WHY WE SHOULD STOP APPEASING PECULIAR BEHAVIORS AND ROUTINES FOR ASPERGER HUSBAND’S
My Husband’s Rigidity
Throughout my relationship with John, one thing has always remained constant about him: he is an intolerably moody and argumentative jerk for approximately two hours after awakening every single day.
John’s morning routine:
- Wake up
- Get dressed
- Brush teeth
- Make coffee and breakfast
- Sit down and eat/drink while occupying brain with visual distraction for 1-2 hours
For John, the visual distraction has always been to look at his iPad (reading the news, UFC updates, researching cars, etc.) until he feels ready to begin his day. Recently his visual distraction has included playing video games after he purchased a new XBOX car racing game that he really enjoys. John was never a big video-game junkie once we moved in with one another (but I suspect he was when he lived alone) so it does not bother me at all when he opts to play them now.
That morning routine is John’s thing and while it may not seem to be a big deal, sometimes inflexible behaviors like this become the catalyst for terrible fighting within an NT-Aspie union.
It is incredibly common to find similar routine or patterned behaviors in adults with Asperger’s syndrome and almost every wife can share varying accounts of how one of her husband’s rigid routines causes her irritation or distress at some point in the relationship. For John, the morning routine was apparent soon after we moved in with one another and also served in identifying he had Asperger’s syndrome long before I knew what it was (after a coworker identified a similar morning ritual for her Aspie child).
Considering John thinks he “needs” his morning routine to begin his day without mental chaos, or to just wake himself up enough to clear his mind and tackle the remainder of his day, I could be willing to accept this seemingly peculiar behavior and even accommodate his unique desires. The problem comes from the fact that if anyone else attempts to engage him during that time, or if their actions (outside of anything that has to do with him) are displeasing to his environment during this window of awakening, John responds with over-the-top and unfair behaviors. For instance, if John is sitting at the table eating and looking at his iPad and I turn something on the television that he does not want to hear, I talk to him about anything that he is disinterested in, B plays music he can hear… or just about anything else that distracts him from his calming AM focus… John is snarky, rude, nasty, condescending, argumentative, demanding, or just plain inappropriate toward us.
For the most part, B and I had learned to just avoid him until this two-hour time frame had elapsed because if we set him off, the rest of the day would likely fall to shit for the entire family. If it was as simple as John desiring this time to have a good day, I would be more than happy to accept this as the norm. It is not that simple though. Due to his negative responses to those around him during his “Morning Me Time” I can no longer tolerate the expectation he has that we should alter our own behaviors to placate him. John has a want that he has convinced himself is a need and he will implore whatever negative behaviors he sees fit to satisfy it. It has now come to a point where he is going to be given no further option to continue his current behaviors and must find a way to remove himself from our vicinity to accomplish his morning rituals, or learn to modify them into something positive that does not cause his family distress in the process.
Oh but… “Aspies have inflexible routines.”
Ummm… Yeah, SO WOULD ANYONE if acting like an intolerable jerk got people to cater to them their entire life!
Oh but… “That’s just part of the disorder.”
Like HELL it is! You had a child who was “different” and bewildered parents who did not comprehend WHY. After years of frustration and not understanding what set their child into an anxiety-provoked temper tantrum, parents unintentionally allowed for these inflexible routines to both develop and flourish!
The altering of my own behavior and wants to pacify John’s routine is unacceptable and it took a long time for me to have the courage to say I will no longer agree to ignore his “temper tantrums” or walk on eggshells every morning for him because I finally realize that doing so provides positive reinforcement for his negative behavior; and that does not help anyone. The negative behaviors he displays to calm his own mind is not appropriate as a husband, father, or adult and has to change into something that is appropriate and beneficial to the family as a whole. This is what maturity, compromise, and positive regard for one another requires from all of us; no one can be immune to taking accountability for their own actions if those actions are causing physical or emotional harm to the ones they love.
How Do These Behaviors Begin in the First Place?
We all come into this world with things that overwhelm us from our youth in regard to our environment. There are lights, textures, noises, people, animals, places and other things in our daily world that we find upsetting, annoying, irritating, or uncomfortable. As young children, we are not equipped with the language skills to articulate the things that bother us, so we behave in dramatic ways to express our discomfort like whining, crying, or throwing full-on temper tantrums. Damn-near every child has similar responses to environmental stimuli that they do not readily enjoy. Both Aspie and NT children develop in the same manner and can throw equally passionate temper tantrums when they are attempting to express their distress in something they cannot verbalize to the adults around them. Children with Asperger’s syndrome and those deemed neurotypical do not have opposing thought-processes from birth to around three-years old. They are children with the exact same cognitive development and it only begins to reach a fork in the road when nonverbal communication heavily outweighs the use of actual words.
When a young NT child throws a temper tantrum to express their uneasiness with something in their environment, they learn to overcome such triggers based on the expectations of their parents. For instance, if a neurotypical four-year old were to throw themselves on the floor in the middle of a department store in tears (because the entire process of spending long and boring durations of time in a brightly lit, loud, and incredibly stimulating environment causes them to become overwhelmed) their parent will impose authority to teach them their behavior is inappropriate and will not be tolerated. Without realizing it, by the age of four, most of the communication coming from that parent is in the form of nonverbal communication. The parent may make angry facial expressions or body movements for a significant amount of time to tell the child they are getting angry before they eventually say something like, “Knock it off, stop being bad and embarrassing me or you are going to be punished when you get home!” Both the Aspie and NT child will know from the spoken words that whatever they are outwardly doing is pissing their parent off, but the Aspie may not grasp what this “embarrassment” is stemming from (they aren’t picking up on the facial expressions or body language of other shoppers in the store) and they weren’t able to pick up on their parents facial or body language that told them to stop acting a certain way long before the parent threatened them and told them they were bad. The NT child would have observed all of these other nonverbal messages taking place around them as they escalated to the point of a temper tantrum. The NT child will know very quickly the next time they are in a similar environment (even if it is equally overwhelming and intolerable) that they are going to get punished if they do not adapt their behavior, and they realize this the moment they begin seeing similar facial expressions or body movements from their parent or those around them.
Eventually, the NT child will learn to adapt to such environments without feeling so overwhelmed and they will find themselves less upset when they have to enter into similar places in the future. This is called Exposure Therapy and it is the same tactic utilized to help countless people overcome phobias every single day. When an adult is afraid of confined spaces (claustrophobia), the psychotherapy used to help them overcome their fear is to directly expose them to it. While the initial psychologic and emotional response will be incredibly overwhelming and unwanted for the sufferer, they will begin to adapt to each subsequent exposure with less misery. The longer the therapy continues, the more likely they are to completely overcome this fear. Since being an adult often requires exposure to confined places, such as being in a car, airplane, elevator, public restroom, etc. it is not conducive to living a fully-productive life if one chooses to tailor their environmental exposure to confined spaces around their claustrophobia.
Going back to typical child development… all children have environmental stimuli or places that cause them personal distress. Parents unknowingly provide exposure therapy throughout their development (before the child can express what is upsetting them) and the children do not know their parents are implementing this therapy any more than the parent has a clue they are utilizing it to help their child develop in a socially acceptable way. Exposure therapy does not work the same way for the Aspie child after the age of four (my guesstimate) because they are missing all of the nonverbal communication to tell them how to behave. By the time they are admonished for their behavior (like throwing themselves on the floor crying) by a parent, they have lost the lesson to self-regulate in the future. Aspie children do not have the same ability to utilize this internal dialog and put themselves in check so that they can slowly begin modifying appropriate social responses (and eventually mitigate the overwhelming assault on their senses) the same way an NT child does.
Since parents do not understand why their Aspie child is refusing to adapt to the world around them the same way an NT child would, they often become more authoritative and impose greater punishments in the hopes that this will alter their child’s future conduct. In response to this increasing anger from their parents, the Aspie child begins to feel even more overwhelmed and their poor responses and aversions to environmental stimuli become enhanced. When increasing authority and punishment do not work, most parents inevitably succumb to modifying their child’s environment to prevent undesirable behavior. Sometimes they do this to diminish the overwhelming feelings they begin to personally have when faced with exposing their children to people and/or places that they often respond to poorly. Sometimes these modifications are done to reduce their own stress or embarrassment, while other times it is done solely out of love for their child and not wanting to see them suffer or feel overwhelmed. All of these adjustments are done to sooth stress in general and more often than not, the parents believe they are making “temporary” changes to handle their unique situation while they search for answers about what is “wrong” with their child, or a better means to help them.
Unfortunately, the alteration of environmental stimuli to prevent unwanted behaviors or ease discomfort (for either party) only promotes the development of inflexible routines and rituals throughout the Aspies life. While it is easier said than done (and usually happens because of a knowledge-deficit on cause and effect), the parents of those with Asperger’s syndrome should not be participating in accepting, qualifying, enhancing, providing, or appeasing these avoidant behaviors. Doing so enables a continued resistance to change, an increased avoidance of new environmental exposures, and ultimately affords them the option to withdraw from social norms and necessary adult responsibilities and suitable conduct. Common sense dictates that neither avoidance nor combativeness to displeasing environmental stimuli is appropriate or conducive with the executive function required of an adult. None of these permissible actions prepares an adult Aspie for the NT adults who refuse to tolerate such rigid behaviors or negative responses that they were able to force acceptance of as children.
An Aspie child who prevails in having their authority figures accommodate their negative behaviors with environmental modifications…
becomes a demonstrative, rude, temper-tantrum-prone adult who expects the same from their intimate partner and children.
What This Looks Like in My World
Today started out fine. I did not have to work and B was at school so both John and I slept in until 11:00 a.m. We got up together at the same time, and I even brushed my teeth beside him (he recently commented that I never used the other sink in the double-sink bathroom). John made snarky comments about me while he brushed his teeth (remarking that my armpits were making him gag when he was actually brushing too far back in his mouth and retching from it). Being from a family that constantly picks at one another in jest (without ill-intentions or meaning), I take John’s comments to be light-hearted and know they are not usually meant to be hurtful. After we brushed our teeth, John and I went into the kitchen together.
I did not have intention of disregarding my husband’s “two-hour rule” when I walked out with him to begin our day. I simply did not consider his typical morning ritual (as I often do) since we had been doing so well communicating with one another and expressing our feelings over the last nine months. Today was the first morning we both woke up together in a long time, so my mood was happy and I unconsciously assumed his was as well. Honestly, if I had thought about his morning-crankiness, I likely would have knowingly ignored it by choice today since it would have been my first experience with his morning routine in many months (I worked night shifts for a long time and was asleep before he woke up each day). It is obviously no secret to you all that I think it is utter bullshit that anyone has to walk on glass for their husband to appease their rituals, so I felt the same about beginning my day today.
I am a grown adult and when I wake up in a good mood, I have zero interest in allowing my grown adult husband’s behaviors to thwart the way I want to speak or move about my own home any longer.
I do realize we have an incredibly long way to go before John admits to, or becomes aware of how he acts in the morning (or afternoon, if that is when he wakes up), but I am certain there is nothing to be gained by continuing to appease this nonsense just to keep the peace with him.
Despite it not being purposeful today, I did not abide by this unspoken: “Two hours before I can stop tiptoeing around to avoid annoying John” law in our house. I hate this previously accepted rule more than I can explain; it is disruptive to my normal routine and inadvertently casts a negative cloud on my mood for the rest of the day. As it happens, my unintentional violation of this ridiculous and damaging rule for our morning interactions, spiraled into a real shit-show:
Stupid Coffee Grounds!
A while back John had a temper tantrum during an argument with me and threw our Keurig water filter at the back door and broke it. Instead of replacing the water filter, I purchased a cheap (basic) coffee maker; one that has grounds remaining in need of disposal after each use.
Since the first time John has used this piece of kitchen equipment, he has dumped the old grounds into the sink. With “Make Coffee” existing as a part of his daily ritual, every single day there are coffee grounds chillin in the sink by the late afternoon. What’s the big deal? Perhaps there isn’t one to the average person, but day after day, this has become a source of annoyance to me. Dumping these grounds in the sink (filter and all) and allowing them to remain there long into the day, they often become someone else’s responsibility to clean. While John does eventually clean them himself (about 50% of the time) they still remain there long enough to splash coffee water and grounds all over the sink, wall, and surrounding vicinity every time someone goes to wash their hands.
I am a nurse and by default, my own obsessive hand washing has rubbed off on the family to the point that we wash our hands a lot (probably more than most). This continued washing of hands and subsequent splashing of grounds everywhere but the sink, causes an incredibly impressive coffee-infused art display in places that no one else seems to notice (or clean) other than myself.
I grew up with chronic-coffee-drinking-parents who would scold me if I ever attempted to wash the grounds down the kitchen drain in lieu of putting them in the garbage. I clearly raised my daughter with the same belief that coffee grounds should never be put in the sink, so John’s disinterest in appeasing this disposal method equally irritates her. Whether or not the stupid coffee grounds can safely wash down the pipes without screwing up the plumbing is not the issue at hand; the problem is that John does not attempt to rinse them away at all, he just drops the whole filter in the sink and leaves it there (until he or someone else opts to do dishes later in the evening).
While this is a small nuisance in the grand scheme of life, it is easily remedied by simply turning the human body around and putting them in the garbage that is literally a step away from the damn coffee maker! I have attempted to express this to John countless times, both nicely, with passionate pleas, and angry demands. I have tried to implore logic to the situation and even agreed that it is not a big deal, but I would really love it if he would just dump them in the garbage instead. John has not taken my requests into consideration and up until this morning, has continued to do the exact same thing he felt like doing… morning after morning, ritual after ritual.
Since it had been a significant amount of time since I last observed this evil-deed in action, when John plopped the ground-filled filter into the sink this morning, I said, “Why do you put those in the sink? I don’t like it. Can you just throw them in the garbage instead please?” Seemed like a nice way to put it; simple request, no hostility or accusatory words directed at him. No anger in my voice, no judgement of his actions or threats to divorce him if he didn’t comply. I just asked him for a rationale behind the behavior and requested he opt to do something different for my own mental-health benefit.
What I got from John in response was typical of him when I begin to question anything that occurs during his two-hour morning process. John replied to me with loud, annoyed, and rude words that all equated to, “Fuck you Kara, I do it because I want to and I am going to continue doing it because I want to and you’re annoying the shit out of me for even bringing it up!” This is not what he actually said, but the gravity of his point was made with whatever words he chose to utilize to express the same sentiments. I was not angry (although surprisingly taken aback by his response after a seemingly positive start to the day) and replied, “John, we don’t like when you do that, it’s gross.”
Bad move on my behalf.
Using the word “we” with my husband triggers an instant response of aggressive defensiveness as though he is being horrifically ganged up on by his wife and stepdaughter. John highlighted my use of the word “we” as he began loudly vocalizing how he can do what he wants and defending his action as though he were a child whining about having to clean his room. Since John is not a child, and I am not his mother, his loud and demonstrative retaliation to my simple statement was an unnecessary and inappropriate act of defiance.
I fired back instinctively that he was being rude and that there was no reason for him to purposely do something that upsets me when it would take less effort overall to just throw the stupid grounds in the garbage. John turned to look at the garbage can (overflowing with trash) and yelled,
John: “I don’t like when the garbage is full either!”
Me: “Then take it out when it is full!”
John: “That’s not my job!!!!!!”
Me: “It’s not my job either, it’s everyone’s job!”
Somewhere along the way, John has decided that garbage is disgusting and he will have no part in touching it. Due to this executive decision on his behalf, he will stack the garbage up around the lid so it is barely inside the can in order to prevent his hands from coming in contact with anything else. While this is also an incredible irritating thing to me, I rarely say anything about it because I am aware of his aversion to handling garbage. I have watched him yell at B when she does the same thing and demand she take it out, despite him refusing to himself (this is usually the only time I complain about what a hypocrite he is).
After John’s garbage comment, I was finding my own self-control a little challenging. The more he continued whining about this stupid request, the more I had to hold back from becoming angry with him. He truly went on for 2-3 minutes in a loud, high-pitched tone ranting about the coffee grounds and garbage as though he were vehemently defending an unfair and ridiculous demand made by his dominating wife. In an attempt to deescalate the situation, I began mocking his tone and pitch with similar sounds (“Meee meee meee, wahhh wahhh wahhh”) while smiling at him saying, “Why are you whining like that? That is how you sound to me over something so silly.”
Since I am still a fool and still forget that my husband cannot readily identify the nonverbal communication I am using, it did not occur to me that my words were actually pissing him off further. He didn’t see my smile, or pick up on the body language that expressed I was not angry and was trying to ease the tension. All John heard (in the face of his own poor behavior) was that I was making fun of him. In a perfect example of how engaging my husband during his two-hour morning window goes bad quickly, John began to shift from a rude-whining adult man to a nasty and verbally abusive asshole. Pissed off that I was not letting the coffee grounds issue go with his response that he would, “Do what he wants,” deciding that he was being ganged up on by my use of the word, “we,” and then assuming I was making fun of him, he unleashed a vicious attack to intimidate me into backing off:
John: “SHUT THE FUCK UP! YOU’RE SO ANNOYING! SHUT THE FUCK UP, LEAVE ME ALONE! ALL YOU DO IS BITCH! SHUT… THE…FUCK…. UP!!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!”
As angry as I was at his disgusting aggressiveness toward me, I opted to keep a low and non-threatening tone instead of matching his anger. In the past, I would begin screaming back at John and the verbal exchange would lead to days of not speaking to one another. If I didn’t immediately fire back at him, I would begin to cry and try to tell him how much his words were hurting me through pathetic sobbing. I used to break down. I used to cry hysterically for hours as I replayed his anger and think about how I deserved better; I would consider all of the reasons I should leave him and convince myself that staying with a man who could treat me in such a degrading way meant that I had no respect for myself.
I never wanted to believe I had no self-respect.
Since matching John’s anger and/or submitting to hysterics and questioning our entire relationship never accomplished anything good, and it had been a while since John came at me with such aggressively cruel words, I decided to try something different today.
Very calmly and directly I said, “Don’t talk to me like that.”
John continued to be loud, aggressive, and nasty (no doubt everyone in the neighborhood could have heard him screaming). Instead of allowing this intimidation tactic to prevail, I stood in the kitchen and continued to calmly speak through his hostility. Each time I said something, I would break and allow for him to retaliate with anger and nastiness and then continue on with what I had to say in the same calm and direct way.
Me: “John, you have no right to talk to me like that, it is disrespectful and hurtful. (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) I asked you to stop putting coffee grounds in the sink and instead of agreeing to try to put them in the garbage in the future, you chose to disregard what I was asking. (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) You began to whine and defend a position that makes little sense to me and appeared to be out of sheer defiance of my request. (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) When the whining did not make me go away, you got loud and tried to intimidate me. (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) All this time you could have behaved like an adult… (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) You could have simply said you would stop putting the coffee grounds in the sink because I told you I did not like it. (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) You chose to tell me you do not care how I feel about it… (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) You let me know you are going to continue doing what you want… (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) and you made it very clear that you would rather call me names and scream at me than behave like an adult who values his wife. (LONGBREAK TO ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE YELLING) It is not ok for you to talk to me like that anymore and you cannot just attack me to make me go away from you.”
Don’t get too excited, this method did not have instantaneous results!
John continued yelling and calling me a nagging pain in the ass or telling me I was an annoying asshole who starts fights with him on purpose. I am not even certain what he said because I have begun tuning out the nastiness he occasionally still spews in order to not take it personally. As John continued to yell (with a decreasing volume) I stated, “Grow up and try to act like an adult John” and began to walk away as he uttered the words, “I’m just not going to talk to you today!”
John moved toward the sofa to drink his coffee and play video games and carry on with his morning ritual. I went on the porch and began writing down what occurred before he could twist the events into something else and play on my poor memory to tell me he never said or did what I was upset about. I wanted to get this experience down in writing so I could share it with you and show you how, despite an incredible change in our communication and marriage this past year, my husband and I are still met with challenges and residual behaviors that need to be corrected.
So What Came of It?
When I first sat down to write, I took a few minutes and allowed myself to feel pissed off, hurt, and deflated overall that we were still having these intense verbal exchanges with one another. I was very frustrated that I still could not tell John something that I did not like without receiving an instant response of, “Tough shit, I don’t care” (in whatever words he used to express the same point). I was still dumbfounded at the fact that when I did not just retreat after his dismissive reply, he would still choose to come at me with such disrespectful, verbally abusive, and terrible words. I had to sit and think about this for a while before I was able to detach from how much it hurt me emotionally and focus on a solution to prevent it from reoccurring in the future.
BREAKING TERRIBLE “LEARNED” BEHAVIORS IS NOT EASY PEOPLE
Today was about disrupting a ritual of my husband’s and recognizing that his defensive guns still come out immediately on instinct when he incorrectly perceives an attack on his character. While the cognitive empathy factor did play a role in how the dialog shifted from defensiveness to attack (as I missed that he did not see my nonverbal attempts to de-escalate the situation), cognitive empathy did not directly cause this situation to unravel (although it is the ultimate cause for his negative behaviors and rituals in the first place).
John was being told something directly, during a time period he did not want to engage in communication with me, and behaved in a defiant, defensive, and over-the-top nasty way… he did this because this is how he naturally responds to any degree of perceived authority. John had no reason to behave that way toward me, outside of the fact that he was being an asshole who did not want to be “told” what to do… in any fashion, for any reason, by anyone.
It is that simple.
This level of defiance is one thing, the completely disrespectful and degrading way he treated his wife, well that was something unacceptable and intolerable that I had to devise a plan to correct (or so I thought).
There was not an initial misunderstanding that sparked this exchange between us, it was nothing more than John using the really shitty behavior he learned in his youth. No level of empathy toward him after that exchange was going to override the fact that neither of us should be speaking to one another in such a demeaning and disgusting way… ever again.
My goal as I sat down to write this post was to devise a plan to get John to acknowledge his behavior and feel embarrassed (or at least regretful) for how he spoke to his wife. I wanted John to realize that his lack of emotional control over something so trivial caused our entire day to be ruined. Considering I do not get many days off during the week, it was important to me that he realized the implication of his actions and subsequent loss of valuable time we could have spent enjoying one another’s company. I also wanted John to identify that he was not being a team player and that if he expects others to listen to what bothers him and make adjustments to their actions for his benefit in the future, he would also have to begin listening to others and agree to alter some of his own actions.
Without thinking it through, I stepped inside the house (I write on my back porch) and said aloud, “John, I am waiting for you to apologize to me.”
This failed, as he responded, “Then you apologize to me.” This is absolutely the typical reply I would have expected from him and if I had bet money on what he would say to me, I would have come out a big winner when he proved me correct. Of course… that was not what I wanted him to say. I remained quiet for a moment looking at the back of his head while he played his racing game and he loudly said, “Ok, fine. I’m Sorry!” This would have been the very next response I could have hit the jackpot on as he had a hostile tone behind his words and I have heard that type of “non-apology” many times before. I calmly and directly replied, “That is not an apology.” To this I began to turn and walk back outside as I heard him angrily saying, “Then don’t demand an apology!” He kept vocalizing something rude as I closed the door behind me and continued writing this post.
This is Awesome!
As I began writing the first few paragraphs of this post I was mentally considering different ways I could get through to John that were different from my failed attempts in the past. I had utilized the same attempt before (telling him I am waiting on an apology) and received the same response from him that he had just given me; a nasty non-apology and demand that I do the same. Since this failed, I assumed I would have to be more creative and come up with something better. I continued to write the events that transpired as my mind played out varying options.
After about twenty minutes of typing away on my laptop, something surprising happened. John opened the window that leads from the living room to the porch and kindly and softly said, “I am sorry I talked to you that way Kara.” This was shocking to me because no more than an hour had passed since we had awakened and I definitely did not anticipate that he would even consider what transpired between us until his “morning routine” time frame had elapsed. I continued to write and decided that I would try to approach the coffee-grounds topic later in the day. About thirty minutes after his “real” apology, I went inside to get myself coffee and guess what John had done during that time?
John threw away the coffee grounds and filter and cleaned the sink… and entire kitchen!
John disrupted his morning routine, offered a heartfelt apology to me that told me he felt remorseful for speaking to me in a cruel and unwarranted way, and he chose to go further and make amends for his behavior by cleaning up. He was well-into steam-cleaning the entire living room floor when I finally stepped away from my writing to engage him. I made a point to tell him I was not going to allow the morning fight to ruin the remainder of our day. I thanked him for cleaning the coffee grounds and told him I appreciated what he had done.
So here’s the thing… prior to my discovery of cognitive empathy and learning to adapt my own behaviors, a morning like today would have led to days of fighting and tears. I did not have control over my own emotional responses to my husband any more than he had control over his emotional responses. Neither of us ever admitted to being at fault for anything, and neither of us were ever willing to budge on our own negative behaviors.
We wanted the other person to change.
Even after the incredible growth we have made as a couple, and even after my personal education and application of behavior modifications to prevent fighting…. I still walked away from our exchange this morning with the inappropriate desire to force John to change. I still sat back and plotted a way to make my husband “feel sorry” and admit he was wrong, and I still believed that I had the personal power to force my will unto him. If I had not remained outside after John apologized, or I had attempted to point out his wrong doing, or bring up the coffee grounds issue… John would NOT have made a conscious choice to modify his own behavior.
I cannot tell you for certain (the day is not over) if John is going to repeat the same behavior tomorrow and dump those damn grounds into the sink as he carries on with his morning ritual once again. I am willing to bet more money on the fact that he will not do that ever again, then I would have bet he was going to respond to my request for an apology the way he did. I am willing to bet this because I am not the one who made John change his negative behavior.
John made his own choice to accommodate my wishes because he wanted to make me happy.
John saw the positive outcome of his positive actions and had a wonderful day with me. John is learning on his own that what he once thought was positive reinforcement (avoiding things that deviated from his own desires) by behaving in a negative way, are not so positive after all.
I did not have to come up with a magic solution to force my husband into figuring out something that neurotypicals were blessed with comprehending from their childhood…
all I had to do was stop accepting that negative behavior.
Oh, but wait… isn’t that EXACTLY what he was not afforded in his youth that CAUSED his rigid routines in the first place? That somewhere along the lines, his loving parents and other adults began to accommodate his routines in order to avoid his negative behavior?
Doesn’t that mean that if we (NT wives) stop doing this… stop accepting, stop appeasing, and stop ignoring the negative behavior… that we are effectively going to help teach our husbands what they should have learned as children?
I can and will always look past my husband’s quirky behaviors, provided they are not adversely impacting my own emotions or the unity and happiness we need as a family. If I can continue to stop feeding into his reactions with equal or surmounting negativity, then I believe eventually they will be replaced with appropriate and positive reactions.
I can no longer modify my own behavior to appease the inflexible demands he holds from years of poor coping skills. I can no longer make excuses for, or attempt to fight these behaviors either. The only thing I can do to improve our communication (in regard to his ritualistic actions) is to calmly and directly tell him how I feel, what I want, and what the desired outcome can be if he considers a new way of handling an old routine. Once I have afforded him the information (that neurotypicals are blessed with identifying easily from their youth), I need to step aside and let John choose how much he can comfortably begin changing.
Aspies are not stupid. Your Aspie husband is not an asshole, even if he appears to behave that way for no other reason you can comprehend. My husband has a very challenging and uncomfortable road ahead of him. He has to learn to undo things from his youth, things he is hardly aware exist in the first place. My husband was not afforded the same opportunity to grow and adapt to the challenges in life that I was, and he was not afforded the ability to receive nonverbal information from those around him during his formative years… so that behaviors like today could have been avoided before they began.
I cannot expect my husband to radically transform into a 36-year old man who responds maturely and appropriately to experiences that cause him sensory or emotional discomfort the same way a neurotypical man of the same age would. I can be patient, I can be appreciative, and I can be supportive of the incredible challenges he faces and the exceptional effort he puts forth to overcome each and every one of them.
It is my responsibility to love my husband with all of my being, the same way I desire his love for me. It is my responsibility to stop being so aggressive in response to his instinctive defensive reactions, and it is my responsibility to ditch my use of nonverbal communication in favor of actual words… so he has a fighting chance at showing me how much he loves me.
It is my responsibility to stop enabling his rigid routines that are preventing his own happiness and fulfillment in life (and for his family). It is also my responsibility to be patient with him as he tries to change something that was once deemed impossible.
Today I learned that I need to work harder on my own communication. It became uncomfortably evident that knowledge alone, cannot alter subconscious and instinctive behaviors (for either of us).
I know John cannot process cognitive empathy but yet… I still continue to use it in my attempts at communicating with him without even realizing I am doing it. I learned that if my own effort and recognition of personal behaviors are so challenging to modify, then I should have more empathy for how overwhelmingly impossible altering instinctive behaviors must seem for my husband.
Today, coffee grounds represented my husband’s willingness to deviate from an inflexible ritual that served to protect him in the past… all because he loves me.
Who knows what tomorrow might bring?
Tomorrow… and every day thereafter… John has thrown those stupid coffee grounds into the garbage can!