Being Spoiled by My Aspie: The forest and the bad tree

I’ve found that ASP likes to spoil me when he believes he’s making me happy. This is part of why it’s so important to remove emotion from my face and tone when I’m upset by something. When he can tell I’m upset, he thinks “All this stuff I do doesn’t make her happy. So I shouldn’t do it.” Just one upset is a bad tree in the forest and it’s all he can see. He forgets the huge forest of good things he’s done and any happiness those things have brought me. So, I have to make sure I let him know how pleased I am with all he does and express any concerns using the Aspie Way so that he continues to enjoy doing things that make me happy. I have to remind him of the forest while discussing any one tree.

Does this mean I have to “pretend” to be happy all the time? Not at all. There is nothing pretend about the Aspie Way. This means that you have to be vocal about your sincere happiness with the things he does to please you, usually just by saying “thank you,” no pretend happiness required. It can be the dullest thanks in the world, but as long as he hears it, he will know he has done right by you and will keep doing so. If, like me, you’ve been buried in anger and bitterness for years, you may have a hard time seeing those things he does, but I promise you, he does them. Sometimes there are things he does that are for you that seem like things he should be doing anyway, so you may not want to praise him for them. For instance, it took years for me to convince my Aspie that he should help around the house. He *should* help. So now that he’s helping, we’re at a sort of baseline, a sort of normal, so why in the world should I praise him? The reason is the reward. I thank him every time I see him doing the dishes or taking out trash or any of the other myriad of tasks that I want to take for granted. I’ve learned, with my Aspie, to take nothing for granted. Instead, I sincerely appreciate what he’s doing, and I tell him so. No pretending required. And the reward is that I feel his love now in everything he does for me, and I’ve learned that almost everything he does, is *for me.* That’s the forest we both need to remember.

You can use the same emotionless “thank you” as you use to express your concerns the Aspie Way. It’s so simple once I got the hang of it. At first, talking in a monotone with a blank face felt really awkward. It seemed like my upset would be so obvious talking this way, or that he wouldn’t believe I was grateful because I wasn’t bubbling with happiness when I thanked him, but ASP really can’t tell what I’m feeling when I do this. I just have to remember to be polite, saying please and thank you. This shows how the Aspie’s lack of theory of mind can be such a benefit! And when I calmly can tell him about a problem, he can hear me and respond because he continues to believe he’s successful at making me happy, which he is overall. He just can’t see the forest for the trees, so I have to remind him (and me!) of the forest when discussing a bad tree.

Cassandra Syndrome

I wrote this over three years ago. Since then, I’ve learned to follow the Aspie Way and am happily married to my ASP. It amazes me that my loving and attentive husband is the same man I wrote about here:

I was an emotional wreck when I met him, I was 25 and divorced with an 18 mo daughter. He represented the security I longed for. He was the strong silent type, good-looking, the perfect husband. So what if he was a little cold and distant? I figured this was the price of security. Emotional guys are losers, right? I’d learned this the hard way. Before we married, I fell in love with his idea of what family life looked like: Loving, protective father, stay-at-home-mom, a few kids. I already wanted to be a sahm, so I felt fortunate to marry a guy who not only supported that dream, but shared it. So I made the biggest mistake of my life: I put complete trust in my spouse and quit my career.

The first couple of years were okay. I gave up my friendships and spent all my time trying to be Mrs. Cleaver. I kept house, catered to his every whim, and all was well. The problems started when our baby was six months old and couldn’t sit up. That began several months of hell for me. I was told my sweet baby boy might never walk or talk. And to make matters worse, dh was completely unaffected. He didn’t miss a minute of work for any of the many tests, doctor appointments, or therapy sessions our little boy needed. He didn’t seem to care at all.

My little fantasy of our perfect family fell apart. This began years of rocky-marriage with constant fighting. I did most of the yelling and screaming and the only crying. He always seemed so calm and rational that before long, I believed him. I was the problem. He was normal, rational, and strong. I just needed to be more like him. We’d fight and I’d feel so worthless. I talked to my family about it, but even they didn’t see the problem. Even they thought I was the one who needed to change. The stuff I complained about was dh just being a regular man. All men can be self-centered, all men get obsessed with games (or sports or whatever), all men have trouble communicating, all couples fight about money and sex and parenting and household chores. I just needed to accept him, this is what dh said and this is what everyone else said too.

So I tried. And to be honest, I did learn a lot of good stuff during those years. I learned to process my emotions and gain some control myself. We had another child, and I agreed to homeschool our kids rather than go back to work or school as I’d wanted. As dh was quick to show me, all the research shows homeschooling is best for the kids, and my sweet little boy couldn’t function in a regular school setting. Both our kids have sensory processing disorder and we now know that ds has Asperger’s. Dd might too but it’s harder to tell with girls. I reached out to a local church community and have developed friendships and a spiritual life (alone of course, dh stays home to play video games). But these choices and improvements came at a great cost: my health.

Have you all heard of Cassandra Syndrome? It’s worth Googling.

The stress of being married to him all those years with no one understanding what was going on made me sick, leading to Cassandra’s Syndrome: depression, terrible self-esteem, and ultimately, physical disease. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis four years ago. I am partly disabled and couldn’t go back to work now, even if I felt I could put my special-needs kids in the school system. I am completely and totally trapped. Stuck. Smothered. Miserable.

After ten years married to an Aspie who didn’t know he was an Aspie, and after years of trying to explain to people why I was unhappy, telling people that dh isn’t the super-great perfect guy everyone thinks he is, I left Tony Attwood’s book in the bathroom. I was reading up on Asperger’s for our son and was sure that dh had it too but he wouldn’t listen to me about it. The ploy worked! Dh picked up the book, read it, and said, “Hey, I have Asperger’s Syndrome.” At first, I was thrilled. “Finally! He’ll realize that everything is not my fault! He can learn about his disorder and we can make some progress!” I was so relieved. I have a degree in psychology and used to see myself as a very intuitive person who could solve any problem with communication. After a decade with my Aspie, I’d lost all confidence in my skill-set. Now I could regain my confidence, now I could be validated! I was also upset to be right because I knew that it meant dh would never be the loving, romantic, empathetic guy I wished for. But at that point I was desperate to be validated; I was ready to settle for just about any improvement.

That was two years ago and things are worse than ever. I’ve received no validation. The only significant change is that his behavior is more extreme, like he doesn’t have to try anymore. The worst part is the tantrums. He admits he has Asperger’s but can’t see how it affects his day-to-day behavior. He’s still as inflexible, obsessed, self-centered, self-righteous, and cold as ever (except when he’s yelling and screaming during a meltdown, the only time I see any emotion from him). I’ve changed so much that I’m often the calm rational one now, which seems to only make him worse. It’s like he doesn’t hear me if I don’t yell and I’m tired of yelling. Mostly, I’m just tired. I need my energy to take care of myself and my own disease, my kids and their special needs, and, if I have anything left, I’ve got a big house, a garden, and several pets to take care of. I just want him to go about his business and let me go about mine, but, when I least expect it, he flies off the handle and slams me right back into hell.