A toxic series of events conspired this week to result in a huge explosion (mine). I shouted, cried, told Ethan I didn’t love him and didn’t want to be married to him anymore, and made him sleep on the sofa. Today, with the benefit of time, my period having started (hormones were partly to blame) and Ethan having been honest with me for the first time in months and having tried really hard since then to be a better husband, things feel calm – even hopeful – again. I know that it won’t last, that Ethan’s goodwill and extra effort will wane, that my intolerance will build up again, that we’ll both slip back into taking each other for granted and pleasing ourselves. But I’m encouraged by the fact that Ethan does care enough to keep on trying to give me what I need, that bust-ups for us don’t mean break-ups and that he, actually, is tolerant of me with my all my intensity, dramatic claims, hurtful words and emotional outbursts. I think Ethan finds me as hard to live with at times as I find him – we’re just so different.
Last week started badly when I went to collect the old dear that I take to a coffee morning on a Monday only for her to tell me bluntly,“I saw Ethan walking home with the kids last week. He looked miserable. What was wrong with him? Oooh, he had a face like thunder.” I replied, resignedly,“That’s just how he looks. That’s how his face is in relaxed mode, when he’s not forcing himself to smile.”
It’s true. Ethan’s natural look is one of irritation. The fact has bothered me ever since my dad observed, a little pointedly, that some people’s natural facial expressions are pleasant and content and happy-looking, even if they’re not smiling; whereas other poor souls seem blighted with a face that constantly looks angry and at odds with the world. Ethan has this second kind of face. I know it. But it’s not nice to have people notice and comment on it first thing on a Monday morning.
On Tuesday (day one of two days off that he had) he said, surprising and delighting me in equal measure that he was going to go and help a friend to fix his floor. I hung around for the first hour or so after the kids had gone to school – no sign of Ethan leaving the house. He got sidetracked by the burglar alarm playing up and got snappy if I suggested that he should maybe leave that for later and get to his friend’s house. When I left for work, he assured me that he was about to leave to go and help his friend. Twenty minutes later when I had to pop back unexpectedly I opened the front door to the sound of the TV blasting out and the front room shutters down. I was more sad and frustrated than anything else – that he’d lied to me to get me off his back and that he’d chosen to watch (yet more) TV rather than be with a real person in real life building up a friendship. I tried to let it go but couldn’t stop myself – I phoned him up to tell him what I thought about his decision. He said sorry, and I hoped that might mean he’d re-thought his decision. But, an hour later when I drove past the house again, the car was still in the drive and the front room shutters still firmly closed.
Thirdly, on Thursday evening, we were all set to have a cosy evening together in front of the fire, me still feeling pretty deflated by him, when he lost it - suddenly, totally and utterly - over me putting Sam’s shoes on top of the log burner to dry out. “What do you think you’re doing?” he bawled at me. “Don’t ever do that again. Are you stupid?” etc, etc. Even omitting the fact that I was only going to put them on there for a few minutes and was going to be around to make sure nothing untoward happened, it was a horrible way to speak to me. Really, really aggressive (I can’t accurately reflect the volume and disdainful way the words were hurled out here). He finished his tirade, which had taken place in front of the children, by saying “And I’m not going to apologise. You deserved that.” As if I’d just been giving a good thrashing that would, in the long-term, do me good. I was crushed. And angry. And just utterly fed up with putting up with him. I helped get the kids to bed then kept out of his way. Then decided I couldn’t not respond so stormed into the living room and told him, frankly, what an ass he was and never, ever to talk to me like that again. I told him he made me miserable and ended my tirade in tears. I went up to the bedroom to cry, imagining that what I’d said was enough for him to follow and apologise. He stayed downstairs, ate his tea and watched a programme about traffic police.
I was totally gutted – lonely, sorry for myself, angry, disappointed. And slightly crazy with hormones. I couldn’t leave it. I went downstairs and had another huge go at him. I really didn’t hold back and said some awful things about the kind of person he was and how I should never have married him, etc, etc. In his defence, he genuinely didn’t realise I was that upset or that I’d been crying (impossible for a NT to believe, but I’ve been with him long enough and read enough books to know this is true). Things were only made worse when I went to the freezer for ice-cream only to discover that he’d eaten the entire tub of in one sitting before I’d even got a look in. I know it doesn’t seem like an earth-shattering discovery but it’s the selfishness behind the action – that he didn’t give a single thought to me and that I might want some, whilst he was scoffing the lot. Or, worse, that he did but scoffed it anyway. It didn’t help that he had done exactly the same, with exactly the same ice-cream (Ben and Jerry’s peanut butter cup for anyone that’s interested) a few weeks before and I’d had a go at him about it then.
He spent the night on the sofa and I spent the night thinking about leaving him.
The thing is that the almighty row, the awful things I said and the fact he actually got how miserable he was making me – resulted in things changing. First of all, he apologised – not just for that night but for the last few weeks when he’s been far from easy to live with. Secondly, he was honest with me about how down and lonely he’s been feeling and how hard it’s been for him to force himself to do anything other than work (which in itself, is a hugely social, hugely exhausting thing for Ethan). And thirdly, he’s tried so hard since – to do more at home, to talk to me about how I am and about how he is, and he spent the whole weekend with other people: out on Friday night prompted by me, and helping the guy he should have helped earlier in the week all day on Saturday. For my part, I’ve gone back to reading more about AS, which really helped me see Ethan’s actions from an AS, rather than my NT perspective. And which helped me to separate his AS-induced actions from the person he is underneath the frustrations of his AS. The interview with Tony Attwood (http://www.different-together.co.uk/frequently-asked-questions) is a great place to start...
And so we’re still together – and in a far better place than we were last week. Perhaps we needed a huge fall-out like that to clear the clutter and start again. What gives me strength is that, whatever his shortfalls, Ethan will keep trying. He stays committed and loyal to me however vicious I get in my attacks (because I do), he always says sorry (although it sometimes takes a while) and he keeps trying to do better.
I know not everyone with an AS spouse is so fortunate.