Monday, August 24, 2009

Aspergers Depression and Children (an example)

Lately, my eldest son (8) has been showing signs of depression. It's nothing major yet but the problem seems to be that he now realises that he's behind the rest of the class in maths and english. In fact, he's starting to realise that the entire special education group is a bit behind.

There's no doubt about it, he is behind. He has ADHD (and possibly undiagnosed Learning Issues too). It's a lot for him to cope with but we're working on it with a weekend tutor for schoolwork and cub scouts for social.

A Cubs Flashback
A little over a week ago at scouts we were playing a game where a designated cub is "leader" and the other cubs have to follow their actions. A cub who was outside the room during selection gets three chances to identify the leader.

We had run the game several times before my son was given a chance to be the "secret leader".

Up until this point, the game had been quite dull with all of the leaders doing the same actions; clapping, nodding and then finally shaking their heads.

When our son took his turn, the game instantly changed. His first change was to flap and quack like a duck. The other kids were stunned but quickly started copying his actions. It was only pure luck which prevented him from being identified as the leader. The cub from outside made a wrong guess which also signalled time for a change of routine.

My son's next change, horned fingers and mooing like a cow went down well but his final change, waggling his hands while chanting "I'm a baby", left the others so gobsmacked that he was quickly discovered.

The next few rounds of the game with other cub scouts were interesting too. True, nobody was game enough to do "I'm a baby" but at least they did a few (albeit mostly the same) animal impressions. It was more interesting than it had been before my son's improvisation.

Building on Aspie Strengths
So, back to the problem at hand. My son was struggling with his own recognition of his academic status. I couldn't lie to him about aspergers and tell him that aspies are geniuses - they're not. In any case, he obviously wasn't fitting the description.

Instead I explained two things to him;

Best Effort
First of all, I explained that we all have a place in the world but that sometimes it takes us a while to find it. I cited one of the major tenants of scouting at this point; it says "I will do my best". It doesn't say that you will BE the best, simply that you will do YOUR best. It's one of the reasons why highly competitive parents don't always get on with the scouting movement and why it's particularly suitable for kids with difficulties.

Being Different
The other thing I talked to my son about was "differences". Children with aspergers are often quite "different" from their peers. They see the world differently and apply a different and deeper kind of thinking to it.

These differences should be celebrated and encouraged rather than suppressed.

One of those Stories with a Moral
I'm not big on pointing out historical figures with suspected aspergers because they're only "suspected", not proven. These figures however, while not particularly suitable as role models for adults can play an important part in boosting the self esteem of primary school children.

In this case, I talked to my son about how important it was to be different and how having a unique perception is a skill of its own quite separate from learned knowledge. I selected Sir Isaac Newton and started to talk about how everybody takes it for granted that things fall down and that things generally don't float around in the air. I then told him a story about a man who asked why - making it up on the spot.

What my story lacked in historical, scientific and mathematical accuracy, it made up for in its message and I almost felt like crying when my eight year old excitedly yelled, "I know... Gravity!"

Suddenly it wasn't just ok to be different. It was cool!

I pointed out how he'd been able to make the scouting game more fun and talked about a few other obvious (though not necessarily useful) talents he has. A talent doesn't have to be obviously useful to be special and every parent should be able to find a few things that their child does well, even if it's only prowess in a videogame or something directly related to their special interest.

My son is still lagging behind in some areas but at the moment he's also tuned into the fact that he's way ahead in areas where many children haven't even started. The depression has abated - for a while at least.

...and we've hardly touched the giant stack of famous suspected aspies who achieved greatness by accepting and celebrating their differences.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Article: How to Prevent the Aspie Ramble

I just thought I'd draw your attention to this article which appeared on the aspie teacher blog a couple of days ago.

How to Prevent the Aspie Ramble

I can really relate to this. It's awful how great conversations turn sour quickly because you discover (in hindsight), that you've been hogging the conversation.

The article is really interesting and has some great tips. The only thing I have against it is ... well, why should we prevent the aspie ramble? Why do we have to shut up and go away?

Nobody ever wants to play Trivial Pursuit with me - not since I was a teenager, because although I suck at the sports questions, I know enough about everything else to win every time. Even worse, I've got a set of Star Wars questions for Trivial Pursuit which have never been used.

Why... because people don't like to talk/play with an expert.

So my question is this. If someone comes up out of the blue and offers to play - am I supposed to let them win? Why can't I enjoy a moment of fun?

The same goes for these good conversations. I'm an aspie. I get almost no conversation. I feel uncomfortable 90% of the time in conversations so on the odd occasion that I feel relaxed and enjoy a conversation - why should I hold back. After all, I'm sure that the people discussing the weather never hold back on me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Myth of Aspie Genius

My son has been a little upset of late because he's realised that he's behind the rest of the class in some areas. I'll cover how I "dealt" with his feelings in another post but for now, I thought it was time for a look at the myth of Aspie Genius.

It's a sad fact of life that not all aspies are geniuses and that the "little professor" tag doesn't apply to everyone. In fact, it's a distinguishing feature of the aspergers diagnostic criteria that the IQ of an aspie is no different to that of a neurotypical.

This doesn't mean that aspies do as well in IQ tests as NTs because often the phraseology in the questions leads to interpretive difficulties (and time delays). It simply means that the aspie ability to "solve" is similar in scope, range and variance to NTs.

What can Adversely Impact Aspie Performance?
If we assume that the IQ is "normal", then it follows that some aspies will be more intelligent than their peers, some less so and most will fall somewhere in the middle. There are performance inhibiting factors across the spectrum which also need to be taken into account;

Interpretive issues
In terms of school work, this is the big one. Many subjects, particularly "English", rely upon a frame of reference.

I remember struggling with Romeo and Juliet over their illogical and "stupid" (as I wrote in essays then) behaviour. I was a good student but I still had no understanding of their motivation and as a result, I had major issues with the subject in that particular year. It wasn't until years later, with a lot more social development behind me, that it made sense.

It's not just the frame of reference though, quite a bit of the prose in primary school, even the "prose-based" maths questions, gave me trouble. It generally takes me a fair bit longer than most people to understand a question that is put to me - and the delay is much longer for verbal questions than for written ones because verbal questions carry more information to be interpreted; tone and gestures.

I often find that when I'm asked a question, my responses are so slow that people assume that I don't know the answer. In the last decade or so, I've started "false-starting" where I say a few words, then stop, correct, restart, correct, restart etc... It sometimes takes me forever to get a sentence out and I can see my co-workers getting irritated. I've been doing this because people give up and walk away after a bit of silence while false starting at least (usually) keeps them there while I interpret and think.

While an NT could answer a question straight away after hearing it once, my own processes are something similar to the following;
  1. Hear most of the question
  2. Pass 2: Re-think and interpret to analyse gaps and "guess words" - this is actually compensating for my deafness, not aspergers. Sometimes this will require several passes - and sometimes it will fail entirely.
  3. Pass 3: Look for Emotive words and listen to tone.
  4. Pass 4: Check for facial expression - does it make the picture different?
  5. Pass 5: Look for "trite phrases" and jokes which need translation/discarding.
  6. Think about the answer
  7. Wrap the answer in "user-friendly words"
  8. Check answer for over-technicality based on an evaluation of the recipient's capabilities.
  9. Screen out and replace any words which could have double-meanings or could be interpreted wrongly - this includes generalisations, eg: words like "always"
By the time I've done all this, the person has usually walked away.

Focus and Interest
Aspies have quite restricted interests and it's quite difficult for us to concentrate on things outside of that sphere of interest. It's not rudeness, it's a built-in factor. Just as the male brain allegedly thinks about sex every 7 seconds, so to our aspie brains are constantly flicking back to our special interests whether we like it or not. It's like trying to watch TV with someone who keeps "checking another channel" every few minutes. It's amazing that we can concentrate on anything other than our special interests.

I work in the financial sector, with computers and I have a special interest in computing. I've been in my current position for ten years and I still have trouble with the most basic concepts like the differences between invoices and receipts because I can't get them through my "blinkers". The same applied to me at school and unless I could find a way to tie subjects back to my special interests, I couldn't focus.

My wife often gets upset with me when I try to speed up her conversations - after all, it's not fair, she listens to me and I'm a wordy, drawn out sort of person. After all these years, she still sees my "hurry up" gestures or "...and the point is..." prompting to be rude. I know it's rude and I don't do it lightly - I do it when I feel like I'm starting to lose focus. It would probably be better if she were to take a quick break until my interest returns - I don't know.

All I know is that it's a choice between a "hurry up" prompt, something that seems quite rude on the surface or a mental shutdown where I let her continue talking but take nothing onboard. The latter doesn't appear quite so rude but I feel personally that it's worse because I'm not listening at all.

This sort of thing affects me in lots of areas - yes, even at work. Sometimes when a meeting strays too far from things I need to start drawing or writing frantically just to keep myself in focus. I even avoid a lot of team meetings which I feel may be significantly off-topic because my behaviour would probably be too distracting to the other participants.

Comorbid Conditions
Aspergers seems to be a condition which doesn't often appear on its own. Often, it appears in the company of one or more co-conditions (comorbids). Each of these comorbids could stand as a condition in itself but often it's a "lite" version that combines itself with aspergers;

  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dyspraxia (Clumsiness)
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
Not all Aspies have comorbid conditions but the numbers are amazingly high with ADHD in particular showing in 62% of cases according to some studies. These factors considerably impact the academic abilities of aspergers children.

You can find more information on these comorbid conditions here.

What can Positively Impact Aspie Performance?
It wouldn't be a balanced topic without a look at some of the things which can tip the scales in academic circles;

The Special Interest
There is simply no underestimating the power of the special interest. It's the key to aspie behaviour and success. As parents, you have a duty to not only know your children's special interests but also to accept and relate to them. Nothing else will put you into your child's life in quite the same way.

It's disconcerting how often I hear of parents and teachers trying to discourage the special interest "for the good of the child" without any real understanding of the impact they may be having. My own parents and teachers "banned" me from borrowing Doctor Who books from our school library because I was "reading the same series" all the time. As a result, I completely stopped reading any of the books in our school library although I still "borrowed" to keep them happy. Instead I started saving up and buying the books. Today, aged 40, I've got 531 Doctor Who books and I'm still reading them.

You should never attempt to block the special interest unless it's clearly dangerous. Examples of dangerous special interests I've observed in the aspergers community include; guns, toilets/feces, pornography, extreme religion and self mutilation. I get the feeling that parents would complain less about their child's extreme interest in a trivial thing, like stamps, if they knew what alternatives were available.

The way forward with special interests is to find ways to tie it into your child's schoolwork. This can range from including it in maths, history and english work to offering it as rewards for completed work. The scope will change considerably depending upon the interests in question - hopefully your child's interests will be wide enough to have a lot of dimensions you can exploit.

Being Different
There are a lot of academic advantages to being different many of which come out in creative works. There's a myth that aspies aren't creative which is, I think, a misinterpretation of the aspie lack of shared creative-play with other children.

Aspies are very capable in terms of general creativity and imagination. This can come through obviously in stories, poetry and artwork. It also comes across much less obviously in other areas. For some aspies, creativity can occur in mathematics, where complex patterns take on a meaning of their own. Sometimes it's in mechanics, electronics or other disciplines.

It's important to remember that just because your child isn't doing things "the right way", it doesn't mean that they're doing them "the wrong way". It's simply a case of doing things differently. If it weren't for aspies doing things differently, we wouldn't have the plethora of scientific discoveries and innovation made by (suspected) apies such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

There's some good lists of famous people with suspected aspergers here and here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Change Resistance and Me

I've been thinking long and hard about my own change resistance. After all, I've never really considered myself to be change resistant.

  • I'm usually happy to test out new versions of software
  • I'll ocasionally find new music that I like
  • I'll generally take to a new car quite happily

What could I be change resistant about?

The funny thing is, that the more I try to find things that I'm not resistant to, the more I discover that I am actually very resistant. It turns out that change resistance isn't some giant misstep at all but rather a series of smaller resistances which build up over time.

The Big Examples
It's easy to find big examples of change resistance in my life because they're the things I feel strongly about. What is interesting though is that they're not all "sensible" things. In fact, often my change resistance overrules the sensible alternatives.

House Change
Recently we "moved house", actually since we did a knockdown-rebuild, we moved house twice. I was initially quite resistant to the idea but pressure from my wife eventually wore me down. We had looked around at houses and although we found some which were passable the thought that kept going through my mind as we looked was that there was too much change at once. The house, the area and perhaps even the kids schools. I wasn't sure that I could cope.

When the decision was made to knock down our old house and build a new one on the same site, I relaxed somewhat. It was good to know that we'd be keeping the same location at least. I probably should have shed a tear over the passing of the old house but instead, I was far more concerned with the temporary move (one year). I had a lot of problems dealing with that move - and so did the kids. The move back, once our house was completed was a bit easier but by then I'd accepted the change of location and become resistant again.

It was a stressful time for me and my family. We had some fierce arguements and it's only now that I can see how big a part my change resistance played in those arguements.

I'm coming up to ten years in my current job and I've been asked on several occasions by my wife, colleagues and friends, why I don't leave. Sometimes I'm treated well at work and sometimes I'm not. I'm quite often saddled with blame for other people's mistakes because I'm fairly accepting of blame. I'm always willing to assume that I've made a mistake, even when I know that I haven't, because it's preferable to the emotional games that other people play when they don't get their way. Similarly, I quite often have others claiming credit for my work. Since we don't get output-based bonuses at work (there are bonuses but the real reason for their allocation escapes me), there's no issues there, so I don't bother fighting for it. The confrontation isn't worth my effort. If that's not enough, I tend to work close to 50 hours per week, sometimes more.

In short, sometimes work is a nightmare but I won't leave because I'm resistant to change. It would take a major upheaval at work for me to decide to brave the change and move to another job. In fact, in my last two jobs, I only left when all of my colleagues did. In both cases, the entire IT department left within one month of eachother. The first time it happened, one of my best colleagues had been given a redundancy which he wasn't happy about taking. The fact that the entire department left bought him about five more years of work.

I'm usually happy to upgrade from one version of software to another and I tend to be quite open about trying new things. Non-competing things that is. Until very recently, I wouldn't consider a mac or linux environment at all. I was a DOS/Windows person and everything else was "evil". It's a sign that Microsoft's latest moves are seriously irritating me that I've started seriously considering the alternatives. In terms of email and workflow packages, I've used IBM Lotus Notes/Domino heavily in my last three jobs. I'm not a fan of the alternatives and will generally give a distasteful expression whenever they're mentioned. I've often said that I woudn't take a job that didn't involve these systems. It's not that I couldn't easily learn the alternatives but simply that I'm so resistant to change, that I wouldn't accept them. If they decided to change at my workplace, it could be the catalyst that makes me seek employment elsewhere.

The Small Examples
The smaller examples of change resistance aren't so obvious but they have far more impact on my day-to-day life than their larger cousins.

Ever since I was a kid going shopping with my mother, I can remember being quite accepting of clothes provided that they met one simple criteria. They needed to be identitical to clothes I already had in my wardrobe. New styles, patterns and colours were never readily accepted and would sit in my closet for years until I either outgrew them or ran out of clean clothes and got desperate enough to wear them. After a while, my mother learned this trick and would make rules. "We can stay in the shop all day long but we're not leaving until you've got a new shirt and new pants". Eventually I'd give in and get what was, in my opinion, the best of a bad bunch.

My mother would then wait for a few weeks and then stop washing my clothes. She would engineer the reason I needed to wear the new clothes. Once worn, though sometimes it would take several "wears", the clothes would stop being "new" and I'd be able to wear them anytime.

My mother was very clever when it came to outwitting the aspie mind. Another clothing trick that my mother used to pull was to buy several copies of the same clothes with different colours or patterns. Sometimes it didn't work but most of the time it paid off. Once I liked one shirt, I could wear others of the same brand and style. There was a period in the eighties where I had just about every shirt you could possibly get with a crocodile or penguin on the pocket. Looking back at old photos, I can see what I dag I looked like then but at least I had "new" clothes.

Like many progressive companies, we had "casual Friday" at work each week. When our new CEO came in, about four years ago, he changed the rule to allow for casual clothes every day except when we were involved in outside meetings. The result; even now, I wear a shirt and tie every Monday to Thursday despite the fact that I almost never have meetings. Every Friday, I wear casual.

In fact, I've been so consistent in my behaviour that most of the staff have since forgotten the "everyday casual" rule and started to follow the same pattern. It's probably because the rule hasn't been reiterated recently and because I've been there longer than most.

My life is full of old routines which stem from change resistance.

Unexpected gifts cause lots of problems for me. I'm generally not a "brand" freak but I'm very particular about what I want in terms of features. In particular, if I've already got something that I love and it breaks, then usually I want the replacement to be exactly the same (or have a few new features). I have a really hard time accepting things that other people choose for me. I'm also aware of just how insulting that lack of acceptance can be. This sets up major dilemmas. People often get confused by my lack of enthusiasm over gifts but it's usually because I'm trying to reconcile my natural change resistance with the politically correct version of acceptance that I'm supposed to project.

What's worse is that my confusing facial expressions at this point lead them to ask directly whether I like the gift or not. This makes matters worse because it sets up a secondary internal struggle between lying (which I can do, but hate doing) and being honest but hurting feelings. It doesn't take much of this to send me into a near meltdown state particularly when the unanswered questions are repeated, which due to my deafness and failure to answer, occurs frequently.

No. I have a major problem with gifts although money and gift vouchers usually do the trick nicely because they neatly avoid the problem.

Pattern Breaking
The last part of my change resistance deals with pattern breaking. Patterns mean a great deal to me and I'll often buy something specifically based on a pattern. Books and DVDs are a great example of this. When buying books, I tend to focus on a specific cover pattern and try to buy all my books in the same edition. This makes them look nicer on the shelf. There are a bunch of things that really irk me about this though.

  • When authors have two regular publishers and therefore NEVER have a single pattern across all of their books (Stephen King, I'm looking at you).

  • When the pattern is inconsistent, with some covers being white and some being black (but with roughly the same pattern).

  • When authors bring out a book with an extraordinarily long title which can't be done using the existing pattern and require a font change.

  • When a change of publisher's logo forces the spine to be printed higher up and the pattern doesn't line up with the other books/items in the series.
I'm not sure if pattern changing is a change resistance thing or not but the effect is certainly similar. Sometimes I'll spend years wanting to read an easily obtainable book but not doing so because I want to get a specific patterned version. Sometimes, a sudden change of pattern, particuarly when it's the last book in a series, manages to elict a cry of frustration from me.

If that's not change resistance, I don't know what it is. (obsessive compulsion maybe).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marriage Encounters - Part Four (Final)

As usual, this follows on from Part One, Two and Three. If you haven't read these, you really should go back and read them before moving forward - otherwise it might not make sense.

At the end of the last marriage encounters session, we'd listened to a couple who talked about their recent past experiences bringing up small children. We were then given a bunch of questions to choose from which got us to talk to our partners about our feeling with negative emotions.

It was time for the next couple to take the stage.

Middle Age
The next couple was a bit older, though not by much. They talked about how whenever the conditions around them change, their marriage must change too in order to survive.

Their discussions picked up when, after years of supporting their children, the kids were beginning to need them less often. For years, they had lived almost separate weekends organised around their children's sporting events. Now finally, those sports were beginning to finish. They used to have a a lot of family outings too but increasingly, their children were refusing to go - or going out with their friends instead. Mom and dad were becoming redundant.

The couple needed to fall back on their own relationship for support but they quickly discovered that they no longer had anything in commmon and worse still, they hadn't talked properly to eachother for so long, that they'd forgotten how to talk.

Again, we were given lessons in communicating with eachother but this time the emphasis wasn't so much on resolving conflict as "getting over those embarrassing hurdles where you don't seem to know eachother anymore". I'd love to tell more about this but in reality while it was all helpful information, my wife and I were so focussed on our own problems that by this time, we weren't taking as much in as we should have. Still, it's nice to know that should these problems arise in our marriage, there are answers that we can seek. We'll probably go back to marriage encounters when these problems start to occur.

The sorts of questions we were asked to consider for our exercises included;

  • How do I feel when I'm alone with you?
  • What are my favourite things that I love us to do together? (and how do I feel when we do them?)
I'm afraid that I can't remember the other parts. This was the end of day two. It was late in the night and we were exhausted.

The Priest
Day three started with a mass. I'm not sure whether we could have gotten out of it or not but at least it was fairly short. Day two had also started with a mass but we'd been told to leave shoes outside our door if we wanted to be woken up for it. Initally put my shoes out because I was feeling so grateful but my wife told me to bring them in again... we needed our beauty sleep. She was right - we were exhausted but we made great use of the time and talked until it was time for breakfast.

After breakfast, we were all ready (even eager) for the third couple to get up and talk but instead the priest got up. I groaned inwardly, yes.. I still had a big predjudice against clergymen. What could he tell us about relationships? I'd heard enough priests on Sundays talking about their "sister's children" to know that they had no concept of reality.

He surprised me by ignoring the relationships thing altogether and talking about his life. He told us about his decision to become a priest, the training, how his family reacted. It was all interesting and despite ourselves, we were quickly sucked into his story.

When he did finally start talking about his observations of other people's families, we were mostly under his spell, but not so far that a little spark of irritation didn't raise its head at first.

This time however, the priest wasn't passing judgement on other families. He was still talking about himself. He talked about the wonderful times he had with his friends and family. He talked about how cute those children were, how supportive the couple were and how warm the family atmosphere had been.

Then he talked about how he felt when he got into his car to drive home to his lonely place. He wished that he could take some of that warmth with him but he knew he had to leave it. The priest talked about how Sundays were hard work for him and how much he enjoyed mingling with his congregation afterwards. He also discussed his loneliness as those people went back off to their homes. Sunday afternoons were a very lonely time for him because he knew it would be a whole week before he got to see those people again.

The priest also talked about self-doubt. He talked about how sometimes he felt resentful of the lonely life that he'd chosen but that he had nobody else to blame. Those choices were his own. God didn't make him feel this way - it was his own emotional interpretation. Finally, he talked about regularly needing to re-negotiate his relationship with God whenever his life changed. He cited the deaths of his parents as an example of this. His relationship with God was eerily like a marriage with an uncommunicative partner. Many of his colleagues had failed to negotiate an ongoing relationship that worked for them. Many had left the priesthood, this made him sad, not because of the loss to religion but because those priests were the only "family" he had. Certainly, they were the only people who could truly understand his situation.

I had never heard a priest talk like this before, particularly not a Catholic one. I was impressed. This guy had charisma and as he finished speaking I realised that I and my wife were in tears. His was not a life we would choose and we were glad to have eachother.

The grass always looks greener over the other side but in truth, it's more or less the same everywhere. Sometimes when marriage is tough, the single life starts to appeal. It helps to hear the negative points about life on the other side.

I can't remember the questions we were asked to answer but they all dealt with our feelings and things that we liked to do alone. The point of this section seemed to be to teach us how to ask for time out with or without our partner.

For aspies, alone-time is critical. Aspies need to know how to ask for it without offending their partner. Similarly, our partners need to understand that our need for alone-time isn't simply us running away from them and their problems. We do it to recharge. Neurotypicals need alone time too - and they need to know that it's ok to ask for it.

Old Age
When the last couple took the stage, I was thinking that there wasn't much left to discuss. We were ever so tired by this stage and we'd assumed that it was all going to be about the kids leaving home and retirement. Once again, they followed the pattern of marriage encounters and completely bamboozled us. They ignored the kids leaving home and started with retirement and moved in surprising directions from there.

Retirement was a shock. Suddenly, as a couple they were spending a lot more time together than they'd ever expected. They needed a way to fill in the hours without getting on eachothers nerves. That, I could understand - in fact, I was currently seeing the same pattern in my own parents.

What was unexpected though was that they also started talking about death. Supporting eachother as their close friends and relatives died, knowing that the line was growing shorter and they were moving closer to the front. They loved eachother to bits. Truly, as "encountered couples" from their early years, here was a couple who were amazingly close and yet they were facing a terrible crisis. Neither wanted to be the last to go but they were well aware that they were living on borrowed time. Everytime one of them got sick, it could be the end.

Like all the presentations, this one moved us to tears. We could feel their pain. Who says aspies have no empathy? It was burning me up inside - and a quick glance at my wife's face was all that I needed to confirm that she was feeling it too. Sometimes I think that we couples need to see eachother cry. We need to remember that we have emotions and we need to be able to let all those thoughts of problem solving disappear - sometimes there are no solutions. Sometimes we just need to hug eachother and let it out.

The questions? I'm not even going to talk about the last questions suffice to say that the human body is about 70% water. It's amazing just how far you can push past the point where you think you've cried that last tear.

Wrap up
The weekend changed our life. We went in expecting a patchy last ditch attempt to save our marriage. We expected a group-therapy kind of crap counselling we'd already had from a marriage counsellor. Instead, we got a life changing experience that we'll carry with us forever. We walked in almost separate but came out forever entwined - all thoughts of divorce gone. The things we'd said and done during that weekend had revitalised our marriage.

I'll admit though, it almost killed us. I'd never had such a strong emotive experience before - or since. It was tough - even recounting it here is tough and I've been moved to tears by the memories several times during the writing of these posts. The weekend was so tough that in some ways, I'm a little scared to do another but I know that one day we will. One day, perhaps sooner than we expect, we'll reach the next threshold of marital change.

There were couples in the encounter who were on their third or fourth weekend. They said to us; "You think think this weekend is good for you when your marriage is having problems... you have no idea how great it is when your marriage is perfect".

I think I want to find out.

Most importantly though, my wife and I came out armed with our exercise books and pens and ready for any curveballs that life throws at us. We're better communicators now. We listen to eachother, we talk about our feelings and our arguements - we do still have them - aren't laden with blame. We accept our part in our own marital difficulties and move on.

Most of the time we don't write letters to eachother - we're mature enough now that we can apply those conversational rules just by talking. Funnily enough, marriage encounters has had a big effect on our general note writing. We used to leave eachother post-it notes like, "can you take the garbage out" but now, even these notes are prefixed with "Dear...", they contain "please and thank you's" and they always, always end in "love you".

When the going gets too tough for conversation though, the notebooks come out. If either partner feels the need to talk - the rule is that everything stops. Everything. If I have to take the day off work ... fine. We work it out. Our marriage is more important than everything. More important even than our kids, who will one day leave the home for lives of their own. In the end, it come full circle and it will only be my wife and I.

Most of the time I'm deeply in love (and in awe) of my wife... but occasionally, I have to work at it.