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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Why my Aspergers husband always sounds irritable

Had a sudden (maybe obvious) revelation as I read Aspergers Syndrome for Dummies last night: that people with Aspergers have great difficulty (perhaps even find it impossible) to control their tone of voice. That doesn't mean, necessarily, that they're bored or annoyed or indifferent. Just that it sounds like they are!
All these years of arguing with Ethan over his tone. It even happened today. His response to a chatty comment from me was met with what came across as an irritated and grumpy response. And so the usual process ensued: I react. Telling him he's rude, irritable, impossible to have a conversation with. He gets defensive, and confused and deflated because, in his mind, he didn't sound grumpy at all. He swears he didn't feel grumpy and can't understand why I think he is all the time. When I repeat back to him what he's just said and how he's said it he harumphs disdainfully and insists he didn't sound anything like that. And, inside his own head, he probably didn't. To the rest of the world though, he sounded thoroughly hacked off. I get increasingly exasperated and therefore emotional and heated. And here we come to the second part of my newly discovered information - that people with Aspergers get stressed and anxious when other people's speech takes on a highly emotional tone (which is what my speech is like at least 50% of the time!)
So, while I'm screaming at him in frustration and very outwardly expressing my irritation and annoyance, in both words and tone, he literally is closing down emotionally and socially until we reach a point where he says something cross and stomps off. And I'm left not having achieved anything other than creating two very irritated and disillusioned people.
I'm slowly realising that my emotional response to his flatline tone is just making everything worse. Suddenly I'm seeing that there might be another way. That I need to change how I receive Ethan's communication (the problem is that the rest of the world won't). And that I need to keep calm and factual when speaking to him.  But I am an emotional person. And while part of me recognises that I need to meet Ethan halfway on this journey of surviving a marriage between an Aspergers and a neurotypical person, the other half doesn't want to deny who I naturally am. But I guess that's part of the cost.
Just a little PS - It's disappointing, and just a little embarrassing when Ethan's absolutely literal understanding prevents him from 'getting' jokes like the following:
An English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Australian, American, Chinese, Indian and Russian man walk up to a bar. The bouncer says 'There's no way you're getting in here without a Thai.'
Members of my assembled family smiled, chortled or commented. Ethan was smiling but looked blank. It was family so I could ask Ethan if he got it. No. he didn't. We explained it to Ethan and our 8-year-old daughter at the same time! Ethan is a genius in many ways, but infuriatingly clueless in others. I'm not criticising. His brain's just wired differently. But it's just sad and a bit discouraging that we can't laugh together. Because for me, and in the words of another blog from a neurotypical wife of an Aspergers man,  laughing helps.


  1. I wouldn't read to much into your husband not getting the joke. I actually had to read it is few times before I realized that "Thai" was supposed to mean "neck-tie." I have been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and I can tell you that many times we understand jokes but choose not to laugh. The concept of "laughing together" really has no value to people with Asperger's. I laugh when something is funny to me, which is a highly subjective thing which varies greatly between people even of similar cultural backgrounds. (And great deal more between cultures. Try reading translation of famous Hungarian jokes and you'll see what I mean.)

    That said, it is still very possible for you to share meaningful moments with your husband. Many people with Asperger's syndrome enjoy sharing common interests with friends and family. Maybe you could learn a language to together, take up a hobby like golf or tennis (though if your husband is painfully unathletic like some folks with Asperger's, you might consider bridge or chess)

    Hope this helps. Remember that your husband probably finds many things that you do strange as well. Although it is a cliche, everyone is unique, Asperger's or not, and the beauty of love and friendship truly is being able to be yourself and feel safe.

  2. Thanks so much for this Mike. I realise that most of my posts are analysing what Ethan is and isn't and how I'm coping with this. I'm painfully aware that I don't understand him (or seek to understand him) enough. This blog is my way of venting and processing my thoughts and experiences of being married to an Aspergers husband and I realise that it's pretty one-sided. That said, I'm so appreciative to have comments from people who probably have more insight into Ethan than I do and who can inform and educate me. Aspergers, as a formal diagnosis, is still a very new thing for us both, and I'm grateful for you taking the time to highlight things for me.
    We're on a journey and are hopefully, slowly, learning how to get the best from each other. Although the last few days have not been good - as my latest blog reveals.
    Anyway, thanks again for your advice.

  3. I thought it meant they needed one more ethnic group. I didn't get it until I read Laura's explanation. My literal mind makes me crazy sometimes!

  4. I am an aspie with an aspie son and the more I think about it an aspie dad.. Now passed before I could discuss with him. Anyway the point is my super tolerant wife is a dyslexic NT but her humour includes sitcoms and stand ups some of which I watch with her some not... Obvious humour I get and slapstick like classic Chaplin and Harold Lloyd are fantastic. My son tends towards you've been framed and Internet fail videos... Humour is very personal but some things like Big Bang Theory are great for meeting in the middle. Using it to explain and understand what is going on is a great way to reach other. For me humour is often experienced as if through a net curtain... I can see it going on, I am amused but don't laugh out loud. We saw As You Like It by Will Shakespeare and apparently I was the loudest laughter in the place, be patient and pick your moments and your shows.

    1. I had to read 2 times before I could catch the pun. I'm from Malaysia and I suspect my husband is an aspie. I only discovered his condition after decades of marriage and much suffering. But of course he refuses to acknowledge he has any problem. He blames me for everything.

  5. Reading this is so helpful. My husband sounds irritated or uninterested most of the time when I talk to him and lots of times I react in a really emotional way which he can't stand. Then when I try to explain and say he sounded a particular way he gets even more mad as I'm trying to put a label on his feelings that he feels is completely inaccurate. I try really hard to stay calm and factual as I know that is the most productive way for us to have a conversation but sometimes it's just so hard!!!!

  6. Hello from Peru!, I just found out this super blog in a suspictious way because I just met a boy who might be an aspie. I got very interested on him. Learning about other stories would help me so much. I really appreciate him and we never talked about this. I am a 90% sure on what he might be dealing with.
    I wonder how you guys met your spouses or how was the time before you got married.

  7. I always sound flat and detached, and I realized this is what cause kids to not listen to me, because I can't make my voice sound authoritative. This is why I dread babysitting. The kids just ignore me.

    And grownups don't pay much attention when I talk. I can't leave much of an impression with my emotionless voice and lack of eye contact. When I try to control my voice, or my expression, it looks horrible and phony, and nothing at all like I intend it to be. I've stopped trying long ago.