Misunderstandings, Miscommunications and Assumptions
When you live with and love someone on the Autism Spectrum, life is often full of misunderstandings, miscommunications and assumptions. Resentment and frustration on both sides can build up over a long period of time and without help the inevitable relationship breakdown will occur.
The difficulty comes when the NT partner (neurotypical) ”assumes that what she says is understood, in the same way that the AS (Asperger) partner assumes that his communication is understood as well. Unfortunately this can often NOT be the case….
The issue was explained to me in this way.
Think of the game of cricket.
In that game, common English language words are used, words which can have completely different meaning in the world of cricket, rather than in the real world…
Words like maiden, century, over, duck, and many other more obscure ones. These words when used in the context of cricket, have a particular meaning and unless you have a knowledge of the game you might be forgiven for wondering what for example, ‘bowling a maiden over’ might mean! Sounds painful right?
The thing is, that anyone who knows the game, knows what the words mean and so there is no misunderstanding about them. The assumption is that you know what the words mean in that context, therefore you can make sense of the game.
Now, my point here is that in the communication between NT partner and AS partner, unless each partner clearly understands what the any given words or conversations mean in a given context, there is a huge potential for misunderstanding.
Beware of assumptions!
As NT partners, we assume the AS partner understands what is going on. What we do sometimes fail to realise, is that the AS partner has, for years possibly, managed to hide his difficulty behind his high IQ and has learned coping strategies to support him in his communication.
He may shut down, deflect, walk away, ignore or change the subject, in order to not have to admit that he really does not know what is being asked of him. (commonly called a defense mechanism)
It is only when specifically asked, he ‘may’ admit he does not really know what is being asked of him or what the conversation is actually about.
Add to this that when he is stressed and anxious ( which happens a lot of the time) it magnifies the difficulty.
It can be mind blowing for the NT partner to realise the depth of the challenges to communication that her partner faces.
Added to this is the defensive behaviour that the AS partner has learned over time, which effectively ends the conversation and allows the AS partner to get back to doing his own thing and so avoiding the interaction which is so difficult for him.
Interactions like this become a minefield, as issues are not get resolved and resentment, blame and anger become more and more prevalent along with the increasing the frustration and sense of invisibility the NT partner faces daily.
There are no easy answers.
There are no easy answers to improve the situation. In order to be successful, research has shown that several key things must be present.
- It is crucial that both partners agree and commit to try and work together, to make things better between them. No easy ask when the Asperger partner often is unable to articulate what he is thinking or feeling and the effort required can just be too big to face.
- There must be support from a counsellor or therapist well versed in understanding the nuances of an AS/NT relationship, and ongoing effects this can have on both partners, though particularly on the emotional well being of the NT partner.Sometimes the sadness, frustration and inevitable loneliness can be too much to bear and the relationship ends.
- The NT partner must limit their expectations of the AS partner, which becomes mind – numbingly difficult as it means they ( the NT partner) carry more than their fair share of the work of the relationship, as well as the rest of the responsibility of young children finances and juggling that comes with family and work life..
- There must be understanding on both sides of Aspergers syndrome and it’s effects on relationships.
- Both partners must agree to give each other the benefit of the doubt, when conflict arises. Often pretty challenging as usually the Aspie partner tends to think in a negative way and become defensive.
- Do not accept abuse of any kind from your Aspie partner. It is often the default response for the person with aspergers to get defensive and angry when he does not understand or accept what is being said. Just know you do not have to tolerate this behaviour. Learn to set firm boundaries around what you are willing to accept. Stay safe and walk away from abuse. Call for a time out until you both have calmed down.
I hope this article has been useful, and you find some tips that help you to understand and improve the relationship with your Aspie partner.