Some of the proceeds of this book will be directed to Autism Victoria to improve the quality of life of those who have this life-long condition, their family and carers.

Why Autism Victoria?

If, as this book suggests, the majority of people struggle to make sense of the relationship in their world, how much more difficult it is for people with Autism, whose reaction to and within social situations, is very different from the average.

Generally adults and children with Autism are unusually good with numbers, patterns and sequences, but they don't like strangers, questions, touching or surprises - and being with other people may often make them feel unsafe.

For most, the simplest social interchange can be fraught with misunderstandings, miscues and anxious moments, and so they need to be taught in special ways to overcome their language and social difficulties.

  The bottom line Metaphor 1 - the garden

If you think of a relationship as a Garden, you can manage it in a number of ways.

On the one hand you can make no real effort to care for it and the weeds take over. With inadequate watering, no fertiliser, and no regular maintenance, flowers won’t bloom and insects proliferate. As a consequence, this garden isn’t a place either you or your partner wants to be and it eventually dies out.

The creation and maintenance of relationships will be by far the most important work you ever do, and the bottom line is that you will choose - actively or by default - how satisfying they become. You will choose to treasure and nurture them by prioritising them in your life and by focusing on “we”. Or you will devalue and neglect them by giving them a lesser priority and by focusing on “me”.

To illustrate the concept, here are two very different metaphors that may appeal to different audiences. The first is more imaginative and emotional, while the second is more clinical and business oriented. On the other hand, you can decide that having a beautiful garden is what you really want, and along with your partner, start to do the hard work - firstly, establishing a sound foundation by adding compost and mulch, and then maintaining it properly by pruning, fertilising, and protecting it against storms. You accept that weeds are brought in on the soles of both partners’ feet or by the birds, but you recognise they are a natural part of the ecosystem, so you manage them to keep them under control.

You remain aware of what the garden needs - more water, more sun, more nutrients, or more pruning, and you ensure you share the responsibility to provide these ingredients. As a consequence, you have a garden which looks beautiful, is healthy and can withstand the occasional dry spell or bad storm. Furthermore, this special place represents a joint enterprise where you and your partner choose to be more than anywhere else, and you reap the rewards accordingly.

  Metaphor 2 - the project alliance

Or if you think of a relationship as a Project Alliance, you have two very different choices.

You can manage it to create good outcomes for all parties or you can focus on trying to maximise individual advantage. If it’s the latter: You emphasise technicalities. You emphasise loopholes. You ignore the spirit of the agreement. You use litigation as a threat to get your way. Profit over people becomes your focus. You blame others when things go wrong. Punishment over reward is your motivational tool. You exploit any power differential, economic or otherwise, to exercise control. You make unilateral decisions. You neglect to acknowledge worthwhile contribution. And your focus is on self-interest rather than on joint objectives.

As a consequence, partners remain in this environment only because they are contractually bound to do so, but will seek every opportunity to seek retribution at some later stage. And you spend excessive time in damage control, because your modus operandi has created or exacerbated problems, rather than pre-empting or minimising them.

On the other hand: You can choose to work in more constructive ways. You accept that their way might be equally as good, if not better than yours. You’re prepared to sacrifice short-term individual advantage for the sake of long-term mutual advantage. You ensure the workload is distributed equally. You try to resolve conflict fairly and in a timely manner. You acknowledge and celebrate the successes of others. You take time out to have fun. And you make every effort to listen to and understand the needs of others so that together you can deliver on time, on budget, and to quality.

As a consequence, partners stay because they want to, and at the end of the project are keen to work with you again, because the whole process has been enjoyable, respectful and democratic. Together you have built a sustainable foundation which is capable of accommodating change and temporary set-backs, allowing everyone to contribute in the most constructive ways.

Although the focus of this book is on your primary relationship, it extends far beyond this to any connections you have within your extended family, within the workplace, with your friends and neighbours, as a member of a sports team, or as a member of a committee.

Because some relationships are less personal and more task-oriented than others, some scenarios may not apply, but the majority will have relevance in all kinds of contexts.

This book will give you not only the tools to diagnose what your relationship might need right now, but also suggestions on how you might nurture it on an ongoing basis.