Monday, August 30, 2010

NT/AS Clue: The "Trigger Phrase"

NT/AS Clue:  Agree on a "Trigger Phrase" that is code for stopping all further communication on a topic until BOTH of you are calm.

NT shares her heart.
AS either says the wrong thing or nothing at all.
NT gets angry.
AS gets defensive.

However, if the NT/AS couple have an agreed on "trigger phrase" that means all communication on that topic must immediately cease, there can be peace.

New Scenario:
NT is sad, angry, etc.
AS defensively says "What's wrong? or What did I do now?"
NT feels emotion welling up, but says the trigger phrase instead.
AS recognizes trigger phrase and stops talking (no questioning or following out of the room allowed).

Or it may look like this:
NT is ranting and raving at the aspie.
AS says the trigger phrase.
NT stops talking.

Granted, this is severe and merely a temporary solution, because it does not bring final resolution.  But until the new patterns of NT/AS communication can be successfully and rationally employed, the trigger phrase can be used to bring peace ("Cease Fire").  This time allows the NT the ability to "cool down" and be rational and allows the aspie time to let down some defenses that have become his automatic protective measures.

Examples of trigger phrases:  "Let's wait." "Let's talk later."  "Let's take a break."  "Let's stop."  Whatever you both agree on can work. 

Note: The aspie must understand that the phrase is not to be taken literally.  Otherwise he may refuse to use it, because he may not ever want to "talk later" about the topic!  :)  He must know that it is simply code for "let's stop and both calm down."  Sometimes, once emotions are calm, one may realize the issue wasn't that important anyway and it may never need to come up again.  If it does need to be discussed later, true progress can be made only while calm and rational anyway.  This is a win-win situation. 

Most Importantly:
It is absolutely vital that each partner agrees to take responsibility to both use and adhere to the agreed upon trigger phrase if they ever want to see improvement in their relationship.

Aspies Have Feelings, Too.

It's true.  Aspies have feelings, too, and their feelings can get hurt.  But because they don't know how to verbalize and express their feelings well (especially in times of stress), we NT wives may think our aspie spouses are made of stone.  And so we might treat them as if they are made of stone.  Anger, yelling, and long emotional monologues about unmet needs and deep unhappiness are all attacks to the aspie.  These attacks must stop.

We must realize there could be much tension, confusion, depression, or even despair going on internally for the aspie.  He may be thinking such things as "What did I do now?  Why is she upset about something so trivial?  Doesn't she know how hard I am trying?  Every attempt I make is unappreciated.  Nothing makes her happy.  She makes no sense!"  He feels attacked.  Anger and bitterness take root in his heart.  His first response becomes defensive.  He may withdraw, retreat, and put up a wall to protect himself. This is his necessary self-preservation as he sees no other alternative that will work.

Walls like this can take a long time to break down.  Diagnosis of Aspergers sometimes starts the process.  But if he is unwilling to learn anything about AS, it has to start with a "Cease Fire" on the part of the NT.

The NT must realize the hidden pain her aspie spouse feels.  She must learn to STOP her emotional outbursts.  She must learn not to communicate until and unless she can be calm and rational.  But the NT cannot all of a sudden develop super-human self-control over her emotions.  And so the aspie must agree to help her learn better self-control over her emotions.  This can be done if each partner agrees to use and adhere to a "trigger phrase" that serves as a code word for stopping all further communication on a topic until BOTH of them are calm.  Once they are both calm, the conversation can resume.

The time of "Cease Fire" will allow the aspie time to safely come out of hiding and eventually he should be ready and able to learn, with her help, a new pattern of communicating with his NT wife.  Be patient, but know there is hope.  You will begin to see your aspie soften toward you.  He will become less defensive as he feels more safe.  And this is real progress.  One step at a time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Proverbs 31 and the Aspie's Wife

Wives of aspies are helpers who take on more responsibility than most of the women they know.  This can be burdensome and difficult.  But chances are the aspie chose a strong, independent woman.  He was probably attracted to her courage and skillful independence, as well as to her strong gift of compassion.

Christian women, take heart!  Proverbs 31, which describes the "virtuous wife" is here describing you

10 [c] A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

He trusts you to take care of the house, the children, the bills, etc.  He trusts you!  You bring peace to him and make him feel safe.  He is lacking nothing.  You are doing great and godly work and it is called "work" for a reason.  It is not easy.

Some Christians, particularly those in conservative circles who hold fast to the ideas of headship and submission, may judge you harshly.  It sometimes appears to outsiders that the aspie's wife is the "head" of the household due to her many responsibilities.  And the aspie's wife may particularly struggle to respect her husband when she falls into the thinking that she is in the role of caretaker, mother, teacher, and doctor to her spouse.  She must carefully guard against self-pitying thoughts, always remembering to "see to it that she respect her own husband."  This aspergers husband is the one the Lord has given her. 
Look again at Proverbs 31 and reflect on this:

12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

This Proverbs 31 woman was praised by her children and her husband. 

28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."

Sadly, this highlights a particular sting for the wife of an aspie.  She is working, so very hard, to care for her aspergers spouse, and the house, and the children, and her own emotional needs, etc.  But he honestly doesn't comprehend how much she is doing and how well she is doing this.  He needs to be taught the importance of giving her verbal praise, and he needs to be taught how to give it.  That will be the subject of another post. 

Ladies, I pray we will each be encouraged and continue doing this good and God-fearing work, as unto the Lord, for His glory.
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Aspies, Affection and Connection

The Bible tells us that Jacob had two wives, but Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. I asked my aspie spouse what he thought the difference was in Jacob loving Rachel more than Leah.  There was nothing in his response about "connection" or anything about "feeling" more for her.  He perceives the difference was only in his actions.  He said the difference must be that he "showed more affection to Rachel in some way."

How do aspies understand and express affection and connection? 
1.  Like-mindedness and agreement is "connection".
2.  Being in the same space (same room, even if not talking) is expressing affection.  Wanting the person to be in the same space is connection.
3.  Physical touch can be his way of expressing affection and connection.
4.  Doing things for someone (ex., helping around the house) is expressing affection.

In the movie Adam, the AS man explains what it means when he says he loves the (NT) woman as wanting her with him and needing her to help him.  "I'd be lost without you" is an expression of how much value and love is felt by the aspie toward his spouse.  We need to understand that this is not a negative thing.  The Bible says that God made Eve to be Adam's helpmeet.  It was not good for Adam to be alone, and so he made a woman suitable for him.  Maybe for wives of aspies, we have a little deeper understanding of what it means to fulfill that helper role to our particular husbands. 

I hope Christian wives of aspies will be encouraged that you, with your particular strengths and gifts, were created as a suitable helper for your husband.  And even though he may not feel connection as emotionally as you do, that doesn't mean there is not true love there.  He probably deeply values you and loves you for the help that you are to him, even if he does not communicate it in the way you desire.

Future post will explore ways to help him learn to express this love in a way that communicates it better to an NT.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

NT/AS Clue: If You Want Something Done Right Away

NT/AS Clue:  If you want something done right  away, just do it yourself!  If you want something done right, ask your aspie to do it.

One of my NT expectations that I have had to let go is wanting things done quickly by my aspie spouse.  Whether it be answering a question, taking out the garbage, or even chasing the toddler before he runs into the street, you must drop the expectation for the aspie to respond quickly.  He probably cannot do it.  In his mind, he may think he's responding quickly enough.  But it's likely that he is not.  So stop expecting him to respond quickly.  Definitely stop demanding that he respond quickly.  Make it your goal to be okay with the fact that this is something he simply cannot do.

If you want something done right away, just do it yourself.  Granted, this is difficult when you have the flu and you've asked for a drink of water.  You may need to hire some help or beg friends/family to come by if you're really ill or recovering from surgery.  But if your very first instinct when you want something done immediately or even quickly can become to do it yourself, you will be a much happier person in an NT/AS relationship.

Now, don't give up asking him to help altogether.  If you want something done right, in many cases (at least in my relationship), it's best to ask your aspie to do it.  He will devote much time (hours, days, possibly weeks) to performing the task with excellence.  He will pay attention to detail and the job will be done, often to perfection.  My husband will follow the pattern of the hardwoods when cleaning the floors, so corners I never hit will be cleaned well!  This kind of attention to detail and dedication to excellence takes time.  So don't ask for his help if you're not willing for it to take (sometimes a lot) of time.

Attraction to Aspergers

Looking around with my new understanding of Aspergers, I find I am surrounded by aspies.  I have had relationships with aspies in the past.  And currently I can detect Aspergers in the family tree (both sides, I now suspect), amongst some of my friends, and scattered throughout members of my church.  This "being surrounded" is not by accident, either.  I believe I am attracted to people with Asperger's Syndrome.

I admire people who have high intellect and value hard work and loyalty.  Discussions of theology are something I can enjoy for hours on end, even when I don't get many words in myself.  Humor that involves puns and plays-on-words makes me laugh out loud.

So there.  I'm admitting it to you, and most importantly, to myself.  I like aspies.  I really, really do.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't Lose Hope

The most discouraging (okay, devastating) thing when an NT woman first begins to understand Asperger's is that she begins to lose all hope.  Any hope she had for change in her partner disappears and so she loses all hope for positive change in the relationship. 

Biblical counsel says "Love always hopes.  You can't lose hope!"  But what the suffering spouse must understand and the counselor must point out in order to truly help their counselee, is that with autism in the mix, the spouse must change what she hopes for.  She cannot hope he will be a Neuro-typical ("normal") person.  She cannot hope her relationship will ever look like she always believed it would/should/could.  But there is most certainly hope, and this includes hope for better communication between them.

She absolutely can, with a lot of dedication and work, learn the language of Asperger's.  It won't ever be instinctual to her, because she is wired with a different first language.  But as she begins to learn and conversationally use this new language (which uses English words but applies totally different meanings to many of those words), she will be able to communicate with her aspie spouse in a way she never has before.  Finally speaking his native language, she can then (and likely only then) be able to help him learn hers (and thus he will come to learn more about her). 

There really, truly is hope for an NT/AS relationship.  And this hope includes being able to better communicate with one another.

"Love always hopes."  1 Corinthians 13

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NT/AS Clue: "I Understand."

NT/AS Clue: 
Even though what is being said won't have the same meaning to each of us, that's okay.  The words the NT wants to hear are not taken literally by the NT.  If verbal expressions of empathy are memorized and applied by the aspie, it can bring peace in our communication with one another.

*NT to Aspie: 
When you say "I know that" (when I am sharing my thoughts/feelings with you), it makes me feel angry.  It would make me feel calm if you would say the words "I understand."

Optional further explanation:
"I know that" sounds combative and defensive to my brain and "I understand" sounds like caring and empathy to me.

*Disclaimer for this and all future shared clues:  These words will not be healing balms for all NT/AS people.  But it sure works for me!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Explaining NT Feelings: Conversational Algebra for Asperger's

To explain your feelings in a way your aspie can better understand, try using this algebraic equation:

When you          A           ,  it makes me feel ____B___.  It would make me feel ____X__ if you would ____Y_______.

REMEMBER:  "Y" must equal a practical, rational thing that can be done by an aspie.  It cannot be an abstract thing like "show me empathy, understanding" and the like.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Aspie's Wife's Prayer

Sundays are the hardest day of the week for many spouses of aspies.  Some women complain of being "stuck" with their AS husband on the weekends.  I cry more on Sundays.  I hurt more on Sundays.  I face more conflict on Sundays.  And so I pray more on Sundays. 

And as it is The Lord's Day/the Christian Sabbath, I ought to be praying more anyway.  I believe I ought not to be thinking about myself at all, but on the things of God, by praying and reading his Word, the Bible. 
An Aspie's Wife's Prayer

God, help me to accept what will never change about my Aspie.

Give me the strength to change my NT expectations for our relationship.

And grant me wisdom to understand the ways you have wired us so differently.
These simple truths below, taken from the "First Catechism" for children, should be remembered when we become angry about Asperger's affecting our loved ones:
Who made you?  God.
What else did God make? God made all things.
Why did God make you and all things?  For his own glory.

God made me.  God made him.  God made Asperger's.  Why did God make me, him, and Asperger's?  For his own glory.

To God be the glory.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Fresh Start in an NT/AS Relationship

Ok.  So I've accepted how things really are.  I have a new understanding and a realization that there is much more to learn.  At this point all the growth, effort, and responsibility is completely on me as he is not yet ready to acknowledge anything.

I've read how important it is to "plant seeds" for an aspie when it comes to major issues that you want to discuss.  This means that you make a brief comment about the issue, so he will have time to let it take root for a while.  Then you can come back and water it a little at a time--sometimes over the course of a very long time.  And this requires much patience.

So I've told my spouse that we need to make a time to discuss the communication patterns in our relationship.  When he's had time to digest that bit of information, we will actually get together and talk about it.

One step at a time.  This can't be a huge, long, detailed monologue about my emotions and unmet needs.  I need to be concise about a single issue at a time. 
More details will follow in a future post.  I intend to discuss these "nuts and bolts" of navigating the communication battles under the category Specific Scenarios.  I glean the most help from the practical applications and shared experiences I learn about from others.  They make all the diagnostic criteria come alive and make me truly understand how Aspergers affects me.  I hope these posts can help someone else out there.  Know that you are not alone!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Acceptance of Aspergers

No, my husband is not accepting that he has Aspergers.  But I think maybe I finally am.  By that I mean that I am moving beyond the grief, anger, and disappointment that has lasted over a year and am ready to make serious changes in myself to make our marriage a happier one.

The grief and barrage of negative emotions is very real and I believe must be worked through.  Acknowledging to yourself that you are disappointed but are still committed to the relationship is so important.  You can then get to the point where you know certain things will never be a part of your marriage and you can strive to enjoy the good and learn to best deal with the rest.

So all those logical steps we read about for communicating with an aspie begin to be more than just words on a page.  It finally makes sense when one embraces that:

1.  He speaks a totally different language.  He really does!  So if you want to communicate with him, learn his language!  Maybe he's not attempting to learn yours, but you can still try to learn his.  Blogs and forums that share first-hand experience and insights are invaluable helps.

2.  He needs for you to love him his way.  If you are calm, happy, and not very emotional, you will make him feel safe, secure, and happy.  This means that you need to take care of yourself.  Find ways to relax.  Make sure you have an outlet to chat with other NTs, and learn to be a happy person without relying on him to meet any of your emotional needs.

3.  You must avoid the NT communication patterns of long talks about your emotions.  Don't keep going on and on, don't get louder, and don't show anger expecting that he will understand you mean business about being really hurt.  NTs will "get" that.  Your aspie will just be frustrated and he will NOT "get" it.  Whenever you start to get upset, STOP talking and don't continue the discussion again until you can be calm, rational, and concise with every sentence.

4.  You should be thankful for the way he shows love to you.  It may be often overlooked as it is expressed daily, maybe in seemingly small ways.  It may never be verbalized.  But it is there if you look hard enough.  Be thankful and express appreciation.

5.  You may find that he brings out the worst in you.  The reality is "out of the overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak."  The ugliness you are seeing is there and likely has always been there, though previously it may have been hidden to you and others.  He may be the instrument God is using to show it to you, so that you can grow and become a better person!

It is vitally important to realize that you have had lots of NT expectations of what makes a good relationship.  And now you have to let those expectations go and accept that this is a whole new ballgame.  This NT/AS relationship is very different and always will be different from what you've understood relationships to be like.  But your relationship with your AS spouse can be rewarding and fulfilling if you are willing to work on yourself  (and stop trying to work on him) to make it so.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Positive Aspergers Forum

I just discovered a very positive and encouraging forum for both NTs and Aspies at Delphi Forums.  It is called "AS and Their Partners".  Another is "AS and Relationships That Work".  They don't allow the typical AS husband-bashing I've found on other forums, and there are many posts with enlightening comments and strategies for overcoming communication problems.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Biblical Counsel for the Suffering Spouse

If you are a Christian woman and are suffering in your marriage, you need to buy the book "The Excellent Wife" by Martha Peace.  Mrs. Peace is a Biblical Counselor.  This book is full of godly advice, much of which you would receive if you were actually meeting with a biblical counselor.  It's not an easy read, but it is an excellent quick reference.  While in the midst of your pain, you can immediately turn to chapters such as "The Wife's Loneliness", "The Wife's Anger", and "The Wife's Sorrow", and receive counsel which will help you turn your ungodly thinking toward more godly thoughts.

Some examples from a chart in "The Wife's Sorrow" chapter contrasting our Sinful Actions with Godly Actions:

1.  Instead of outbursts of anger, the godly wife should realize her anger will not achieve God's purposes.  She should think long and hard about how to biblically answer.

2.  Instead of telling herself 'This is more than I can stand,', she should think 'This feels like more than I can stand, but God will help me get through it.' 1 Corinthians 10:13.

There are numerous charts like this in the book and I find them to be extremely helpful.  It's comforting to both know I'm not crazy for thinking some of the thoughts listed (and some of them are extreme!), and to be directed toward more godly thinking and responses when I have such thoughts.  I hope you find this resource helpful, especially if you are not able to actually meet one-on-one with a godly biblical counselor.  This book really is the next best thing!