Gridlock

Did you wait for it? Aspie wives canonized by Simon Baron-Cohen, no less — Director of Cambridge University Autism Research Center? Saints, they calls us, the giving she, compensation for being good & powerless, as it was ever thus. We get to cloak ourselves in serenity, basking in the unperturbed divine feminine. Relics is what they mean to say, you should have kicked over that pedestal in 1972.

ASD-linked partners are routinely nudged toward martyrdom because her beloved is disabled. If a handicap doesn’t entitle him to her selfless nurturing and nonreciprocal ministrations, she risks being perceived as negligent, clueless, unloving, full of herself, and then the whole world will come tumbling down.

Now, see here. I can think of no other pairing between functional adults that requires the woman to think highly of herself, keen to articulate her terms and stand by them. I’ve been with my man five years and will roll up my sleeves without hesitation to clear up disagreements as soon as they arise to keep the air clear of resentments. Yes, yes I know, Autistics aren’t “good with confrontation” well, sorry, but I’m going to have to say it: and that’s ok!

So they are conflict-averse, preferring passive-aggression to open battle, which goes to show how opposites attract. I took up with new-age encounter groups and Gestalt Therapy in an earlier lifetime. Unrelenting self-expression, like scream-at-a-chair-while-imagining-your-worst-parent- in-it psychotherapy. No holding back, a frightening, fun, nowhere to run therapy, it frees you up and has a distinct point of view.

So much for backstory. It took three months before the two of us could get through our morning “regular or decaf” without going down the rabbit hole. My voice had dropped a register by then and the neighbors must wonder if we’d named an unruly housepet Dehumanization!

Every night my partner would find me somewhere in the house, stand stiffly before me and explain that he was going to shower, change into his nightclothes, brush his teeth and all that good stuff then head off to bed. This was often our single interaction of the evening, him reciting his ablutions in the same blunt tone, uninviting but not unfriendly, never asking what I was up to, or what I was reading, or if I was crying in the dark.

The first time was charming, by the 6th time I’m unsettled. At some point, we enter the loop. Invisible, so who knows, right? How farking real is this, who put us here, and how the hell do I get out? Had I forfeited any claim to be distraught weeks ago by signaling that this interaction was satisfactory, and how can it be satisfactory? To anyone? Who is this guy?

I knew from experience that to inquire meant entering into an angry impenetrable tangle of counterattack with no resolution but blank stares till we dwindle off to sleep, but you start where you are, or you can give up.

The walls were closing in. Oppression, suppression, repression, depression, and all that good stuff. So welcome the mouth that roared. Not because I needed him to hear it but because I needed to hear myself say it. Either that or I could watch someone burrow into compulsive routines with a real gone smile plastered on his face for me, till I run naked through the shady street, screaming all the way. Because he is not wired for connection, and fixed routines kill my brain cells.

Nothing gives real focus like a DSM diagnosis, which led to reading the right books to find our footing when I come to realize — holy shit, I’d been yanked into a bunch of these fucking routines without my authorization or any understanding of what part I was supposed to be playing in them.

Take, for example, the kissing routine — the re-traumatizing of insoluble childhood injuries and current explanation for a series of inexplicable migraines. Let me pause to acknowledge, with respect, that one prominent online ASD/NT couples coach recommends men kiss their wives routinely, so they don’t forget she needs to be kissed. A kiss takes only a second but creates the climate that frees him to get on with his own interests. This coach (who generally gives stellar advice) urges the ASD husband to schedule timely reminders until the behavior is cemented into his daily regime. This, he promises, is how the Aspie can meet his neurotypical wife’s ordinary needs for her husband’s affection.

That neurotypical wife is a saint.

In our house, the kiss became the last step in a solid routine — a smooch on the lips, then through the front door, with no action in between. Wouldn’t matter if I was awake or asleep, whether I was busy, or eating, or upstairs, or down, good mood or bad, he made no attempt at gauging my receptivity.

This can’t be right. I thought kisses came under the rubric of intimacy. Why would someone kiss you with determination and indifference? It’s a mixed message, a double-bind. I’m being gaslighted by kisses! Maybe it’s me, let’s wait and see. I’ll get used to it. Who doesn’t like to be kissed by her partner?

It was a routine. This sweet gesture might not have started out that way, but it morphed into little more than a step in a sequence of actions that had to be executed to fulfill an agenda that I knew nothing about. Here, Dehumanization, here boy!

Time to reset the gyroscope. Give me a few more months to overthink my best attempt at straightforward, concrete Aspie-speak; “Darling, I need us to focus on each other when we kiss.” As soon as he heard I was going through things, concern washed over his face, he made coffee, we held hands and began speaking to each other in a shared context.

To assume nothing, ask all the questions, suspend judgment and start with beginner’s mind is for some a spiritual quest. In an NT/ASD relationship, it’s the job. Couple’s Counseling makes us calm & safe to be around.

Does the counseling profession incorporate the Autistic/NT framework so therapists can identify couples like us who walk into their offices? Do they have the language for the way things go sometimes, such as “fixed routine” that they could explain to the freaked and frazzled spouse as a sort of folkway, or custom, of your partner’s tribe, that you are not obliged to be a part of? Nevertheless, the fair-minded therapist might go on, these routines must be accommodated, and as with everything else, are a negotiation between two people.

You can find good help in learning how to manage conflict. I can’t think of anything that matters more than how we do that.

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