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Article: On Living and loving Asperger's Man

I'd like to draw your attention to this (currently untitled) article which is on one of the blogs I read;

The article can be found here

I'm not quite sure if there's a problem with that site but at the moment as it's not accepting comments (I'm sure there would be plenty otherwise).

I guess that's one of the main reasons I'm referring to the article here. It's crying out for comments.

My Thoughts...
These articles really move me. They're one of the main reasons behind the "emotionless" or "empathy-less" aspie myth.

A quick "aside"...
I know that aspergers isn't gender specific and that despite the significantly higher incidence of diagnosed male aspies compared to female, the number isn't to be trusted. Aspergers presents quite differently in females compared to males and although it's obvious that females have just as much difficulty with the condition, it seems much less likely to be recognised.

Nevertheless, I see the male aspie as bringing far worse empathy issues into relationships than females. Ignoring gay relationships, I think that this is because the NT partners in AS/NT relationships have different expectations.

I don't particularly agree with Simon Baron-Cohen's "extreme male brain" theory but I can certainly see where it comes from. As a general rule, in the NT world, females tend to be more emotional and more empathetic than males. I think this is one of the reasons that empathy is less of an issue in AS/NT relationships where the aspie is female. A female with aspergers possibly has a better chance of showing empathy than a male - and a male NT is less likely to notice an absence of empathy in his AS partner than a female.

Moving On...
Ok, having explained (possibly) why men are more likely to be the aspie at the centre of an empathy issue in a mixed AS/NT relationship, I can move on with looking at the blog post itself.

You can often "see" the women who write these sorts of posts crying out for attention and I hope that their partners know about the blogs, read the posts and most importantly, think about what is being said. It's not about laying blame, it's about highlighting needs in the relationship.

If your partner writes a blog, you should become a regular reader. Not just of the posts themselves but also of the comments. I know that some people get upset about what is posted on blogs but really, it will help your relationship - not hinder it.

As for the subject matter; I could recognise quite a bit of myself in there. I've improved in recent years but there's obviously still a long way for me to go. Some of the things which struck chords are;
  • Poorly chosen comments
    Sometimes I think I'm making a quip or an honest comment but it comes out as an insult. It's sometimes because my attention is distracted and more often because I presume that my mind can be read. (I know it can't but I tend to expect other people to have the same frame of reference). Comments about weight may once have been an issue in our house but now the "F" word is recognised as a bad word. Everyone is accepted for who they are.

    I needed to be corrected though. I didn't learn it on my own. I had to be insulted using my own personal weaknesses to learn how it feels. It's not about disrespect, it was simply that (stupid as it may seem) I didn't understand that it hurt.

    Am I cured? No. Sure, I've learned not to make jokes about certain things but I also just sent a Christmas card this year which caused insult. I was thinking one thing and the recipient thought something different entirely. Improvements are still needed.

  • Reactions to the Sick
    When my wife and kids get sick, I'm desperate not to catch it. I don't kiss, I don't hug and I wash my hands after contact. I get out of the room if a coughing fit starts. It's not nice but I have difficulty not doing it because it's a bit of an OCD thing. I have to admit though, I've never really given a second's thought as to how it must feel on the other side.

    My score - Fail. Thanks for highlighting that problem. I'll work on it.

  • TV Shows and Empathy
    Usually I have too much empathy with movies. I find myself with tears in my eyes because of something "cute", it doesn't even take a sad event. Even worse, I'll be sad because of a toy in "Toy Story" or something that happens to Fozzie Bear in one of the muppet films.

    I try to hide this because I'd never hear the end of it if my wife caught me crying in one of those films. It's weird though that I don't have any empathy with death in certain films. For instance, if I watch a horror film, I usually don't have any empathy with characters who die. Similarly, the sudden death of Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black had me in fits of laughter.

    TV Shows are quite different to films and I get almost no emotion from them because;

    (a). They're often too short for me to get into a character.
    (b). One advertising break will destroy the reality for me.
    (c). TV isn't as engrossing as a film.

    I'll admit to feeling quite weepy over Rose Tyler and Donna Noble in Doctor Who though.
    My score - I think this is a pass, more than a pass... I'm more emotional over films than my wife.

  • Vacuuming the Walls
    I've never done this but I don't think that was the point of the article. I have had these random thoughts on how we could do things better. Particularly; how we could raise our children better. I'll start doing it not realising that it's probably very insulting and implies that I think my wife isn't doing such a great job.

    Of course, I can't keep it up and soon my "new routine" drops in favour of doing other things. These days, when I'm asked about things like this, I try to simply shut up or say "I don't know" because if I don't then whatever I say is likely to be taken as an insult rather than an idea.

    I guess I'll have to take a fail on that one too.
The post concludes with some comments about the need for counselling, which I haven't found to be particularly useful with aspies, and some interesting comments on the longevity of love.

I don't think that love lasts very long at all. It goes off. It needs maintenance and it transforms into something better than love but probably not quite as deep. Whatever the next level is, it needs friendship, companionship, respect, understanding, support and empathy. Most of all, it needs constant maintenance on both sides of the relationship and both partners need to engage in self-improvement (hence my pass/fail comments here about myself).


aspieteach said…
Female autistics *most certainly* make careless comments in relationships too. Just wanted to clear that up. :)

Having a husband who is on the spectrum and a father who is more strongly affected than I am, I've been able to see where I fit in. I feel terrible that I'm the one in the relationship who makes thoughtless comments even though I don't mean to, and my husband is pretty patient with me...I think because he knows what I mean. By the same token, I'm not particularly hurt by the things he says because they're fairly logical.

Someone I know recently said something to me about her partner (who has OCD, not AS) making hurtful comments about how maybe he was getting sick because she doesn't wash her hands enough. She handled it very well...she stood up for herself without being confrontational, which helped him understand.
CelticRose said…
This woman really needs to work on her attitude and her approach to her Aspie husband. She knows he's an Aspie, so she should be aware of the communication difficulties that are associated with that.

When he unwittingly insults her, she should tell him instead of just expecting him to figure it out. She should tell him exactly what he said wrong and why it's wrong to say that. His comment that she's still beautiful under all that fat is probably an awkward attempt at a compliment -- he's saying that she's still beautiful to him.

If she wants to be taken care of when she's sick, she needs to say so. He doesn't know about her little fantasy of being waited on hand and foot -- how could he?

As for showing empathy when she's sick, he is -- in his own way. He's researching ways to prevent her from getting sick. He's trying to fix the situation rather than fuss over her. Again, if she wants to be fussed over, she needs to tell him.

As far as the "don't give it to me" reaction to someone being sick, that is not exclusive to Aspies. I've been in many situations where I've been ill and some NT, instead of displaying sympathy, says "stay away from me" or "don't give that to me". When it comes to illness, people in general are just selfish.
Clarissa said…
"in the NT world, females tend to be more emotional and more empathetic than males"

-This is absolutely not true. It's a patriarchal myth. It makes life difficult for NTs and marginalizes female Aspergers as "not really female." Equating empathy and emotion with physiological difference is wrong. People are not more or less emotional because their reproductive organs are a certain way. Emotions and the way we express them have nothing to do with gender.

Certain (but not all) societies are more tolerant of women expressing emotions, that's the only real basis behind this false perception of more emotional and empathetic women.
Anonymous said…
Well written post, not sure if I agree with all your points, but that goes to not all Aspies being alike, yes? As to movies/ tv shows I am generally put off by emotional/ heart wrenching type of situations, finding them annoying. I cried most for the ending of Marley and Me, I find the death of a pet more upsetting than a person. Sorry, but that's just me. Perhaps more on the less empathetic end I suppose.
Stat Mama said…
I had a LOT to say about this, so I blogged my commentary instead of leaving it here :)
Lee said…
Gavin, I believe that last anon comment is spam, beware of the link....
Anonymous said…
Hi Gavin, I'm not sure when you'll get to see it but it's now less than 7 days until the first part of the last of David Tennant's Doctor Who's - And I'm already driving my wife nuts and have been for weeks over it. I already know I'll be a mess. Yet i'm totally unable to cry at a funeral, which she found very difficult to understand (until recently when we started to understand the condition - My son is a diagnosed Aspie - I'm a self-diagnosed) I'm actually more excited at the idea of a new Doctor Who on Christmas day than seeing the family! Or at least that's the outwards expression, becasuse I dont give any thought to seeing the family, for me its part of the routine. But i'll definitely find it much easier to experience an emotion watching 10 regenerate and possibly some of the other departures in the episodes than I would a real departure.
Anonymous said…
i read much of Zena's blog. i have to say: i find it really confusing. she says she loves him, feels "fated" to be with him. but it's also clear that she's completely miserable. she also seems to think her unhappiness has much to do with her relationship with her husband. she's frustrated with his apparent lack of desire to change. they don't seem suited for each other, and it's not really clear whether they can communicate or not. i'm not sure after reading the blog why she's still there.

i'm not saying anyone in particular is at fault. it's not possible to tell. but it is obvious she doesn't see much hope.

maybe this is my lack of empathy: but wouldn't it be best to say, "i really think this is hopeless. maybe we should separate." there just seems something deeply martyr-y about remaining in a situation she seems to feel is lost. i can't imagine her husband is happy either. i'm sure he knows that she's miserable and attributes this fact to him.

i was relieved to read after that. my mind didn't get caught in the "loops" of it, as it did with blog number one. (and i really like the nickname "logic dad." :)
Gavin Bollard said…
One of my main aims in promoting this story was to raise awareness of the same type of story I've read perhaps twenty times this year.

In my discussion, I allowed stereotypes (normally I try hard to avoid using them) because it's the general condition rather than the specifics that I'm interested in.

It really does take "two to tango" and I'm not blaming either party in the relationship - if anything, I'm pointing the finger at both and also at the fact that all relationships, no matter how smooth, have their difficult times.
Anonymous said…
thanks. i see your viewpoint, and i'm glad you published it. (it is a motivator to look at my own empathy glitches.) i was just frustrated with the blogger herself at what i perceived to be some double messages.

thanks for your article. :)
Anonymous said…
This comment from you( "you have a beautiful body underneath all that fat"...

Did you mean that what counts is whats on the inside rather than the outside?

Did you mean maybe "healthy body", not "beautiful body"? You can be beatiful regardless of your weight. I find beauty in personality. I would feel like a fool to fall only by outward appearance. I'm happy I can judge by personality, the rest becomes beatiful as times goes by.
Michelle said…
It takes two to tango. I find it interesting that the "normie" wife gets blasted for saying "not nice" things but because the aspie "can't help it" he gets a free ride-in everything.

Everyone says insensitive things at times.

But the one thing this blog did help me realize-is that after 15 years I am NOT a martyr. I loved my husband and I tried.

Now I don't have to anymore. He can join a support group and let them walk him through life.

People do not realize how many types of communication a wife has to try with an aspie husband, how many times she has to hold EVERYTHING in to make sure HIS feelings aren't hurt, how much she has to MANAGE to make every part of life work. We have to suffer in silence. We have to sneak to therapy because he is "ill" and it's "not his fault".

No matter what we do-we get the blame-either as sufferers, martyrs, enablers, or whiners.

It never occurs to people that we just loved our husbands-and did every single thing we could-until we couldn't anymore.

I'm leaving while I still am able to love him.
Hello Gavin and all,
I would like to know your feelings and thoughts on the new "ADAM" movie about the man with Aspergers.
Anonymous said…
"As a general rule, in the NT world, females tend to be more emotional and more empathetic than males. I think this is one of the reasons that empathy is less of an issue in AS/NT relationships where the aspie is female. A female with aspergers possibly has a better chance of showing empathy than a male - and a male NT is less likely to notice an absence of empathy in his AS partner than a female."

I have to disagree with you there, or perhaps disagree with the way you wrote it. I agree with blogger Clarissa. You can't say women ARE more emotional/empathetic in the NT world, but that they are socialized to express empathy and learn social cues well.

It's possible that a female aspie has a better chance of showing more empathy than a male (in absolute terms), because society has forced her to pay more attention social cues. But you have to remember that the standards for females are higher and when the female aspie can't meet them, the problem is relatively the same. Similarly, it's not true that an NT male is less likely to notice problems of a female aspie partner, because he's not comparing her with aspie males, he's comparing her with NT females, and she doesn't measure up. Am I making sense?

As a probable female aspie, I think that as much as NT males complain about NT women's need to talk about emotions or "nag," they really can't live without it. When they meet a woman who doesn't fit that stereotype, NT or aspie, they might not even start a relationship. My friend thinks it's the cold-stone "vibes" I emit that prevents men from even approaching me out of interest.

@Michelle, I understand that you feel that your aspie husband is getting a "free ride," and you're being blamed, but the truth is your husband won't change - because he lacks certain abilities that you don't. Learning social rules and propriety can only take an aspie so far, it's never going to become fluent for them. Can you imagine people expecting someone with a physical disability to play sports? Mental disabilities are just as real.

It's definitely not your fault for not being able to put up with all this, and at least I for one don't think you loved him less or something. But it's your expectations of the relationship that's unrealistic, and that seems to be a common problem for family members of aspies.
aspiegirlfriend said…
Actually. Women on the whole are more likely to be nurturing and empathetic than men. It's not about perception - as in, "AS people have empathy" - it's about visible behaviour. On the whole, men have better spatial awareness and women are more attuned to how other people around them are feeling.

The cause of this is partly hormones, which are universal. Testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone, oxytocin... they all have different effects on how we perceive things and how we behave.

Society ALSO conditions us, ie encourages this behaviour in girls - but it does it BECAUSE it is already, as a median, in place.

I went around just as angry about social definitions all my life, till I had kids. Amazing what you learn! I'm talking NT here, of course. How the situation changes once AS is involved, I don't know. My connection with AS is my partner, who is male.

Also, I've had quite a few relationships over the years - with men - and talked to countless women friends about their relationships - and my considerable experience leads me to understand that women's perceptions of a relationship are much more based on emotional content than men's, and her expectations of behaviour are MUCH more based around empathy, nurture, and emotional reciprocity.

These are the issues that make life with an AS man however loving he may be in his own way, hard. I was off sick once with terrible PMT, tearfulness, faintness, nausea, pain... & his idea of taking care of me was to put me on the living room couch and put on Apocalypse Now for me to watch!!!

I did think it was interesting what you said, Gavin, about problems being different because of expectations in the partner. Very interesting.

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