? Or has she learned to keep them in check (isolation)?

angela said...

I really liked this article. I too would like to hear more on your take on parenting. I have four children and I have found the challenges of rearing them, since they are all pretty small, is very hard on my "possibly aspie" husband.

Any insights you might have on that I would really enjoy reading.

Gavin Bollard said...

When I first met my wife, I was amazed at how demonstrably loving they were towards each other. I used to tell my own family about them - I was in awe.

Over the years, I've learned that they weren't just loud lovers - they were loud haters too and that whenever their family goes through a rough patch, they tend to rant, rage and sulk for weeks or months.

By comparison, my own family is quite restricted in their emotions and while we occasionally annoy each other, I can say that no adult - ever - in my family has cut off communication with another member. Our fights are just as intense but all is forgiven in 30 minutes.

I'm only resentful of my wife's displays of emotions when;

a. They're negative in style and long-lasting or vindictive in nature.

b. They keep retreading old ground, problems that have been solved etc.

Personally, I feel that aspies have a greater strength of emotion than many NTs but that we often lack the means to show it (or we're "afraid" to show it).

M said...

it's extremely nice to find such a straightford breakdown of this. when it comes to my own personal experiences, i've struggled with finding ways of avoiding negativity relating to AS, and it's always a relief to find people who can approach it all in a constructive way (non-negative, but without the saccharine).

anyway. it's much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gavin, I'm glad to see you are still following this thread. I'm wondering about your last remark, "I feel that aspies have a greater strength of emotion than many NTs but that we often lack the means to show it (or we're "afraid" to show it)."

Can you give a few examples of this with regard to how it works in your personal life? You have an emotion, but it doesn't take form? Or, you have a emotion, but it doesn't get expressed? Would you mind speaking a bit more on this subject?

Also, in Part 2, you said one of the things Aspies need is "understanding", but in Part 3, you gave it the descriptor "love and understanding". I don't know if I've missed it, but have you written about love? What is love for you? Is it the same as understanding? When you feel love for another person, in what ways do you let them know?

I hope this isn't too personal. But it cuts to the core of my question. Thanks in advance for considering my request.

angela said...

This is just my personal opinion and perhaps it is not the proper place for it. But I believe even in NT relationships there is such a thing as "too much intimacy".

I believe that a good marriage has room for both space together and space by yourself. Privacy is an important component of a healthy marriage.

If you are so close to your partner that you can't even keep a confidence (say from one of your own children) from your partner without feeling like you are betraying them, then you are probably in an enmeshment.

When "love" resembles obsession and their is no private time or space to yourself, that is unhealthy.

I have found a lot more emotional support, understanding, and compassion from my husband (who has a good many aspie traits) than I have from my own family of origin. They may be NT, but they seem to think that emotional support is only supposed to go in one direction, to the person who is the best at whining.

Sharon daVanport said...

......excellent examples. My family has learned through the years that utilizing these kinds of strategies is most important for success.


Anonymous said...

Can aspies keep confidences comfortably?

Gavin Bollard said...


I've used the words "love and understanding" to make it easier to tie this into my next post. I'm going to talk about love and touch very soon - just been a little busy preparing for Christmas etc... so the post will have to wait a short while.



You're quite right about the need for space in marriage as well as the need for togetherness. In fact, my wife and I had the following reading from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran read at our wedding. It's quite interesting to read it in retrospect because it's so aspie.

"The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran


Anonymous asked "Can aspies keep confidences comfortably?"

This is a whole topic in itself but the short answer is that we can keep secrets when there is no lying involved but if they involve deception - then no. It breaks some of our most basic rules.

Anonymous said...

Ok Gavin, thanks. I look forward to reading your post on love and touch.

charismatic Chris said...

Gavin what a breath of fresh air you are. I am so glad I found your blog. You write so well, clearly and give food for thought. I love the positivity too. My husband -Bob has just been diagnosed as AS at 61 years old, stumbled upon after another bout of severe depression following stress and anxiety. We have been married for 37 years. I found a site -for Aspie partners [female NT] and it is so negative and depressing mainly -it only dragged me further down, when what I/we want is to find positive ways of continuing to live together. As for love, there are many ways to show love, and after doubting for years that Bob knew what love really was -I know now for sure. It has sometimes been hidden beneath his stress but he shows me in a million ways if only I am 'open' to looking and receiving. You see I was looking at it from a female and NT view. Knowledge is empowerment and I feel very honoured to have such a guy as my partner -we will overcome much of his anxiety and depression now that we can accept and learn about AS. He has denied himself the strategies that will help him, as he strived so so much to be NT in an NT world. 25 years as a manager of British Gas[promoted because he was so good at Technician!!] did little for him in this direction although he was very good at his job [little did he realise] but caused suicidal depressions. I look forward to reading more. By the way, my eldest son is Gavin too -also Aspie, and a lovely lovely young man. Chris