"My Asperger’s partner of 16 years doesn't talk to me much anymore (except for one syllable words or short sentences). Every time I broach this subject, he won't open up. He won't even talk to me to help make things better. I've even stooped to picking fights just to get a response from him. Of course, this only makes things worse. I know that he is unhappy in the relationship. What can or should I do?”
Here are some ideas regarding how to get your Asperger’s partner to open up and be more communicative:
1. Ask your partner for a specific, short commitment of time. Most reluctant talkers can handle a conversation if they know it won't last forever. Let your man set the time limit. You may find that it increases as he grows more comfortable.
2. Ask your partner what would make him feel less overwhelmed when it comes to talking openly. For example, would it help if you set aside a regular time for talking, or if you waited until he decompressed after work?
3. Don’t accept the silent treatment! If this happens, simply say something like, “Here in a few minutes, I want to get your opinion and thoughts on _____.” Be specific with the topic – and stay with ONLY one topic. Believe me when I tell you that Asperger’s men can get easily overwhelmed and can have a difficult time tracking multiple topics. After the conversation, say something like, “I really appreciate you listening to me. It makes me love you more every time you do it.”
4. Don’t assume that your man’s silence is designed to punish you in some way. Sometimes, he is dealing with his own issues and he doesn't want to worry you or doesn't want for you to think less of him. Too many ladies assume that the man’s lack of communication is a direct reaction to them, but this isn't always the case. Sometimes, his upbringing contributes to his communication style, or he's just struggling to deal with something alone. And of course, his disorder is a major factor as well.
5. Don't over-analyze your partner. You may think you know what's behind his unwillingness to talk, but you can't read his mind.
6. Don't start by trying to communicate about problems in the relationship. Understandably, this is a woman’s first inclination. She sees that the relationship is in trouble, so she figures the best thing to do is just to start talking. The problem is that, if you have a man who is in the habit of clamming up, you're probably only going to get more of the same.
7. Learn about how Asperger’s affects the person’s communication skills.
8. Learn each other's personality type, and how it shapes communication style. Make the process a discovery of your uniqueness, not an opportunity to stereotype each other.
9. Learn to not take things too personally.
10. Make sure your partner knows that you want to be there for him – and this is why talking to one another is so important.
11. Read about the differences between males and females, especially as they relate to communication.
12. Start gradually with “small talk.” It's tempting to get discouraged and think along these lines: “If he's not going to talk to me, then why should I go out of my way and put myself out there when all I'm going to be met with is the silent treatment?" This is why it helps to start small. Start a conversation about something that he is interested in. Even if you're only talking about the news or something that the two of you just participated in, it's crucial to get the communication going on a regular basis.
13. Talk about your emotions in a non-accusatory, non-blaming way.
14. The tone with which you ask your partner to communicate with you is tremendously important. When ladies start to see a problem in their relationship, they go into "fix it" mode. Your partner is well aware of this, and as a defense mechanism, he may clam up because he doesn't want one response to lead to more questions or investigation. He also may worry that you're going to try to “fix” him, or point out where he is wrong.
15. Timing of the communication is everything! Gently approach your partner and ask if it is a good time to talk about something important.
Best of luck!
Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples