Relationships between Neurotypicals (NTs) and people on the Spectrum have their own difficulties, apart from regular relationships. That’s why I created the community, Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD, as a group for partners, families and friends of “Aspies,” to gather and get support.
Being authentic is not easy, especially if you are in a relationship with a person who lacks empathy skills. After all, empathy is what binds all humans. Empathy is multidimensional – it’s a dynamic, evolving process, not a human trait.
People suffering from Empathy Dysfunctions can leave us feeling unheard and unimportant. Your spouse might hear what you say but is missing the bigger picture. This disconnection brings us down emotionally, exhausts us and creates chaos in our lives.
I have heard many people from my video conferences and teleconferences, describing living with someone with “Asperger’s” as walking on eggshells. It is so easy to say something that will set them off into a defensive tirade. But this walking on eggshells also extends to when you’re talking with others. Slowly, but surely, you change yourself – the way you talk and the way you are around others.
Let’s talk about how you can take your own life back. You can read more about empathy in the “Empathy: “Asperger’s” Style” blog I wrote. Understanding what is happening to your partner and what you are up against helps you redirect your energy to take better care of yourself and to embrace a more loving reality. This doesn’t mean everything works out; it just means that you’re more in charge. It can feel good.
In another popular blog, “Living with an “Aspie” Partner”, I’m talking about ways you can take your life back:
- The Art of Detachment – doesn’t mean you don’t care
- Emotional Self-Care – take time off for you
- Education – get informed to gain control
You can be the change you need in your life. Deciding to take back your life is an important step which not everyone is ready to make, and that’s okay. If you are ready to learn more about “Asperger Syndrome”, how to work on your relationship and to invest in yourself, please join our community, Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD. You can go much further if you start rebuilding your identity. Being authentic is the key to success in life.
It’s important to learn how to continue to be empathic without denying your own boundaries and needs. If you don’t maintain this balance, you’ll burn out or at the least shy away from helping others, because it’s just too painful. Take your life back, because you are worth it.
12 Replies to “How to Be the Real You”
Thank you, Dr. Kathy, your wise words are always comforting.
Many times I feel like you are the only person in my life who understands exactly what my life has been like since I dated and married my aspie husband in 1982. You always know exactly what it feels like to be in a relationship with an aspie. I always feel relieved that i’m not crazy when i read your words. It is been a long and difficult journey to hold my life and this marriage together but you always give me hope for myself. Thank you soooo much!
Thank you Page and Bonnie. Your kind words mean a lot to me. Yes, I do know what it is like to live with “Aspies” from my mother, to my former spouse, and to my daughter. I also know what it is like to feel alone with this life, which is why I wrote my books and started this group. I never want others to feel alone again.
I understand very well where you are coming from Kathy as I am sure both my parents have Aspergers as well as my husband and one daughter. I think my other daughter is highly sensitive like me . Being highly sensitive puts a whole other dynamic on the situation as it can give you more highs maybe because I do have a lot of practice and creativity to help me with new ideas . But when the lows come , the tiredness I probably have is worse than for some . I completely agree with you when it comes to taking your life back. That is why I have joined a selfhelp group for highly sensitive people and it is so interesting to focus on that for a change instead of Aspergers as I find it very uplifting!😊I admire you greatly for your work and I find it very important and thank you but I don’t think I could do it . I would rather put my energies into making more of my gift of highsensitivity . About 15 to 20 percent of people are highly sensitive. Do you have any experience of how highlysensitives deal with their Aspie loved ones? Lots of love from Germany!Dawn
Interestingly my “Aspie” daughter, Bianca, was first diagnosed as “highly sensitive.” It is true but without empathy, her sensitivities just become sensory overload — which led to meltdowns. Many people in our membership group report being highly sensitive, and some are just learning to self regulate so that they are not pulled off course by their “Aspies.” As you report, highly sensitive people can be stymied in life if they have no boundaries. With empathy, highly sensitive people can learn to advocate for themselves, while still being there for others. Good for you for finding support.
I agree! You are the empathic light on this strange Aspie-Island. It is good to feel understood, even in a blog
Isn’t it amazing Leanne to feel that sense of relief after reading a simple blog? It is evidence of the emotional desert many of us live on. Affirmation of our experience with “Aspies” is profoundly healing.
Dr. Kathy…when an Aspie gaslights you…which my husband does frequently…what do you say? If I reply, “Chris that isn’t a true statement” or “Chris, that isn’t what happened…” he will just deny, deny, deny. I’m at a complete loss other than walking away. Ideas?
Try to appreciate the opportunity to turn him inside out. If you get caught in the battle, irrational people win. Instead try to be just as unreasonable, but be careful to stay detached. For example, my ex husband (an attorney and litigator) cornered me one day when I had expressed an opinion. He said, “You don’t know that’s true. You can’t prove that!” I gave him a blank look and said, “I don’t have to prove anything to you. This isn’t a courtroom and you’re not the judge.” Then I walked away.
Or if he denies that he said what he said, don’t go crazy. Instead you might say, “OK. You win.” When you are walking out the door with your car keys in your hand, and he asks where you’re going you can say, “Since you won that one, I’m going out for a win for myself too. I think I’ll spend $100 on a mani/pedi. That should make us even.”
They get stuck when you make it transactional. They have to accept your stance since you are not asking for an opinion or agreement. You get stuck when you want interaction and a mutually agreeable solution.
One of my most favorite moments was when my ex complained that I was always telling him what to do. I was busily prepping meals for the week, when he walked by on his way to the garage. I said, “Would you mind grabbing a pound of hamburger from the freezer for me?” You know how it is with us NTs? We are washing clothes, helping with homework, and batching meals for the freezer or crockpot so that the family can eat all week, all at the same time, even though you work full time outside the home. And they can only do one thing at a time, and it’s usually what they want to do.
So anyway, he turns on his heels and explodes at me with this criticism and I momentarily felt guilty. After all it was the truth. I was always telling him to do stuff, micromanaging my micro adult “Aspie.” But I caught myself in time, detached from the guilt, and used the technique of agreeing with what they say. He wins the point right. But then he’s stuck in transactional mode, and loses the match.
I said, “You know you are right. I am always telling you what to do.”(PAUSE to let this transaction sink in for him and letting him think he has won). “That’s because I take care of everything like cook the meals, wash the clothes, schedule the piano lessons, register the kids for summer camps, buy their clothes, schedule their medical appointments and yours, pay the bills. . . Hmm, as a matter of fact I am the household manager which is a big job. Come to think of it, I do too much so I think I’ll turn over some of these jobs to you. . . unless you would just like to get me a pound of hamburger. Your choice.” Transactional.
He did not say anymore and brought me th hamburger straight away.
You might be jittery about trying these approaches. Too bold? Worried he’ll get furious? So what? If he’s furious but stumped, you still win. And winning or losing is mostly the way they work. Be bold. It’s better than losing your mind through gaslighting.
I am not sure about what others will think of this, or if it is ‘fair’ on my Aspie husband. But to be honest, Aspie behaviour is terribly unfair on us NT partners! And at moments when I feel strong about my own identity, I appreciate a dose of retribution! So here goes….
I have a ‘traffic light’ system with my hubby. When he is interacting in a positive way, I let him know (aka he gets the green light by way of positive feedback). When he is interacting in an ‘off’ (potentially offensive) manner, I let him know he is on an orange light, and tell him what he needs to do to get back to green light eg. speak in a normal tone, speak respectfully to me, quit the blaming, take time out.
If he manages to do this, he has positive feedback like a hug. If he does not manage his behaviour and his behaviour further escalates, I tell him in a calm voice “OK, you have stepped over the line. I am not going to try and reason with you, and am going to disengage from you now. As a consequence I will not be coming with you to the classic car club meeting tomorrow.
He inevitably launches a tirade of blame and indignance at this point, calling me domineering, unsupportive, manipulative, that I treat him like a child (and I often do), and that I had planned this all along. At this point I remind him I am not going to engage in this argument, and that I am going to our bedroom to get away from his behaviour, and that I will be back in about an hour. If he attempts to follow me I lock him out of our bedroom. If he bangs on the door, I remind him he can come back when he is calm again. PS (After a very bad melt down I made him instal a bedroom lock).
On a good day, I manage to do this in a detached manner. Sometimes I can even amuse myself by noticing it all rolling out as I predicted. Though damaging to our relationship, it is less damaging than me losing control of my own behaviour and blowing up in response.
I find this is the only effective way to de-escalate situations with him. I would love to know what others think. Thanks!
I, for one, am happy to see that you have found a way to protect your sanity, and the self-assurance to follow through your logical thoughts! I am trying to set limits myself on weird behavior from my ASH. When I said ‘I haven’t seen you wear this (and touched his shirt) in a long time’. He replied: what are you talking about? He seems to be unable to comprehend, or follow a train of logical thought at times. I sometimes wonder if it is the Aspergers or if it is some kind of dementia. I will never be able to know for sure, as he will not get any tests. But, at least I am working on Dr. Kathy’s suggestions. I am making an attempt to save my sanity, and maybe my life.
Thank you for this post Dr. Kathy….I wondering if your readers will find my recent experiences helpful,I’d like to share a link to some information which has been incredibly helpful to me , enabling me to move from my complete and utter despair in January 2020 after 43 years in an NT / Aspie marriage , to a place of real connection and good communication with my husband.
I’ve spent the year learning about Neuroception and Polyvagal theory ( thankfully not as scary as it sounds ! )… basically how our Nervous systems have a huge impact on our relationships and interactions
In a TED talk by Claire Wilson she gives a clear & simple to understand explanation of what it means for children and adults . Her book called “ GROUNDED” is also very easy to read and has helped me to make this shift in my understanding of a lot of what’s going on in the moment between me and my husband . I’m now beginning to make sense of things which would previously have triggered one or both of us ; so much of the difficult , destructive patterns of interaction and behaviour now make a lot of sense and we now have a way to deal with them , to benefit both of us …a real “ framework for the future “…..INCREDIBLY, my husband Now comes to me to repair any breakdowns in our interactions because he is learning to recognise what’s actually going on inside his body and with his emotions etc in the moment !!
We will always be two very different people experiencing the world in very different ways but there is now HOPE….And I am moving from the complete breakdown and the despair of decades in 2020 to a really workable way of interacting.
I feel I am really fortunate that my husband IS willing and able to learn along with me about this way of relating….But I think even if only the NT partner is able to learn this way of understanding and interpreting the relationship, there really could be significant benefits