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Do our Partners trust us?

This is a good question, but very complex as members of a partner forum explored recently.

As with many aspects of relationships affected by AS, the matter of trust may vary wildly from one couple to the next, but I’ll share the thoughts that I shared, that are related to my own experience.

My comment within the forum was that “I think their trust (AS partner) is closely linked to what their values are and how they believe we are complying with those.“
 
My recent experience was with a partner who had values linked to finances and asset building, he was a hard worker and honest in his business dealings, but even though I was as honourable and transparent as I could be and contributed as much as I could and pulled my weight, I didn't let him be “in charge” of my stuff, nor did I follow his directives and therefore he persistently demonstrated suspicion towards me.

It was crushing because I'm sure I contributed to our shared lifestyle far more than he gave me any credit for, and all the while my own asset (home) was left to slowly run-down because I didn't have the funds to maintain it.

So, as I said in my initial comment, it seems to depend on what they value and how well they perceive that we are complying with that as to whether they trust us.

I'm not saying everyone’s situation will be the same. I know my ex-husband (I was married to him for 20 years) never seemed to trust me, but it wasn’t about finances or assets with him.  He was very ego-centric, and having me in his space made him feel very threatened, which I think many other partners find is true too.  We expose their poor attitudes and behaviours and hold them accountable which they don't seem to forgive us for.  I never felt like I had any credibility in his estimation, which tied in to his trust in me.

Added to this is something I wrote about not that long ago, about how they seem to build up a perception of us based only on our reactions or negative responses to their poor attitudes and behaviour and they don’t balance up their perception of us by all our good qualities and all the amazing things we do do, particularly for their benefit.

These seem unnoticed, and seem to be irrelevant to them and their estimation of our trustworthiness, or not.

So disheartening.

Colluding with the Delusion

For better or for worse, a very strong thread that runs through our support work is the need to be understanding of our partners in relation to their AS characteristics and difficulties.  The truth of the matter is, this mostly means that we have to be the stronger, more accommodating human being in the situation, and go without the consideration and accommodation that rightfully should be ours too in a partnership or marriage relationship with another human being of equal status.  But this is the nature of it.

We “get” that the AS person has so many limitations in areas we are so natural in, and of course we can feel considerable compassion for their struggles and deficits when we see how stressed they can become in work, home or social settings, until we are reminded of how stressed we have become trying to stage manage home life every moment of every day to avoid the AS partner going into shutdown or meltdown and the consequent disastrously stressful impact this has on the relationship, on the family, on us!
 
That long-winded introduction was heading somewhere …

I was thinking how extremely sensitive the AS partner is to any hint or whiff of criticism, to the point that they read criticism or personal attack into innocent statements that are just factual about whatever is taking place at the time, or for the purpose of making some sort of arrangement or improvement to household functioning or relationship quality for the benefit of all.  It’s called “family life” actually.

I thought of the word “collude”, how they seem to draw us into colluding with them in their belief that they are without error, that their perspective is correct, that their way is best, that they are a more advanced human being who we are privileged to be able to learn from.  We find ourselves rehearsing every word, every phrase, every statement, every conversation before we speak it to purge it of any taint of criticism or judgment or attack, to the point we just can’t speak or deal with anything for fear of bursting their bubble.

And that’s how I think they like it, or in fact need it to be.  There is only room for one reality to exist.

Perhaps they have arrived at their position and perspective as a result of having felt different throughout the formative years when social acceptance and inclusion were everyone else’s priorities, but they couldn’t achieve this, and so they had to become confident in whatever skill or strength they had in order to create an identity of their own.  Still different.  But typically using a skill or gift that has been more highly developed than any non-AS person can achieve.  One that sets them above as well as apart.  One can understand this happening, their reliance on their superiority in a particular field as a “shoring up” of identity.

But as patient and sacrificing partners, we struggle every day with this apparent arrogance they portray and our own sense of powerlessness to influence them to consider our perspective, comment or suggestion as valid or acceptable, and so we become silent.  Or eventually leave.  No other option seems available to us.

What is even more horrifying and disabling for us is the requirement on our part to patiently endure being corrected, directed, criticized and often rudely spoken to regularly by our AS partners, sometimes constantly, as they work on forming us into more complete and tolerable partners for themselves.

While we weather the torpedo blasts of rage and reaction they direct towards us if we suggest an imperfection in them.

Survivable?  I think not.

Carol Grigg OAM, Dip Counselling, MACA Level 2
www.carolgriggcounselling.com.au

Using the effort of another

A couple of days each week I work as a Generalist Counsellor for a rural health service.  It’s been a great way to gain experience with a wide variety of personal circumstances and different age groups.  I love it.

I was in a counselling session with a male about my own age a couple of weeks ago and he was explaining to me that he was a bit shy socially, and then he said something that completely stopped me in my tracks.  A light-bulb moment.  (Or another hit in the head!)

I believe I did very well staying composed and not letting on that he’d said something of great significance to me.  However I did gently ask him to elaborate a little because it was helpful information in my work with him anyway.

He told me that he likes being around friendly and outgoing people because they do all the work.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Is this what was happening when we first met our partners?  And is this a role we continue to fulfil for them?  And for others?

My client did say that he found social situations and relationships difficult, but clearly he’d learned a very effective way to manage this.  Without effort on his part.  Using the effort of another.

Slightly annoying?

Unrequited ... many things

That phrase “unrequited love” has been rolling around inside my head a lot lately.  I had to find my dictionary to check its full meaning, and I think it matches the feelings I’ve been experiencing.  So often when I’m counselling with partners I share with them what so many partners share about feeling like we’re pouring our love and our souls and our emotions and our efforts … everything into a black hole and nothing comes back to nurture us in return.  It’s quite soul destroying, and has to be linked to that feeling of “unrequited love”.  Love that’s not returned or reciprocated.  I know it’s a different usage, but I think it’s the same feeling or state to be in.  A real sense of ineffectiveness.

Somehow we do believe our partners love us, but they just seem unable to demonstrate it or respond to us in ways that resonate with our soul-need to be actively loved and acknowledged for who we are and all the ways we show our care for them.  The reciprocation we naturally expect in a marriage or long term partnership.  For us, it’s why we’re in a relationship.

It was really stirred up for me recently when I was trying to find some sort of closure (again) for myself after a relationship breakdown I experienced late last year.  (Yes, I chose another Aspie arrogantly thinking that with my knowledge I could make it work.  1 year of bliss. 4 of confusion and conflict.  I failed.  Correction - we failed.

So many unhealed painful feelings. So many meaningful words rewarded with silence. Some rewarded with rage.  Having to sit with and be content with those open and raw feelings of unfinished business and “unrequited” love, care and effort is next to impossible.  I want some of it, or something, back.  Please.

My attempts to seek some sort of acknowledgement or empathic response are met with statements about his hardships as though it’s a competition.  I need to let it go.  For my own sake I need to stop seeking a response that satisfies my longing to be acknowledged, valued … or told that I was loved.  He genuinely doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of my words or what I’m seeking.

I know that my value is in no way diminished by his lack of response or acknowledgement; I know I’m a good lover and partner!

The fact is, we are all wonderful and beautiful people who are highly empathic, highly responsive, highly loving, and many more good things.

We just fell in love with beautiful human beings who cannot requite to us what we cannot help but give.

August 2015

A difference that will remain

The thought that has been on my mind the past few weeks has been how we all seem to have a natural expectation that as soon as we find the right strategy for reaching our AS partners, they will suddenly become neurotypical and we can get on with our relationship.

We seem to have a subconscious belief that somewhere tucked away deep inside our partner is a neurotypical person who will emerge once we find the key or the right method to reach them.  After all, each day we do see some little glimmer that keeps our hopes and efforts alive.

Sadly this is a very difficult reality to have to come to terms with, that even if we do find some methods or strategies that improve our communication and interaction, our AS partners will still have AS.  They think and operate differently.  Like Clinical Psychologist Jeroen Decates reminds us whenever he comes to our meetings – the difference between a neurotypical partner and an AS partner is like the difference between a PC and a Mac.  They are completely different operating systems.  And they can’t talk to each other without interpretation or assistance.  Much the same with us and our AS partner.

We need knowledge.  It is imperative that we read and learn.  The ASPIA website has many articles that countless partners have found helpful and I always recommend ASPIA’s handbook as essential reading too.  There are many definitions and descriptions and interpretations listed in the handbook that will help partners to understand the different way their partner thinks and operates.  I would also strongly recommend reading the Diagnostic Criteria in the DSM 5 – it is reproduced on the Autism Speaks website - https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/diagnosis/dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria (this lists the social (pragmatic) communication disorder criteria also which is absolutely relevant too!).

One of ASPIA’s greatest strengths as a support group has been to provide education and we are so privileged to have quite a few psychologists and other presenters who attend our meetings to teach us and keep us up to date with knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This has been a great strengthener and enlightener for those who attend.

We need professional support.  I don’t know how any partner can hope to know how to negotiate daily life with an Aspie without at least a few consultations with a psychologist or a counsellor for guidance and support, especially in the early days of learning.

And peer support.  How many of us have had our sanity saved by being able to talk to other partners?  Of course, the face to face support group context that ASPIA provides in Sydney (and other groups in other capital cities) is the ultimate experience but for those who live too far away, we have the Yahoo group (email based discussion).  Financial members of ASPIA also have access to a private facebook group for daily support.

We have been reminded many times in our workshops and support group meetings that we cannot manage a relationship with an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome without knowledge, understanding, professional help and support.  We don’t have the knowledge naturally.  Our natural instinct gives us the ability to relate to other neurotypicals, but to relate to those on the Spectrum we need specialized learning.

July 2015

Emotional Healing must come from other sources

During this past month I have been busy with many conversations and counselling sessions with partners.

A couple of common threads continue to stand out to me.  I will talk about one of them here.

It is our “natural” response to become emotional with our AS partners when we are hurt or offended by them (which of course is natural in any relationship).  As offences and conflict build up over time and are not resolved (which tends to be the pattern in relationships affected by ASD), we naturally become more upset and emotional, which is a normal response on our part.  It is “normal” to need resolution, not to just go on as though the issue doesn’t exist anymore which is what the partner with ASD seems to do.

What is hard for us to come to terms with is that in a relationship affected by ASD, the more emotional and verbal we become, the more likely it is that the ASD partner will shut down or retreat, or the opposite, emotionally or verbally “out-escalate” us even to the point of aggression so that we are overwhelmed or frightened and we back down.

Thus, the situation is then restored to what they can cope with.  And they go on as though nothing happened, while we are left more upset and distressed or traumatized, still with no way of finding a place of resolution or having our needs met.

This leaves us feeling very powerless, unable to address legitimate hurts, offences or even everyday situations, and all of us can relate to this feeling of sheer and desperate frustration and helplessness.

The fact is, the adult with ASD is unable to cognitively, emotionally or verbally meet us at a place of resolution.  And displays of emotion by us are in fact futile in securing what we need from our partners.

What are our options?  Not very many I’m afraid.  But perhaps the first and most important one is to reclaim ownership of our own emotional state instead of allowing our partner to be in charge of it.  When stress and emotional distress go on indefinitely our mental and physical health will definitely suffer, and prioritizing the relationship and our partner’s needs may not be worth the devastating toll this is having on us.  We cannot look to an AS partner to heal us emotionally.

You are a beautiful and worthwhile person.  Your partner may be the one you chose to share your life with, but they are only one person in a vast world, and many of us have come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t even choose our partners as a friend if we knew what we now know about their attitudes and behaviours.

Are you therefore doing yourself justice by allowing them to be the one who has the most influence over your emotional well-being and also how you feel about yourself?

Save your emotional energy.  Change your expectations.  Try to reduce the extent to which their contribution matters to you.  Find alternative solutions.  Look to your healthy and normal friendships and family connections for your emotional nurture.  Channel your nurturing into yourself and those who reciprocate your care.  Develop your independence and value yourself.

I know this is not what any of us really or ultimately want for our relationships, but perhaps this is the only way to ensure our own emotional survival.  And one never knows, if we back off and just quietly step away from them emotionally, they may notice the change and move back towards us just a little.

June 2015

Purposeful Action

I have to admit that this past month I’ve felt a little empty of words.

I do keep remembering snippets from our workshop with Tony Attwood though so I will share another one here.

Tony shared with us that for there to be any hope of change or improvement in our relationships, our AS partners must at least make some acknowledgement that there is a problem and be motivated to learn.  He said that it is not necessary to achieve a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, but there must be some acknowledgement of and willingness to learn about AS.

Many partners find that their AS partner completely refuses to acknowledge or discuss the matter.  And many find that if they try to push it, the reaction or meltdown is not worth it.

Where does this leave us?  In many ways, the AS adult’s response is strategic for them because it ensures they can maintain their position.

Perhaps this gives you the freedom and right to choose your own position in response?

I really think the only way to make a shift is to stop talking and trying to explain the problem (which they often take as a personal attack), and just start “doing”.  Not with malice or retaliation, just purposeful action.

Choose your responses.  Act.  Calmly and firmly, without any fanfare.  Stop waiting for neurotypical responses from them.  Say what you are going to do and do it.  Use logic, “cause and effect”.  Remind yourself of your own values and begin to live in a way that is true to yourself.  It will take some courage.  Make some ultimatums or trade-offs with your partner, one at a time.  You do not have to tolerate bad behaviour.  It is ok to leave the room or leave the house.  In general it is futile trying to reason with them.

Save your energy, acknowledge your reality, choose your response and follow through.  Take your time.  In many ways it will be like a conditioning process and in time you may find you’ve achieved more than you thought you could.

Always seek professional help or make sure someone knows whether you’re ok or not.

May 2015

Some thoughts following our workshop with Tony Attwood on 7 March 2015

How can one add anything to the words of Tony Attwood? (www.tonyattwood.com.au)

We were educated and inspired and validated and challenged by Tony’s presentation at our workshop on Saturday 7th March.  And perhaps I should add discouraged and grief-stricken for some or many too.  It is no easy life, with no easy solutions.

There was a strong sense of warmth and identification among all those present and the ASPIA members who were in attendance were lovely hosts, caring for others and being a source of information and support throughout the day.  I felt very proud to be part of our group.  (www.aspia.org.au)

We have added a number of new partners to our mailing list and expect a few new ones to attend our monthly meetings.

We have also added a few new professionals to our website list.  One in Wyong (Central Coast NSW), and two in Canberra.

It was clear from Tony’s presentation that there is more material and professional help available now for couples and Tony discussed the possibility of returning with one of his colleagues to do a couples workshop for a limited number of participants.  We will let you know when this is likely to happen.

Our own Sydney Psychologist Jeroen Decates is also working towards offering couples workshops, and already holds a couples group for those he is working with.  Jeroen’s contact details are on the ASPIA website.

I’m afraid I’m a bit lost for words at the moment for writing a thought, it’s a bit like, “where do I start?”.

One little snippet Tony said that’s helpful to know is that when your AS partner answers “I don’t know”, it may just mean, “I don’t have the words to tell you”.  They have a lot of difficulty with vocabulary for emotions and self-reflection.  They can also tend to feel they need to give the “right” answer and they don’t know what this is, so it’s better not to say anything.

The problem of “negativity” came up too.  One person asking if Aspies tend to be negative because of all the difficulty they had growing up, but Tony said he sees it as actually coming with the territory.  Aspies tend to have negative thinking and be pessimistic.  He also said that many NT’s tend to be optimistic.  I think this might lend itself to another whole discussion sometime.

April 2015

Fixed Perspective

In my thoughts at the moment I can’t get past the fixed perspective!

I’m thinking that this is a huge aspect of the conflict we experience in our relationships.

Aspies tend to arrive at an opinion or perspective as a result of their own logic and this then remains fixed.

Healthy relationships are about hearing and considering each other’s perspective, respecting each other’s views and finding outcomes that take into account a whole range of factors important and known to both partners together and individually.

But it seems an Aspie cannot consider an opposing or differing view to their own, believing their logic to have arrived them at an irrefutable position.  They can’t be wrong, so the partner has to be.  Two perspectives or views can’t co-exist.

Instead of a wider range of wisdom and experience to draw on for a better outcome for all, the field is narrowed to one view only.  This is actually dangerous and naïve in the bigger picture, and surely can’t be defined as a relationship either.

December 2014

Resolution or Correction?

During the last month I’ve had lots of thoughts float through my head.  Not that thoughts about AS float, more likely they pierce or clobber me in the head at the most unexpected moment and leave quite an ache in the heart as a result.

The thought that impacted me a lot during the last month and that I’ve continued to think about is to do with the lack of conflict resolution in our marital situations.

Most of us have reported feeling like nothing has ever been resolved over the entire duration of our relationship.  This is of deep concern in any relationship of any duration, but some of these relationships have existed for twenty, thirty or forty years.  How bleak.  What have we done with all that stuff?  Unfinished threads everywhere, tangled and tight, cutting off the circulation to all that is healthy.

I started to think more about resolution and reconciliation.  I think this is an essential need, even a compulsion on our part, to look for resolution, to resolve conflict, to reach a place of harmony again, of agreeing, of being on the same page, of one mind.  We seek it out, initiate it.

How does the AS partner in our relationship respond when we try to initiate a resolution to some situation of conflict?  Don’t most of us feel drawn into combat with them rather than negotiation?  Tit for tat.  The situation escalates, becomes technical, one-up – one-down, emotions run high into rage; we cannot reason with them.  And then we’re called on to weather yet another meltdown, or carry on in their absence while they shut down.  We can’t revisit the issue.  Another issue unresolved, leaving another raw and unhealed wound, forever.

I think sometimes I portray the AS person as having an impact on us in more passive ways rather than aggressive.  I am sensitive to portraying Aspies as aggressive because this can be interpreted as them being “abusive” and this always has to be defined or qualified in some way to be fair (and safe to publish).

However, when it comes to conflict, I think Aspies have a compulsion too, though not for resolution in the way we do.  I think they may have a compulsion to correct and to complete, and often in an aggressive manner.

They tend to need to control their environment to create predictability for themselves and to reduce their own anxieties, and the people around them actually form part of this environment that needs to be controlled.  It is my belief that they have a set way they need us to behave, like a script.  And if we don’t follow it, in the right way and at the right time, we are corrected.  I’m sure we all know that feeling of being corrected, and for many us of it is so frequent that it becomes part of what we take for granted.  Remember the old report cards from school?  “Responds well to correction.”  Great.  If only they knew.

We all have that depth of character and humility that allows us to respond well to correction, but at what point is it taken too far?  When we’re constantly corrected, and often aggressively, to conform to someone else’s script within the context of a relationship and home life, how much of ourselves is left?

And what about the resolution we so desperately crave for wholeness of heart?

Another unmet need. Written for November 2014
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