Sometimes in the course of a marriage, we are lucky enough to find a beautiful solution to a perplexing problem. Today we want to tell you about one we found in the hope that it inspires you to find ones that work for you.
Everyone occasionally has a bad day. A day when everything just feels harder for no reason. Or maybe there’s a really good reason. You got bad news, your chronic condition flared, or you didn’t sleep well. Regardless of the reason, if you’re having a bad day, you’re not going to be your usual self.
In a perfect world, other people would recognize that you’re having a bad day and give you extra love and be patient when you’re irritable. Maybe they’d even do some of your unpleasant tasks to make the day a little easier. But in real life, the other people around you are living their own lives and having their own days and probably don’t notice that you need some extra care.
We all have different needs when we are having a bad day.
Tim used to say that he doesn’t need anything, he just wants to be left alone. But he’s come to realize that being left alone actually is something. Being left alone requires the other person to change their plans and accommodate your wish to be left alone. It may require the other person to take over responsibilities such as household chores, social obligations, or the care of children. When Tim is having a bad day, he wants to be left alone, he wants people to be extra respectful, he has a need for a certain amount of courtesy or even deference.
When Robin is having a bad day, she wants to be cared for lovingly, she wants TIm to ask about how she’s feeling, do small acts of service for her such as fixing her a snack or doing a household task for her so she doesn’t have to. This caused us a lot of confusion before we learned to talk through our needs and expectations. This is true for ANY marriage, even if both members of the couple have the same brain wiring.
We have an extra challenge in our marriage in that Robin is neurotypical and Tim is autistic. So we speak different languages and notice different things. So when Robin says, “I’m feeling crappy today” and looks miserable, Tim has NO IDEA that she’s feeling crappy and miserable. It just doesn’t register. He can’t read facial expressions so Robin looking sad or tired doesn’t mean anything. And words often don’t make a big difference to him easier. He’s visual, but not with facial expressions.
Robin had multiple strokes about 8 years ago and her symptoms will come back because she overdid it the day before, didn’t sleep well, according to her monthly cycle, because of extra stress, or for absolutely no reason at all that we can discern. And when she’s less patient, less interested in what he’s talking about, or seems unusually demanding, Tim has no idea why. Is it because she’s mad at him? Is she being unreasonable? Holding a grudge? Being intentionally mean? She might tell Tim with words that she feels especially poorly, but that doesn’t really help him. She might look miserable, curled up in her armchair and with a sad or tired facial expression, but that doesn’t really help him either.
We kept trying to figure out a solution to this quandary…how could Tim know that Robin is having a bad day? Robin thought that the simplest solution would be for Tim to assume that if Robin was not up to par, it was because she was feeling lousy. Tim didn’t think that was reasonable because it’s possible that Robin is actually mad at him. We spent quite a bit of time hashing this out. Robin still maintains that assuming the best about someone is the best for a relationship. Tim’s wiring means that he yearns for the facts, the truth, the accurate information. He needed something as graphic and comprehensible as a roadsign floating directly over Robin’s head.
So we met in the middle. Tim will try to remember that Robin is generally cheerful, patient, and hardworking. If she’s not, there’s probably a really good reason. Meanwhile, we found a solution for giving information that works for both of us.
Not only are they cute, they are comfortable and socially conscious. What more could you ask for? Robin also ordered a bunch of the blanks from Bella+Canvas to wear as her everyday t shirts.
Robin usually wears a comfortable skirt and t-shirt and a cardigan when she’s going somewhere and the same thing with pajama bottoms instead of a skirt when she’s at home all day. It’s been her “uniform” since long before babies and she’s still wearing skirts she sewed almost 20 years ago! So we felt pretty comfortable that having special t shirts for bad days would fit with her overall style (or lack thereof!)
If Robin wakes up feeling dreadful, she just puts on a monster t-shirt instead of one of her solid t-shirts. It’s graphic and roadsign-clear. Sometimes she’ll change in the middle of the day if she develops a migraine or starts feeling poorly.
When she’s teaching on Outschool, the monster is generally too low to be seen on camera. If she happens to be trying to be professional, she can easily change or just button up her cardigan.
We are avid fans of the podcast 99PI (99 Percent Invisible) all about good design. Some favorite episodes include what makes a well-designed alarm and what people have done about poorly designed road signs. We feel that this solution uses the elements of a good design to improve communication for a visual spouse. Now we’re trying to figure out other ways of using this concept. For example, sometimes for a difficult conversation we sit back to back (the way kids do in school–each supporting each other–except in our case Robin is half the size of Tim so Tim’s really just providing a back rest for her) and text each other using emojis. Robin saying, “I’m sad” or “I’m scared” doesn’t register the same way for Tim as a sad or scared emoji.
We’d love to hear other ideas you have for visual communication in a marriage! Visual schedules are common (we use them ourselves!) but using visuals for more complex ideas is something we are just exploring.