Language Differences Are Frustrating and Cause Painful Conflict
One of the most common complaints of partners in a relationship with an autistic individual is “I feel ignored!” This leads to feeling devalued and unloved. Autistic individuals who love their partners may not intentionally ignore a partner, but differences in communication style and expectations lead to major confusion and hurt. In this article, you will learn a powerful strategy to get your autistic partner to stop ignoring you.
Being in a neurodiverse relationship means you and your partner have different neurotypes (neurotypical, autistic, ADHD, etc.) and, if you’re like other neurodiverse couples, you often experience communication difficulties. Misunderstandings and confusion are common because you use language differently and for various reasons. Resentment builds, which usually means you don’t feel heard or understood, and you may feel criticized or judged.
Relationships struggle to thrive, or even survive when communication breaks down. Although it may seem that your partner’s communication style is the problem, relationships involve two-way interactions and it is important that you develop skills and techniques to improve your own communication. By improving your own communication, your chances of being heard and having a productive conversation are much greater.
How You Start a Conversation Matters
“Startups,” a concept coined by relationship pioneers John and Julie Gottman, refers to how you approach communication with your partner in various ways, such as through email, texting, phone calls, or even casual conversations. How you initiate these interactions dramatically impacts the outcome of your communication.
Harsh Startups Put You on a Path to Painful Interactions
A harsh startup occurs when you approach your partner in a critical and blaming manner. The focus is on what your partner has said or done that has upset you, and the implication is usually that your partner is wrong or has been hurtful. This type of approach immediately puts your partner on the defensive. It is unproductive and does not produce a positive outcome for either of you.
Some examples of harsh startups include saying things like:
- “Why can’t you ever ___________?”
- “You never ______________!”
- “I’m so angry with you right now because ______________.”
- “What is wrong with you?”
- “You didn’t ________________.”
- “You do realize that ________________.”
- “Yet again you _____________.”
- “You always ________________.”
When you hope to resolve issues or be heard by your partner, a harsh startup will hinder your progress.
Harsh Startups Prevent You From Getting Your Desired Outcome
Harsh startups often result in a partner putting on their figurative “boxing gloves” like an opponent in a fight to win. This creates an antagonistic dynamic in the relationship and triggers a fight or flight, fawn, or freeze response. Hormones are released that prepare the body to fight off an attack or run away. Sometimes, a partner will “fawn,” which is a fear response that results in people-pleasing behaviors to avoid conflict. A “freeze” response locks down the ability to think and move, so your partner may stare blankly at you. It takes the body 20-30 minutes to metabolize the hormones that activate in the body.
When either of you is in a defensive state, rational conversation becomes nearly impossible.
The body takes about 20 to 30 minutes to metabolize these hormones. During this time, your partner remains in a heightened state of anger and defensiveness. Trying to have a rational conversation during this period is unlikely to be productive and may only escalate the conflict further.
Soft Startups Are a Powerful Approach to Being Heard By Your Partner
On the other hand, a soft startup is kinder, more respectful, and engages your partner in a more positive way. When you use a soft startup, you approach your partner as a teammate instead of an opponent. Even when there is a misunderstanding or confusion, this approach puts you on a team together, solving a mutual problem. Your partner will more likely hear you and engage in the conversation without conflict.
Examples of soft startups are:
- “I noticed we have different preferences about how to __________. Let’s discuss it and find a solution for both of us.”
- “I’ve noticed we have different ways of thinking and expressing ourselves. I like it when __________ and I think you prefer __________. Can we talk about it and learn about each other?“
- “I like to ___________, and it seems you don’t like that. Are you willing to do this for me on occasion? Can we talk about it? “
The point of soft startups is to make your thoughts and feelings known without blaming or shaming your partner for having different preferences.
Timing is Crucial for Ensuring Your Partner Listens To You
To avoid harsh startups and their negative consequences, it’s crucial to be intentional about soft startups and to avoid impulsive harsh startups in a moment of irritation and anger. Soft startups involve preparing before having a conversation and being mindful of the timing. Blurting out frustration in the heat of the moment will result in conflict and prevent resolution. Taking the time to think about what you want to say and writing it down will help you communicate more effectively and without criticism.
Additionally, approaching your partner when they are distracted, stressed, or exhausted is not ideal. It’s important to be conscientious of the timing and choose a moment when your partner is more likely to be receptive and able to engage in a productive conversation.
Repair a Rough Start-Up To Avoid Shut-Down or Defensiveness From Your Partner
If you use a harsh startup, there is still time to repair the situation. As soon as you realize what you’ve done, take a moment to pause and acknowledge it. You can then apologize and reframe your approach more kindly and respectfully. Doing so can prevent the conversation from escalating further and create an opportunity for a more positive outcome. If you feel like you need help repairing harsh startups in your own relationship. Connect with me today! I have a number of neurodiverse relationship courses available to help you start now.
Ultimately, Your Words, Timing, and Approach Significantly Impacts Being Heard By Your Partner
In summary, how you approach your autistic partner (or anyone, for that matter) greatly influences the outcome of your communication. Harsh startups, characterized by criticism and blame, trigger defensiveness and hinder productive conversation. Soft startups, on the other hand, positively engage your partner. By being mindful of your approach and choosing the right timing, you can improve communication with your autistic partner and foster a healthier, more understanding relationship. Effective communication is a two-way street, and both partners have a role in creating a safe and supportive environment for open dialogue. Use techniques like soft startups to do your part. Soft startups are a crucial technique to improve communication with your autistic partner.
*Some editing by ChatGPT