Sunday, December 7, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 4: love in a restricted touch environment

I've already highlighted some of the problems that aspies face in the area of touch, though I haven't yet covered the concept of love.

The fact is however that most relationships are based on love and that touch plays an important part in those relationships. This post is intended to look at some of the compromises and solutions that AS/NT couples can bring to the relationship in these areas.

Defining Love
A few years back, my wife and I were asked (separately) how we defined love. The answers we gave weren't the ones we expected.

My wife's answers all dealt with tangibles (or at least deliverables), such as hugs, kisses, presents, companionship, outings and commitment.

This was in stark contrast to my own answers which were all about feelings and perception. The example I gave was;

"when you look at someone and a simple smile from them carries the warmth of the sun. You find yourself basking in the sunshine of their smile and you feel that life can just pass you by because there's nothing more that you could possibly need that isn't already being conveyed."

At the time, my wife thought that I was waxing poetic and funnily enough I couldn't understand her feelings either. We both tried to argue and correct each other but there was no middle ground to be found.

I walked away from that conversation very depressed and perhaps a little scarred. I've gone over that conversation probably close to a thousand times since then and it's only really started to become clear to me as I write these posts.

I had wondered if I was seeing a male/female difference in perception but now I feel that it's all aspie/nt and that they're two sides of the same coin.

My wife was defining love in terms of what couples need to do to show their love for each other while I was defining it in terms of what it feels like. Both are valid but neither tells the whole story.

Loving Each Other
I'm going to leave my definition for now except to say that this is the feeling we should be striving to attain and that contrary to the public perception of aspies as emotionless robots, we are quite capable of feeling this way.

Loving each other is a much more difficult prospect because unlike simply basking in radiated love, this time we have to put some effort in - and it's not necessarily light work.

There are lots of things that aspies can do to show love;

Complimenting Your Partner
This is so difficult to do because aspies often don't notice "irrelevant" things like clothes. Even when we do notice things, its often for the wrong reasons. It might be a cool geometric pattern on a dress or it might be that the clothes resemble Padme's handmaidens from Star Wars. The "trick" is not only to tell your partner that they look amazing but also to mean it too.

There's a whole lot of problematic non-verbal stuff here too. For example; If your partner has a poor self-image, they probably won't believe you and your attempts at flattery will probably end in an arguement. Many aspies simply say nothing because it avoids the issue but if you don't put any effort into your relationship, it will dissolve.

Compliments need not always be about appearance and you should compliment on good choices, cleverness, art works and cooking as well. Just remember that to a woman, appearance counts for a lot.

From an NT point of view, there's no point in complimenting your aspie partner and hoping that they'll return the favour. They usually won't even notice that they are being complimented. You can help however by deliberately fishing for compliments. Ask your partner which dress is his favourite - and why.

Be Physical
I, like many aspies, probably have a bit of a reputation for being a distant. I've noticed how I sometimes put cousins into a confused state because I don't rush to hug people - and on the odd occasions that I do hug someone, they're usually quite surprised. It's ok to be like this with people outside your immediate family but it's definitely not ok to be like this to your partner.

Aspies generally dislike touch but it's usually only certain types of touch - and it's not all the time. We have good days and bad days. I'm not sure that it's a good idea to present your NT partner with a list of touch do's and don'ts. It may irritate them or leave them feeling unappreciated. There are other ways around the problem.

NT's don't have a problem with touch, in fact they like it and read a lot into it. An aspie partner could use this to teach their NT about the sorts of touch they do like.

Touch can mean a lot of things, not just stroking and cuddling. It can mean a friendly touch on the shoulder or butt as your partner walks by. It can mean a half-hug (sideways) in an emotional moment or while walking. It can mean hand or arm holding or touching your partners hair or face. Even a little rub on the back while they're sitting down watching TV can mean a lot.

If your NT touches you wrong, your first impulse is probably to push them away or to snap or say something to them. Instead, simply grab their hand and turn it into a form of touch that does agree with you. By doing this, you're not only preventing a disagreement in your marriage but you're also showing your partner things that you like.

Touch is a critical part of your relationship and the language of love. It should be part of adult relationship conversation.

Aspies don't like change, or more specifically, we don't like surprises. The problem is that often our NT counterparts feel that "surprising" them or "being spontaneous" is a part of love. There are ways around this problem. For aspies, it's worthwhile keeping a diary (at work or otherwise separated from your NT partner). At the beginning of the year mark (at semi-random intervals) things like flowers, card, night out, etc. You don't need to arrange things to happen on these specific days but they should serve as a reminder to you that some sort of display of affection is needed. For example, if your diary says flowers, then pick some up on the way home. It's much better than only buying flowers when your partner is angry with you. The same goes for other expressions of love, (like getting the kids minded while you go out for dinner). This satisfies your need for planning while still appearing spontaneous to your partner.

On the NT side, you should prepare your aspie for a night out and give an indication of what to wear, what time you'll be out and home etc.. and (obviously) what day. You don't have to go into the specifics of where you are going. This will still enable you to "surprise him" without generating a negative reaction.

Respect and Understanding
Love and understanding go together in all relationships but even more so in an NT/Aspie relationship. A discussion about how you feel can help couples to reach a better understanding of each other's motivations. Sometimes, if you are a bit embarrassed talking about feelings you might want to consider writing your partner a love letter. I blogged on this not that long ago.

You will each have faults and you'll each have up days and down days. These days shouldn't change your love for each other and they need to be met with understanding. Females crave listening and empathy during these times while males tend to prefer solitude. Aspies are generally more like males, which is why it is sometimes referred to as "extreme maleness".

Above all, you must always remember that despite their gender and conditions, all people are individuals and that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. To further confuse you, people change over time. Love only works when you work at it and when you keep changing dynamically as you and your partner grow.


The Rambling Taoist said...


That was a really well-thought out post! I believe it offers good advice for newly married couples, regardless of whether or not one has AS.

My wife & I have been a couple for nearly 25 years. The most important lessons we've learned over this period are communication, patience and understanding that I am very, very peculiar. :-)

Anonymous said...

Gavin, this helps a great deal. You are very articulate, and your organization of this type of content is informative in and of itself. I guess the most important thing I got from your post is that you do experience love, and you define that experience very clearly. But what I don't hear, and what I was hoping to hear more about was your comment earlier, that you have difficulty expressing it. That is where I need more understanding. If you feel your wife's smile is like the warmth of the radiating sun (what a lucky woman) do you experience the need to show her that you feel that - in the moment, I mean? In one of your answers to the comments in Part 3 you wrote: "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). So where does the emotion go? And what is the fear about in showing it? Sorry to press you on this. If you don't feel comfortable answering...but I'm very interested in understanding the dynamic as experienced from your point of view. Thanks again, your blog is such a help to us all, Aspie and NT alike.

Khelben said...

I find it interesting when it comes to the part regarding touch. One can be touched in different ways just as you described it and maybe it's not that obvious that everyone understands this.

What do you think?

Daniel E said...

I've never liked hugs, through my 25 years of growing up, but for some reason I love hugs from my wife, but no-one else.

I think it's because we are close, and seem to understand each other without words a lot of the time.

If anyone else tries to hug me, I'll shy away. However, in some cases I accept it's the norm, and can put up with it for a little while.

S said...

I have read hundreds of pages in print and on the web but none of that content even came close to letting me see things so differently as your posts do.

This series has had an especially deep effect on my perceptions of the interplay between my wife and me on a daily basis. I can actually see her thinking patterns clearly when I remember things from the posts. I have taken copius (copy and pasted) notes from your writings and have shared many of them with her as well.

If your intention is to help people in a real, concrete manner then I just wanted to tell you that you have succeeded. It will take a lot of focus, practice and patience from us both, but mostly by me, to apply these ideas effectively but I finally feel like I have a starting point.

I don't feel like I'm blindly fumbling around for a reason for her reactions to things I feel are irrelevant and vice versa. Additionally, I feel more able to explain my thoughts to her in a coherent fashion by showing her passages from here that seem like I could have written verbatim had I had the words handy.

Anyway, thank you for the help and I will be following your blog as long as you feel like writing.