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Helping Your ASD Spouse with Anger-Control: Tips for Neurotypical Partners

All of us exhibit some "signs" just as we begin to act-out in the form of anger. Thus, it is possible to identify the anger signs in your ASD spouse. For example, you may detect a certain look in the eye, the tone of voice, or the tightness in the body. NT partners can help their spouse observe these signs right at the onset of anger. Once he can identify the early signs, he can also learn to diffuse it.

Anger has 3 components—

1. The Emotional State of Anger: The first component is the emotion itself, defined as an affective or arousal state, or a feeling experienced when a goal is blocked or needs are frustrated.


2. Expression of Anger: The second component of anger is its expression. Some people on the spectrum are known to express anger through “shutting down” - but do little to try to solve a problem or constructively confront the NT. Others actively resist by verbally defending their positions – and may retaliate against the NT. 


3. An Understanding of Anger: The third component of the anger experience is understanding (i.e., interpreting and evaluating the emotion). Because the ability to self-regulate the expression of anger is linked to an understanding of the emotion – and because the ability to reflect on anger is somewhat limited in ASD – they may need guidance from their NT spouse in totally understanding and managing their feelings.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples
 
Tips for NTs—

1.    Ask your ASD spouse if you can give him a "signal" (e.g., a hand motion) when he is starting to get “wound-up.” Give that signal as soon as he starts "stewing" about something.

2.    How about YOUR own anger in response to your ASD spouse's anger? You can set an example of “anger control” for him. No coaching technique is as effective as "modeling" with your own example.

3.    Some people on the autism spectrum get upset when they know they made a mistake. Instead of admitting their mistake, they act-out in anger to deflect the attention off them. If you realize that this may be the case, it's helpful to say to your ASD partner, "Everyone makes mistakes. Can we just focus on a possible solution for now?"

4.    The thought "you’re disrespecting me" …or “you’re treating me like a child” is a big anger-arouser for many people on the autism spectrum. If that is the case, ask him or her, "Do you feel you are being treated unfairly?" When your spouse answers the question, listen and don't rush to negate his/her feelings.

People on the spectrum guided toward responsible anger-management are more likely to understand and manage angry feelings directly and non-aggressively - and to avoid the anxiety that often accompanies poor anger-control. 

 



Some NT spouses will view "helping with anger-control" as micro-managing, and may even resent the notion - which is unfortunate! But if you are willing, you can take some of the bumps out of understanding and managing anger by working WITH your ASD spouse (e.g., providing signals, modeling anger-control, being-solution focused, validating, etc.) rather than AGAINST him (e.g., getting angry with him for being angry).

 

==> Additional articles on anger-control problems can be found here.

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