Small Talk

(Marriage tip #3)

I wonder if this area of marriage is easier for a married woman with Asperger’s Syndrome/High-functioning Autism than it is for a married man. The reason I write this is because people with AS/HFA generally do not like to make small talk.

My husband wishes I was a little better at small talk, but being a guy, he doesn’t mind that I am quieter unless I have something I really want to talk about. However, I wonder if men with AS/HFA stress their spouses out a bit more on this point.

Here’s the reason we AS/HFAs don’t like small talk, we don’t gain the same things from small talk that neurotypical people (NTs) do. I have been told that NTs use small talk to gauge how their audience is feeling, to see if their audience is open to talking about something deeper.

Those of us with AS/HFA are not able to read the subtle cues that NTs read during small talk, so small talk is just a pointless, time and energy wasting exercise to us. My husband has decided at times that I must not be in the mood to talk about something important because I seem exasperated, or tired while he tries to engage in small talk. The truth is that I would love to talk about something important. I am feeling exasperated during the small talk because I do not understand the point of it. Anyone gets exasperated if they don’t understand the point of what someone else is trying to communicate to them.

I have also been told that NTs use small talk to warm themselves up. Because verbal communication is generally a bit difficult for us with AS/HFA, we generally only do what we absolutely need to do. Can you see why that would mean that we don’t like to warm up first, but just jump right in?

Finally, we find it very confusing to switch from small talk to something more serious. In our black and white world, either we are hanging out and chatting about nothing (small talk), or we are trying to solve the world’s problems. If we are in the mood for one, we are not planning on being in the mood for the other, so are surprised when the subject moves from light to serious.

So NTs, don’t assume that your partner doesn’t care about what you have to say when they don’t warm up to your small talk. Just jump in and start talking about something important to your relationship, and see if that doesn’t get them interacting a bit more.

I am slowly learning how important it is for my husband to warm up with small talk. It is not comfortable for me, but I just have to remind myself that if I want to have a good relationship with him, I need to do what he needs, not just what I need.

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Talking about peeves

(Marriage tip #2)

I have learned that if I am upset with my neurotypical (NT) spouse about something, he prefers that first I start out with some pleasant small talk, followed by a comment about how much I enjoy him. After those pleasantries, I may bring up what is bothering me using an, “I feel this way when you behave that way,” statement. I then should quickly follow up with another pleasant statement. From reading parenting and relationship materials, and listening to married friends talk over the years, it sounds like this is the way most NTs prefer to be told bad news.

This, however, is not at all how those with Autism Spectrum Disorders like to learn about an issue. First of all, we don’t particularly like small talk at any time, though most of us have learned to put up with it, and try to participate for the sake of keeping up relationships.

Second, we want you to get right to the point. It confuses us when you start out with something you like about us, just to have you then launch into something you don’t like about us. It does not make us feel good to have you say something nice about us first. In fact, we feel tricked – here we thought we were having a pleasant conversation between contented friends when, BAM! Sucker punch to the mid-section. You are not at all contented but frustrated with us.

Now it will be hard for us to have a pleasant conversation with you in the future. We won’t be able to relax – we will keep wondering when you are going to drop the hammer on us, again.

It is ok to say a quick, “I love you, but…” But please, no long, drawn out pleasantries. Just give us the bad news, and let’s move on to how to solve it.

You can tell us what you like about us after we have discussed the bad news. We may find that comforting, but please don’t waste your breath on it before. That will just make us feel patronized, disrespected, lied to, etc.

Before I realized that I had Asperger’s Syndrome, I had gotten to the point where I was really nervous about talking to my husband, because I always seemed to upset him, when I was just trying to make our relationship better, and vice versa. Now I understand he is not trying to trick me, but trying to be considerate, from an NTs point of view.

I am trying to be less direct, more round-about, and more affirming like he prefers. I fear that I am really quite terrible at it. It is so uncomfortable, and feels so conniving. But with God’s help, I hope to improve. I think he tries to be more direct with me, but that is a very foreign way for him. The good news is that we are both now aware of our differences, so we are able to focus on the issue at hand, and not so much the delivery of the news.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, by doing unto them what you don’t want done unto you, but that they prefer.