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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Aspergers and gaps in communication

I, in fact we, came close to throwing in the towel this weekend. Let me just say, for the record, it is so hard to be in an Aspergers/neurotypical partnership – for both of us! We cling on by the skin of our teeth and crawl forwards with gritty determination. Not because we feel like it, a lot of the time, but because we’ve committed ourselves to each other: and because we’ve got three small children who need us to be together. And because, to be frank, although struggling through together is pretty grim quite a lot of the time, the alternative would be worse, I think. We’d be poorer, if not emotionally then definitely financially. In fact, I’m not sure how we’d do it. And we’d both be miserable and feel we’d failed and, although I push Ethan to his limits a lot of the time, I think, without me and the kids, he would let his Aspergers get the better of him and lead a pretty lonely life.
Our major problem I’d say, if I had to pick one issue out, is communication. How we both do (or don’t) communicate – in our words as well as in what we don’t say, in our tone and in our expressions.
I spend most of my time feeling that Ethan is disapproving or grumpy, as I’ve mentioned before. Largely because the natural relaxed state of his face is a frown. He seems to find it very difficult to smile– even when he’s happy. I’d settle for neutral but even that evades him. Secondly, he misses out great chunks of essential information when he communicates a message. What his head is thinking isn’t what comes out. Take Saturday morning, and part two of the helium balloon saga (those bloody balloons have caused nothing but trouble!)...
Ethan had got the kids to write messages on a piece of paper that he’d tied to a helium balloon and was going to set free in the garden. Sam had been griping about not wanting to let the balloon go, largely ignored by Ethan, but went along with writing his part of the message anyway. As they headed outside, Sam piped up again that he really didn’t want to let the balloon go. So Ethan said, ‘You don’t have to let it go.’ Sam instantly calmed down. All was peaceful until, ten seconds later Ethan, along with Ava and Oliver, let the balloon go. Sam started wailing and ran inside – not only upset that this balloon was gone forever but also that, from his point of view, daddy had outright lied to him. I, being me, marched out and challenged Ethan in front of the kids, as he was trying to enjoy a ‘moment’ with Ava and Oliver. From his point of view, I ruined his moment and he felt unduly criticised and belittled by me in front of the kids. He couldn’t understand what the issue was. Sam always acted like that, according to Ethan. And he’d told him, quite plainly, that he didn’t have to let the balloon go. Ava and Oliver could do it.’ Only the problem was that he hadn’t added on ‘Ava and Oliver can do it.’ He’d stopped at ‘You don’t have to let the balloon go.’ Which, to Sam’s mind (as would be the case with most kids – if not adults too) meant that the balloon was safe. Ethan didn’t get it – AND SMIRKED: which sent my irritation levels through the roof. I told him to stop smirking. He told me he wasn’t smirking (he truly didn’t realise that he was. Apparently inappropriate reactions – such as laughing when someone dies (or loses their balloon!) – are quite common from people with Aspergers). He followed this by telling me to shut up and stay away from him and stormed out of the house, slamming the door as he went.
Ava then joined in the wailing and told Oliver and Sam that mum and dad were going to get a divorce and that they wouldn’t see daddy anymore. Cue three wailing kids.
Ethan stayed out all day – he only came back at 9pm because I had to work.  During the course of the day both of us contemplated the possibility of separating. And the kids definitely contemplated it! But, as always, when tensions and frustrations calmed down, we managed to talk things through, and we struggle on. Because, despite the arguments, the kids are better with us together and because in different ways, and for different reasons, we need each other. I’ve gone back to the Asperger’s books – I still know so little about the Syndrome. And life goes on.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Aspergers and miscommunication or Why my Aspergers husband always sounds irritable part 2!

A few days ago I decided that this week’s blog entry should be something positive – about how hard Ethan works to support us, his family. About how difficult it must be for someone with Aspergers to keep up with an emotional wife who keeps organising social occasions and three chaotic, noisy children. Never mind the stressful, demanding job he does that requires him to be sociable and put other people at their ease all day.
But then Sunday and today happened. And the positivity drained away. It boils down to the number one gripe/obstacle/bone of contention in our relationship: the way he communicates. Today, a misplaced wheelie bin was enough to make him sound like he hated me: ‘What did you do with the bin last night?’ he barked at me from the bottom of our driveway this morning amidst the steady stream of mums (all of whom I knew) winding their way down our lane to school with their offspring all looking over to see what the angry shouts were about.
And on Sunday, the effort and tension of holding it all together for nearly four hours while we had guests broke the moment they left. ‘No, we’re not doing the balloons,’ he bawled to a sobbing Ava,  whom earlier he’d whipped into an excited frenzy with promises of releasing a helium balloon into the night sky. ‘It’s too late. You’re going to bed.’ Never mind that he’d promised the kids they could release their balloons that night. Never mind that they were, obviously, disappointed. If he’d just said, ‘Aw, sorry darling. It’s got really late tonight. We’ll definitely do it tomorrow,’ the great heaving sobs from Ava, the ensuing argument between me and him and an evening of not speaking could probably have been avoided. 
But then, this afternoon, thankfully, despite the tricky start, we’re coming full circle back to positivity. When I got back from work I, calmly, explained how damaging it was to our relationship, and to the kids, to be shouted at so aggressively all the time over every slight irritation (our wheelie bin being returned next door by the bin men, Oliver spilling his drink, Ava leaving her clarinet at school, me leaving notes to myself on the kitchen side that get in his way). Ethan came up with the usual explanations – he was simply trying to make himself heard (my counter argument: volume doesn’t have to equal aggressive tone) – he didn’t feel aggressive, that’s not how he meant it (my counter argument: that’s how he sounded. So it’s kind of irrelevant what he meant because aggression and irritation are what he conveyed, whether he meant to or not) - he doesn’t mean to speak like that (my counter argument: that he manages to speak pleasantly to other people so he must know the difference and be able to control how he comes across).
Once all the arguments and counter arguments had been exhausted, he apologised, he got it (at least he says he did) and he thanked me for pointing it out.
I could have come home and blasted him with disapproval, disappointment, disdain and countless other dis’s. A few years ago that’s what I would have done before shutting him out of my world. I’m glad that I too am starting to change and adapt to the challenges we face. I’m glad I chose to talk. I know it won’t solve the problem overnight: he’ll probably speak to me the same way tomorrow. But perhaps, with my support, he won’t be quite so aggressive quite so often.
And, knowing that I’m writing about his failings on this blog, he’s still just brought me a cup of tea and a smile. And this morning, while I was working, he washed the kitchen floor unasked.  So it’s not all bad!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Why can't my Aspergers husband control his spending?

I saw it as I was unpacking the Sainsbury's Basic range of shopping I'd just bought on my way home from the job I squeeze in in-between everything else in life to try and slightly claw back our rising debt (resulting entirely from purchases that  Ethan has made over the last twelve months). There it was lying on the kitchen floor: the tell-tale empty John Lewis carrier bag (it hadn't even occurred to him to hide the evidence).
Thankfully this was a day that all three kids were at school and pre-school so I could wade right in and  confront him with it. What top quality purchase had he been making whilst I, at his request, had been desperately trying to shave a few pence off our weekly grocery shop? The answer: two fine Egyptian cotton go with the set of six he bought eighteen months ago when we first moved in.  Which, in turn, bolstered the eight or so random collection of towels we already owned. And why did he feel we needed to extend our towel collection? Because he wanted some towels that could be his and his alone - that would be untarnished by the kids, that wouldn't make the weekly trip to swimming lessons and back, that would always remain soft and clean and colour-coded (his = light brown, the rest of the family's = dark brown). Never mind that this completely unnecessary purchase was made with money that we didn't have, that he was completely going back on his word not to make any more purchases for himself and that, in that one selfish purchase, he had spent a third of the weekly salary that I was working my guts out to earn in order to make at least a slight reduction to our overdraft.
I was steaming mad.
A fortnight before it had been a new pillowcase (yes - Egyptian cotton again) and he'd sworn that would be his last purchase. I'm bracing myself for the Egyptian cotton tea-towels that I feel sure will follow...
Call me unsympathetic but, Aspergers or not, these are luxuries that we cannot afford and that Ethan can surely do without. I understand that he likes the feel of certain fabrics, that he doesn't like to share towels and that he gets a bit anxious about the quality of cotton that he lays his head on. But hey - I would dearly love to have Oliver in pre-school for an extra half a day a week so I can actually have time to write, I'm anxious about my grey roots showing and a colour from a hairdresser instead of out of a box would greatly improve my self-esteem. But I know that we can't afford these things - and that it would be selfish of me to spend money we haven't got on things that would only benefit me. So I don't buy them. Ethan either doesn't have this ability to reason, think of the family as a whole and make do, or he doesn't care.

Either way, I'm off to bed - in my Sainsbury's pyjamas to rest my head on my Ikea pillow. And I'm sure I'll sleep just as soundly as Ethan on his 'superior' products - more soundly in fact, as I'll have the smug glow of self-sacrifice.