Hello. How can I approach this better ... advice wanted. :)

Hi I'm Steve. Married with 2 children. And we've been having a bit of a tough time.

My son(16) is in the process of being diagnosed - it took 18 months to get a classroom assessment and now we're on a 12 month waiting list to 'discuss' the next step of investigation. He was bullied out of one school but is settled in his new school and coping well. He's my smart, life-grabbing boy who'll battle through any obstacle. He's wonderfully challenging to live with.

My daughter is nearly 12. She's an introvert, incredibly imaginative and creative, witty, caring and in the right setting, appears confident and outgoing. The mother hen. Silly but sensible, and will probably write fiction for a living because her she writes so beautifully. But she also has crippling social anxieties, particularly at bedtime, clams up in conversation / small talk, hides away when we have guests, and sometimes will imitate our pets if she wants our attention because its easier than talking. When we asked for assessment, her primary school reported they had no reason for concern, but they're not privy to the efforts we put in behind the scenes to produce this result. She's now in secondary school, doing well on the outside but battling on the inside, so we're started the ball rolling again with her new school, pushing hard for an assessment. We're have confidence in the schools well being team.

As we learn more about autism, my wife and I are becoming more aware of ourselves and believe we're both likely to be on the spectrum too. The more we learn, the more our past makes sense. Our own social anxieties, the miscommunication we have in our relationship, all those "you got angry for no reason" and upsets about routines and inflexibility. Things make so much more sense when we look at them with our autism glasses on.

For me, the most upsetting aspect in our relation, is feeling unheard. It's very hard for me to explain .. it's like, no matter how I approach the subject, if my upset doesn't fit into her understanding of the situation, it simply cannot exist. Black and white. And if I press to be heard, it makes her angry and upset. It's like she can see that I'm upset but is unable to connect it as a response to something she has done. So becomes upset and angry herself because my 'out of the blue' response is unwarranted, without reason, and unfair. When she occasionally upsets me it's obviously unintentional, and I try not to respond, but if I do, if I can;t mask my upset, the hurts she feels is worse, because she sees it as unprovoked, and so I find myself always putting my feelings to one side to soothe her. The alternative is a rabbit hole where all my comments about feelings are filtered through the old Black or White sorting machine and it becomes all 'no, that's not what I said", "you're misunderstanding me", "I'm not accusing you of anything, I'm just trying to explain why I'm upset". And the harder I push to be heard, the more it hurts when I'm not. 

Obviously, if you were to speak to my wife, she'll say pretty much the same things about me. lol. But with an emphasis on me not apologizing enough (men! eh?), and a complaint about me always getting upset without no reason. Ha, ha. :)

I find the better I can hide my upsets, the more peaceful our marriage is, but the sadder i get.

So, we recently spent time with a Relate councilor which was useful. We sorted through a backlog of misunderstandings, and it was nice for me to feel heard by the councilor at least. We understand each other better, and we mostly argue 'better' now too. But we're still sticking on the big one, where I feel I'm not 'allowed' to have my own feelings. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have come across this, so thought I'd say hello and see if anyone else has had any success in this area.

  • For me, the most upsetting aspect in our relation, is feeling unheard. It's very hard for me to explain .. it's like, no matter how I approach the subject, if my upset doesn't fit into her understanding of the situation, it simply cannot exist. Black and white. And if I press to be heard, it makes her angry and upset. It's like she can see that I'm upset but is unable to connect it as a response to something she has done. So becomes upset and angry herself because my 'out of the blue' response is unwarranted, without reason, and unfair. When she occasionally upsets me it's obviously unintentional, and I try not to respond, but if I do, if I can;t mask my upset, the hurts she feels is worse, because she sees it as unprovoked, and so I find myself always putting my feelings to one side to soothe her. The alternative is a rabbit hole where all my comments about feelings are filtered through the old Black or White sorting machine and it becomes all 'no, that's not what I said", "you're misunderstanding me", "I'm not accusing you of anything, I'm just trying to explain why I'm upset". And the harder I push to be heard, the more it hurts when I'm not. 

    Obviously, if you were to speak to my wife, she'll say pretty much the same things about me. lol. But with an emphasis on me not apologizing enough (men! eh?), and a complaint about me always getting upset without no reason. Ha, ha. :)

    This sounds like me and my wife. It's taken us 19 years of being together and a couple of years of therapy to be able to talk, very carefully, as you've described; "I just want you to imagine this scenario and tell me how you'd feel" / "Oh, I see, *you're* the cat and I'm the elephant, and the stolen stool is Richard's car?" / "Exactly, and I fully take ownership of my reaction, and see it as analogous to when you reacted to XXX last week".

    What struck me more though is how you mention the blind spots; one partner reacts to something or wants to express a need or a feeling, and it's like if the other partner can't find an internal "language" for it, it is like it doesn't exist - there's a nothingness, zero on the "recognition-ometer". So despite one talking and the other genuinely listening, no-one is "heard". That's why we have to keep trying analogies until it clicks - which can be exhausting and confusing!

    And that's just the first step - the "problem statement" - next comes what to do about it!

    If it isn't obvious already, we are both on the waiting list for evaluation :-).

  • You sound lovely and the rest of your family sound just as lovely. 

    I would recommend something called non violent communication. You can watch YouTube videos about it and you can get it in audio, kindle or book format. It might sound a bit weird at first but once you get to grips with it and begin to practice it, it will eventually become second nature. 

    It’s a way of being able to express to somebody else how we’re feeling in response to something they have said or done, but saying it in such a way which doesn’t involve any blame on them. 

    Being heard is a primary need of ours so while it’s honourable and kind that you cover your feelings to spare others feelings, as you said it doesn’t help you. What you have tried so far doesn’t work. However, I promise you that if you can get to grips with non violent communication, you will be able to meet your innate need to be heard while not upsetting anybody else. 

    You’re a wonderful person and I love how you talk about your family. I think you’ll get to grips with non violent communication pretty quickly. 

    I know how important being heard is, both from a personal and a professional stand point, so it is important you find a way to both meet your needs of self expression while respecting others needs of not causing them to feel upset and NVC can definitely meet that need. 

    Whatever way you choose to approach it, you need a new approach and this is one that is at least worth checking out and if you go through with it, it will definitely help. 

    Best wishes to you and your beautiful family X