BECAUSE ANGER WORKS!
OK, yeah… LET’S DO THIS!
FIRST AND FOREMOST
Is your Aspie husband angry? My common sense dictates that if you clicked on this post, the answer is yes. My common sense also tells me that this would be a “Yes!” answer for the majority of neurotypical women married to a man with Asperger’s syndrome (diagnosed or not). While not every husband with Aspergers is angry to the point that it dominates every other emotion, there are many who are. For these men, anger was a learned response toward those around them as a means to protect themselves against emotions they were unable to express or unable to comprehend (due to their cognitive empathy deficit). Angry husbands are angry because somewhere along the lines (as children) they decided it was the one emotion that managed to effectively get them relief from frustration. Their frustration stemmed from misunderstood emotions of their own and those they were close to, and these misunderstandings caused them internal pain. When anger was identified as a potential relief from their pain, it solidified itself as the dominant “go-to” response to any emotion-evoking communication in their adult years.
How this looks for an Aspie child: A child is feeling hurt that their friend is not playing with them. The friend keeps giving nonverbal reasons why they won’t play that the Aspie is not understanding. The Aspie child is unable to effectively express their hurt feelings and is growing frustrated with the friend, who continues to give ambiguous reasons (not clear direct ones). When this Aspie child begins to feel overwhelmed with their frustration, they want their friend to go away from them for a little bit or at least stop talking. They try to say this out loud and get a response filled with more ambiguous rationales from their friend that do not make sense to them. Finally, the Aspie child becomes angry and says, “Get away from me!” with a loud and hostile voice and… the friend goes away from them. The use of anger just became an effective way to manage emotions that feel overwhelming.
Another example: An Aspie child is feeling unloved because their sister is constantly getting praise about her good grades and talent playing the guitar. The Aspie is feeling rejected that his parents don’t seem to notice the good things he is doing, or talents he has (like building a near-replica of a car he loves out of clay). Despite his hard work, talent, and accomplishments, he hears his parents scold him for his poor grades and tell him to “Stop playing with his model clay and focus on school more.” After a while, the inability to express why he is upset to his parents turns to resentment toward his sister and sadness that his parents aren’t giving him as much attention (as it would for any child). The Aspie child then gets into an argument with his sister (as siblings do) and breaks one of the strings on his sister’s guitar while yelling that her “Guitar is stupid!” The parents become aware of this hostile argument on behalf of the Aspie child and begin to shift attention and focus on him instead. The Aspie child may not like being the focus of negative attention, but as children go, he is still finally getting what he wanted in the first place; his parent’s attention. The parents begin to focus on their son and why he behaved in such an inappropriate way and (after scolding and punishing him) begin to pay more attention to him in an attempt to promote positive behaviors. This Aspie child just learned that Anger can yield effective results… even if they initially bring about negative ones.
Care for one more?
An Aspie child is trying to repair his broken RC car and is frustrated because everything he has tried will not get it to start up again. His mother comes out to help him (she knows nothing about RC cars) and keeps kindly asking what is wrong, how it broke, or what he needs to do to fix it. His mom is attempting to deescalate his growing frustration and “help” him, but the Aspie child is not reading her vocal tones and facial expressions that say, “I’m sorry you are frustrated honey, I would like to help you if I can.” All he is hearing is his mother asking him questions (that he obviously doesn’t know the answer to or the car would be fixed) and distracting him further from the task at hand. The more his mom tries to offer her assistance, the more frustrated he becomes. Unable to see her actions as thoughtful and kind ones, he gets so mad he throws the car at the wall and stomps off. His mom yells at him for his behavior and takes his car away altogether as punishment. After a few days, the mom feels a little bad her son’s favorite hobby has been taken away and brings him to the store to buy a new RC car to replace his broken one (or finds someone with the ability to fix his old one). This Aspie child just learned that even if he acts out in anger, sometimes he gets positive results to the original source of emotional frustration. The Aspie child just learned that his anger was effective in making his mom go away, as well as yielding something he wanted in the end, even if he had to endure a week-long punishment first.
I could go on and on with examples of how these behaviors occur in a child’s social and emotional development, but you get the point. If anger is not handled appropriately and better communication skills taught, some children grow into adults who use anger as a predominant means to resolve their emotional frustration before they consider any other option. This happens for both NT and Aspie men alike, and these men grow into very angry and difficult adults that become very angry and difficult husbands.
This post is meant to offer the cause, thought-process, and challenges associated with this level of dominant anger in a relationship. The next post to follow will address how to manage an angry husband, how to begin teaching him to stop using anger as a means to get results, and how to begin building communication to prevent it from reoccurring in the future and damaging a marriage.
If you are unsure if you live with an ANGRY ASPIE HUSBAND, put a mental checkmark beside the statements you have personally thought or said aloud:
- I am tired of walking on eggshells to avoid his hostile behavior
- He is so selfish about… (insert your own response): money, sex, time, housework, childcare, etc.
- He’s so negative, there is no way to get through to him that will make him change.
- I have been nothing but patient and he hasn’t gotten any better… in fact, he has gotten worse.
- I am so sick of being treated with disrespect.
- Every time I attempt to talk to him about a subject that has emotional content (of any kind) we get into a fight or he ignores me for days.
- Everything pisses him off, I can’t even exist in our own home without feeling uptight.
- He treats me bad and when I try to tell him it hurts me, he gets angry and nasty until I stop talking about his actions and have to internalize my pain.
- I know he has to be as miserable as I am or he wouldn’t seem so angry all the time; so why doesn’t he want to work on fixing it like I do?
- I don’t even think he loves me or wants to spend time with me anymore.
- When I cry he calls me horrible names or completely ignores my tears.
- All he does is blame me for his negative moods, why can’t he see that he causes his own negativity (and everyone else’s)?
- Maybe he was born mean and I just didn’t see it in the beginning?
- I keep searching online for why Asperger’s syndrome causes anger and nothing accounts for my husband’s hostility.
- The more I try to prevent his anger and fail, the angrier I become. I wasn’t an angry person before I met my husband and I am so tired of being angry all the time.
- Every attempt at fixing our marriage leads to more hostility from him, maybe I should just stop trying.
- He doesn’t seem to have any emotions other than apathy or anger.
- I don’t know what else to do but leave/divorce him.
Once again, I can keep going all day with a million other examples or quotes I have said both aloud and to myself in regard to my husband’s chronic and escalating anger… but you get the point. My husband is mad; he is mad at the interruptions in his routine, mad at the dog, mad at the way people attack him, mad at the poor internet connection in the house, mad at the person who drank the last bit of coffee creamer, mad at the things that prevent him from progressing as an adult, mad about his past, mad about his perception of the future, etc. My husband is mad AT ME. My husband is mad AT THE WORLD. My husband doesn’t have a clue what he is even mad at… he just knows he is mad and he wants to make damn sure I know it too!
BUT WHY IS HE SO MAD?
My husband grew up thinking the world was out to prove he was a bad person. Despite growing up with an amazingly loving and supportive family, the absence of cognitive empathy made it impossible for him to see all of the nonverbal messages of love that he was given day after day. My husband only heard the literal words that were spoken to him and they never felt like love in his mind, they felt like chronic criticism. Without cognitive empathy, my husband was unaware of the nonverbal messages he was personally sending to those he interacted with. He could never see that he came across as angry or dismissive and therefore, was responded to with equal anger and dismissiveness.
All of this confusion that gets generated into feelings of internal pain, created by the perception that those around him had unfairly labeled him a bad person. All of this injustice made him respond outwardly with anger… and that anger protected him or yielded desired results. Even if it was only effective 1 out of 10 times, it was more effective than any other emotion he learned to utilize in response to his social interactions, so it became the one that ruled.
ANGER BECAME MY HUSBAND’S DEFAULT EMOTION
Does my husband have the self-awareness to identify and openly admit to how mad he always seems to feel? Nope. Does my husband know he is taking his anger out on the women who are trying desperately to love him and prevent him from feeling so mad? Nope. Does my husband think he is behaving in a way that even indicates he is feeling angry? Nope. Does my husband realize that he has caused his wife and stepdaughter to feel angry in response to him? Nope.
Does my husband’s anger serve as an outlet for ALL of the other emotions he experiences as an adult (sadness, guilt, fear, anxiety, jealousy, rejection, blame, etc.); the emotions he does not know how to identify or even begin to deal with?
HE’S BEGINNING TO OPEN HIS EYES
My husband said something very powerful to me a few weeks ago that really got me thinking about how to tackle the topic of anger and how it is ruining marriages that could otherwise be successful. It is difficult to express to an outsider what it is like to live with a constant threat of hostility from your husband, or to try to explain how his use of anger trumps every other human emotion neurotypicals experience in a given year, month, week, or even day. Since I haven’t any doubt that “Asperger’s syndrome and Anger” is a subject matter that begs of answers from those in marriages like mine, I am going to take a crack at explaining what is happening beneath the surface for you.
Less than a month ago, I was attempting to clean my messy closet for the hundredth time in weeks and despite struggling to have enough energy to tackle this cluttered disaster, I managed to find the drive to attempt it. I had been throwing loads of clean clothes onto the floor for days, where a blanket served as the buffer to keep them “clean” enough to put them away when I finally got around to it. I had been working long consecutive shifts at the hospital and daunting as it seemed, organizing my closet felt like an accomplishment that might make my mind feel less disordered, so I knew it was important for me to do this.
Midway through the job (surrounded by clothes and stacks of random documents and books) I was caught off guard by my husband John (who sat on the bed near my closet) vocalizing a muddled remark about our daughter (his stepdaughter) before he abruptly walked out of the room. I felt a twinge of angry poison spilling into my bloodstream and followed my husband out to the back porch to challenge the snarky comment he had just made.
My husband had been impenetrably antagonistic with me for days over a topic that I wanted to resolve… so that our family could move forward as a functioning unit. Every attempt I had made at bringing this topic up with John (in the previous week) had failed miserably and led to a backlash of venting rage (directed at me). The topic was about positive parenting and how he and his stepdaughter had lost the ability to enjoy one another’s company. I desperately wanted to see that change for the better, so I kept working at it.
Despite John making a snide remark while I was attempting to clean, I opted to approach his clear desire to engage me on the issue once more, in the hopes I could spin it into a calm and meaningful chat. I even had a split second thought that a solution or plan could come out of this new attempt. As I sat down on the porch to engage my husband, I intended to share positive suggestions I had to help rebuild the damage that was inadvertently done (by him mostly), that severed the relationship they once had. I did not assign blame to him alone (for obvious reasons) but that did not stop John’s knee-jerk response of bitter anger. John perceived my thoughtful advice as an attack on his character and a list of reasons he was to blame for everything my daughter had ever done to misbehave or dodge accountability and household responsibility. I do not believe my daughter is anything but a loving and kind soul who has gone out of her way (and beyond her expected level of maturity) to be patient and understanding with her stepfather, so despite agreeing that she has been complacent with personal responsibility lately (she is only 16-years old), I found his synopsis of her general behavior to be unwarranted and unnecessarily cold.
I am not bullshitting when I say that I have an extraordinarily mature and compassionate daughter (“B”) whose empathy and grace astounds me daily. The more aggressively John came at me, suggesting his stepdaughter was an irresponsible spoiled brat, the more aggressively I defended her. Since John fails to see the phenomenal woman she is becoming, I feel resentful toward him each and every time he criticizes her without ever acknowledging her remarkable character and strength. All of my efforts to help them rebuild a positive relationship have always focused around convincing John to give her acknowledgement first, so that she will feel motivated to respond to him with love when he points out a flaw or poor behavior she has. John staunchly refuses to do this, so each time he responds to me with such a defiant stance of refusal to show B love, I lose the ability to entertain anything else he has to say about her. Actually, the more he does this, the more I want to jump across the room and jab my fingers into his eyeballs… but that is just an internal thought I do not openly share.
Moms can be psychotically protective of their children, and I am no exception.
I could sense my own “mom-rage” escalating, so I quietly returned to my messy closet to distract myself from the failed communication attempt we just had. I was unable to disengage from the resentment I felt toward my husband for his words and I was heartbroken that my efforts, meant to bring closeness and love between my daughter and husband, were dissected and deemed irrelevant by him instead. I sat in the middle of my closet and felt the tears welling up in my eyes and a knot in my throat. I could literally feel the acid in my stomach climbing its way upward toward my esophagus to remind me how physically impaired I am becoming these days in addition to my diminished mental capacity (from being overworked and sleep deprived mostly). It is hard to describe the feeling of energy draining from your body, but I felt mine was literally leaking out of me. It felt like my core was hollowed out rather quickly and my entire body felt useless. My butt was planted on the cold tile of my closet floor as I attempted to continue weeding through months of documents (bills, work stuff, personal writings, etc.) hoping to bring a small bit of tangible order to the chaos of my life. With my chest burning (from a likely ulcer I have yet to do anything about) and an overwhelming sense of impending doom, I fell to my knees and clutched my head in my hands as I dug my elbows into the cold, hard surface beneath them.
I was tired, my body was tired, my brain was tired, and all I could think about was how much John breaks my heart when he comes at me (or my daughter) with an anger that only he seems to possess. I began to quietly sob (I did not want John to hear me).
To my surprise, John appeared behind me and hovered behind my body for some time… silent. He stood there for several minutes and finally asked me what “was wrong?” He asked me to get off the floor, and eventually… he asked me to stop “being ridiculous.” I did not have the desire or energy to even respond to him, so I remained lost in my own sadness and did not move. I did not move for well-over ten minutes, but John remained upright behind me in the closet doorway. He continued to ask me to get up every minute or so with no response from me. He continued to ask me what was wrong, with no reply on my part. In a soft and gentle tone of voice, my husband began to speak with words that mattered. He said, “Kara, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what you want me to say. I know that you know what I should say… but I don’t. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing and making it worse.”
I remained in the same position (not purposely, I just truly felt too weak to get up) and did not respond. My husband then stepped into the closet and closed the door behind him, shutting out the light from the bedroom so we were enclosed in a tiny space together, in total darkness. He remained silent for a few minutes, as did I. Then John did something I would have never imagined him to do; he sat down on the cold floor behind me and scooped up my fragile statue-like self and pulled me in close to him. He held me tight in his arms and put his head on my back. He told me that he didn’t want to see me hurting and that he just didn’t know what to say.
For what felt like an eternity, John held me close and tried (with all his ability) to communicate with me. I remained silent with only pathetic sniffles to offer in response to his effort. A year ago, my audible sound of crying (meek as it was), would have sent John into a terribly cruel flurry of words suggesting I was a “dramatic mess” who needed mental health counseling. John did not do this. He just sat on the floor of my closet with his arms wrapped snuggly around me.
BUT WE HAVE COME SO FAR…
John and I have come a million miles from where we stood less than a year ago, but we still have a ton of “unresolved” issues that continue to rear their ugly faces; they come without any warning of their impending visit and always ruin a day that could have been wonderful. Actually, the only residual glitches that still threaten to destroy our otherwise happy marriage belong to John’s surface personalities, Mr. Mean, Mr. Rage, Mr. Defiance, Mr. Antagonistic, and Mr. ANGER. No matter what I try to do to protect my husband’s wonderful personality from being temporarily morphed into one of these bastards, they always manage to arrive with more power and attitude than the time before. Despite John holding me close and behaving in a way I was NOT used to, (it stunned me into silence… I am not even kidding), I still found myself bracing for the arrival of one of those body-snatching jackasses to begin talking on my husband’s behalf.
John’s evil exterior personalities never showed up that night. Instead, John began to talk about what was wrong, without me requesting anything from him. He told me he knows “exactly what is wrong with our relationship.” Despite his next words being an understatement of the obvious and something I had easily identified around the six-month mark of our union, John spoke with an odd sense of pride that he had stumbled on something valuable. He said, “We don’t know how to communicate with one another” and “I am the one who fails at this the most.”
It never occurred to me that John had never shared his thoughts on why we struggled for so long until that night. Maybe he did not grasp what I meant when I kept throwing similar statements out there for half a decade… maybe it finally made sense to him?
John continued to talk openly (often with excessively long pauses in between words or thoughts). He reflected on how hard he had been trying lately by saying, “I know I do not have a job right now, but I have been trying SO hard to make our home “my job” and to work really hard at making it nice, the way you always asked me to, so that I can show you that I care.” I let him talk. He continued on to say, “I know it is not the same as the responsibilities you have to make money for our family, but it is all I can do right now on this island. I have been trying to show you that I can put my effort into compensating for what I cannot do… until I can begin working when we get back to the states.”
Where John’s words would have felt like an excuse in the past, they were not this time around because he truly had been working his ass off to change the previous lazy behavior he displayed when it came to basic adult responsibilities. John had been in Michigan doggedly working all summer (from refinishing a basement to working in heating and cooling with his father) and he brought home more money from those three months of true effort than he had contributed in our 5.5-year long relationship. When he returned to the island we live on, he continued his efforts and began to finally do all that I had asked of him for so many years. I used to beg him to just try to match some of his efforts working in the home to the effort I put forth working outside the home, but he never would. John has really made me feel both acknowledged and valued with his physical labors lately (and when he was working this summer). Because I did not want him to ever think his efforts went without notice, I broke my frozen silence and said, “I know you have and I am so appreciative of everything you have been doing lately.”
To this, John seemed to soften a bit more and push the conversation a little further than he had ever before. He began talking about our daughter again; I felt like the party-crashers were on the way in, so I quickly asked him if he could stop talking about that subject right now because it would only fuel anger that I find too difficult to dial back. I told him that discussing B got us “nowhere fast” in the end anyway. He replied by telling me that he was not “angry” he was “hurt.” Without intending to sound like a bitch, I softly (but firmly) fired back, “Maybe it is hurt you feel inside, but all I see is anger. You are always SO ANGRY about everything John. You are so angry I feel like I cannot get past that emotion enough to ever address the real ones you are feeling.”
My husband then validated something I had long-believed to be the real reason behind his constant state of hostility. He said, “I don’t know what to say, ever, so I say nothing. I feel so many things inside, but I don’t know how to explain them to you, so I get angry. It is so much easier for me to be angry all the time than try to explain the other things I am feeling. I don’t know how to talk about those things Kara.”
What an INCREDIBLE thing to hear my husband finally articulate to me in words, as he held me in his arms on the floor of my dark closet. I paused for a few minutes to make sure John was finished talking and then gently asked him, “Why?” John continued to try to explain his anger by telling me that when he was young, he didn’t understand why people were always accusing him of things or telling him he was wrong (mind you, John has NEVER read any of the posts in this blog that talk about my thoughts on his childhood). He said that because of his inability to understand the emotions other people directed at him, he became angry in response because it was just, “So much easier.”
I found myself crying again (quietly) as he spoke these words to me and mumbled, “You can’t like feeling angry all the time John, it has to hurt.” John replied, “Yeah, I guess it does.” I figured this was my best shot at getting “buy-in” from him to begin changing his anger, so I asked, “Don’t you want to stop feeling angry all of the time?” John told me that he did desire the ability to replace his anger with appropriate emotions, but due to his difficulties sharing them, or even making sense of them in his own mind, he often preferred to take the “easy road” and default to anger because it was an instant defense to shut people out and ignore the real emotions he had.
Getting angry gave my husband the smoke and mirrors he needed to get the hell outta dodge…
before anyone noticed how “screwed up” his mind was.
John held me in his arms for over 30-minutes that night as we spoke in a near-whisper, with his face pressed up against the back of my head; on a closet floor; in pitch blackness. Weird but… maybe this is just the kind of thing Aspie-NT couples have to do to engage one another in a conversation that does not involve anger? Maybe they need to be boxed into a confined space in the darkness where yelling or running seem like less viable options?
Eventually, I was able to peel myself off the floor and take medicine (that John brought me) to soothe my burning gut. By the time we stood up to attempt normal human functioning, we both felt calm and closer to one another. We both felt heard, we both felt loved, and we both agreed to work harder at communicating better.
Our daughter B had been watching movies with her boyfriend “A” during the entire exchange John and I were having outside of their awareness. It was getting late and A had to be driven home (school night) so I began to tell them it was getting close to “go” time.
B’s boyfriend lives across the island and because of the limited availability of reliable used vehicles here, and the challenge in getting a teenager a driver’s license for the first time (if their parents do not hold a license for the island), neither he nor B have the potential of driving themselves to and from social engagements with one another. Unfortunately, a simple trip to one another’s home takes a solid 90-minutes out of the parents day/evening to accomplish. John bitches about this often, but it is usually something I feel worthy of committing my time to because A is just as freakishly kind and compassionate as B is; as teenagers, the typical fear a parent would have of allowing them social engagements (outside of school) does not apply to these two. John often starts arguments with me about our daughter’s “teenage crush” and attempts to squash her “fantasy” of marrying A someday. While I would have agreed with this fantasy-future under most circumstances of teenage love, I have surprisingly viewed my daughter’s first boyfriend as an actual possibility for her future.
I truly appreciate the relationship B has found at such an early age and often pray that she and A will defy the odds of building their high school love into a life together. They are both more comparable to old souls who would rather concoct a plan to save the planet then engage in a make-out session. They just seem to be meant for one another in a way few mothers would be willing to consider and A’s mom has shared the same sentiments with me. In fact, just the other night she and I were messaging one another and she commented that she used to wish B was a “little asshole” so she could find fault in her that deemed her unworthy of her son’s love. Ultimately, she said she just couldn’t find a single reason to feel anything but love for the incredible child I have been blessed with and that she too, embarrassingly hopes they end up together because she cannot fathom her son would ever again find a girl so perfectly matched to his empathetic and delicate heart. Our children both had father’s with suspected bipolar disorder and while B’s dad killed himself, A’s dad theoretically did the same with substance abuse; they were both abandoned by their biological fathers for life. Despite raising two emotionally fragile and deeply caring children, the path of sadness and loneliness we thought they were destined to travel, seemed to veer off into happiness and passion for life when they met one another. It helps that they are both unapologetically honest with their mother’s (almost to a fault); there are some things a kid just doesn’t tell their parent and these two don’t seem to grasp that concept.
John gets angry when I talk about how much I like A or how much I think they are different from typical teenagers. He seems to want to prove this theory wrong or convince me that B is not the honest and responsible teenager I know she is (I tried to consider myself naïve and doubt her maturity… but she has proven me wrong to date and now warrants my continued faith in her). John and I have had many arguments over my willingness to support our daughter’s ability to see her boyfriend outside of school and calls me “stupid” a lot for trusting her to make good decisions in regard to sex and safety. I have tried to tell John if he took the time to talk to A, he would realize what a phenomenal young man he is and that he may even enjoy being a mentor to him, since A has a passion for cars much the same way John does. With cars being one of John’s special interests, I know that A would be delighted to learn from him and fascinated by the amount of knowledge he has to share. I also know that it would bring my husband an incredible feeling of pride to be able to teach a young man like A everything he knows, both because he loves when he can share his interests with others, and because we will never have a son of our own that he can share the typical “father-son” activities with that I know A would be thrilled to have (A does have a wonderful stepfather who raised him and shares these things with him). Whenever I bring up the suggestion that, “You should talk to A” with John, he immediately shoots it down and tells me he “doesn’t like him.” I accept that John is applying logic to the whole teenage-relationship dynamic, so I usually stop the urging immediately after he dismisses it.
It has long-since occurred to me that if John and A could spend a little time together working on cars, talking about them, or watching car-focused shows; it might enable a closer relationship with John and his own daughter. Since B is smitten by A, if John would willingly accept his presence in our household (even if he believes he will be a distant memory after we move), the four of us might be able to go out together for a day of fun activities. As it stands, the three of us cannot make it through a single outing without John saying something offensive to B that I end up admonishing him for (the very second I recognize her nonverbal expressions of sadness or anger). I believe John instigates this common dynamic because he feels alienated by the bond B and I have with one another and the way we are constantly communicating with nonverbal messages he does not hear. I haven’t any doubt that the words we DO end up saying out loud get lost in translation without the words we are not vocalizing, and this leads to chronic misinterpretations from where John stands, causing him to make snarky comments in our direction. This happens without fail every single time we try to go out with one another as a family, so we rarely attempt it these days. Because of my desperate desire to still be able to leave our damn house as a family, I believe that adding A to the mix could enable this to peacefully occur. If there was one more person to offset John feeling like the third wheel in our outings, he would undoubtedly behave in a less threatened manner (experience has proven this to be true). To be able to have fun outings together without the incessant intrusion of hostility, B would get more time to see the wonderful side of her stepfather that has been invisible to her in the last two years.
Of course, all of this was only wishful thinking for me…
until the night I became a paralyzed disaster on my closet floor….
As I was getting dressed to take A home, John volunteered to do it himself, something I found very thoughtful since I did have to wake up at 4 a.m. and it was already almost 9 p.m. I graciously accepted his offer and spent the remaining two hours alone in my house with a sense of peaceful calm. My husband had openly communicated with me and physically showed me he was willing to drop himself onto the cold ground in darkness, if that was what he needed to do to show me I was not alone anymore. There were few words that could express how much this meant to me.
B would later reflect on this car ride and tell me that John had engaged her boyfriend A for the first time that night and the two of them spent the entire drive across island talking about their love of cars. She shared how John even expressed to her that he liked A very much and was “impressed” with his knowledge. I could tell by the light in my daughter’s eyes that John’s willingness to connect with someone she found important, made her feel equally valued by her stepfather for the first time in a long time. B also said that the remainder of the car ride back to our house was filled with John being silly, kind, and compassionate toward her and she felt like he “actually liked” being around her. I did not know this experience ever transpired after the “closet-incident” until last week, when B was crying about John’s insensitivities once again (how she felt deflated by his anger) after he had just given her so much hope things were improving between them.
UH OH…. Our daughter is beginning to respond to John’s anger with the same level of personal devastation that her mother has felt….
SHIT… SOMETHING’S GOTTA CHANGE, AND IT’S GOTTA CHANGE FAST!
Despite John stepping outside his comfort zone that night, enough to perfectly respond to my pain, and despite John abandoning his opinions on B and her boyfriend long enough to give my suggestion a chance (making B feel loved) …. John’s anger still proved to be insurmountable within a few days of that amazing night. It was only two days later that he and I were right back at square one, as he aggressively vented about B’s behavior to me and then viciously yelled at me when I attempted to offer suggestions to bridge their communication gap once more. It was within a week that John’s anger boiled over to the point of verbally screaming at B and calling her “AN ASSHOLE” while I was at work (something that took all of my willpower to not physically attack him for). It was inconceivable that despite all of the incredibly difficult effort he put into finding the words to express his feelings and love that night on the closet floor… he had once again been absorbed by his incessant need to act out in anger.
While there are “specific” causes that my husband would point out for what fueled his “justified” anger once again, I realized that I was doing something terribly wrong this entire time in the way I responded to it. My husband disclosed to me that he used his anger to gain control over his confusing emotions and to take control back from me when I expressed emotions he had difficulty processing. Why didn’t I break down the simplicity of this a long time ago?
IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT CONTROL!
Most NT-e women are bright enough to realize that inappropriate expressions of emotions have an underlying purpose… to gain control over one’s own feelings. We know this. This makes perfect sense. Despite being cognitively aware of the root cause, we continue to allow our Aspie husband’s to control our emotions and feelings. We give our husband’s the very thing they are seeking to obtain when they aggressively come at us with anger.
We give them power and we give them control.
We continuously validate their actions as being effective ones and we enhance their use of them to acquire greater power over us in the future.
IN THE BEGINNING
When we first met and subsequently fell in love with our Aspie husbands, they treated us well. They may not have had the skills of a neurotypical man to identify our nonverbal messages and desires (and be able to appropriately respond to them), but they were generally loving and kind men who made us feel valued. Even if there always lacked the intense emotional connection and deep understanding of one another’s feelings that NT-NT relationships experience, there was an emotional connection in our Aspie-NT union, and it was just as real and warm as we thought it was at the time.
So what happened then, if our husbands were once able to show us attention, respect, interest, attraction, love, and kindness? What happened to that gentle, intelligent man we fell in love with? What happened to the man we were utterly convinced lacked the capacity to ever cause us emotional pain or inflict malicious displays of anger toward us?
SERIOUSLY… WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO THOSE MEN?!?!?
They got us; that’s what happened. They secured our love and commitment, and they no longer felt the threat of losing us. This absent “fear of loss” enabled a complacency in the effort it took for them to gain our affection in the first place.
Is it that simple?
If it is… then doesn’t that make them assholes?
No… not at all.
This same change in behavior occurs with many NT husbands who go from seemingly perfect to shockingly selfish, withdrawn, and angry men… somewhere in the midst of the relationship arriving at a monotonous daily existence. This happens for the same reasons with both NT and Aspie husbands. The difference is, Aspie men are far more internally focused and oblivious to the wants and needs of their partner than the NT men are. Aspie men did not begin with exceptional communication skills, nor did they ever have the cognitive empathy to identify the nonverbal messages they were receiving or putting out to the women they loved. Aspie men were always missing the majority of information that NT men were capable of receiving, so this caused their dramatic shift to appear a billion times more severe and intolerably cruel than that of the equally angry NT man.
IT ALL STEMMED FROM SECURING OUR LOVE?
Most men are inherently similar in the sense that the majority of them have fragile egos (call it nature or nurture, this is an unarguable fact that no amount of research will ever disprove). Men hate the concept of being rejected by someone they desire; they hate this thought far more than they hate the concept of living in an unhappy relationship. Of the men who possess this instinctive drive to protect their ego, there are men who are exceptional communicators. These men tend to form healthy and happy relationships and their ego is suppressed in favor of mutual respect and appreciation. Then there are the men who are so incredibly inept when it comes to social skills (think of the “nerd” stereotype given when someone first hears the term Asperger’s syndrome), that they rarely make it past the second date with a woman to form a long-term relationship (although sometimes they are lucky and find a woman equally challenged in social function to co-exist with).
Finally, there are the Aspie husbands like my husband John, and all of your husbands.
These men fall somewhere in between the other two, but almost in a parallel universe despite having the common bond of a fragile male ego. Men like our husbands have learned enough social etiquette (be it from family, friends, casual observations, failed attempts at forming relationships, watching movies, reading books, etc.); they have learned enough to effectively start relationships that appear emotionally healthy and positive in the beginning. These men put all of their efforts and energy into the early days of “securing” the woman they want to be with, and it is just enough for the women to miss the cues that something will be terribly lacking a few short steps down the road.
For men like this (most of our Aspie husbands) … the duration of their relationship will be entirely dependent on the tolerance and endurance the NT woman is able to manifest along the way. By the time the relationship evolves to legally joining as husband and wife, the NT spouse knows damned-well her husband once had the capacity to communicate in a non-hostile way, and she knows he is more than capable of interacting with her without utilizing anger in response to every communication attempt she makes… she knows this because she has seen him do it!!
What she does not realize, is that her husband (and those like him) are thoroughly exhausted from their previous efforts to secure the relationship; it was the greatest social challenge they ever took on in their entire life. Once these men no longer feel threatened that they will lose their wife, they succumb to the level of effort they really “want” to put forth in their social exchanges. They might still respond to the fear of losing their wife intermittently, when they feel threatened by another man for instance (that ego is still there). In rare instances like this, their efforts may be combated the way they initially tried to secure their wife. Considering these men miss most nonverbal messages that even indicate a potential threat on the horizon, and they certainly do not have a clue they are in danger of losing their wife by their own poor behaviors, they do not respond to them with any degree of urgency to step up and protect their prize. Aspie men are a million times less likely to ever identify that their negative behavior is a looming threat to the relationship because they lack the cognitive empathy to identify the nonverbal messages their wife is sending them to sound the alarm bells of potential calamity.
The entire time the Aspie husband begins to slowly withdraw his exhaustive effort to “secure” his wife, the NT wife is enacting the worst possible means of responding to his withdrawal. The NT wife will try to push more love, more effort in communicating, more verbalized feelings of disconnect, more displays of patience and understanding, and way more submissive behaviors… all in an attempt to nonverbally scream to her husband that their relationship is in danger. All the NT wife wants is to have her husband GO BACK to the man she fell in love with.
CHANGE BACK TO THE WAY YOU WERE… PLEASE CHANGE BACK!
NT wives want their husband to return to the gentle, calm, kind man he once was; the man who put effort into treating her like a valued and cherished prize he was lucky enough to win.
Aspie husbands are not going to do this on their own!
Once they feel they have secured the relationship, they will exert only the bare minimum amount of effort needed (in their mind) to maintain it. This is not because they do not love you, it is because the sheer magnitude of debilitating energy it took to obtain your commitment (in the first place) surpassed all of the combined energy they ever exerted in their lifetime toward any interpersonal relationship (about 100X more).
Ultimately, the real reason Aspie husbands show lessening efforts as the years dredge on is because…
YOU LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT!!!
Your Aspie husband’s declination in expending emotional and physical energy to show his love for you is inadvertently your fault because you allowed him to do this. As he began withdrawing effort (because the threat of losing you was gone), he was NOT met by a wife who refused to tolerate his unwanted behavior. Instead, he was met with a bewildered woman who did not understand what the hell happened and went out of her way to stick it out as she tried to uncover the reason. As the NT wife searched for answers for her husband’s changing behavior, the husband realized (consciously or not) that he could sustain the marriage without having to exert any more effort than he was currently offering.
Why would he exhaust himself proving a love that he no longer had to prove (in his mind)?
WHY MESS WITH A SYSTEM THAT WORKS?
How many times have you watched men fix up a broken piece of machinery, from an old car to a junkie lawnmower, and insist that they will not purchase a new one because the old one “STILL WORKS”?
When bad behavior or minimal effort is “working” to keep their wife in the marriage…
there is no reason for an Aspie husband to mess with their “functioning” system by adopting new behaviors.
Eventually, I am going to take the lawnmower example to the extreme to show you how Angry-Aspie husbands will continue using something that works (anger) at the risk of time, energy, frustration, money, or quality… if they believe it still works for them. I am going to show you how it does not matter if their lawnmower (anger) only yields results 10% of the time they use it… they will continue to use it and ignore any other lawnmower (positive emotion) that could replace the broken one based on their 10% success rate.
THE ASPIE LAW OF CHANGE
Let’s say an Aspie husband has an old junkie lawnmower that he has had (and fixed up) for many years which drives his wife insane. Even if this man knew he could easily purchase a brand new, state of the art lawnmower that took fractions of the energy to mow the lawn that his old one did… he is not going to abandon it until it is completely broken and unquestionably useless. Even if this lawnmower loudly screams down the yard while emitting noxious fumes to the entire neighborhood, the Aspie husband is going to keep on using this beast until it catastrophically fails for the last time and he has absolutely NO OTHER CHOICE but to find a new one.
Remember, like this lawnmower, your Aspie husband’s anger has nothing to do with the overall functionality of success it yields (and this is the most bizarre part), he will willingly accept the ONE time that his angry behavior accomplishes its intended purpose over the THIRTY times it does not.
To your Aspie husband, that ONE time his anger yields the desired result he was seeking,
is enough validation that his behavior WORKS;
and when something works, it is worth repeating.
If not, let me try to clarify: If your husband has to deal with 49 intense, aggressive, and emotionally debilitating arguments with you before you willingly concede to his side being the RIGHT ONE… he will do it. If your husband tries to use anger as a means to thwart or stop an emotionally-charged conversation with you, and 1 time out of 50 times you break down and cry or run away instead of fighting back or pushing the subject matter… he will continue to do it. He will always willingly endure the 49-shit storms that do not end with him being proven right or you abandoning a topic he does not want to discuss, for that ONE TIME he gets you to back down and allow his angry behavior to dominate your better judgement. Even if it is wreaking physical and emotional damage on him personally to go through those 49 other fights, it will not matter. The effort and collateral damage is worth it to him because the idea of changing his behavior is FAR MORE daunting than going with the one he is acclimated to using as a default to get his way, avoid confrontation, or prove a point.
You can spin yourself in circles and try every single possible means of altering your husband’s angry behavior, but you will fail overall if you allow him to get away with it…
even if it is only 1 out of every 50 times.
Maybe you disagree with this concept. Perhaps you have been imploring the new knowledge you have about cognitive empathy and you are finding your marriage slowly (but steadily) improving. Maybe you once had a 95% failure rate in meaningful communication and now you only have a 15% failure rate. While that would be amazing (and I am super stoked for you) … if that 15% failure rate is because of your husband’s anger… you are nowhere closer to success than you were when communication failed 95% of the time!
I am not talking about abolishing angry feelings in general, you are both human and you are both going to get angry from time to time. Being angry on occasion is perfectly acceptable. Vocalizing anger can also be accepted and/or forgiven by both parties in the future (and should be), because anger is a natural human emotion. What I am talking about is your husband’s use of anger to achieve, avoid, or justify something in the marriage. I am talking about a husband who responds with anger over any other emotion, even if he can later identify the true feelings he had and apologize for his initial response of hostility.
I am talking about a husband who uses anger as a means of obtaining power and control.
If you allow your husband to do this… ever…
from this day forward…
you will not make a single step of progress in your marriage.
Sorry to burst the bubble of happiness you had going for you after years of sadness, but this is important. I know it feels like progress now that you have a better understanding of “why” he acts the way he does, and it is a step in the right direction, but it is not actual “progress” until he changes the behavior that is the most toxic to your marriage. If your husband has learned to use anger as a dominant means to respond to conflict, your husband is always going to default to this instinctive behavior, even if he has grown enough to begin reflecting on a fight and apologizing after the fact.
You may be thrilled he can now acknowledge and apologize after he has handled a situation poorly with his anger, but again, this is not “progress” toward a happy marriage. It is not progress because each time he defaults to hostility, you will feel the same level of disrespect, devastation, and pain that you felt when he never returned later to apologize. If you continue to feel that your husband does not value, love, or respect you… even if it is once in a blue moon… it is still ONE TOO MANY TIMES and has no place in a marriage.
Think about it like this… If an abusive husband beats his wife daily and then attends counseling (which motivates the wife to give the marriage a second chance), would it be acceptable if he only beat her once a year, perhaps on New Year’s Eve?
FUCK NO IT WOULDN’T BE!!!!
Why wouldn’t it be? Because that behavior is destructive to ever having a mutually beneficial marriage based off of love and respect. It is not acceptable, in any regard, even “once in a blue moon.” The wife who convinces herself that it is alright to take an “annual beating” because she is so thankful she no longer has to endure them daily… she needs to wake up. The wife that convinces herself he will get better because he has come “so far” in his efforts… she is going to be sorry. If a physically abusive man claims he has changed his ways and defaults to physical violence ever again, the woman in his life can count on the fact that at some point… the stress in his life will bring the daily beatings back. They will return, and they may return at a more lethal level, because he has not learned that this violent response is NEVER acceptable and never going to yield him the result he was seeking when he unleashed its fury. Accepting a return to violence even once is equivalent to accepting it 100% of the time because it reinforces the knowledge that when all else fails… THAT WILL WORK.
If your Aspie husband believes that anger can effectively get the results he wants: to prove he is right, his opinion is correct, his actions, or method of doing something is just… he will continue to default to it every time…
UNTIL IT NO LONGER PRODUCES ONE SINGLE DESIRED RESULT!
HOW COULD THEY NOT GRASP THIS?
Aspie men have endured a lifetime of being told they are wrong, their thoughts are incorrect, and their behaviors or emotional responses are abnormal or inappropriate. They grow up in a world that does not know they lack cognitive empathy and therefore, they grow up in a world that treats them like an alien from another planet when they openly express their perception of reality (which may vary greatly from the majority). Aspie men have been groomed by a society of “naysayers” and social injustices that had them fighting “their” take on reality every step of the way.
Some boys and men with Asperger’s syndrome submit to the masses and isolate themselves from social interactions altogether….
These are NOT the Aspie husbands we are married to!
We are married to the special group of Aspie men who have such an internal belief in who they are as a person (that they are a good man without mal-intent or insane perspectives), so instead of withdrawing from life, these men became FIGHTERS! These men are amazing. They are strong-willed and they can move mountains with their innate resilience and brilliance, especially if they join forces with an equally strong-willed NT-e.
These men are fighters unlike most men in society, and they do so with pure and selfless intentions… they do so because they strongly believe in the knowledge they have and the inner battle to triumph over injustice and/or ignorance. These men have a fighting spirit that comes from deep within their soul… and they will stop AT NOTHING and on NO ONE’S ACCOUNT to prove their worth in a world that has devalued them their entire lives.
THAT IS THE ASPIE MAN YOU ARE MARRIED TO!
Your husband’s strength of character is a gift and something to be marveled at. It takes an unbelievably magnificent human to defy all the world’s hurtful and negative energy and absorb it enough to transform it into an energy that gives them the will to keep fighting.
Think about that (from outside the box) for a moment.
Your husband is a fighter (as are you) and for that… you should be in awe. Unfortunately, these are the men that will fight 9,999 battles to win 1. These are the men that possess the stamina to argue their point to the death and beat their opponent into submission if they believe in their core, that their truth is the only one that is correct.
These are not men who ever set out to inflict harm, pain, sadness, injury, or misery to anyone else. They are not even aware that their unwavering believes cause those resulting feelings for anyone else (particularly their NT wife). They don’t have the cognitive empathy to recognize that their own actions are causing their wife to suffer, unless she manages to tell him this with direct, logical words. Even then… if the logic for hurt feelings she expresses is being pinned on something they did not intend to do (and fail to believe they are responsible for), they will dismiss it with the same passion they do everything else. They will fight you.
With the same breath I took to tell you that your husband’s strength of character is a gift,
a real marvel…
it is also his Achilles Heel.
Your husband is willing to suffer unimaginable amounts of misery and withstand countless negative consequences to stand his ground and get his one belief across to you until you accept it as correct. Your husband will unknowingly ignore all of the unnecessary risks and negative outcomes possible in order to prove the validity of that one thing he stands behind.
HOW THIS LOOKED IN MY MARRIAGE
In my marriage, the internet search for “Relationship Advice” is a perfect example of my husband’s unrelenting fight to the death. My husband independently went online to learn about Asperger’s syndrome after receiving his diagnosis and came across articles that suggested he was an “inherently evil man from birth” and “could never be a good husband or love me”. He read a few (too many) hate-filled blogs filled with rhetoric that begged and pleaded with NT women to get the hell away from the toxic sociopaths that ARE Aspies. My husband read these things and he was DONE.
He made up his mind that there would NEVER come a day he would EVER AGAIN CONSIDER READING A SINGLE THING ONLINE ABOUT ASPERGER’S SYNDROME!
I spent years begging him to read articles I found beneficial. I emailed them to him, printed them out for him, attempted to read them to him… he refused. I could have listed 100,000 happily married Aspie-NT couples who read just ONE short article with the secret to changing their marriage into a successful one; that promised to do this overnight without effort, and my husband would have STILL REFUSED TO READ IT. When I brought up the subject, I was met with nasty aggressiveness to make me stop trying to force something on him he had zero intention of doing. When I came at him with gentle, soft, kind words about it, he responded with anger. When I demanded he do it to prove he loved me, his anger boiled over to the point of verbal abuse.
The only time my husband ever responded the way I wanted was when I threatened to leave him if he did not “educate” himself (by way of the internet). Despite pacifying me with promises that he would read (when he thought his resistance might actually threaten our relationship), he still never did.
His actions were out of the inner belief that he was a good man, I was a good woman, and no one else on the planet had the potential to define our relationship other than the two of us. That was the reason John refused to ever listen to my pleas for him to read a single thing on the computer over the 4+ years I begged him to. My husband did not intend to hurt me with his refusal (quite the opposite, he thought it was going to protect our relationship). John did not believe this was a good idea and he held strong to it… against any possible consequence his refusal to do so might bring upon him.
That’s the thing about our Aspie husbands.
They have a damned-good reason behind the majority of their hostile and defiant behaviors.
When they use anger to get their point across,
they render us incapable of ever comprehending their reason.
Our husbands are good men and our husbands do not secretly conspire to bring emotional suffering unto us. Every seemingly cruel behavior that comes at us as angry words or actions… they are based off of an internal belief that they are going to be beneficial to us. Our husbands do not have malicious or entirely self-serving purpose behind the mass majority of the arguments they engage us in.
STOP THREATENING, START DOING
I literally threatened our entire marriage if my husband did not take the time to research online information about his diagnosis and the impact it had on our relationship. I spent countless hours looking for ways around his refusal and ridiculous amounts of time searching for an opportunity to sway his defiance into one of open consideration. My husband held strong to his belief and there was nothing that could convince him otherwise… unless… I actually did end our relationship because he would not consider my wishes.
Every time I threatened my husband or promised a negative consequence for his anger and/or refusal to change negative behaviors… I remained by his side. By not following through with my words or actions, my husband lost respect for me. The more I swore I would respond to his anger (and failed to do so), the worse his anger grew and the more he treated my words as the empty threats of a weak woman. By warning my husband that his behavior was not going to be tolerated “one more time,” I gave him permission to do it one more time. The only way I ever would have maintained the respect my husband initially had for me, would have been if I walked out on him or kicked him out the very first time he came at me with hostile anger. Could I have given him a second chance at that point? Sure. This may have prevented him for doing it again and solved the problem right away; I will never know.
I like to tell myself that this would not have worked (because it makes me feel better). I tell myself that I was not dealing with a man who knew how to handle confrontation of any kind without aggressive anger, so I had to get to this place in order to understand how to prevent it from occurring again. Regardless of what I tell myself now, I should have followed through on my words the first time if I wanted to be respected by him and feel respect for myself.
I have no doubt that you have also gone against your word and remained by your husband’s side despite swearing his most recent angry outburst would be the last. I have good news… you can still regain respect for yourself and have your husband respect you by choosing to be a consistent woman today and to never again make a threat or promise you do not intend to keep. How do you do this? You learn how to stop your husband in his tracks so that anger is no longer accepted by you… not even one more time.
Does that mean you have to leave him the next time he defies you? No.
In retrospect, I know that if I had actually divorced John because of his defiance to stop using anger as a means to communicate, I would have given him NO CHOICE but to submit to my demand. If his defiance NO LONGER WORKED and threatened the very thing he wanted to avoid, he would have had to either chose a future without me, or change his behavior. My husband has always loved me. My husband has always wanted to make our relationship work. Because I know this, I believe that if I had left him and told him the only way I would take him back, would be if he read 100 articles and then talked to me about them, in depth (so I knew for certain he read them), he would have done it. I believe he still would have pushed my threats as far as he could go, and he would have required my follow-through to “end everything” before he did it… but in my heart I think he would have ultimately done it.
It would have required my husband having ZERO alternative to changing his behavior for him to finally relinquish it in favor of saving the relationship he really wanted.
It would have had to come to that.
I know now that reading 100,000 articles wouldn’t have made my husband change his use of anger in our relationship, but I didn’t back then. I rolled the dice on not following through on any threats I made and our relationship suffered as a result. I always believed there was another way to reach him and being as defiant as my Aspie husband is… I wanted to prove myself right. As it turns out (thankfully), there is a far better way to stop your husband’s anger (that does not involve threats), but this doesn’t mean it is an “easier” way.
I KNOW YOU ARE NOW FEELING READY TO BEGIN MAKING PERSONAL CHANGES TO PREVENT HIS ANGER IN THE FUTURE…
NOT SO FAST…
I AM NOT CERTAIN YOU FULLY GRASP HOW DIFFICULT CHANGE IS QUITE YET
Before I share the simple method you can use to begin teaching your husband to change his anger… I need to really drive home the point (as I enjoy doing) that this is NOT going to go smoothly. As it stands, you have taught your Angry-Aspie husband that he does not need to change. You have taught him that if he fights long enough… that if he is willing to go the distance to be proven right… that if there stands a remote chance that he could avoid a confrontation, get attention, gain satisfaction, make you go away, or ultimately… obtain CONTROL…
then it is worth the battle each and every time.
You have taught your husband that his defiance WORKS… even if it is only effective 1 out of 10 times. You have taught your husband that he stands the chance to win, even if the odds are stacked heavily against him. For a strong-willed and hardened fighter like your Aspie husband… those odds are going to continue to be worth his efforts and any negative consequence his efforts yield in your relationship.
BACK TO THE PIECE OF SHIT LAWNMOWER
Go ahead and try to tell your mechanically-gifted Aspie husband that his old lawnmower that only works 1 out of every 10 times he tries to cut the grass is “no good and he should consider buying a newer, more effective one.” Go ahead and tell him that the poorly-cut lawn his machine manages to leave in its wake, the potential for eviction you both face if you are cited for an unacceptable home-appearance in your neighborhood one more time, or all the lost time between you both (that he spends trying to make it work) … go ahead and tell him why these reasons justify dumping that old piece of shit grass-chewer.
And then go ahead and watch him throw his middle finger up at you in return.
Watch him as he spends hours using an old mower to cut the lawn when a new one could get the job done in a fraction of the time, with a fraction of the energy, and with far more effective results. Watch him as he defies your suggestion with unreasonably hostile anger. Watch him as he loses weight in the blistering sun trying to prove the effectiveness and worthiness of his equipment. Watch him as he wastes an entire day fixing it when he could have spent it enjoying the afternoon with his wife instead. Watch him as he endures any negative consequence and sucks up countless hours of frustrated energy, to power through with his terribly defective machine. Stand back in astonishment as he spends five times more money to fix his hunk of junk than it would have cost to purchase the best lawnmower on the market.
WHAT AN IDIOT!
Your Aspie husband believes his lawnmower is fully functional and has purpose. So long as his it serves its purpose every once in a while, it will be kept. It has worked for him in the past and he believes with all of his stubborn might… that it will continue working in the future. He will stop at nothing to prove himself right (not you wrong… but himself right).
You may initially wonder why you are fighting with him over a lawnmower in the first place and willingly allow him to waste his day and energy on it if that’s what he chooses. That is how you will respond until his “lawnmower efforts” begin to ruin your plans, mood, sense of security, and overall happiness because you never spend quality time together. When your husband begins to ignore everything else in your marriage to “use his lawnmower” instead… it is going to really frickin matter to you at that point.
You are going to try to buy a new “better” mower and put it in his direct line of sight so he opts to use that one the next time he cuts the grass. When he ignores you, you are going to demand he use the new one. When he ignores you, you are going to demand he stop using the old one. When he ignores you, you are going to threaten to destroy or throw out the old one. When he threatens you back and becomes more hostile, you are going to find yourself becoming angry, resentful, and hostile in return.
You might even begin to beg him to stop using the old mower, plead with him to consider your feelings, or try to rationalize how a new mower could improve your time together. When he ignores you, you are going to break down in tears and feel like he doesn’t even love you enough to change out an old stupid lawnmower that is causing completely unnecessary misery… even though there is a perfectly beneficial one right in front of his selfish eyes! When you cry over it, he is going to tell you that you are being ridiculous.
You may find yourself bouncing between a million different ways to get through to him, day after day, only to find that your husband has not ever stopped to even consider dumping his old mower or bothered to look at the new one… not even once.
He hasn’t considered it because as far as he is concerned…
the old one works, case closed.
You can go toe to toe with this kind of Aspie defiance all day long but in the end, you will be left with exhaustion and a desire to just submit to his will and hope for a better tomorrow. When you finally submit and he manages to get the lawn cut with his defective yard tool, he will consider his fight a victory. That is how the Aspie husband solidifies the idea that his battle was a worthy one. He will go on using his busted up shit-mower again next week, regardless of the negative impact it has on you.
This is what you have been doing, and you can keep doing this… if you want the same outcome. Or… you can walk into the garage, gut the entire engine of the lawnmower and throw it away where he can never again find the parts (because guess what? The parts needed to build that machine long ago… they are no longer in existence to rebuild it again in the future!) and place a sign on the shell that remains that reads: BROKEN!
Your husband is going to be really pissed off at you and he is going to rage on you. Is that really going to matter when the end result is that he has to come to terms with the fact that his lawnmower is NEVER AGAIN GOING TO WORK and it can never again cut a single blade of grass for the remainder of eternity?
Provided you make sure he can never figure out a way to make that stupid machine fire up again, EVEN ONE MORE TIME, he is going to have to let it go. Once he accepts that his beloved lawnmower stands ZERO CHANCE of ever again working for him…
HE IS GOING TO HAVE TO CHANGE IS METHOD OF CUTTING THE LAWN.
He isn’t going to want to use that brand new super-mower that you purchased him because he is going to be angry at you. Eventually though… when he comes to terms with the fact that he has to cut the lawn if he wants to remain in his home and have any quality time with his wife, he is going to give that new mower a second glance and consider using it. He is going to rationalize why it is worth it to “give it a try” and he’s GOING TO USE IT.
AFTER SEEING THE AMAZING RESULTS AND MINIMAL EFFORT IT TAKES TO ACHIEVE THEM,
HE IS GOING TO CONTINUE TO USE IT…
BECAUSE IT WORKS!
You are not the lawnmower. Your husband’s angry behavior is. His anger has worked for him, albeit only a percent of the times he has used it, but it has still worked enough times to consider it functional. Until you make it unarguably clear that his anger will NEVER AGAIN WORK FOR HIM to achieve a single positive or desired result…
He will always default to it.
It’s time for you to replace his old mower with a brand new (effective) one.
I promise you, there is ZERO chance your husband will EVER change his current behaviors and learn to use more effective and positive ones until you make it clear to him that he has NO OTHER OPTION. It does not matter how angry, hostile, defensive, pathetic, dismissive, defiant, argumentative, lazy, or indifferent his behavior may be; he will not change it if it CONTINUES TO YIELD DESIRED RESULTS. He has to comprehend that his anger is no longer working and will never again work as a means of control in your marriage. Once he has expended every amount of defiant energy imaginable to deny that he is losing this battle, that his fight is a futile one because he cannot win and faces ultimate demise if he continues trying, that his method of obtaining control is a BROKEN METHOD…
At that time your husband will be ready to make the changes necessary to replace his angry responses and approaches with more effective and positive ones.
MY HUSBAND TOLD ME WHAT TO DO, I JUST WASN’T LISTENING
John told me what was happening this month as we sat on the floor of my closet in the dark. He told me that we were failing, and we were failing because of his ignorance about how to respond appropriately to me (without anger). He told me that we were failing because he was defaulting to anger as a method of control because he deemed it the easiest path to take… because it was familiar to him.
It isn’t easier to get angry in response to feelings and emotions he does not comprehend, but he could not see that at the time. It isn’t easier because in the long run, his anger puts up a wall to communicating with his wife. In the long run, his anger leads to a wife who is angry, sad, hurt, afraid, exhausted, defeated, and ready to give up on the marriage. In the long run, his anger has led to all of these feelings for himself as well. In the long run, his anger has prevented the happiness both he and his wife could have been sharing for years… had he learned to change his use of it.
When push came to shove, what John had convinced himself to be the easier path to trudge…
had made his life (and his wife’s) pure hell.
My husband was not alone.
WHY PEOPLE DON’T CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
People choose to take the road they think is easier (because it is what they are acclimated to) all the time. If our society did not do this, everyone would be wealthy, highly educated, and the advancements made in our communities each day would be mind-blowing.
People get by with “just enough” to keep telling themselves it is easier than trying to accomplish what they are actually capable of in their lives.
Consider a woman who graduates high school with grand intentions of going to college and obtaining her degree and license as a physical therapist. While she is in between high school and her wishful future, she stumbles on a fantastic opportunity to work as a clerk in one of the city’s top Sports Medicine Clinics, and the pay is impressive for a high school graduate to come upon.
You might think this young lady is on the path to success and has the capacity to accomplish the goal of becoming a physical therapist in no time… if she just keeps pushing herself forward.
Now consider this young lady meets a strikingly handsome and magnetic man who is interning at the clinic and “falls in love.” Within a year, when she is just about ready to begin the college program she worked hard to get accepted into… she discovers she is pregnant and going to have a child at a young age with her new love. Suddenly plans shift. This motivated and determined girl is feeling fearful of the future. Fear comes from wondering if she is ready to meet the demands of motherhood and the awesome responsibility it will bring. Fear comes from wondering if she will be able to financially support her child’s needs, pay for college, and afford the larger living space the baby will require. Suddenly, all of her thoughts will be filled with fear; fear that there will never be a feasible way to manage the time needed to attend college and study, work full time to cover costs, and have enough time with her new infant. She begins to fear the stability of her new relationship as she and her new love begin arguing about the responsibilities their new discovery will entail of them both. Fear is overriding every other emotion this young woman had a month ago… when she did not know she was pregnant.
This woman is very religious and her religion does not allow for abortion to be considered. This woman comes from a family that values children and is culturally against adoption. This woman is firm in her childhood upbringing and the values it has instilled in her and she will not waver from them, not even long enough to consider an alternate option to having and raising her child. This woman begins to break down and her stress ultimately becomes an intolerable and undesired weight on her new love. Since he can “make a clean break” and not look back; the relationship was pretty new anyway and he has BIG PLANS that cannot be sidelined for a woman he wasn’t even certain he wanted to commit to…. he makes the choice to run… and he runs fast.
Now this young lady is faced with emotions so intense she has a hard time making sense of them. She decides to sideline her aspirations of attending college with the plan to return to it once she is “more stable.”
Fast forward a decade and this woman, still a single parent, still working at the same clinic, considers a return to her initial dream of becoming a physical therapist; which has remained in the back of her mind all those years. She feels like a failure and she feels like life is passing her by, so she wants to make a move before it is too late. She can do it. She can feel the fear and step through it and accomplish the life she knows is possible.
She doesn’t do it because the same fear that caused her to submit to taking the “easier road” a decade earlier still becomes the identified easier path this time around; the others lead to an unknown journey that carries unknown results. The sad thing is, the easier path she is choosing is one that will definitely cause her to feel resentful or like a personal failure. The easier path could never be the path that will always end with negative emotions that cause her harm, but she is blinded by fear. Even though the decision to pursue school might be a challenge to undertake initially (as all major changes are), in the end it would likely bring less financial worry, less concern about her future stability and that of her young child, more possibility of finding a desirability relationship, less self-criticism, more pride in her accomplishments, and far more opportunities to uncover that may open new doors and paths she never thought possible.
All she had to do was desire a change, abandon the old belief systems that paralyzed her life, and take a deep breath as she stepped forward into the unknown with an optimistic drive to succeed against all odds placed before her. All she had to do was believe that a better life could be realized if she took the steps toward it.
Do you think most people leap at the opportunity to change their lives for the better?
No, of course they don’t or we would be living on a much happier planet. People stay in the same spot even when it is making them miserable or it makes their life more challenging than it needs to be. People thwart change and remain in unwanted relationships, careers, families, social circles, and environments, and they do it only because they are “used to it” and it has “gotten them by” until that time.
For most people, that’s enough to not risk changing their life.
DO YOU REALLY THINK HE WAS THE ONLY ONE THAT CHANGED?
So where do you and your Aspie husband fit into this theory of change? Well, for one thing you have likely read to this point with a feeling of motivation to tell your husband that his angry behavior is no longer going to be accepted as a behavior that “works” in your marriage, right? You believe that if he were to change this one chronic emotion, your lives could change for the better. You are probably even struggling to comprehend how he cannot see that he is enduring so much pain and negativity and there is a simple solution to changing it all. It is probably very difficult to understand why he would be willing to risk losing 9 out of 10 times (by utilizing anger) when he could turn that into a 90-100% success rate instead. This doesn’t seem so hard to grasp, right? So why can’t he see this?
I DON’T KNOW…
MAYBE FOR THE SAME REASON YOU CANNOT SEE YOU ARE DOING THE SAME THING AND PLAYING THE SAME TERRIBLE ODDS?!?!?
You and your husband were happy together once. You were happy or you never would have opted to move forward in the relationship. The time for him to develop a sense of security in his “bare minimum” efforts would never have been afforded to him. You identified early on that you did not like being treated like a doormat, right? You knew pretty quick your husband was treating you with disrespect and you did not like the way it felt. You told yourself that “Something has GOT TO CHANGE” or your life was going to remain miserable… or get worse.
But nothing changed because you weren’t willing to make the same change you have been expecting your husband to make…
to abandon an old behavior that DOES NOT WORK!
You have 90-100% odds of improving your relationship, or at least your own feelings of self-worth if you immediately choose to STOP your husband’s ability to treat you like a doormat ever again. You have a 0-10% chance at finding happiness if you DO NOT CHANGE your own behavior.
Why are you still trying to rationalize odds so stacked against you?
Is it because you have become equally complacent in your effort? Are you afraid of the changes that are absolutely going to occur (one way or another) when you finally do draw an unsurpassable line in the sand? Are you afraid of the immediate changes you will be forced to make the moment you make it clear to your husband that his anger will NEVER AGAIN be accepted as a means of control in your marriage?
You are getting 0-10% of the love you deserve and only 0-10% of the love your husband has to offer. Why are you still asking yourself if that 0-10% is a high enough return on your investment to stick around when you could be getting 90-100% instead?
It’s what you are used to… isn’t it?
You have “gotten by” with less than 10% all this time, haven’t you?
It’s ok, you can admit it.
When the final ruling of “who needs to change in your marriage” is handed down,
you are going to get a unanimous verdict.
YOU BOTH DO!
Suck it up buttercup. You are no different from your Aspie husband. Your behaviors may be different, and your comprehension of “what” needs to change may be more readily identifiable to you than it is to him; but long ago the two of you equally chose to cement your feet into a foundation of disappointment and resentment all because you were both afraid of change. That fear of change has sent both of you into a desperate fight for power and control that neither of you could ever win.
STOP BEING SUCH A CHICKENSHIT
You do not need to be afraid of change. You do not need to fear this, because you already know your husband CAN CHANGE his behavior. You know this because HE HAS CHANGED ALREADY (and so have you). He wasn’t the man that stands before today you when you first fell in love. He was a better version of himself, a complete image of what he is capable of being AGAIN in the future (if not way more).
If he changed once to become the angry man you currently share a bed with…
he can change back to the man you couldn’t wait to share a bed with!
Your Aspie husband is not mentally ill. Your Aspie husband does not have a brain injury. Your Aspie husband does not have a personality disorder. Your Aspie husband does not have a physical ailment preventing him from changing back to the man you fell in love with.
Yeah, you finally comprehend something you didn’t know back when all those awful changes were beginning to occur… you know a little something about cognitive empathy. You know that your Aspie husband cannot read nonverbal messages. Do you understand fully that that is the ONLY thing he cannot do?
Guess what? You don’t need your husband to comprehend nonverbal messages to be happy together because YOU are more than capable of using verbal words to clearly express what you are thinking, feeling, and desiring from him; you are equally competent enough to make sense of the verbal words he is saying to you. Guess what else? Your Aspie husband did not have cognitive empathy when you met him either. Your Aspie husband couldn’t read your nonverbal messages back then any more than he can today, but that did not prevent you from falling deeply in love with him enough to become his wife, did it? You fell in love with that man so much that THAT MAN is who you want him to transform back into.
Asperger’s syndrome did not cause your marital difficulties,
defaulting back to his previously learned behaviors and resistance to change did.
Your husband was the same Aspie the day you fell in love with him that he is today,
he just needs your help to let those broken defenses go.
GOT IT… SO NOW WHAT?
So what are you going to do? Are you going to put your damn foot down and tell your husband that the angry behaviors he used in the past that “worked for him” are no longer an option? Are you going to tell him his old method is BROKEN and will never again function to control you in any regard? Are you going to tell your husband that it is time for CHANGE or he is no longer going to have a wife to change for? Are you going to admit that it is time for you to begin changing what you will and will not allow to occur in your marriage from this day forward? Are you going to stop blaming Asperger’s syndrome for his anger and stop allowing his anger to define your daily existence? Are you going to stop letting him control your emotions and start regaining the power you both should have to live fulfilling and happy lives? Are you going to stop considering that you are in ANY WAY responsible for causing your husband’s anger, you are only responsible for allowing it to continue?
You didn’t cause your husband’s anger any more than he caused your response to it. Your husband’s anger-response was learned many years before he ever met you. His anger is a default reaction to fear of pain; it is a default attempt to gain control in situations where he feels powerless. It worked for him in his youth, it worked for him as an adult, and it works for him with you in your marriage. You must completely comprehend why he has anger, why he uses anger, and that his anger is a modifiable behavior before you will be ready to do anything about his anger. You must be ready and willing to never again allow it to work for him to gain control and truly understand that if you allow it to work, even 1% of the time, you are allowing him to continue using it 100% of the time.
IT’S ON YOU NOW.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?
Look for the pending post: WHAT CAN I DO TO STOP THE ANGER?