26

I feel like I can't correctly ascertain what my significant other would rather do. We have had a rocky relationship as she is rather introverted, while I'm more needy, and while we talked and determined to pursue a more healthy relationship with both of us trying our best to help the other party, I have recently come to this issue.

When talking about meeting with my significant other, sometimes she will not be open about her feelings on meeting up or not, and when later confronted she will cite a fear of making me feel bad as a reason to not doing so; so she accepts reluctantly when it would not be the most convenient to her to do so, but later won't stop talking about how inconvenient it is for her, both previous to the appointment, and during it.

It makes me feel guilty, as I do not wish to inconvenience her, but when I offer to postpone the appointment or give up on it, she will reject and tell me to carry on with it, but won't modify her behaviour. I get very confused since I am getting mixed signals and I don't know how I should act.

I have tried to make it clear that, while I feel it's a pity we can't meet, it doesn't make me feel bad, and I understand and respect her boundaries, but judging by her attitude, I find it clear she won't believe me on this and I don't understand why.

If it helps provide context, I have Asperger's syndrome.

She will consistently tell me that I always get sad when she tells me she doesn't want to meet up, and while it's true I did in the past, I've been changing that issue, but after telling her I don't do that anymore, she cites times when I express discontent over not being able to meet up ("Oh, well, that's a shame :'(") as a reason to tell me how I'm feeling, and when I tell her I was merely expressing shame over not being able to meet up, I'm in no way feeling bad.

For further clarification, this was a conversation we actually had last week:

ME: This week I'll only be able to meet on Tuesday, because of so, so and so.

HER: Oh, I actually had an appointment that day...

ME: Oh, well, that's a shame.

HER: Would you like me to cancel it?

ME: No, that's okay, I don't want to bother you.

ME (5 minutes later): On a second thought though, if it won't bother you, I'd actually like to meet you.

(Afterwards...)

HER: So.. you'd like me to cancel it for sure?

ME: Well, I'd like to meet you, yes.

Afterwards, pretty shortly before meeting she proceeded to tell me I had forced her to cancel her appointment and how she hadn't liked that at all.

So my question is:

How can I find out what she really wants when she is telling me to meet up, but keeps sending mixed signals? More specifically, how can I confront her and make it clear that this issue is damaging me, but without making her feel bad about it?

  • 17
    when she says "Oh, I actually had an appointment that day...", she is expecting you to suggest a better time and be happy/confident about it, without going any deeper into questions – Garet Claborn Nov 22 '17 at 19:41
  • Just to iterate, It's quite clear that you are being an inconvenience here, as the answers below suggests. I mean, wow, you beat around the bush while she is direct about her responses and still you think it is her who moans? You need a reality check, mate. – LocustHorde Dec 12 '17 at 14:33
  • Is she on the spectrum too? – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 19 '18 at 7:54
38

The problem isn't her dropping hints, it's her interpreting your statements as hints.

I bet you think that's preposterous. You only say just what you mean, right? Well, maybe. Let's take a look at your example.

ME: This week I'll only be able to meet on Tuesday, because of so, so and so.

HER: Oh, I actually had an appointment that day...

ME: Oh, well, that's a shame.

This here says you are disappointed you two can't meet. Maybe you do not expect her to act on that disappointment, but someone who cares about you will likely do so anyway. Especially if you include a crying emoticon, you can't blame her for interpreting it as you being upset! If you are so straightforward and are really okay with not meeting, then say that instead of expressing disappointment.

HER: Would you like me to cancel it?

Here, you might infer she's okay with canceling the appointment, although she never actually said that. She's simply asking if you want her to cancel. You should assume it's some hassle to cancel it since she brought it up. Otherwise it wouldn't be relevant to the conversation.

ME: No, that's okay, I don't want to bother you.

ME (5 minutes later): On a second thought though, if it won't bother you, I'd actually like to meet you.

Are you okay with not meeting or are you not? Do you want to interfere with her appointment or not? Even I'm confused.

(Afterwards...)

HER: So.. you'd like me to cancel it for sure?

The fact that she's asking the question again means she's not sure what you're asking for. This is a direct question with no hints. And yet...

ME: Well, I'd like to meet you, yes.

This isn't a straightforward response. "Yes, I'd like you to cancel your appointment so we can meet," is straightforward. But canceling is almost certainly an inconvenience, and surely you know that, right? So don't act like you're not inconveniencing her, and that all you said here is that you'd like to meet.

Obviously you didn't actually force her to cancel her appointment, but you did express disappointment and then you asked her to cancel it. It's reasonable for her to feel obligated to cancel it.

So, what can you do to prevent this?

Do what she's doing: ask her a direct question about what she wants. You said you can only meet Tuesday. Did you ask her if she's available or wants to meet that day? Why should she assume you care if you don't bother to ask?

Do you ever ask her if the appointment is important or a hassle to move? If you do and she gives an ambiguous response, do what she did: ask again. My guess is she would admit it's inconvenient if you force her to outright say it is or isn't. If she says it's important, then don't ask her to cancel it or act disappointed.

How can you change her behavior?

There's only one way to do this. First, understand why she is behaving the way she is. Ask her outright: "Why do you offer to do things you'll feel resentful about later?" Make sure you fully understand her response.

The next step is to somehow convince her the behavior is not actually achieving what she wants, and suggest a different behaviour that works better for both of you. Let's say her reason is that she doesn't want to disappoint you by not meeting you. Don't claim you aren't disappointed by it; that's blatantly false. Instead, say you are even more saddened by the knowledge that she's resentful, and disappointed that it's causing your valuable time together to be unpleasant. If she wants you to be happy, then she should be honest about how important her commitments are instead.

The last step is to give her ample opportunities to display the new behavior, and reinforce it when she does. If you ask her if an appointment is important and she admits that it is, tell her how happy you are that she was honest about it. Don't display any discontent about not meeting or do anything else to discourage her. If she tries to claim it isn't important, remind her how sad you'll be if she ends up being resentful, and how it makes you happier when she's honest.

Ask her what she wants and reward her when she's honest. I think that will make things a lot easier.

  • 3
    I really like this answer. It provides a great solution to the problem, plus an explanation around why it is the responsibility of both parties to improve their communication. I actually found this really helpful for my own communication, directness is important and sometimes those of us who are on the autism spectrum think we're being more direct than we actually are. It's easy to forget how neurotypical individuals communicate differently and this was a good reminder of that. Thank you for a great contribution! – Groggo Nov 23 '17 at 9:58
15

It sounds like she is more sensitive to what people might think of her, whereas you are used to a straightforward communication style and expect the same back. I'm approaching this from a point of sympathy with your SO's fears, since I have struggled with this in relationships before (and I think the opposite side has been covered decently in other answers).

Before you meet

When you asked, you expected her to say "Sorry, I'd rather not cancel my appointment", if she did feel that way, and you would have been totally fine with either outcome. That is great for you! But, keep in mind that a lot of people have trouble saying no, especially to loved ones and dating partners. We even have a big question about such a situation on this site: How to tell girlfriend I don't want to meet without hurting her feelings?, so you can see how much of a hot-button issue it can be.

Fortunately, you are an understanding guy who won't react poorly if she declines, right? :) You'll need to show her this - telling is great, but it will take some time and positive experiences for her to really trust it. Be patient! She may have had bad experiences in the past with people who were not as forthcoming as you. That sort of thing can really stick with a person and make them question if other people are also secretly harboring bad feelings. (This is something I had trouble with, after a relationship with a very passive-aggressive person. Someone could tell me a thousand times they won't be mad if I say no, but I'd still get anxious and worked up over saying it the first couple dozen times.)

The biggest help, when making plans, would be to make it very easy for her to say no. Try to give her an "out". If she mentions she has an appointment, let her know it's fine if she would rather keep it. (I think your first response in the example was good at doing this!) Don't assume that she will bring up objections unprompted; as you've seen, she seems to be uncomfortable doing so herself. When she declines a proposal, accept it and let her know that you still care for her. "No problem, I'll just be extra excited to see you next week!"

Unfortunately, I think going from "no problem" to "actually, I'd like to meet" in the example didn't help. If I were her, I might think:

  • He's still thinking about it
  • It must be bothering him
  • This must be important to him
  • Is my appointment really that important?
  • I guess I should offer to cancel...

Be mindful of how you say things. For example, you could ask her to let you know if the appointment is called off (signaling that you'd be happy to see her, but without asking anything of her), rather than asking her directly and putting her in a position where she would either have to cancel or say "no" (either disappointing her or you - at least, in her mind).

After you (decide to) meet

Afterwards, pretty shortly before meeting she proceeded to tell me I had forced her to cancel her appointment and how she hadn't liked that at all.

Communication differences strike again!! These things can pile up quickly, so you need to talk about it:

  • Start with an apology for making her feel that way. This can calm her annoyance and shows that you aren't trying to start a fight.
  • Remind her, gently, that you expect people to say what they feel and aren't great at picking up on hints.
  • Ask her to help you understand what you did or said that made her feel that way
  • Ask what would you could say instead next time

However, like I said in answer to another recent question here, it's fair to assume that she's being honest when she tells you things. If she says "sure, that's fine" when you make plans, and then gets upset at you later because it's not fine, it's not your fault for not believing her the first time. Relationships require mutual trust in order to work! You may need to (again, gently) remind her of this.

9

It kind of reads like you both are avoiding being straight here. She tells you she has an appointment but then asks if you want her to cancel. If she wants to get together, she can instead point out that she currently has something at that time, but then say she will check to see if that can be moved. You tell her you are disappointed initially but then change your mind and ask her to move it.

I think you both need to be able to sit down and talk about your communication problems. She needs to be clear about what she does and doesn't want and you too need to be upfront. You both need to scrap the past if you are trying to operate in a healthier way NOW and forget about what you used to do. That will never serve you well.

So you can tell her something like

When I ask if I can see you, I mean that. I want to see you. I also recognize that I will not be able to see you every time I would like to since we both have busy lives that we also have to manage. If you cannot get together or would prefer not to because it will be an inconvenience, just please tell me that. If I express that I am bummed, please just take it for what it is. It's not meant to be guilt, but an expression of how I feel because I care about you and enjoy time together. I understand that it can't always happen and that's okay with me. It's just life.

And if she offers to shift her schedule, instead of saying no, perhaps ask her how much trouble that will be for her and then decide if you feel comfortable asking her to shift it. Or ask HER if she would like to see if she can shift it or it's set in stone. The conversation you shared seems to read almost like you have been made to feel needy and are apologizing for being a hassle in her life. If that is how you have been told you are seen, it can be hard to relax and comfortable ask for what you need out of the relationship. Wanting personal contact with the person you are seeing isn't needy inherently. Are you sure you have been needy in the past versus her being a distant type person?

7

Let´s just look at this very helpful transcript:

ME: This week I'll only be able to meet on Tuesday, because of so, so and so.

HER: Oh, I actually had an appointment that day...

ME: Oh, well, that's a shame.

Saying: you feel sorry that you can´t meet.

That´s okay, if you like each other, you are entitled to want to see each other.

HER: Would you like me to cancel it?

She is asking: How much do you want to see me. Would you just like to see me, or do you really need me?

ME: No, that's okay, I don't want to bother you.

Here is where you went wrong. I don´t want to bother you implies she is the Problem. She is not, formulate it neutral. Next time try: No, it´s okay, we´ll meet next week.

Just accept that life is not always working in your favor. If she does not have time, respect that and and don´t blame her. Don´t agree to meet her then, unless you feel you really need her. When you do just tell her outright:

Honey, I know you have an appointment tonight, but I really need you by my side right now. I would appreciate if you could somehow meet me nonetheless!

That way she will be able to tell when she should go to inconveniences for meeting you or not.

6

Underline the importance of clear communications. State very clearly that:

I can't read minds.

Always be open about your own feelings, and encourage her to do the same. If she responds by saying that she simply doesn't want to hurt your feelings, explain that being silent about our real opinions of people is something we do in regards to strangers we don't wish to engage with.

Withing a relationship you have to open and honest with one another, even if it sometimes leads to hurt feelings. It's the only way to start a conversation about whatever may be bugging one of you.

My wife would have much the same attitude. She would give me a thousand subtle "hints" about her opinions on the matter, yet never come out and explicitly state what might be bugging her. I used to fret over it quite a bit, until I realized that I wasn't the one being difficult.

Instead I did exactly as I advise above: I would tell her what's bugging me, and every time I felt like she was trying to give me a "hint" I'd tell her that I don't do hints.

It's important not to feel guilty for not anticipating her needs, emotional or otherwise. You're not a magician. Being only human means that the other person must communicate their feelings and desires if they wish you to understand them.

  • I feel she may be doing the hints thing with me, but I can't truly ascertain whether or not they are; I usually take things at face value, and I really won't get whether something is a hint or not. – Nejosan Nov 22 '17 at 14:10
  • 3
    @nejosan - I'm the same way. If I ask you whether you want Chinese, and you say "No", then I dismiss that option. "Oh, but I wanted you to convince me". Nope! We're having Greek now. – AndreiROM Nov 22 '17 at 14:22
  • 2
    This seems like a pretty heavy-handed, all on her approach. It's important for him to have some tact and do some of the dance too. – danjuggler Nov 22 '17 at 18:06
  • 3
    In the example given, she's not the one giving hints and mixed signals. She explicitly and directly asked if he wanted her to cancel her appointment (twice!), and although he didn't directly answer, he strongly hinted that way. – Kat Nov 23 '17 at 3:14
  • 3
    @AndreiROM I think what danjuggler means is the attitude that your communication style is The Right One and your wife's is Wrong and "being difficult". That she has to adjust her style because you can't be expected to learn reading hints. To be clear: I'm all for being explicit because "hints" can go wrong in so many ways - but I'd consider the "I can't be expected to deal with your communication style" attitude a dealbreaker. Especially since women in many cultures still get labelled as "high-maintenance", "a bitch", "demanding", etc. if they voice their needs and expect them to be met, too. – AllTheKingsHorses Nov 23 '17 at 9:14
5

I'm going to take a slightly different approach here. It sounds to me like you are being a bit selfish without knowing it.

Me: This week I'll only be able to meet on Tuesday, because of so, so and so.

To me this is already striking me as a bit inflexible especially given you are the one who wants the meet up. I've been in that situation a few times when someone keeps asking to meet up with me but is then always busy. It makes me feel not particularly valued especially if I've changed things up in my own schedule for them in the past. She might feel pretty imposed upon, too, given that she offered to cancel a meeting, and you didn't reciprocate the gesture. Also conversely I've been in your situation super busy with a girlfriend I wanted to spend as much time as possible around. I had to get creative with timing, sometimes working till 10pm and taking part of a personal day, or traveling way over an hour out of my way to get a 20 minute coffee with her, to changing jobs to have more flexibility. Better would be asking her when is a good time and juggle the "so, so and so" to make time for her. If she's important to you, you'll find a way to make time for her.

  • 1
    I know I'm late to the party, but +1 for actually stating the obvious (it's needed :o)) [i.e. If [they are] important to you, you'll find a way to make time for [them].] – Will Crawford Jan 26 '18 at 16:37
4

First, It's not fair for her to drop hints, hem and haw, or otherwise disguise her intent.

Make it known that she needs to clearly communicate any objections to you regardless of how she thinks YOU might feel.

Then, make your statements to her clear as well.

I would like to get together with you tonight for dinner at 6 at McSnarkKnight's tavern. Is this good for you, or do you have other plans or obligations?

Not that formal, obviously, but something to that effect.

The thing is to give her an out and an opportunity to express her difficulties then. If she still brings up how it is an inconvenience later, be firm with her and say

I asked you if this would be a problem, please be honest with me next time and let me know.

again, you can probably phrase it more delicately than I can.

Communication is key in any relationship, and it has to go both ways.

If she keeps up this behavior, then turn it around and simply say something like:

I'd like to get together some time this week, what day and time would you suggest.

That way, she is setting it up and needs to do her own planning.

  • The problem is not that we can't plan a meeting, but that she will disguise her objections to doing so on a certain day (we both have a pretty tight schedule, so most weeks we can only meet a day or two) by all means she can, to the extent of trying things such as "Well, it seems that today doesn't work for both of us, would you like to cancel it?" and after being told it's a nonissue for me, won't voice it is for her. – Nejosan Nov 22 '17 at 14:32
  • @Nejosan she will either tell you what she needs or will not. Other than the advice I gave you, I don't know what else to say. – The Wraith Nov 22 '17 at 14:43
  • Does she have aspergers as well ? – bigbadmouse Nov 22 '17 at 16:18
  • No, she doesn't. – Nejosan Nov 22 '17 at 16:32
  • @Nejosan she's desperately hoping you will show some enthusiasm for making the situation work better, and that you will be disappointed if your meeting is cancelled. The phrase after being told it's a nonissue for me, won't voice it is for her screams it, to me. – Will Crawford Jan 26 '18 at 16:35
4

My first recommendation would be to read a book on communication such as Deborah Tannen's That's not what I meant! (subtitled: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships). It's not always easy to communicate, and believe it or not, the "direct" approach is not always the best. In chapter 4, she points out some of the challenges with the direct approach:

First, deciding to tell the truth leaves open the question, which of the infinite aspects of the truth to tell. Second, being direct isn't enough because countless assumptions underlie anything we say or hear. We don't think of stating them precicely because they are assumptions. Third, stating just what we mean would often be hurtful to others. And finally, differing styles make honesty opaque. Saying what we mean in our natural style conveys something different to those whose styles differ. Attempts to get others to communicate in a way that seems natural to us will seem manipulative to them -- and won't work.

She then goes on to give some wonderful examples, but it sounds like you already have your own example going on! Beyond that, she also explains a great deal of the structure of a conversation that can be easily missed unless you know it's there.

The solution to these problems is always personal, so you and her have to work out the solution. With my wife, the direct approach actually is the best approach, as utterly painful as it can be. It sounds like your SO may be more amenable to a different approach. You two need to find it!

Assuming she knows you have Asperger's syndrome, you might be able to break the ice by phrasing it as a self improvement exercise. It's clear that she likes indirect communication, and you could coach it as an effort to help you how to communicate with her indirectly like she'd prefer. However, there's a catch. You would appreciate help with understanding how your hints are coming across, and help making sure you actually caught the hints she gave. Deborah calls it metacommunicating -- explicitly communicating the unspoken frames that govern smooth conversation. It's a rough process, which is not always ideal, but if it's right for you guys, run with it! Find a way for her to communicate the fact that she's hinting in a way you can catch.

I don't think it would work on its own, but if it was phrased in terms of an honest attempt to get better at communicating with her, that might be just enough energy to get the ball rolling and overcome the inertia of the safety of indirectness.

3

You sound like you are both busy people. If you both want to see each other then there will absolutely have to be some give and take on both sides. It is an obvious answer, but the only way to ascertain what is in someone else's mind is to talk it out. As has been pointed out already, nobody is a mind-reader.

If your schedules or the events that prevent you from seeing each other are fixed, then you need to agree how you can work around these on an ongoing basis (eg she frees up a night every other week, and so do you). If your schedules vary then could you not agree on a 'date night' and you both keep this free in future? These are the things you need to talk about.

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