Scenario: You’re a man with Asperger’s (high functioning autism), and you just went off on your wife. You were extremely mad, loud, and critical. Now your wife is hurt and resentful, and perhaps firing back with her own complaints and insults. Once the dust has settled and you’re starting to feel guilty about your explosive behavior, what can you do to try to mend fences?
Here are some ideas to help:
1. First of all, allow some time to pass (at least one hour) so the both of you can calm down. Nobody resolves a fight immediately after it has occurred. Wait until you can look at the situation objectively.
2. Next, take a look at what might have caused the argument. Do some analysis and brainstorm on what you could have done differently (e.g., Do you regret anything you said or did? What triggered the fight? What was the argument over? Did it involve several issues, or just one? …and so on).
3. When reviewing the situation, remember that memories are subjective, especially under tense circumstances. Your wife is going remember certain things about the argument that may be different from your recall. That’s O.K. It doesn’t mean that anyone is lying about what happened. It's just means that high-anxiety often causes memories to be imprecise.
4. After a fight, both parties need to accept and experience their true emotions. While certain feelings are painful to experience (e.g., rage, anger, sadness, disappointment, rejection, etc.), it's important to acknowledge these feelings rather than sweep them under the rug. Trying to cut-off your emotions is synonymous with hiding them in the closet. When the next argument occurs, those pent-up emotions will rear their ugly head again.
5. People with Asperger’s tend to be very rational – almost to a fault. But, you need to understand that feelings are not always rational. That’s O.K. The two of you are entitled to an emotional response to an argument, even if that response seems illogical to you. The part of the brain that expresses emotions is not the same part that can look at things logically.
6. Next, the two of you should come up with a time to discuss the issue(s). Pick a time to discuss the situation when there will be no constrictions on time (e.g., a Saturday night). Try to have the discussion right after dinner – but before bedtime – so that hunger and drowsiness won’t interfere with the discussion.
7. When discussing the problem(s), use body language to demonstrate that you are listening and open to suggestions (e.g., don’t cross your arms or do anything that makes you look defensive, make eye contact, nod occasionally, etc.).
8. Don’t interrupt your wife when she's speaking. When she pauses, ask for clarification if she said something you didn’t fully understand.
9. When it’s your turn to speak, don’t include too many details. Instead, try to get to your main point fairly quickly. Also, ask if she understands what you're saying.
10. Use "I" statements (e.g., instead of saying, "YOU overreacted to what I said" …say something like, "I felt like my point never came across as intended”).
11. Validate your wife's emotions. Even if you don’t agree with her, try to make her feel that her emotions are justified. Allowing your spouse to feel the way she does often removes a lot of negative tension from the situation.
12. Find out where the two of you disagree. All couples have a few issues that they can’t agree on. That’s O.K. Take the fight in question as an opportunity to discover where the two of you differ (e.g., about expectations regarding time together, your sex life, lifestyle choices, etc.).
13. Next, attempt to reconcile the dispute. The two of you should get into problem-solving mode:
- Identify the problem: This is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, couples may mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it unproductive.
- Define the problem: After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully describe the problem so that it can be solved.
- Form a strategy: The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the couple’s unique preferences.
- Organize information: Before coming up with a solution, organize the available information (e.g., what do we know about the problem – and what do we not know?). The more information that is available, the better prepared the two of you will be to come up with an accurate solution.
- Monitor progress: Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If the two of you are not making good progress toward reaching your goal(s), then reevaluate the approach or look for new approaches to the problem.
- Evaluate the results: After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the outcome in order to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem.
Sometimes simply acknowledging that the two of you feel differently about an issue can help ease stress in the relationship. Spouses often take certain things less personally if they understand where they differ personality wise.
14. Lastly, apologize. After considering your actions and role in the fight, apologize for any offenses. Make the apology specific and sincere in order to demonstrate that you have heard and understood your wife's concerns.
Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples