Some NT Advice for Communicating with an Aspie Partner: Be Literal

We had just finished dinner in our new apartment and my teenage, now-stepson had left his dirty dishes next to the sink. Again. Dishwasher

“Can you please show him how the dishwasher works?” I said to my now-husband, Tom.

It wasn’t really an accusation. The place they had lived before was dishwasher-free.

I went out the door to collect the laundry. When I came back, the dishes were next to the sink, untouched. Tom was watching TV.

“I thought you were going to show him how the dishwasher worked,” I said.

“I did.”

There had to be more to this story.

“What did you say to him?”

Tom opened the dishwasher and pointed inside. “I showed him how the rotating jets ascend when the door is locked, and how the chemical composition and velocity of the arced spray rinses off the food and disinfects the plates.” He smiled, like he was proud of his role in passing on the physics of dishwashing to a new generation.

Here’s the thing. He had explained HOW the dishwasher worked because that is exactly what I had asked him to do.

“I just wanted you both to put your dishes in there,” I said.

But from Tom’s perspective, if that’s what I had wanted, why didn’t I just say so?

For an NT, it’s hard to believe that a person can really be so literal. As NTs, we naturally understand how to read between the lines, and we are suspicious of anyone who claims to be unable to.

It would be easy for me to be upset over these situations, and to blame my husband for secretly trying to make me angry by using a “literal loophole” to avoid fulfilling my requests.

But it’s also easy to believe that my husband is a loving person who happens to process language differently than I do. And when I approach communication from this perspective, things turn out better. I get to be happy. I get to be heard and I get to feel like my needs matter.

And so does he.

© 2013 Tom and Linda Peters

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11 Comments

  1. ABC California

     /  July 13, 2013

    “NT”? What’s “NT”?

    Reply
    • Hi ABC!

      Thanks for reading our blog.

      NT stands for neurotypical, or in plain English–not Asperger’s or ASD. It’s a nice way of saying “normal.”

      Tom

      Reply
  2. Joan Tenowich

     /  July 13, 2013

    So Linda, don’t ever tell Tom you’re “tied up in traffic” or he might come after you with scissors.

    Reply
  3. I have gotten pretty decent at reading the ques at this point in my life but every now and then things like people trying to make small talk at the office and asking, “So how it is going?” Then I spiel on about some tech issue for the next 15 minutes. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
  4. I know what you mean. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

    Remaining ever vigilant about figuring out what is literal and what is figurative is hard work. The slightest slip-up can send me and my poor, hapless listener into a 25 minute lecture about the composition styles of Beethoven versus Mozart or squirrel migration patterns.

    Why they don’t find squirrel migration patterns fascinating is beyond me.

    Reply
  5. Instead of sighing I should jot down some of those literal misinterpretations with my kids so I can find humor in them later, much later, after some wine maybe.

    Reply
    • I disagree. While there is sometimes humor in our misunderstandings, the “literal” trait can make us easier to deal with than other people. It always amazes me that so many people waste huge amounts of energy on multilayered interpretations of simple concepts.

      We should pride ourselves on the ability to speak plainly. These misinterpretations are what make us who we are.

      Reply
  6. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you’re a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and may come back down the road. I want to encourage you to continue your great job, have a nice day!|

    Reply

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