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Fertility Problems Can Take a Toll. Here’s How to Protect Your Relationship.

If you’re struggling to conceive, you might feel like an unwilling rider on a dramatic rollercoaster. The ups and downs, the hope and frustration, the sense that everything is beyond your control can threaten to take over your life. This highly emotional journey can not only feel like a personal weight to carry, but the stress, fear and uncertainty can negatively impact the relationship you need most right now – the one between you and your partner.

Couple reconnecting

Writing for Verywell Family, fertility advocate and author Rachel Gurevich explains that the struggle to conceive can have a range of unwanted effects on a relationship. Your sex life might suffer, you might disagree on when to seek help, and the way you each cope with the challenges can vary drastically – everything from how to talk about the situation to how to move forward if you are still looking for answers. It’s also common for women to blame themselves for fertility issues, suffering alone, or each partner may be secretly blaming the other for the situation.

Gurevich provides a few tips to keeping your relationship steady while trying to get pregnant, a few that we summarize and build on here.

Communicate 

This may seem like an obvious suggestion, yet many couples struggle to talk about their experiences, especially when their coping styles are at odds or the emotions are especially tender. But no matter how scary it may seem, it’s important to share your worries and fears with one another. Be sure to ask your partner for their time and energy first, so they can be in the right frame of mind to fully listen and support without distractions. If what you need to share involves talking to them about a behavior you’d like to see changed, avoid accusations or setting up a competition. Think about co-creating a resolution instead of issuing demands. If you’re on the listening end, know that having one’s pain witnessed and acknowledged is often all that is needed. Don’t feel pressure to solve a problem or issue advice – that may be the last thing your partner wants to hear. 

This is an exercise in helping your partner build the emotional capacity for what still lies ahead, and maintaining openness and building trust at every turn will make you both stronger for the long run.

Take a Break

There is such a thing as talking too much about fertility however. The saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” applies here – it’s important to take time off from talking about fertility treatments and strategizing for success and fill your relationship up with joy. This can be as simple as taking extra care to maintain rituals you’ve always enjoyed together so a sense of normalcy remains (being sure to ban the fertility talk). Or now might be the perfect time to take on a new project or hobby together. This is not only a great distraction, but it will strengthen your bond as you remember what makes you a great team. And time out doesn’t have to always be with one another. Make space for each of you to connect with family and friends during this time, too.

Claire Gagne, a journalist and senior editor at Today’s Parent, describes one woman’s need to recharge from this all-consuming process, after going through IVF three times. After two failed IVF cycles, Alana took time off from treatments to focus on her mental and physical wellbeing. She found a group of supportive friends, traveled, exercised and socialised, and these activities had a positive effect on her and her relationship with her husband. Alana acknowledges that “I found it very helpful to leave my surroundings and forget everything we were going through.” Together, they went ziplining and whale watching, activities that provided both a distraction and shared experience.

Finding balance in and outside your relationship will help relieve the tension that tends to build up during these stressful times.

Seek Expert Help

Infertility can be lonely and challenging. It can be emotionally crushing to feel that your dreams of a family might not happen the way you imagined it, or as easily as it does for others, on top of being physically exhausting at times. Sometimes an outside resource can provide the guidance and outside perspective that takes the burden off you and your partner to navigate the journey alone.

In a February 2020 article for Verywell Family, Gurevich speaks to marriage and family therapist Penny Joss Fletcher about the benefits of infertility counseling. She quotes Fletcher saying “often couples handle stress in different ways” and “stereotypically, women express emotions more freely and need to talk out their thoughts. Men often focus on problem-solving and may not let themselves feel each monthly loss.” A counselor can help you and your partner better understand how and why you each feel the way you do, find ways you can support one another better, and help you reach agreements on tough decisions as you move through a process that requires a lot from both of you and often comes with a substantial financial investment. 

Fletcher recommends counseling in cases where the issue of infertility is monopolizing your life or impacting your relationship negatively. Furthermore, a counselor can lead you through considering the treatment options, like considering egg and sperm donations, surrogacy or adoption. And outside help can be especially beneficial when one or both of you wants to discuss pausing or ending the process altogether – a decision that comes with grief and requires extra care in order to achieve acceptance and closure.

Final Thoughts

Infertility can feel impossible to handle without the support of your partner. That doesn’t automatically mean they will know how best to support you, or vice versa. Even the strongest relationships are tested by the unpredictability and emotions that come with trying to conceive. Know that it’s common to feel overwhelmed by the experience, it’s normal to have different needs and ways to process what is happening, and there is nothing wrong with seeking outside help if you need or want it. Embrace this time as a way to strengthen the way you face challenges together, and find the time and space to enjoy your partnership in other ways.