So, he's downstairs and I'm upstairs. He's watching our two-year-old son while eating breakfast. It's a normal routine in our house. Something suddenly occurred to me and I realised I needed him to run a quick errand. But I wanted to be sure I wasn't interrupting his breakfast. So, I rang him on the phone intercom (I know, lazy. I was tired. Thank goodness for modern technology.) He answers the phone and this is how the conversation transpired:
Me: 'Hi, have you eaten?' (Notice that my question is posed in the past tense.) Him: 'Yes.' (Seems like he understands that my question is in the past tense.) Me: 'Oh, ok cool. I need you to do something...' Him: 'I'm still eating.' (That's present tense. Ok...) Me: (pause) 'Um, you just said you've eaten.' (Past...) Him: 'Yes, I know. I'm eating.' (Present... you get the picture.) Me: (At this point I've almost forgotten why I rang him in the first place.'
Whenever I write a post focusing on AS/NT relationships, I feel a slight guilt. I love my husband and I don't ever want it to seem as if I blame his AS for every problem we have. Besides that, there are many situations that happen between us that are normal occurrences between husbands and wives. They have nothing at all to do with his condition and everything to do with the fact that we just have different personalities with our own preferences. However, the frank truth is that the frequency of the crossed wires, like the conversation above, that occur between us is perhaps higher than the norm. Because of my husband's AS, somehow he heard that question completely differently from how I asked it. And this happens a lot.
Crossed Wires Leading to Arguments A couple of years ago, the above discourse would almost certainly have lead to a major disagreement. Sounds stupid as I type that but its true. I'll tell you how. Firstly, when we didn't know he had AS, his response would have come across to me as him being difficult for the sake of it and, to be honest, a bit dim. That would have frustrated me and I would have responded in a way to make my frustrations clear. Never one to back down from a fight, he would have said something sarcastic back and on it would have gone until hell broke out. This mixed in with the fact that just about every day before that one, we would have had anywhere from 2 - 10 conversations of crossed wires, which also likely led to arguments. Chances are we would still be been licking our wounds by the time of the new conflict. Add to that the exhaustion of these conversations - going around and around in circuitous confusion, never understanding each other, never being understood, never reaching resolution. Eventually, or sometimes very quickly, you get angry, start to say horrible things and before you know it an innocent misunderstanding has caused you to attack each other - and deeply hurt each other. Sadly, it happens far more easily than you can imagine.
How to Avoid (and Not Avoid) Conflict Some days I am better at avoiding conflict than others. (And yes, for the most part, it boils down to me to avoid conflict. I'll get to that more in a moment.) On good days I can pick up that it's just his AS hearing me differently; he's not trying to make things difficult. I can overlook the crossed wire, accept his answer and move on. On a fantastic day, I will do all of that and even avoid giving him an explanation about why his interpretation was wrong (I admit that most days are not fantastic. I'm working on it. Nobody likes a know-it-all.) So, on most days conflict is averted. Other days I am not so skilled and that could be for a number of reasons. I could be stressed out dealing with the baby, preoccupied with business issues, or simply suffering from PMS (may not be very 'feminist' to say that, but I'm more concerned with telling the truth than being politically-correct.) At those times, I'm not patient. I am irritable, cross-eyed, harried and don't want to work hard at communicating the simplest things. I don't feel like backing down. And I definitely feel like telling him where he went wrong.
The reality is that the socially-detached, insular way of AS thinking means most of the time my husband is unaware that he may be coming across as difficult. He doesn't have a clue how frustrated I am. Most importantly, he usually lacks the wherewithal to stop a conflict from happening because everything he is saying makes perfect sense to him. To him, there is no conflict to avoid. And even if there was, his social communication difficulties would make it challenging for him resolve it. Thus, it is inevitably always down to me to not react and to focus on resolution. As a general rule, unless what he is saying is completely rude and offensive, or misleading in a detrimental way to himself or others, it isn't worth the negative reaction. This is how I now try to approach crossed wires when they occur. I will not pretend that this is always easy or pretend that I always succeed. What I can say is that with time and practice I am learning to use my knowledge of AS coupled with knowledge of what communication methods work best for us. As such, I can anticipate more effective ways of speaking to him and help us to say more focused on effective communication and conflict resolution.
Conserve Your Energy Every healthy relationship takes hard work to maintain. However, statistically, the challenges that NT partners face in relationships with AS partners are particularly persistent and detrimental. As the NT partner, you have to do whatever you can to help yourself because your relationship will take a lot out of you. So, as the saying goes, don't sweat the small stuff. Conserve your energy for major issues like parenting, family, money, sex or other key aspects of your relationship. Because the AS is bound to have a significant impact on each of these areas and you will need to approach them with a balanced mindset. If you genuinely love your partner, you'll learn to cultivate the patience and compassion necessary to deal with AS and you'll learn not to take everything he/she does to task.