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.