EMOTIONAL SUPPORT FOR NEUROTYPICAL
FOR THE NEUROTYPICAL SPOUSE
RELATIONSHIP OF CONVENIENCE?
Because the person with AS does not have the same relational needs as the non-Asperger partner, he or she is often unable to instinctively recognize the emotional needs of his or her partner and may feel ill-equipped to meet them. Relationships can thus form seriously dysfunctional patterns.
People who do not have AS enter a relationship with the normal expectation that the priority of a relationship will be about togetherness, mutual terms and meeting of needs, but in reality the relationship ends up feeling like one of practicality and convenience for the person with AS.
For those who had typical expectations of the mutuality of marriage, there will be a sense of betrayal and a feeling of being used and trapped. Instinctively they know that their partner needs them, but feelings develop that the relationship is about the needs and interests of the person with AS and that there is not room for their own voice.
Many partners feel that they are daily sacrificing their own sense of self to help fulfill the priorities of the partner who has AS. They begin to feel that they are entirely defined by the role they fill for their Asperger partner. There often is a felt loss of mutuality.
This set of symptoms has been described in many ways:
You might be wondering about Cassandra Syndrome. In Greek mythology, Apollo grants Cassandra the gift of prophecy; the ability to foresee the future. He gave her this gift with the hope of seducing her but when Cassandra later rejected him, he placed a curse on her -- her prophecies were never being believed. Even though Cassandra had the power to see the future and warn people of bad fortune, no one believed her. She felt dismissed and rejected, regarded by the townspeople as the town fool. This state of not being believed was the source of great pain and frustration. Similarly many partner's of Aspies feel than no-one believes how miserable their life has become, leading them to relate deeply with Cassandra's predicament.
The first step of supporting neurotypical is to sit with the reality of what life has become. To begin to grieve the dreams of what the relationship was "supposed" to look like. This usually takes the form of the following steps:
1. Sharing the story of how the couple got together
When the AS partner is the romantic phase, he/she can often turn a tremendous amount of focus on the neurotypical partner. This is what sets the stage for the future disappointment.
2. Make room to share how the story went bad
Usually no-one wants to hear the details of the broken relationship for fear of feeling sad or bad mouthing the AS partner. You deserve to be heard and your pain to be witnessed.
3. Grieve for your losses
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the first person to suggest that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. The neurotypical partner needs loving support to gently work through all of her/his emotions.
Once these steps are done, healing in the relationship can proceed with much less resentment.
SELF CARE FOR THE NEUROTYPICAL
It is important to realize that a person living with someone with special needs, also has special needs. A large portion of our work is to help the NT partner in some of the concrete ways listed below. Please know that it takes some effort to apply them in your life. And, usually, only about half of them work. Our job is to help you explore and find the ways that fit you best.
1. Focus on the Positives
Appreciate the strengths of the AS partner (which often included loyalty, stability, intelligence and independence),
2. Be Concrete with your Requests
Learn how to communicate your needs in a constructive manner that can be received by your AS partner
3. Focus on small, positive changes
Don't expect big changes overnight or you will be disappointed and it will make it hard to stay on track. Imagine the smallest change possible that would signal a shift in how things have been going. Then focus on that.
4. Promise yourself that you will have a great future, no matter what.
You can not control what your spouse does, but you can control what you decide to do with yourself and your children, if you have them. Take a deep breath and envision how you are going to create a great future, regardless of your spouse's choices.
5. Exercise your worry away.
Take a walk, get some exercise to become more fit. Exercise can be a lifesaver. It helps to assuage worries, feel good about yourself and increase feel-good hormones like endorphins.
6. Do one new thing you enjoy.
Don't become stale just because you are having a shaky time in your marriage. Novelty will stimulate your brain and maybe even your heart and help you have a more positive outlook about the future.
7. Prioritize quality time with your children or other loved ones.
Be present. You will never be able to experience your children's childhood again, so do your best to be with them mentally when you're with them.
8. If you get off track, get back on quickly without self-blame.
What separates the winners from the losers is not whether or how many times you get off track, it's how rapidly you get back on track.
9. Do activities that help you rediscover serenity.
Meditate, pray, hike in the mountains or watch a sky full of shooting stars.
10. Be kind, even if you think your spouse doesn't deserve it.
You may be angry, disappointed, or even devastated by your spouse's choices and actions. However, rather than react to unsettling behavior, assume your spouse is lost and confused. Be patient, kind and steady.
IMPROVING THE RELATIONSHIP
Setting Clear Goals and Direction
Before we even start to think about overcoming the obstacles that are intrinsic to our relationship, and dealing with the problems that life gives us, it is very, VERY important to make sure we are clear on what specific actions we are taking, what we are optimizing for, and why.
Before we begin solving "the problem", we have to first make sure we truly understand it. If we continue to act on the assumption that (for example) your partner hates you when the problem is that your he/she hasn't eaten all day (or anything else), then we end up making the problem worse, not better.
Once we are clear on our direction and what we are optimizing for, it is important to make sure that we aren't unconsciously self-sabotaging the process. We may want closeness but at the same time be afraid of later disappointment. These conflicting desires can result in some confusing behaviors.
Often, when people fail at this step, it's because they have a conflict between their outer desire and intent and their inner desire and intent.
Let's consider another example, let’s say there is a who plays video games all day. On one hand, they want their AS partner to become more interested in spending time together.... but on the other hand, they might be terrified that attempting emotional connection may result in a painful fight, so... they tend to unconsciously sabotage the progress they make so that they don't need to face the discomfort of changing the status quo.
Managing Energy and Defensiveness
People do the best they can with the emotional capacity they have. When they run out of emotional energy/capacity, the relationship dynamics go straight down hill. This is based on at the science of Emotional Resource Theory & Defense Mode (an approach coined by a very helpful website, Asperger's Experts), It is helpful to get an understanding of the biological basis for fear, stress & overwhelm, and then delve deep into motivation and emotional capacity issues.
With this in mind, as the neurotypical partner it is essential to know when to step in and help your partner, when that action turns into enabling, and develop about a framework for knowing how and when to request you AS partner to act differently.
Communication and Trust Building
Even though you will address this in couples work, it is important to have support as you learn to listen and talk in a whole new way so you can feel heard and listen better. You will explore what it takes for you to step away from conflict, to call time outs without abandoning your partner. This is the step where we build connection and mend past wounds relationships. You will take a look at your own wounds that you brought into the relationship and find ways to express what you need in ways your partner can hear you.
Putting it all together
Throughout this work, you will take the tools and experiences that we share and create a clear action plan. The goal is to be consistent and dependable. We will also discuss how to course correct when the plan is not working. Lastly, we will develop a maintenance plan so that the learning will stick, long after therapy has ended.
“The experience of many of us is not that ‘insistence on sameness’ jumps out unbidden and unwanted and makes our lives hard, but that ‘insistence on sameness’ is actually a way of adapting to a confusing and chaotic environment . . . ”