Dealing with infertility can feel like a major life crisis and may be one of the biggest struggles a couple can face. Having struggled with infertility myself, I can tell you that infertility takes an emotional and physical toll and can negatively impact self-esteem, body image, sexual identity, sexual relations, and life goals.
Infertility treatment can also be overwhelming for couples and can involve frequent doctor's visits, ongoing testing, fertility charting, timed intercourse, and numerous medical procedures. It is not surprising that the trials and tribulations of infertility can cause high levels of stress in a relationship and over time, if not addressed, can lead to a deep feeling of disconnection with your partner. So how can you and your partner emerge from the challenge of infertility and even grow stronger? Here are 5 helpful tips…
1. Don’t Play the Blame Game
When couples experience infertility, there is a tendency to focus on “who’s to blame.” One partner may feel guilt or shame while the other partner may feel superior to the other or relieved that they are not the “problem.” It is important to remember that fertility is a couple’s problem and one of the only known medical conditions that involve two people!
Negative thoughts and resentment about yourself or your partner can drag a person down, fester over time, and make the situation worse. Resentment is a ticking time bomb! Attempting to bring a child into the world through fertility treatments involves a commitment between two people. That commitment includes sharing the joy, hopes, and dreams but also the burdens, sad times and challenges.
It is perfectly normal for couples going through fertility treatments to feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster ride. You and your partner will likely experience a wide range of emotions including grief, sadness, anger, hopefulness, excitement and joy. Refusing to deal with emotions and keeping them bottled up will cause distance in your relationship when you most need emotional intimacy. Healthy communication between partners, in a non-critical and non-judgmental way, is crucial if the stresses that accompany infertility are to be dealt with effectively. Allow yourself to experience these emotions as opposed to keeping them locked up inside. Look to your partner for comfort, support, and understanding.
3. Keep Romance Alive
Sex tends to suffer among couples dealing with infertility. With all the charting, timing and reporting to doctors, sex can become mechanical and unromantic. It is important that couples work to keep spontaneity and passion alive in their marriage throughout the process. Being creative with intimate activities that have nothing to do with making a baby can help. Activities such as date nights, surprise lunch dates, going for walks or taking a bubble bath together can help couples reconnect and give you a break from the stress you are going through. Research shows that physical touch, which can simply be a hug, a massage or spooning in bed, is one of the most powerful sources of healing and connection for couples.
4. Practice Compassion
Infertility is a significant life challenge, but like all challenges, it can be overcome. Have compassion and be gentle with yourself and your partner. Working together and helping each other to accept every stage of the process, without judgment, will be the key to staying connected and maintaining a strong bond. Having compassion for yourself and your partner is also a powerful antidote to overcoming any life challenge. The challenge of infertility can even deepen your relationship by demonstrating to one another your continued commitment to your relationship. Remember, you will get through this. Where you are today is not where you will be forever. Take it one day at a time.
5. Get Professional Help
Any difficult experience can be hard on a relationship. Infertility is no exception. The stress of infertility treatment, including financial stress, can cause tension in your relationship. You may become short-tempered with each other as the process of treatment goes on and fails to produce the results you want. It can be difficult to hold on to hope, especially over long periods of time.
Your fertility doctor will likely be more focused on the physical aspects of infertility; however, the mental and emotional effects need to be addressed. One study found that more than half of women and a third of men experienced depression during infertility. The same study found an even higher incidence of anxiety, 75 percent among women and 61 percent among men. Stress and anxiety are normal aspects of infertility, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Therapy can help you to more effectively manage it. A counselor can offer a safe place where partners can express all of their feelings.
Infertility treatments involve major decisions. From deciding how much money to invest on treatments and for how long, to when to move on to other options, these decisions can be difficult. Therapy can offer an objective outside opinion that helps you discover the best options for you as a couple. Nobody else can make the decisions for you but a therapist can help you learn how to arrive at the best answer for you and your partner.
For more information, go to naomiberrycounseling.com or contact Naomi Berry at 480-427-3553.