Seven days late but here are my top three hopes for change this year – in me and in Ethan – to help us live a calmer, happier, more fulfilled relationship with Aspergers as our constant companion:
1) Change your tone of voice – I get that you don’t really get intonation, along with facial expression and non-verbal-communication in general. But, if you have to use the same tone in all conversation, can’t you select a happier one?! I’m really rather fed-up with ‘miserable with a hint of irritation’ tone. It feels like living with Eeyore combined with Harry Enfield’s Kevin the teenager.
2) Stop being so negative. You can be in your warm, ample home in this free, safe, affluent country with a full stomach courtesy of a wonderful dinner your wife’s made and surrounded by a loving (albeit chaotic, loud and argumentative) family, drowning in stuff you’ve bought yourself and you’ll still actively search out something to criticise and moan about. It makes you a really frustrating, depressing and unattractive person to be around.
3) Actively accept that to grow relationships you need to feed them. That, to have friends, you need to be a friend; which means putting yourself out sometimes, being willing to do things you don’t always want to do, making the effort to speak to people, to say goodbye when you’re leaving a social event, to do favours for people. Understand that, as well as taking from people, you need to give if you want healthy, fulfilling relationships. Put these truths into practise until they become natural – or at least easily forced! You’ll benefit more than the people you reach out to.
1) Understand more – read the books on Aspergers and living with an Aspergers partner that are sitting on my bedside table, rather than escaping into a novel. Bother to seek out Ethan’s views and perspectives on things more often and don’t always presume that my approach is the ‘right’ one and his the faulty one to be fixed. Actively try to quash superiority and listen to and learn from his approach. As a result...
2) Change more – criticise less, cut Ethan more slack and appreciate how far he’s come and how amazing he is to cope (generally with goodwill and humility) with the many challenges and hurdles each day throws up. Ungrudgingly build in downtime for Ethan from the loud, disordered chaos of our family life and the world (which means not moaning when he plays fighting games on his computer – although I’ll draw the line if he’s in there for an hour during the most hectic time of the day and showing no signs of emerging!). Accept that Ethan will change the things he can but that some aspects of his behaviour may never change – love him anyway. And focus on what I can change about me.
3) Encourage more – try a different tack. Easier said than done but realise that criticism, nagging and arguing doesn’t result in a repentant, transformed husband but generally an irritated, defiant or withdrawn one. Praise the good, draw out the positives. Don’t react in the heat of the moment and definitely don’t put Ethan down and belittle him in front of the kids. Leave time for me and Ethan to calm down and, when I do bring an issue or situation up, do it in a calm, logical way. Try to draw out his view of things as well as giving my interpretation. And balance out each constructive criticism with a positive encouragement. If I can’t think of one, give him a hug. Don’t harbour resentment.
All very pious and idealistic, I know. Of course both of us will slip up constantly. But I aspire to these changes in our relationship – this is what I know will make things better. So, when it’s all gone horribly wrong and I’ve screamed at Ethan in front of the kids about how he’s failed us as a dad/husband, I’ll finish seething and imagining life without him, say sorry and come back to these ideals. We’ll both dust ourselves off and start again...and again...and again.