Over the past few months my relationship with a certain other person, whom I shall refer to as W, has been up and down so much that visualising the turns it has taken is enough to make me sea-sick. At the heart of the problem is difficulty in communication: W is neurotypical while I have Aspergers Syndrome.
When W is suffering with health problems or depression she will talk about it at great length in a highly emotionally-charged way and her language will become much more figurative and abstract than normal. I find this combination particularly difficult to handle. Because I know her so well I have learned to interpret the emotional cues in her voice – when she is feeling so tired and frustrated and even angry at her illnesses this comes through to me in her voice and mannerisms. I find the strong emotions very difficult to cope with and tend to shut down.
It appears that this response is not very helpful to W – how could I have known? My own reaction to pain – physical or mental – is usually to keep it all inside. I become more withdrawn – even though I might be yearning for some comfort, for a hug that will make me feel safe and less anxious. But in that state I can’t express how I feel or what I need to help me deal with it.
So it turns out that what I need at times like this is almost exactly what W needs too. And now we’ve figured it out. I know it sounds simple, almost trivial, but between my inability to speak about my feelings and my literal misinterpretation of W’s descriptions of her feelings – when I haven’t just shut down from the emotional overload – we’ve been failing to communicate. Which has been causing far too much unnecessary stress on both sides.
I’m not saying that we’ve completely resolved the problems – time will tell on that score. But we have reached a new level of understanding. I know it sounds contradictory but I’m learning to be more supportive by taking less notice of W – I have to partially block her out so that I avoid overloading and shutting down. So that I can continue to function and respond. Which all helps her deal with what she’s going through and in turn helps me.
Yes, it would probably have been easier for both of us to have ended the relationship rather than work hard at discovering problems and trying to fix them. But what seems easy in the short term often turns out not to be the best option in the longer term. We both feel that there is enough value in our relationship to make the effort of repairing it worthwhile, because when it’s working it is so strong and strengthens both of us.