It Takes Two to Tango

“It takes two to tango” is an old adage most often interpreted to mean that fights only happen because both people are participating.

Its moral is: if you’re part of a fight, it’s your fault, too. You wouldn’t be in the fight if you weren’t choosing to be in it. And, if you want to stop a fight that you’re part of, stop your half of the fight and the fight will end.

And, that’s true if you have the power to walk away from a fight. An adult can choose to leave any fight that it’s safe to leave. And by leaving you win…..

But what happens when you’re not safe to walk away from a fight? What if you can’t get away from the other person? What if there are other people, possibly small children, depending on you to stay in the fight?

If you can’t walk away, is healthy to always allow yourself to lose just to keep the peace? Is it better to start fighting back?

The moral of the adage should be the opposite. In actuality, it takes two to get along. It takes two to work together. It takes two to be a team. It takes two to collaborate.

Mixed-neurological relationships are rife with fighting and low on teamwork and collaboration. Teamwork and collaboration are easier when both people have theory of mind skills. When each partner can somewhat accurately perceive the other persons’ perspective and intentions, they can more easily find ways to work together for the mutual benefit of both.

When only one of the two people in a relationship has theory of mind skills, that person, the typically developing partner, is working to be aware of the other partner’s, the ASD partner’s, intentions and perceptions. Yet at the same time, the partner with ASD isn’t keeping in mind the typically developing partners’ intentions and perceptions. The result is that both partners are thinking about the ASD partners’ intentions and needs and only the typically developing partner is thinking about the typically developing partner’s needs.

Things can get out of balance after a while, favoring the partner with ASD’s needs. And people with ASD do, at no fault of their own, have a lot of needs.

In marriage, ASD partners’ needs do not negate the needs of typically developing partners who, over time, become worn due to the lack of reciprocity in communication, caregiving and connected sexuality and affection.

A marriage is different than a parent-child relationship, a therapist-client relationship, or a teacher-student relationship. Ideally, it is a relationship of equality in which both partners are working together or caring for each other. But in mixed-neurological marriages, due to the difference in theory of mind skills between the partners, this kind of reciprocity and teamwork doesn’t happen.

It does take two to tango. Watch the dance. It is a typically developing dance with both partners responding to the other. It is about connection, eye contact, sexuality, and working together for the benefit of both. The tango is a dance of social communication and autism affects social communication. The tango can’t happen in mixed-neurological marriages because only one partner’s brain knows how to do the dance.

It takes two to tango.

It takes two to work together.

It only takes one to perpetuate a fight and it’s not always possible for the other spouse to walk away.

Anne Janai, M.L.A.

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