On the Spectrum

ost of you are familiar with the concept of an Autism spectrum. In it’s simplest form, it suggests that many people navigate life on a continuum from almost complete disconnection from relationship to merely being unskilled at social engagement. As I learned about this relatively new understanding I began to reflect on myself and how I experience my own discomfort in human interaction.

Plumbing this insight about the Autism spectrum, I am looking at myself and observing many of the couples I’ve worked with. But instead of identifying a social engagement style through the lens of pathology, I am growing ever more open to the reality of a continuum of social, and emotional connection. If I am honest, many of the struggles that have emerged between my partner Marcia and myself are the direct result of differences (and sometimes similarities) of where we sit on a spectrum between Emotional and Rational, and between Introversion and Extraversion.

Truth is, even though I am supposed to be an authority on committed relationships there are many times I have felt like an abject failure. I miss emotional signals from Marcia that result in her feeling unseen and alone. I tend to like being with myself and send out psychic smoke signals that convey the message “Leave me the fuck alone!” I can get lost in my own interior world and not share my needs, struggles, and ideas – particularly my needs. I fail to mention how much I appreciate Marcia and to let her know when I am turned on by her. I’m often in “survival consciousness” feeling an undercurrent of apprehension about doing life right. I don’t remember names very well, and I don’t cry easily. There you have it, all the stuff I’ve been confronting in myself since I first got involved in personal growth at the age of 26.

I place myself squarely on the rational and introvert end of the spectrum. these are not the qualities I imagined as making one adept at intimacy. In my less sanguine moments, I have wondered if I was meant to be a hermit. The rules of engagement slightly beyond my comprehension. It has seemed to me, over the years, that I just don’t do relationship well.

But this is where I am wrong. While Marcia, my life partner for 40 years, has been annoyed, disappointed, and hurt by these aspects of my character, she also has come to know and appreciate what I bring. My introversion and reason bring a steadiness to our life. I am not impulsive and don’t react too quickly to the shit life throws at us. I have learned to be more humble in the acknowledgment of my limits. I have a depth that evokes a sense of trust. I can bring humor even as we approach the gallows. Sometimes even, I come up with wisdom that exists deep inside the tumult of our passions. Through it all, I’ve come to move toward conflict when it arises. I am curious to learn what went awry. And this much is true, if we cannot face conflict openly, we doom ourselves to a two dimensional world.

My relationship with Marcia is the single greatest teacher in my life. There are many paths each of walks through this precious life. The committed relationship is one that challenges us to accept who we are and simultaneously accept who our partner is as well. Each one of us is unique in our social engagement style. There’s a viral YouTube video, a satirical look at the rational man and a woman who wants to engage more emotionally. The woman has a nail in her forehead and is only looking for empathy from her partner. The man is intent on suggesting that she would feel better if she would just remove the nail. When we come to recognize that both sides of the spectrum are part of the human condition just maybe we can love each other and ourselves a little more.

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