Thursday, February 11, 2010

Asperger's: Top Ten Behaviors Girlfriends Love

WANTED: Boyfriend to demonstrate interest in chit chat and casual affection. Especially interested in playful banter, eye contact and active listening.

FOUND: Man with Asperger's who completed Top Ten List, enjoyed a burst of confidence and will probably enjoy positive feedback (and maybe more!) from partner.

If you've found yourself baffled at your girlfriend or wife's requests for nebulous actions such as "show more empathy" or "show a pulse" during interactions, just know that you're not alone. If you've found yourself puzzled by what exactly these kinds of phrases mean, and how to break them down into concrete behaviors, you're in good - and ample - company.

It's often very difficult for partners of Aspies to understand why they need to ask for exactly what they need - not in vague, esoteric terms - but in clear, honest and behavior-based terms. But this must be done for their needs to be met. Aspies are not, in general, wired to make assumptions and gather the gist of nuance.

Thank goodness!

This "deficit" on the part of the Aspie forces his partner to adopt clear communication, honesty about limits and needs, and accountability.

One cannot complain about not getting needs met by an Aspie partner if one is afraid to communicate clearly what those needs are.

I find that, in strange synchronicity, partners of Aspies often are those women (or men) who most need to learn that their needs are OK. They are often individuals who can scream their needs. They can silence their needs. But clearly state their needs? TERRIFYING!

How comfortable are you with acknowledging and sharing what you want? What do you want out of this moment? Out of this week? This month? Year? Lifetime?

Women who can acknowledge, without anger or blame, that they need to feel safe, comforted, reassured, treasured, adored, respected, valued....these women are often ahead of the game when it comes to intimacy.

Women who can, without anger or blame, break these needs down into specific desired behaviors - a hug, hand-holding, a date, a question, sustained attention for five minutes during a description of a work issue....these women are often crossing the finish line while others are in the stands feeling resentful and alone.

Why is asking for what you need so difficult? Because, as you may know, women are often encouraged to take care of everyone but themselves. This sounds cliche, but it's true. How often have you found yourself judging a woman who takes time for pedicures, massages or yoga as self-absorbed or superficial? Women often subconsciously view taking care of themselves and acknowledging their needs as taboo - while they rage against their partners for not doing it for them.

So where do you start? By first becoming aware of how you feel and what you need. Do you feel hungry? Anxious? Dehydrated? Lonely? Overwhelmed?

Then, ask yourself what you need. Do you need a snack? To lower your anxiety by practicing deep breathing? A glass of water? A quick check-in with a loved one? A task taken off your plate by a partner?

Now that you have awareness of how you feel and what you need, you are in a position to either meet that need or ask for help from your partner. Asking for help in getting a need met does not look like this:

"Well, I can see you didn't bother to think about what anyone else is going to eat for dinner."
"I wish I were married to someone who could actually see the trash overflowing onto the floor!"
"I feel totally alone in this worthless marriage."

What you may be called to do is much scarier than this. What you may be called to do is to substitute statements like the above with statements like:

"I would love for you to make me a snack. Will you make me a bowl of Cap'n Crunch?"
"I feel overwhelmed. Will you take the trash out? That will help."
"I'm feeling lonely. Will you hold me?"

Can you see how much more difficult the second set of statements is? Making yourself vulnerable, feeling worthy of asking for what you want, is frightening for many women. Yet it is this clear and honest communication, with yourself and your partner, that has the potential to save your relationship.

So if you've read this article in hopes of finding a list of ten behaviors you can copy and email to your loved one, you're in for disappointment. Likewise, if you've read this article hoping to divine the secret to meeting your girlfriend's unspoken needs, you're out of luck.

Only you can design a list of top ten behaviors that can meet your unique needs, or ask your partner for this list. While there are general habits that are often functional in relationships, needs are unique, and emerge according to no one's schedule but your own.

Facing the fact that you need your partner, mustering the courage to ask for what you want, and then being willing to receive what your partner has to give.....these are the true triumphs of intimacy, and worth every ounce of effort you can offer.

If you're consumed by bitterness in your relationship, I challenge you to stop expecting your partner with ASD (or without!) to read your mind. I challenge you to identify a need, share it, and ask for a specific behavior. If this feels silly or contrived, you're on the right path. It won't feel this way for long if you keep it up. Rather, these new habits can begin to feel natural, healthy and intimate.

If you can complete this task, I believe you have the tools for great change and hope in your relationship.


Anonymous said...

My GF never asks. I "should" know. It is exhausting, as I can never guess right at the right time. she is getting a copy of this post.

Anonymous said...

hahahaha! I love the Captain Crunch part! That always makes me feel better! Now I know I can ask my hubby to make me a bowl. Never thought of it. Good post.


Art said...

Excellent post. I have been waiting. I feel often frustrated by partner's obsession with me and my inability to have empathy for her. I do believe she can play a bigger part in helping me understand what she needs. Hope to see more posts.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to say that I do not agree with this post. I had been asking, in very clear calm terms, for 25 years, what I needed. ASH could not see the need for my needs, so they were not based in reality ASH said, they were abnormal ASH said! Doesn't matter how clear your communications are, if the other person is not holding the other end of the phone, you won't be heard.

I am very pleased to say that has now changed. The cost to me though was extremely high.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say I disagree as well. I told my Aspie husband my specific, clear needs for years. I did so at home and in counseling. They weren't going to ever happen. All Aspies are different though. I think my husbands issue was the executive functioning part. I could say, I want a hug" and I would get one immediately but if I was to say, I would like you to hug me more in general - no hugs. He could not initiate. I would have had to have a specific schedule with days and times for "a hug". If I said, hug me every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at might work. That to me (my own opinion) is not a relationship.

Anonymous said...

I feel boiling mad when I read this advice. If all I had to do was ask, I'd ask! But the fact that I don't, and have a very strong aversion against doing so, is surely indication of the fact that there is more going on than just a failure on my part.

I have been a wife for 13 years now and before that I was a daughter and an employee. And there are many, many ways in which we girls and women are taught to stifle our requests. Putting a request is a deep insult to the patriarchy and they usually punish us for doing so.

Putting a request implies that our needs are not met, that we are needy. Putting a request implies a criticism. Putting a request changes the balance of power.

The patriarchy would rather believe that we are happy and that we live in a contented, domestic world.

One of the key ways in which power is often used is to prevent a request from being formulated in someone's mind. Another is to prevent or re-frame requests that are verbalised. There are many barriers to me being able to open my mouth and say something clear and assertive.

When I do make a clear, bounded, specific, assertive request of my husband it causes great disturbance. He is so busy managing his life and his anxieties and his own internal state that this feels like an extra burden, a huge "take" from him. And while he might meet the specific request, he makes sure that I am uncomfortable enough in another arena of life to think it's not worth it.

Sorry, Cary, but you've allowed this great fiction that women-don't-ask-because-they-are-deficient to befuddle you. Look closer, and you'll start admiring women.

Anonymous said...

So have you found that your attitude works? I doubt it. You can get all philosophical about it but the truth is most women NEED to learn how to ask for what they want. Your sweeping sociological invalidation of this advice is probably part of your problem. And that is why you are here reading this right? Who cares if the patriarchy is uncomfortable with requests? This is about ASD relationships not sociological theory about power dynamics. KRISTA

Anonymous said...

I agree. I get some good advice on this blog. Tkae you hate elsewhere. This is guidance offered for free and if you don't like it dont read it. Its not a debate forum.

JohnMcG said...

Let me see if I can rescue this from despair.

There are 2 problems that are in tension:

1. AS spouses are not good at intuiting what their partners want at a given moment, or at turning general, vague requests into specific, concrete actions.

2. In general, people like to be heroes and also would prefer that their partners meet their needs without having to voice them specifically.

So, if a wife of an AS partner asks him to take out the trash now, and he complies, this isn't a satisfying exchange for anybody, except that the garbage is in fact taken out.

The wife probably isn't satisfied since she had to recognize the need and articulate it specifically, and probably feels like she may as well done it herself. The husband probably feels ordered around rather than a hero coming to his wife's rescue. But at least the trash went out....

But, as noted, a vague request that the home be kept tidy, or even slightly more specific that the trash be taken out regularly probably wouldn't register.

The challenge is finding the sweetspot between the two, voicing a request that is specific enough to be actionable, but not so specific that you feel like you are doing all the work, and the receiver feels like they are getting a list.

The scary part is that there isn't a guarantee that such a sweetspot actually exists.