Friday, November 9, 2012

ASPERGER'S AND PARTNERS: THE 98 PERCENTER


In working with lots of couples in which one partner is on the spectrum, I cannot help but notice that many Aspies are coupled with highly relational people.  Perhaps this seems a common phenomenon – opposites do attract, after all.  But in these cases, partners seem more than just “opposites”. 

Partners of people on the spectrum often are more than just social – they’re often socially gifted.  These people can make friends with strangers in the checkout line, start up random conversations with people with seemingly no effort.  They’re often good with language – very good – and the path from their brain to their mouth seems short and straight (no pausing to find the perfect word, no searching for how to articulate a feeling).  When they’re angry, these partners are often even more articulate than usual – so quick with words that the Aspie cannot drum up a response before the partner is on to the next point.

I often refer to these non-Aspie partners as 98 Percenters.  These individuals are willing and able to do 98% of the work required to connect to another person.  Of course there are exceptions, but I find that the idea applies often.  So, who is the 98 Percenter?

  • Often extroverted, or a socially extroverted introvert
  • Can be emotionally labile – shifting and reactive moods
  • Socially adept – can fit in with many different kinds of people
  • Highly communicative of emotional states
  • Can seem very angry one minute, then pick up the ringing phone and seem cheery
  • Knows how to make people feel good
  • Often skilled with remembering details about people’s lives
  • Highly sensitive to others’ perceptions and judgments
  • Quick to anger
  • Prone to anxiety and/or depression
  • Excellent at chit chat  (though s/he may not like it)
  • Often interested in social justice (animal rights, etc)


It’s interesting that in sessions this highly communicative partner is often the person who answers my questions.  Sometimes they serve as a kind of bridge for the Aspie partner.  If I ask the Aspie partner a question that requires emotional analysis,  s/he will often look to the partner to answer it.  Of course this does make sense – it’s much more efficient, and the partner will be (perhaps) better at articulating the answer.  The truth is, the Aspie partner is just fine with answering – but allowing himself enough time to answer accurately would cause the conversation to lose its rhythm – and in general, this is a social no-no.

The 98 Percenter is often the kind of person who will “put herself out there” – risking rejection for the chance of connection.  S/he might reveal more about details Aspies consider to be personal (and therefore private) to casual friends. The 98 Percenter can be good at establishing what looks like instant intimacy.  I often hear from clients that “the party starts when she walks into the room”, or that people seem drawn to her.  It’s a sometimes dazzling level of attunement – the 98 Percenter can chit chat away while constantly monitoring how she’s being perceived and how others are feeling and perceiving.  That’s a lot of complexity, and it sure comes in handy.  However, when you’re 98% exposed, lots of things are revealed – including feelings like anger and resentment.  The Aspie partner experiences the lion’s share of this, and cannot usually understand why.

Sometimes this level of output comes at a price, and the 98 Percenter is exhausted after interacting – sometimes s/he has a hard time interacting at 50%.  In fact, if s/he’s not up to it, s/he may isolate until s/he can interact at her comfortable 98%.

Being a 98 Percenter sometimes means the individual is willing to do 98% of the work to connect to someone.  If there is an emotional space between two people, this person will just about fill it in order to connect – with emotional availability.  This works great for Aspie partners, in general, who seem less interested in letting it all hang out there – actually most of my Aspie clients seem more comfortable providing 2% - but an often pretty perfect 2%.  It seems like it should be a great system – because between the 98 Percenter and the complementary 2%, the whole emotional space should be filled, and partners should be able to feel connection.  But there’s a problem.

After a while, the 98 Percenter reports feeling tired and resentful.  What worked beautifully at first becomes mundane, then unsustainable.  As the 98 Percenter expresses relationship fatigue, then frustration, then desperation, the Aspie’s 2% seems unchanged.  This confounds, then enrages the 98 Percenter, who has felt willing to do so much work for so long, and is now looking for a little payback.

My opinion is that most of my Aspie clients are not unwilling to offer more than 2% emotional availability.  Under the surface they’re already offering more.  Most truly seem unschooled as to how to offer more (or in what form), and cannot tolerate much rejection.  S/he needs help understanding how and what and when to offer connection, and needs a recipe for success.

In typical relationships the percentages of emotional connection offered by partners differ, of course – but they do tend to wax and wane.  With Aspie relationships there’s less flexibility – but under the surface there’s also less variability on the part of the Aspie.  We can’t always strive to be a 50/50 relationship, but we can certainly find ways to limber up the system. And we do.

If you consider yourself to be a 98 Percenter, I really encourage you to think about how this ratio works (or worked) for you, and why.  Remember that it can translate to 98% of the emotional control and 98% of the emotional competence.  Finding ways to help your partner experiment with offering up more means you’ll need to give up some of that control and accept what is offered, as your Aspie partner experiments with the very scary process of revealing an imperfect self.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a 98%ER!!! I do all of the social arrangements and buying of presents and family connecting. I do like it and I am good at it but I also am tired of doing it all. I want him to help me sometimes and also to compensate for me when I cannot do it all. Still working on that part!!!!! This is a fun post to read because it describes me to a T.

Anonymous said...

I like this too, and do think I contribute more emotionally, for better and for worse . My aspie husband probably wished i contributed less. But also I do think he loves it about me. Anna P

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate my wife's efforts as a 98 Percenter, it did not occur to me that her efforts were not offered out of a natural preference for operating at this social level. I believe I do offer more than 2%, perhaps 20%. 20% requires significant effort on my behalf. I do not think she operates at a comfortable and natural level and pressures me to do the same. The problem with this is that I do not find it rewarding like she does. We do argue about parties and dinners and such. I would prefer we both find comfortable paces and deal with the resulting gap in another way.

Art said...

Why do we even have to have that gap closed? I am happy with a bit of gap. It is called autonomy. Thank you for a good article.

Anonymous said...

Interesting thought... but ultimately, unfortunately, not useful for those of us struggling in Aspie-Aspie relationships. :(

Anonymous said...

I AM A 98 PERECENTER. I am very tired. I would like my husband to meet me half way. I love him very much but I can not keep doing all the work to connect to him. He tells me that he loves me and just wants to be with me without drama. But I do not want drama! I want to feel like he is aware of my existence! Even if my husband cannot meet me half way even 25% would help me alot.

Anonymous said...

Are you going to write somethings for those of us in ND/ND relationships? My SO is reserved and so am I. How to close the distance?

Anonymous said...

Good article. I am a 2% person. I want to connect more to my SO but I am never sure how to. When I do something wrong I can see the disdain in her face. Rick

Anonymous said...

Holy crap. This is eerily close to my most recent relationship (I'm a suspected aspie in the process of seeking an assessment).

Nonna said...

I'm basically an undiagnosed Aspie -- mother of two boys on the spectrum. My hubby is the ultimate 98%er... the description fits him to a T. We've been married almost 17 years though, and over the years I've learned a lot about interacting from copying him - and we've worked hard to keep our relationship "strong" -- but I'm positive it is drastically different from a normal relationship.

Anonymous said...

This is painfully right-on. Write a book!!!

Anonymous said...

I remember years ago hearing about aloof's and interrogators. Aloof children will normally be with a interrogator parent, and an aloof parent will produce an interrogator child. The yin yang seeks to find balance... My buddy is a 98%er, in fact many of my best friends were hyper-social. I rode on the back of their abilities, [as a young man having better access to parties and females] and would repay my buddies with my aspie strengths at a later time. However, the harmony is never long lasting unless the 98% is satisfied a return of effort is received. Often, no matter how much the aspie may do behind the scenes, the 98% may need more social output from the reticent aspie, if respect is lost. The 98%er needs to respect the shortcomings of the 2%er, once respect is gone, unless the 25er demands its return, it is lost

Anonymous said...

I'm a 98%. Having a helpful mother or something has aided us a lot. When I get super burned out, my mom comes and helps me clean or watches our child so I can rest. Realistically, the 98% er needs to build his or her own support. I just don't believe most aspies can be that high functioning domestically. If they are, it is usually obsessive in my experiences, and that can be harmful and alienating, too.
When I'm at my limit, I try to remember the upsides (which do exist) or go be alone for a bit if I cant unwind with an nt.

Anonymous said...

The 98 % er can overwhelm u then announce that you are not contributing, that is very dangerous & most unjust!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. It is such a relief to read. I think I am a 98%. My husband is not officially diagnosed with AS but I am certain. He is currently on a treatment that includes interferon which is just exacerbating his symptoms to the nth degree and adding some new ones just for the hell of it. I am struggling to cope. I've managed for the last 19 years but this is tough. If anyone knows of any one else in my situation please let me know as I'd love a chat!!

Anonymous said...

Wow!! That's how I feel too!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm in a similar situation, but only married to my undiagnosed AS husband for 19 years. I hope, (I think), we make it 19 years..

Bryce said...

I have found that most of the women I have had relationships with fit the pattern of highly outgoing and social you are describing. Also a little bit wild/crazy/hippy oftentimes. I think part of why that is, is we may feel like they are safe people to try to be social with. They talk so much and put themselves out there so much they make social fax-pauxs too, they are just so confident they don't really care. I resent the notion that they did 98 percent of the work. Or at least that was not my experience. When I was younger I was usually the one who got too overexcited about the relationship, and too willing to do things for her, to the point where I seemed kind of clingy and desperate. It was often an irritation of mine, I felt like I was doing about 75 percent of the work while she basked in being a highly outgoing attractive women who got lots of male attention. Of course in a long term relationship between an Aspie and a "neurotypical" I don't doubt that the NT will be helping the Aspie out in some complex social settings and with not getting lost and perhaps remembering their keys. At the same time the Aspie oftentimes has great memory skills, and has talents like being a spelling savant, and maybe even a good cook. Idk, just my two cents. I am just so tired of Aspergers always being defined in the negative. If all Aspergers people totally sucked to be with, you wouldn't be reading so many stories about Aspies and NTs in relationships.

Anonymous said...

Your article makes a lot of sense. I have a friend who is an aspie (undiagnosed). I've tried for the last 4 years to expand his limited horizon and teach him new things, but now, as the extrovert 98% friend, I'm tired and feel I need to move on. He's hard work for a buddy and doesn't seem to be improving. I feel Aspies draw a lot out of people and can drag you down. Better to move on and not waste anymore of your time! This may seem cold, but it's better than being flooded with resentment.

babyteeny said...

I love taking care of him. I'm the outgoing social butterfly. I'm in sales so it comes natural. He has been trying to fit into my world and I adore him for it 100% I know it's very challenging for him and it's amazing to see his efforts.
Flip side of the coin. He has found a social outlet. I was ecstatic because he was getting out and making new friends. My wishful thinking backfired. Now he goes to his social events without me. He has a new social world but still leaves me out of it. It's an unfortunate expectation of mine. So, I'm learning to not expect with him.
His social life, that I'm proud of, doesn't include me at all. And now I'm resentful of his new found social world. Wondering why is he able to socialize in his world, but not mine.

freedom99 said...

I was a 98%er and I'm tired exhausted. And suffering with fibromyalgia which is where it all started to go wrong I'm drained of everything I have. I put my heart and soul Into this relationship and when I need more I got nothing back.
I asked him to leave thinking he would fight for us and put something back but got nothing he packed and left.
I was angry tried winning him back but got even more exhausted now I'm more relaxed and my fibro is much better. I'm never going to be an 98% ever again.
Thank you for this I never never understood before aspie just discovered after break up.

Tara Mclaughlin said...

I am a 98%er at my limit. I am struggling with a variety of physical symptoms and require more than 2% to continue moving our life along. He struggles to know when/how to help even when he really wants to. I definitelty feel resentful and frustrated that i have to work so hard to make our life work for him and our children. When you add into the mix one HFA child, us being only children with no siblings, and 2 of our parents likely on the spectrum then my 98% is just not enough. While i have been educating myself about Autism for years, this blog is all new information and is enlightening pieces to the puzzle of my confusing life. It's comforting to know there are others out there with similar circumstances, now i can work to find a better support group that will actually give me more than 2%. Keep up the great posts,!

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post, but I wanted to pop in and say that I am probably a 98%er... but I'm also an Adult with Aspergers in a relationship with another adult with Aspergers. I do all the "adult" parts of our relationsip; I make the decisions, book the appointments, take/make phone calls etc etc. I'm good at social chit-chat but I LOATHE it. I'm very interested in Social Justice etc etc.

So often I find our relationship so exhausting because I have to "be the grown up" and it's hard. :/

Anonymous said...

I cannot express how relieve I am to finally understand my long marriage to a undiagnosed Aspie. My son, his step son,, suggested the possibility and after some investigation there is no doubt we are dealing with a high functioning Aspie. The real relationship problems started after his retirement from a profession he was 100% devoted to and great at. Now the gaps in our differences are so obvious it has become a extremely trying situation. Knowing now what I as a true 98%er am dealing with, perhaps we can ratchet down the resentment and find a way to cope. I wish I had discovered this sooner and not committed some of my outrageous outbursts based on pure frustration.
Thank you and all the bloggers.

Amy P said...

I am the 98%er ( to a T!!) and only realised my husband was Aspie a few years ago when I stumbled upon it looking for answers about our troubled son.
Knowing what the issue is provides only some comfort but I wish I had some ways to cope. I have gone through some really bad years and not sure how much longer I can survive. Anyone have some great suggestions on how to get my aspie out of his depression? He is causing alot of collateral damage in the family. My email: epearls@me.com

Anonymous said...

Reading this was very strange for me--my relationship is exactly the opposite. I'm a female NT (mostly sure), but my Aspie boyfriend fits the 98% description almost perfectly. He initiated the relationship and worked hard to establish it, he's quite good at remembering details about people's lives, and he is very articulate. He'll answer for me and reveal more personal details of the relationship than I'd prefer. I'm bad at conversations, so I'm perfectly happy to sit and listen while he chatters. Sometimes when he's on a roll he has trouble reading the emotions in the room, but usually he can and will chat up a complete stranger and make a new friend easily. He helps me interact with people, and his honesty about his emotions and ability to always find a conversation topic helps the relationship function.

Anonymous said...

Such a very good article....i am/was a 98%er......but i also have chronic illnesses so it exhausts me.....we are not together at present :(

Anonymous said...

I too am a 98%er! I have been that way all my life. I guess my motto has always been that even though I am shy, less shy now than as a child or young adult. I have alays said, I would always take a chance on love, friendship rather than keep quiet and wonder if it could have happened. \

Now I have an Aspie boyfried of a year, we live together and I keep in touch with all his family, few friends, arrange dates, get togethers, things we can do together. It's true some times you are just worn out and want a bit more participation on their part to no avail.

Definitely the hardest relationship of my life but Love is a strange and powerful thing. I haven't given up yet.

Anonymous said...

Another person who stumbled upon this blog while combing the internet for more Aspie partner information. I've been married to my husband for almost 12 years now. He was just diagnosed a year and a half ago. Before the diagnosis we were at dire straits and I didn't know if we were going to stay together. We actually high fived when the results came in! It gave me a place to understand how our relationship functioned and how communication worked. Funny and not so funny to realize a lot of our communication was not on the same page. But it still kind if worked... for a while.

Now I'm at a place where I've had to accept certain things that I don't "get." Things like comfort. Which, after exerting so much, it would be nice to get it without asking--it would be nice for him to see that my day(s) have not been going so well and say "it's okay." I asked him why he never said "things are going to be okay" to me. His answer: I don't want to lie to you if it turns out to not be true.

And today. Today, I want to hear it--without me jokingly prompting him. I even texted this web address to him, kind if hoping he would connect everything. With all the 98% effort I've been doing with keeping our friend ducks in a row, I'd like some acknowledgment that today was okay even though it wasn't and that things are going to be okay when traveling to see a relative even though it might not be.

This is my rant. Thank you. I am tired of burying it inside today.

Anonymous said...

I just read this and can agree completely. I am a 98% and find that after my husband gets through work and comes home he is emotionally drained and distant. He doesn't buy gifts for family or think that holidays "are a big deal" as this draws more people to our home; his comfort zone. He does show affection for our daughter more than any dad I have seen. I believe this is because they are very similar in personality; although, my daughter does not have Asperger's. She does have ADD though.

I get emotional drained having to be the extrovert in this family. I feel like I am in a foreign country around my husband; it is as if we do not speak the same language. I feel like I am grasping at straws in attempting to make an emotional connection with him. I have no one to talk to about this, because no one I know understands this.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been married for 25 years. There are many positive sides to be being married to him. The main one I value is that we share an intellectual connection and love talking together. But there are also painful sides to the marriage. My outgoing personality made me very popular before we were married and (I was never rejected by any of my boyfriend and had 7 proposals of marriage before I met my husband). What I wasn't expecting was that I would experience so much rejection in my marriage. He is simply not interested in time with me and our teenage children, and even forgets to greet us when we come home. I remind him that this is hurtful and he catches on for a while and then goes back to his old ways. I feel sure that he loves us as much as he is capable of loving anyone but that capacity is very limited. My solution has been to develop a life outside of the marriage. This is sad for me since I believe in marriage but there is so little there for me that I would wither and die if I didn't have a life outside of the marriage, I do not have sex with others but I do have an active life and I am friends with men and women. The plus side of this is that he has no jealous feelings and does not mind.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so, so, so much for your article. I've been married to an undiagnosed aspi for 12 years. All this time, I've been asking myself one question: how on earth?! How on earth have I, a highly relational person, ended up with someone who cannot make a single friend in 50 years? Unfortunately, for many of us, your article is 10-20 years late. I've been living with an alien all my life. I had his children and one of them could be an aspi as well. My life was nothing but frustration and despair since I met my husband. But at least I can stop screaming 'why me? at heaven now. No, your article cannot help us with our relationships with aspies. But thank you from the bottom of my heart because you answered the biggest question of my life. I feel I might even start hoping again.

Anonymous said...

It is nice to know that I am not alone in this struggle.

Anonymous said...

Being an aspie married to a 98%er also has the benefit of having a person who clearly knows the rules really well. I often find myself mimicking my husband when I find myself alone in social situations. I can't quite pull it off as well as he does though.
My husband and I have been married for 10 years and He knows now that if someone asks me a question, and I look directly at him and make eye contact, its me asking him to answer the question for me. It makes eating at restaurants Sooo much easier when the server can't hear me, or I feel bad for having a special order.

Anonymous said...

So true!

Corinna Crank said...

I've only been married 2 years with an aspie and already feel you, hang in there. I'm hoping for answers here as well.

Corinna Crank said...

My husband did the same thing. He's an aspire, however he was abused as a child by his father so when we got married jealousy was very prevalent.... Anger that turned into a tantrum, then after he got that under control to the point that he stopped punching holes in the wall, he started to even out for a bit. Child 1# came and he was horribly controlling, demanding, jealous and very childish... Then he started to calm down for a week or two but it never lasts very long before he's having another episode.. Our problem is he's not as much 98% as it seems... My husband is slot like your boyfriend, but only gives 98% when he feels guilty about his terrible treatment of me and the kids, or when it's purely selfish driven... It's the hardest most emotionally and verbally abusive 2 years of my life and he doesn't drink or smoke anymore.. Praying for answers and hope you don't have children or get married to your boyfriend unless you are treated with tenderness... You DON'T want the heartbreak and stress, trust me you don't have any idea how hard it gets when children are added.... The worst thing ever.

Anonymous said...

yes! i'm 24 with aspergers and pretty much all of my best friends and boyfriends throughout life have been 98%ers, which makes sense to me because I never initiate conversation, flirting, or friendships (mostly due to fear of saying the wrong thing/making a fool of myself) and somebody has to if you are to establish a relationship.
who better than a 98%er? I've always admired their social skills too and hoped maybe I would pick up on some of it from them. (so far no good lol)

itw said...

Thank you so much for this. I have found my explaination to so much. You are so kind to share your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

With practice practice practice, I promise that you get better. Try practicing in anonymous social arenas where your mistakes don't matter so much. I'm an Aspie wife, and I do make efforts in the social arena, though I make mistakes. But I'm learning; I keep a log and analyze, which makes it easier for me to recognize a situation and respond appropriately. With practice, I've gotten much much better. Also, those little rules of social etiquette help a lot more than one would think.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. I'm a 98% to an undiagnosed aspie who has passed for NT all his life and refuses to get assessed. I'm exhausted. As I type this my birthday gift (birthday was a month ago) is sitting somewhere in his room waiting to be wrapped. All he has to do is get paper but instead he's too involved in his special interests to buy some. Here we're are a month later, still no gift. Stuff like that happens all the time.