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Communication Problems: Help for Husbands on the Spectrum

To all husbands with ASD [High-Functioning Autism]:

O.K. guys …it’s time to wake-up and get your act together in the communication department. You know what I mean! All relationship problems stem from poor communication skills. You can't communicate while you're checking your email, watching a DVD, or flipping through the evening newspaper.

How to fix communication problems with your neurotypical spouse:

1. Avoid being defensive. Defensiveness occurs when you see yourself as the victim, and then attempt to block off a perceived attack. When you are defensive, you are not open to learning and are also not able to access the vulnerable feelings that may lay beneath your defensiveness. Some typical defensive responses include:

  • cross-complaining
  • disagreeing and then cross-complaining
  • making excuses
  • repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying
  • start off agreeing - but end up disagreeing
  • whining

2. If you can't communicate without arguing, go to a public place (e.g., library, park, restaurant, etc.) where you would be embarrassed if anyone saw you arguing.

3. Look her in the eyes without glaring while she talks (and none of this “I have to look at her forehead or the bridge of her nose because I hate eye contact” bullshit either). Just freakin' do it!

4. Make an actual “communication-appointment” with each other. Put the cell phones on vibrate, put the kids to bed, and let voice mail pick up your calls.
==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

5. Don’t stonewall. Stonewalling is withdrawing from the relationship as a way of avoiding conflict. You may think you are trying to be “neutral,” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness. Some typical stonewall responses are:

  • changing the subject
  • monosyllabic mutterings
  • removing yourself physically
  • stony silence

6. Nod so your wife knows you're getting the message.

7. Remember that a large part of communication is listening, so be sure your body language reflects that (e.g., don't doodle, look at your iPhone, pick your nose, etc.).

8. Rephrase what your wife is saying (e.g., "What I hear you saying is that you feel as though you have more work to do around the house because I don’t pick up after myself"). If you're right, she can confirm it. If what she really meant was, “you're one sloppy, lazy bastard,” perhaps she'll say so - but in a nicer way.

9. Set up some “communication-rules” (e.g., not interrupting until the other person is through talking, no bringing up the past, banning phrases such as "You always ..." or "You never ...", etc.).

10. Voice your complaint, but don’t be critical. Criticism refers to you attacking or judging your wife’s personality or character in a negative way. This may result in her choosing to withdraw from the conversation or to become emotionally distant from you. Complaint, on the other hand, is directed to specific behavior. The difference between a complaint and a criticism lays in the opening use of “I” or “you”. 
A criticism usually begins with the word “you” (e.g., “you always bla bla bla,” …or “you never bla bla bla”). In contrast, complaints will usually begin with the word “I” (e.g., “I need to be able to come home from work and relax in front of the TV for a few minutes before starting a conversation about how your day went”).

The bottom line: Communication with your wife is a function of "emotional connection." When spouses feel connected, they communicate fine. When they feel disconnected, they communicate poorly (regardless of their choice of words or communication techniques).

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