Christmas and Assorted Family Celebrations
I married my husband twenty years ago after knowing him for five years. There was never any indication that he may have difficulties which would prove fatal to our love. He was easy going, charming and enjoyed the same things I did. I didn’t know this was all part of his strategy to persuade me to marry him. He was masking his real difficulties to achieve his obsessive aim: find someone who would be a boon to him socially and lift his standing with his family and acquaintances. He had deliberately set out to find someone who would enhance his life to the level of what he felt was his rightful entitlement.
I was to find out ten years later that the incredible obstacles and stress involved in any kind of interaction between us was caused by his then undiagnosed high functioning autism.
Over those twenty years there have been many family gatherings for weddings, funerals, birthdays, births of my grandchildren, holiday trips and many other occasions. These require some organisational effort with the basics of menus, food preparation, decorations, present choosing and buying to name just a few jobs. They also require a willing heart and a generous spirit of wanting to give the very best possible occasion to loved ones.
I have come to dread any formal social occasion when my husband is present. The stress and surreal atmosphere he brings to any occasion sucks whatever joy there is out of the room for me and others who are there. His fabricated and forceful bon vivant attitude is overwhelming and crushing. His domineering of conversations and insistence on steering the direction of any spontaneous frivolities is a form of bullying.
I’ve tried to be patient with his need for order and predictability. I’ve tried to be kind and understanding when others walk away and leave us by ourselves. I’ve tried to help him understand that people don’t stay in the one place at family gatherings. They mingle. I can’t keep trying to teach the same lessons over and over. He says he knows all that, but he’s unable to do it. If I leave him to mingle myself, he becomes angry that I’ve left him alone. His aggressive face and clenched fists make me know he’s not enjoying himself unless he’s the centre of attention; unless he’s constantly being cared for and fawned over.
He’s not like this at home. At home, he’s silent and unconnected. He avoids conversation with me and doesn’t appreciate me initiating small talk. I live with a chameleon. I live with a man who has no ability to share. He’s a man who initiates nothing unless it’s for his own special obsession.
I’ve tried to enlist his help with shopping and planning for these occasions. He gets angry. I’ve tried to ask his opinion on menus and decorations. He gets angry. I’ve decided to leave him out of these events altogether. I tell him he’s not welcome or I don’t tell him they are on. I go by myself and have a much nicer time than when he’s breathing down my neck.
Some recent friends were surprised to find out my husband was still alive. They just assumed I was a widow; always on my own.
My memory is dim of many of these important events. The stress of the dysfunction has wiped any pleasure from my mind. When the serious disability called high functioning autism is present in a family, the dynamics change forever the experiences of the whole family. This year he asked if he could come with me on Christmas Day because he’s tired of spending the day alone. My heart sank. If I take him with me, the day will be stressful for me walking on eggshells. However, my conscience tells me that I should take him with me. Conflicted again!
Perhaps the lesson he really needs to learn (but never will) is that he can’t ignore someone he’s supposed to love for weeks on end and then ask them a favour. The loved one knows that if the favour’s granted; tomorrow the neglect, ignoring, controlling behaviour will be turned back on again and nothing will change. This is how it always is. Perhaps it’s time to be tough and ignore his feelings and take care of mine.
It’s nothing dramatic at these events, just the slow drip of Chinese water torture and erosion of anything positive which may have existed in the beginning. It is what it is. I can choose to include him or not. Whatever goodwill was there in the beginning has been eroded completely and he is oblivious to the fact.
The decision became easy. No more wrestling with my conscience or feeling sorry that my current husband would be home by himself. My daughter told me that my ex-husband, her father, was going to be there and the thought of coping with the various passive aggression from both men was unbearable. If I leave my present husband at home it will be easy to stay out of the ex’s way, was the obvious conclusion. That’s not quite how it turned out however and there is a happy ending for me.
The ex-husband, after having many failed relationships and growing older, has mellowed. He was pleasant, personable and sufficiently involved in the day’s festivities to make me feel at ease. There was, after 26 years of barely seeing him, still a “warm, polite” connection. I felt comfortable in his presence. He has social skills which my current husband lacks. He understands the good natured banter which occurs in family gatherings. He contributes and enhances the occasion. He foresees and reacts appropriately to the ever changing complexity of neurotypical interaction. We kept a respectful distance, yet shared small talk about our lives. What a contrast to my current husband who has ASD. I had forgotten how “easy” it is to be with neurotypicals.
I left feeling a profound epiphany. When all emotion is removed and I completely emotionally disconnect from my current husband I can see clearly the coldness, the spiteful childishness, the absolute inability to relate to another human being with simple unspoken warmth and generosity of spontaneous kindness: kindness that requires nothing in return.
I had made the correct decision not to take my current husband to the Christmas Day family gathering. I had made the correct decision to completely emotionally disconnect from him and my conscience is clear about that now. No more guilt. No more beating myself up that I should be able to fix it: that I should be nicer to him. He’s an adult. He does all the legal activities that society permits an adult to do. He is NOT my responsibility. He is NOT my child.
Freedom from the burden of ASD’s dependency on me, is wonderful (perhaps only for now) but if I can maintain and remember what I learned today, I will be much happier.
Judith 2014 ©