Saturday, November 28, 2009

Asperger’s is a T.V. with One-Channel Reception

As many of us have, I’ve often noticed couples in which one partner has Asperger’s struggle greatly with communication, especially when discussing highly emotional subjects.

But what does this really mean?

It means different things for each partner.

For partners with AS, understanding the different channels of information can help. Couples communicate largely through behaviors, but we’ll concentrate on the senses as channels:

Visual (sight)
Auditory (hearing)
Tactile (touch)

I’ve seen conversations such as this work beautifully:

Partner #1:
I’m upset and I want to talk with you. What channel can I use?

Partner #2: (Takes a minute to think before responding) Auditory

Partner #1: (Closes eyes, leans back, lowers voice) O.K. When you walk away in the middle of my sentence, I think you are bored by what I am saying. I think you know it comes across that way, and that you are willing to hurt my feelings. I feel really sad about that. I want you to stop walking away when I’m talking and let me finish my sentence.

Partner #1: I’m sorry your feelings got hurt. That was not my intention. I was distracted, not bored. I couldn’t stay focused. I will remember this and not walk away while you’re talking.

Partner #2: (Crying) I want you to be interested in me.

Partner #1: I am, it just doesn’t always show.

Believe it or not, this dialogue worked. This couple had been working hard on communicating, and was beginning to enjoy the fruits of their hard work. Partner #1 was soothed by this interaction, and Partner #2 was left not feeling attacked, but informed. Partner #1 was able to share feelings, thoughts and a request. Partner #2 was able to hear this information, and because there was no overwhelm, the information was not just received, but digested. Because the couple consciously worked at reducing interference, and focused on communicating in a low-key manner via one channel (auditory), Partner #1 was forced to reduce reactivity, and Partner #2 was able to receive and assimilate information. The result for both partners was increased clarity.

“This is ridiculous! Who can do this?” is a question I’ve been asked, with much outrage, by partners without Asperger’s. In truth, it is challenging. The key, perhaps, is trusting that your partner with AS cares. Keeping this in mind can serve as a foundation for this difficult communication work.

The benefits? Your relationship may not be fraught with mind games, drama and chaos which develop and become habit in many relationships. Do you want it easy? Or do you want it to work?

Your relationship may not be inherently easy, but with practice, it can become more automatic and natural. And it can work beautifully.

Stay tuned for more tips on “One-Channel Communicating”. Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

This seems like an inordinate amount of work, but I would be willing to try this. It wld be great if you cld publish a book or manual. There's no way my partner and I cld master this on our own. If we were in Seattle we'd come to see you. Pls keep the blog posted if you're working on a book. Thanks.

Art said...

Good tips. I tried this with a very willing partner and had some success. Need more information. Write a book Cary Terra, MFT.

E.V. said...

It's funny how my partner and I have already implemented this, even before knowing I had AS.
We often talk at night, when the lights are off and we can't see each other, because it makes me so much more comfortable if I don't have to look at him. The best conversations we have always happen at night.

Anonymous said...

The happiest moments I've had with my AS partner were when everything was quiet and we would just stare at each other's eyes for a few minutes.