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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Aspergers - when positive thinking is not enough.

Argh...despite my nauseously good intentions and positive thoughts, tonight this man is driving me crazy.
Why does he communicate everything by shouting-at me and at the kids? Why does he omit to do things properly (him getting Oliver ready for bed consisted of him telling Oliver to get his clothes off and put his pants in the wash while he, Ethan, lay on our bed reading a book about the mysteries of the universe-really!) And then, when it transpires that everything hasn't gone perfectly (an only-just-four-year-old cannot extricate his pants from inside his screwed-up trousers) it's always the other person's fault. And they get, you've guessed it, shouted at. I know why, of course, this bloody syndrome we live with that seems to get more out of control as the week goes on and Ethan gets tireder.
It's actually harder work having him around sometimes.
Argh again.
The positive thinking is really wearing thin. Pass me the vodka...

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Listening to my Aspergers husband

Got away for a rare and last-minute treat last weekend. My sister had the kids for almost 24 hours and Ethan and I ran as far away as we could (to a town 5 miles away!) for a meal and a night in a hotel. It was nothing fancy. But I would have stayed in a stable if it meant waking up without an alarm clock to no kids!
It was marvellous. We chatted amicably in the restaurant and managed to divert the one potential big argument (borne out of his frustration at not being understood and being interrupted by me and my frustration at his unique method of communication that omits vital bits of information!) And the next day we went for a walk in beautiful sunshine - during which I quizzed him about what the hardest thing was about being married to a N/T. This, in a nutshell, was his answer:
'Being nagged and criticised. And, whatever I do it not being good enough. Also, I feel like sometimes you don't understand how hard it is for me to do some things, and to be a certain way.'
We talked about how well he's done in life - how he's got a great job, the woman of his dreams (ahem!), happy, healthy kids and how he can get by pretty well in social situations when he puts his mind to it. I explained how I feel disappointed and angry sometimes when he doesn't make the effort to be sociable and be present with people, because I know he can do it. He compared displaying this version of himself to running a marathon. And, in his words, 'I can't run a marathon and then,  straight away, run another marathon.'  He reminded me about how massively important it is that he has time away from people, even us, to recharge. He compared himself to a rough piece of wood. He gave  the analogy that, when he tries really hard to be sociable and think about other people, he can do it, but it's not really him. It's him as rough wood with a veneer on it that makes it look shiny and nice. But that veneer doesn't last.  It wears off and cracks show through. He needs to retreat so that the veneer can be stripped away and re-applied (a very fancy way of saying, 'let me play computer games sometimes while you deal with the kids!)
He talked about how exhausting work is. How he has to deal with really big characters and lots of different kinds of people, how he's constantly having to think about how he's coming across. How there's so much banter and quick conversation that he's trying to understand and keep up with. How there are so many people all wanting different things from him. I felt exhausted listening. And then he comes home and the kids are all shouting at once and they want him to play with them and I'm talking to him and asking him questions and giving him jobs to do. It's just too much.
Having actually stopped to listen to life from his perspective, I actually feel really thankful that he comes home at all!
I asked him what one thing would make his life easier. He said 'A big detached house with a massive stereo-surround system that I could live in on my own.'  He was joking - I hope! More seriously, he said 'Eating dinner without the kids and feeling that you understand me.' I get where he's coming from about eating with the kids. It doesn't make for relaxing dining. The presence of Ethan and I seems to make them play up. Usually one of them will end up in the naughty room, something will be spilt, there'll be at least one argument and at least one whinging, whining kid that doesn't want to eat their dinner. Normally it ends with me attacking Ethan for how he's handling the kids. I totally get that it's more pleasant to eat without them. With all the love in the world, life is easier without them - but I'm not about to send them to boarding school! And I think it's important, however chaotic and painful, that we push through and continue to eat as a family. But we reached the compromise of ensuring that, at least twice a week, just Ethan and I will eat together and make time to talk or, if one or other of us is feeling frazzled, just to flop in front of TV - but together.

I feel like we're making progress. And that just having that little bit of time out together at the weekend has reminded us both that it is worth the fight and that, away from the chaos and demands and bickering, we do actually like each other quite a bit...

Friday, 25 April 2014

Loving someone with Aspergers Syndrome

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What I'm learning is that, when I respond back with the same attitude I'm met with, it exacerbates the situation and makes us both feel worse. The alternative is really, really (really) hard to do because it means forfeiting my opportunity to justifiably point out his wrong-doing and my suffering, but it's getting easier with practice and it yields far better results. Also, the more I do it, the less I need to do it. It takes the heat out of the moment and shows Ethan there's another way.
What am I talking about...?
I'm talking about meeting resistance, aggression, blame with its opposite: if I'm met with negativity, responding with something positive. If I'm met with criticism, responding with praise. And if I'm met with shouts, responding with soft words.
The more I'm able to swallow my pride and surrender my self-interest, the less I have to do it. Because the change in me is starting to bring about a change in him. He's beginning, now and again, to recognise when he's unnecessarily irritable and aggressive. He might not be able to hold it in, but knowledge is power. Recognising it, surely, is the first step to controlling it? And he's quicker to say sorry afterwards, talk to me about it and listen to my take on it - because I'm not attacking him. I wouldn't say I'm turning hate into love - because there's nothing as strong as hate there to start with, but you get the idea...
More than nagging, criticism, pointing out what he did wrong and 'helpfully' suggesting how he could have done better...I'm learning he needs someone to believe in him.

I've not forgotten, I need to swallow that pride some more and lay myself bare to Ethan's expose of what it's like, as a person with Aspergers, to live with an extreme N/T (if there is such a thing) - basically, I'm his polar opposite. Where he's unsociable; I'm extremely sociable,  where he finds it difficult to empathise; I feel everyone's pain and spend my time trying to make things better for everyone, where he likes science, objects and gadgets; I like people, relationships and experiences, where he likes order; I live in chaos. It's an interesting pairing! Next blog - over to Ethan (I promise!)

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Comparing my Aspergers spouse = not really very helpful

Yesterday we set off on a happy family bike-ride in the balmy Good Friday sunshine. What could possibly get in the way of us having a lovely relaxed afternoon together?
Before we even set off, Ava and I had come to blows - over what she should wear. At 9 years old she seems to be careering headfirst into pre-puberty and is becoming almost as frustrating to live with as Ethan - though I love them both dearly!
As soon as we arrived at the place we'd planned to cycle, we met someone we knew. The guy was with his daughter who is in Ava's class at school. She and Ava inevitably wanted us all to cycle together.
The girl's dad subtly tried to gauge our reaction and asked which way we were planning to cycle. 'We're going this way,' came Ethan's very definite, un-subtle, 'no-room-for-negotiation' reply! I knew Ethan wanted it to be just us. I knew the unplanned, unannounced presence of these other people was hard for him to deal with - and maybe I should have let it go. But I just couldn't help myself, the unfriendliness and awkwardness in the air went against everything in my nature... 'We can go either way really,' I said, sensing Ethan glaring at me, 'it doesn't really matter to us.'
We stumbled over each other in politeness for a while - Ethan giving off negative vibes, me encouraging this guy and his daughter to join us and the poor guy trying to read through our conflicting lines and do the right thing! He went down the route of us both going our separate ways at first and he and his daughter cycled off, only to stop a few yards on, obviously wondering if they were the ones now being unfriendly, to say 'We could all ride together if you like...?!'
The upshot of it was that we cycled together for a while. It was frustratingly slow progress as we had to keep stopping because Sam's legs were tired. It was in a conversation during one of these stops that I was struck anew at how difficult it can be to have a decent conversation with Ethan. And also, with an 'average' bloke there for comparison, how negative and bitter he can sound.
The topic came up of when the kids are due back at school following the Easter break. Ethan responded in a grudging tone 'I'm surprised they've not shoved an Inset day on the end of the holiday.' We talked about how they're only back for a few weeks before they're off again. Then how there are only 7 weeks before the school year is done. The context was 'hasn't the time flown?' and I know Ethan was just trying to join in but his contribution of 'They're never there,' just sounded unpleasant: It was the unfortunate combination of his choice of words and tone of voice. Probably, my expectations and preconceptions colour how I hear him too. But Ethan's comment ended the conversation. Neither of us N/T's could think of anything cheery to say to that.
It was shortly after that stop-off that Sam gave up entirely. He was on a bike that was too small for him, his legs were working like the clappers to keep the wheels turning and he was just knackered! He let his bike fall to the ground and started crying.
Ethan responded the best he could. He tried to encourage Sam. But it didn't come out very tenderly. Again, the combination of words he chose and tone he used, meant he came across as impatient and irritated. Unfortunately for Ethan, his reaction looked worse in light of the up-beat, encouraging and positive  solution-finding response from the other dad, who proceeded to push the back of Sam on his bike as he rode along beside him.
Poor Ethan. It must have been hard to see another bloke sorting out his own son so effectively in a way that Ethan struggled to achieve. I was short and critical with him too, having had my senses and emotions awakened to what other people's husbands and dads are like. Without a direct reference, you often forget how tense your family life is compared to other people's.
We did, at least, talk things through a little bit when we got home (which, incidentally, was hours later as Sam ended up with a flat tyre and had to walk the last mile!)
I'm pleased to say that Ethan was in touch with his emotions and said how he struggled with someone else pushing his son on his bike and how he'd struggled also with these unexpected guests joining us in the first place. He stopped short of saying that this guy's presence highlighted his shortcomings and made him feel uncomfortable - but we both knew it.
After fourteen years of being married to Ethan and a few years prior to that dating him, I do love him, but sometimes in a resigned kind of way. And I know how hard life can be for him. Sometimes, when he's trying hard to fit in and be sociable, I feel a surge of love and affection for him. But, other times, when faced with the sociable, easy-going, up-beat ease of other people next to the awkward, gloomy tension of Ethan, I find myself looking at him through other people's eyes and just seeing someone abrupt, negative and difficult to get along with. It's tricky when that person you're seeing in such an unattractive light is your husband.
And I know this blog might seem like just a tool for criticising Ethan and moaning about my lot in life. I don't mean it to be. As I've written before, I'm an N/T partner with plenty of difficult-to-live-with traits of my own. It's just that I happen to be the one writing this blog, hence Ethan comes in for all the criticism. I should get Ethan to write a post about how frustratingly chaotic, emotional, illogical and demanding I am to live with...make myself vulnerable for a change... this space!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Can an Aspergers/neuro-typical marriage work?

With Ethan and I, things go well for a while, then discontent, disappointment, anger and irritation start to bubble under the surface. Life carries on - kids need looking after, jobs need doing, shift-work, lack of sleep and bickering kids take their toll. The simmering frustration builds until it crescendos into an all-out-blow-out.
That's what happened two days ago. There wasn't one specific thing that tipped me over the edge - rather it was the build-up of a thousand little actions, or inactions...
The way Ethan never smiles, the negative, cynical commentary on life that we're all treated to, the disengagement from family banter, the way he forgets something as soon as I tell him it and never remembers anyone's name! The way he shouts at the kids over minor things, the way he phrases things ("So you want me to go out Thursday, Friday and Saturday night?" somehow blaming me for the fact that we've been invited out to three occasions in a row. And why does he need to 'blame' anyone anyway? A few days earlier he'd been grumbling that he never gets to go out...) and the way he asks me if I'm OK after a battle of the wills with Ava only to laugh at a message on his phone and start texting someone a second later as I'm tellnig him that, actually, no - I'm feeling a bit upset. Most of all for the way he just doesn't get me.
It's a lonely existence sometimes.
And the result of these many little acts, the many occasions when we just don't connect when other people would - over a shared joke, a scintillating conversation, a knowing look, is me - every so often - losing it. I say I want us to split up, I pull him apart for all the ways he doesn't meet my needs, I put him down and tell him how miserable he makes me.
It's not fair. He does his best - most of the time. Which is all we can ask of anyone. And, in different ways, I'm equally (perhaps more) hard to live with than him.
We don't split up. We muddle on. Ethan is very patient with me.
What we could really do with, both of us, is a support group for him - a collection of other high-functioning, outwardly successful, competent people who happen to have Aspergers and who struggle with aspects of life that the rest of us take for granted. And for me, a group of other neuro-typical partners who would understand the massive and million minutiae issues of living with a partner with Aspergers. And who I could laugh at it all with...