Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why Husbands are Frustrating (Life with #Autism)

I tried posting this on tonight, but of course it was way too long. So posting it here. Hope it's helpful.


One of the things I've observed on here (on MAT) is that the site is predominantly women and that there's a lot of (for lack of a better word) frustration with husbands. A friend with a newly diagnosed 2-year-old who describing her husband's response to me and it suddenly hit me: they are at different stages of grief. (And that turned into this really long post. I hope it's helpful.)

Drawing from Mars/Venus, us guys want to "fix it." We have a bias towards action. Give us a problem and we'll solve it.

Now, suddenly, we're faced with a problem we can't "solve." But this is what we do. On top of that, this is a loss. I don't know if Ben will ever talk, play sports (or video games) or outgrow diapers. While I love my son and who he is, I had a different thought in mind of what having a son would be like and all the stuff he and I would do.

So now, the one thing I'm good at - "fixing" is rendered useless, and I'm also mourning the loss of my child, in a way. Oh, and my wife is so busy taking care of our children that she doesn't have as much time and attention to lavish on me as I'd like, and maybe some of the things she did for our household aren't getting done anymore because she's worn out and tired. And so much money, so so so much money is going to co-pays for therapies and doctors and our portion of trips to the ER. And if that wasn't enough, no one's getting good sleep.

Without even thinking about it, you moms just suck-it-up and deal. It's an inherent part of who you are. Sink or swim - because if you don't, who will? You protect your cubs. Your whole world has changed. His has only partially changed which could even be more confusing.

So now you're left with a bewildered husband. The home is unpredictable, chaotic, loud and there's probably a neverending stack of stuff to be done. The children aren't always behaved and everything he knows about reward and punishment is thrown out the window by little people who interpret the world differently. His parents may have distanced themselves or may now be critical of you as parents. And we hear stories of what our friends with neurotypical children are experiencing and the competitive part of us has to keep quiet because life with an autistic child is something they won't understand.

The office, however, is predictable. You're respected, people do what you ask them to. It's quiet, it's orderly. There's a common goal in mind, there are rules, there are problems to solve, challenges to overcome.

Your husband is probably feeling out of place:

  • a little confused about what to do
  • working through the stages of grief
  • thinking "I didn't sign up for this" 
  • feeling unappreciated (whether it's legit or not - us guys can be fragile sometimes)
  • and facing an unfixable problem. 

They don't mean to be uninvolved or unsupportive, they're just overwhelmed.

It may be time to invest in your husband. This is a new role -- they've not trained for it, and they haven't done all the research you have, and they don't have all the experience you have.

But try to figure out where they are at. (Truthfully, as a mama bear that protects the family, he's yours to protect as well. Of course, he's going to internalize this, so all you see is reservation, anger, withdrawal.)

I'd start with a technique called "couch time" - this is a time right after they get home from work where you both sit on the couch and talk. The little ones can't interrupt because your focus is only on each other. 5-10 minutes tops. Allows him to integrate into the home life, gives him an outlet, shows your children that mommy and daddy are on the same page and that they are a team. (A great time to discuss things that you need to be on the same page about.)

If they're grieving, let them talk it through. They need to go from denial (where our parents get stuck), anger (why, God?), bargaining, depression (where guys get stuck) to acceptance (congrats moms, you're there. You moved quickly because the world wasn't going to wait for you. So that's probably also a source of frustration, whether you realize it or not - your husband's had an opportunity to progress more slowly and may not yet be caught up with you.)

Once they get to acceptance, they can roll up their sleeves and look for ways to be involved, especially if there *are* things that can be fixed. Speaking of...

Find some things to fix. I don't mean "take out the trash" or "repaint the deck" (no nagging) but "I have a problem _____ and I need your help." Just that simple. You haven't told them what to do, but you've given them a chance to be successful. And then celebrate the solution - show your appreciation and show how it fits into the context of the family. This could be an actual task, or it could be something that allows him to assert his leadership as the traditional head-of-household figure. (I'm not being sexist here - give your husband a chance to step up and lead and he will rise to the occasion. If it's been awhile, it may need to be in small steps where he can regain his confidence.)

And the attention thing - that's huge. Guys will feel that there's no time for them. When you first got married, you had all the time in the world for each other - you were each other's worlds. We tend to hang on to stuff for a long time, we don't like change - that's why we keep old clothes and old music.

And with some our kiddos, it's even difficult finding babysitters. Find someone who you can train to watch your children (they come over and practice putting the children to bed while you read a book in another room).

Or have a date while the children are at school, or encourage him to go in to work late -- one of you runs out to McDonalds and picks up breakfast and then you have breakfast in bed before the kids wake up. (Or forget the breakfast part.)

Your husband made a commitment to you when he got married and then made a commitment to your family when the children came along. Most husbands would be surprised (and possibly a little hurt) if they were to come on here and learn you were frustrated with them.

Most of the husbands want to do better, to be better, they just need your guidance.

Good luck - it's your turn to "fix" it.

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