When Your Mate Has FASD
FASD Network of Southern California
Retrieved May 5, 2018

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This page is for the partners and sweethearts of men and women affected by FASD.

Why Didn't I See What Was Wrong?

FASD is often an invisible condition. This is especially true when the individual affected by prenatal alcohol exposure lacks the external (especially facial) characteristics associated with FAS, and there is no documented history of maternal alcohol use during pregnancy.

The fact is, most people who were prenatally exposed to alcohol look like people who were not. (In fact, most parents of children with FASD would claim that their children and teens with the condition are very good-looking!) They go to school, work, have friends, hobbies, etc., just like people who were not exposed to alcohol in the womb. And, they try very hard to hide any difficulties the FASD may cause them!

(Although I was a nurse and knew what FAS was, I thought everyone with it had a low IQ. My husband was very bright. So he couldn't have FAS.)... I went through our whole marriage lacking totally (any) understanding that Bob was so affected neurologically. He had no ability to change this behavior, but I believed rather there was a certain “meanness” on his part that he chose to hold onto... for some unknown reason to hurt (me) -- just as his sisters had believed him (even though they had told me that their mother was an alcoholic who was never sober during her entire pregnancy with Bob) as a child to simply be destructive and mean-spirited.

STILL, I was married to him over 40 years, he was the father of my children... (and when he died, I grieved his loss).

Karen L., widow of a man never officially diagnosed with FASD. Posted on the FASLink email list, 2012
When a person functions within the normal or above-normal range in many areas (academically, occupationally, athletically, etc.) of life, it's normal to believe that patterns of strange or unacceptable behavior are "personality quirks" (or lack of motivation or even of "moral fiber"); or that they are caused by environmental influences, or by other physical or psychological conditions, and not by prenatal brain damage.

Like all people, those with disabilities and those without, the individual with FASD was born with a unique genetic make-up and biology. He or she has strengths as well as weaknesses, and their biological and genetic make-up interacted dynamically with the environment they lived in -- then and now. This interaction shaped them every day as they grew up into the person you met and the person you know.

When you fell in love with someone with FASD, you fell for the whole person. And that person tried hard to show you the best of themselves. If you have spent a long time with the person with FASD, you probably saw signs that something was different. For example, your spouse had trouble handling money (they forget to pay bills on time, or they spend their entire paycheck on "fun" things, instead of of taking care of food, rent, and other necessities first). Perhaps your boyfriend took things from you (or your family members) without permission. Perhaps your husband had trouble keeping a job; or he had trouble remembering how to do complex tasks unless he had done them many times. Maybe your girlfriend became "friends" with, or was easily fooled by people you suspected shouldn't be trusted. Your wife may have lied to you about things you knew to be lies. Your sweetheart may have gotten very angry very quickly, and then just as quickly calmed down. Maybe he or she lost important things over and over again, or gave valuable things away.

When your beloved did/does things that might be related to FASD, (such as problems with memory or problem-solving, or having a quick temper) which may get them into trouble, the common response of many persons with FASD is not to ask for help or to admit they don't understand. Instead, they claim that somebody else was at fault; or they get angry. Most experts agree that the FASD-affected person would rather be called "bad" than "stupid".

Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me that My Spouse/Sweetheart Has/Had FASD?

It could be because no one knew that he or she was prenatally alcohol-affected.

In many cultures, drinking alcohol has historically been a societal "norm". But drinking too much has generally been frowned upon, especially by women, and particularly by mothers. Therefore, in the United States and most other countries, it has never been unusual for women who drank while pregnant (or before they knew they were pregnant) to withhold information about their use of alcohol from their doctors and their families. Neither has it been rare for women to deny to themselves the effect of drinking alcohol while pregnant on their own health, and on the health of the developing baby.

And, if the baby appeared to be healthy and strong, the effect of alcohol on its development would not have been considered.
Today, research reports that FASD is often generational. That is, women with FASD are statistically more likely to drink during pregnancy and to give birth to babies with FASD. Therefore, If your sweetheart or spouse grew up in a family atmosphere where the adults (especially the birth mother) also were likely to have an FASD, his or her caregivers and others in the community may not have recognized or accepted that your mate's behavior was atypical for their age. They may have ignored or discounted concerns expressed by teachers or others this his or her performance at school, work, home or in the community wasn't up to societal expectations. Or, the adults may have attributed the individual's behavior to "the way we do things in our family"; or to other causes or influences.

Even when the individual and his or her family do know that your sweetheart was prenatally affected by alcohol exposure, knowing how or when -- or even what -- to tell you about this condition and what it means to the person -- and to your relationship -- may have troubled your sweetheart so much that he or she dared not mention it. And this very likely put his or her family in an uncomfortable position, unless they were given permission to tell you!

I Love My Spouse/Sweetheart. What Do I Do Now, Knowing (or Suspecting) That He/She Has FASD?

First, remember that every person with FASD is unique. Below are two perspectives about being married to someone with FASD:

...my husband has FASD ... For him, it's most noticeable in his short term memory issues, his ability to predict consequences, and impulse control, most pronounced when it comes to money.

I realized before we were married that he had FASD. Heck, I realized it before he did! We discussed it after our marriage, and it made total sense to him. The things he built into his life, such as everything being recorded in his Day-timer, etc., all his ways of dealing with FASD.

He's one of the most amazing men I've ever known.

Blogger "Domestic Imp" posted on http://www.welltrainedmind.com/forums
It is very hard to live with someone who struggles to be able to empathize or even understand that what they are doing is hurtful to others. It may be hard for them to see that their actions are hurtful to anyone else. This does not mean they don’t care or even that they cannot care but that they are not able to “put themselves in your shoes.” They cannot generalize enough to do the “how would you feel if?"

The more we try to change the person’s environment to accommodate their abilities the greater the successes... The fact is that, at least while the FASD person is trying to learn what you want, they may never fully get it.

I have a dear friend whose husband has FASD. He cannot have access to their money, ever. He will gamble it away. When he hears how they are struggling financially he just knows he can take it and win enough to fix it all. Even though it has never, ever worked for him this makes a great deal of sense to him to keep trying. After all, he sees others on TV and other places winning and solving all of their issues. He never means to empty their bank account and is very shocked when he does but he continues to do it. He is a 40 year old man who has a lot of support. They have learned that the only way to keep him from doing this is to not allow him to have any access to their money.

Blogger FASDMom at http://fasdmom.com/2011/12/12/day-by-day-2/
Second, if the benefits of the relationship outweigh the drawbacks, work with your partner on ways to structure the environment to leverage their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

Third, remember to care for yourself and your relationship, so you do not serve only as your partner's caregiver. That is, avoid acting as if you were his or her parent.

Useful Links

Note: There are no sites specifically addressing being a "neurotypical" (NT) partner of an adult with FASD. The links to Internet "relationship" sites here are targeted toward romantic partners of individuals with other kinds of neurologically-based conditions which can cause relationship challenges, misunderstandings, miscommunications, or other kinds of difficulties between committed partners.