College. Job. Romance. Engagement. Wedding. House. Baby. Sounds like the typical life path of a typical American couple, right? But did you know that one in eight of those typical American couples will experience infertility at the point in their life plan labeled “Baby”? And the reality is that this plan seemingly stuck on repeat at “Baby” can deliver an enormous amount of stress on a marriage.
If you are one of those couples whose marriage has gotten stronger and you have moved on to a higher level of love and understanding over the course of your struggles with infertility, you can stop reading right here. Chances are, though, that your experience is quite the opposite and the possibility of a childless future is threatening to put a lot of distance between you and the one that you love. If you fall in this category, read on.
Infertility affects couples not only physically, but psychologically as well. It can have serious emotional effects, such as depression, irritability, social withdrawal, apathy, blame, damaged egos (male), and damaged body image (female). Infertility increases the stress on your marriage — but it doesn’t mean you can’t survive it. Here are a few tips to keep in your “marriage toolkit” that can help you and your partner weather the storm of infertility.
- Stop the “Blame Game”– In the immediate aftermath of a diagnosis of infertility, couples often resort to what I call the “Blame Game.” Depending on the diagnosis, there is a tendency, subtle or not, to focus on “who’s to blame.” More specifically, one partner may start to exert some superiority over the other or feel relief that he or she is not the problem, while the other partner may feel guilt or depression for the same. What patients need to remember is that infertility is not just one partner’s problem, but the couple’s problem. In fact, it’s one of the few known medical conditions that involve two people. So couples need to start trying to solve their infertility problem together (and notice I said “their” infertility) and stop the blaming.
- Communicate and Listen – Limited communication between couples about their infertility often leads to false assumptions as to what the other is thinking and feeling. Ask questions about how the other is feeling and acknowledge those feelings. On the flip side, learn how to be a good listener. Hold your tongue until the other is finished speaking and truly try to listen to what the other has to say.
- Be Honest – My number 2 point above would be completely pointless if you and your partner are not honest with each other about your feelings. Let your partner know exactly how you are feeling and what you are going through. Your partner needs to hear the truth to be able to support you the best way they know how. If honesty in a conversation hurts feelings, ask to take a break and come back to that conversation at a later time.
- Let Go of the Negativity – This means letting go of all the negative thoughts and feelings surrounding your infertility, your body, your partner and life in general, even when hormones are raging due to your medications. Negativity breeds negativity and resentment can drag a person down. No one is asking you to feel great each moment of the day, because yes, infertility may be stressful, but remember, where you are at is temporary. Some great stress relievers are walking, running or other forms of exercise, yoga or meditation, reading a book, or even just playing with your pet.
- Don’t Lose Spontaneity – During your treatment, sex can easily become mechanical and impersonal with all the charting, timing and reporting back to us. Women feel a sense of urgency to get the timing down. Men tend to feel used when sex becomes planned. You both feel like sex has just become another ends to a means, something that has to be planned and timed rather than an in-the-moment expression of your commitment to one another. Use spontaneity and creativity during intercourse to make it fun and ignite passion back into trying to make a baby. Be spontaneous about other activities as well. Make a surprise date night or lunch date, go for a walk, take a last minute road trip or weekend outing.
- Consider a Counselor or Support Group – Communication makes a world of difference for couples facing infertility and a counselor can provide a safe space in which to communicate. Counselors are great at guiding couples through healthy communication skills and we encourage all of our couples going through infertility, especially those who will be making some tough decisions on treatment choices, to seek out counseling. In the same vein, a local infertility group may give you the additional support you and your partner need. Additionally, online support groups and blogs may also offer help. See my list of 12 Infertility Blogs and Podcasts.
Yes, your marriage can survive infertility, but it takes work from both of you. Don’t let infertility come between you and the vow you made to each other on your wedding day.
— Dr. S