By Madeline Feingold, Ph.D.
If you’ve been diagnosed with infertility, you are not alone. Infertility strikes approximately one in six couples and provokes painful feelings that may interfere with your daily life. From diagnosis through interventions and treatment, infertility places tremendous stress on relationships. The following tips may help couples prevent conflict and increase intimacy.
Men and women are affected by infertility equally with roughly 40% of infertility attributed to a male factor, 40% to a female factor, and 20% to unexplained or mixed causes. Infertility often causes many men and women to experience a sense of inadequacy and low self-esteem, which may leave them feeling damaged and unworthy of their partner’s commitment.
- Don’t blame yourself or one another. Regardless of whether infertility is due to a male or female factor, recognize that it is your shared difficulty and not one partner’s fault. Stay focused on your love and dedication and view infertility as a problem you must face together in order to build your family.
Men and women often have different ways of communicating that may lead to feeling disconnected and alienated. Women generally reach out to others for support and want to talk to their partner about their feelings. Men, on the other hand, may withdraw from others and focus conversations with their partner on problem solving rather than emotional expression.
- Do recognize that although you may act differently, you share similar feelings. Both of you are likely to feel depressed, anxious, angry, and grief stricken. Set aside a time and time limit everyday to talk about your experiences of infertility and accept each other’s style and responses without judgment. There is not a right or wrong way to feel. Communication and compassion will break down walls and build bridges.
Infertility treatments may begin to govern your lives. Your desire to become a parent is paramount and your fear that it may not happen may be overwhelming. It is easy to focus all of your attention on getting pregnant and to have difficulty thinking of anything else. This may leave you feeling hopeless and helpless as your mood and happiness becomes dependent on circumstances that are out of your immediate control.
- Don’t live cycle to cycle. Even though it is emotionally difficult to do, take some time off between treatments. Talk about all the other aspects of your life and relationship that have always been important to you and act on them. Think of enjoyable activities and make plans to do them. Try hard not to let becoming pregnant be the sole key to your happiness.
Infertility produces stress on many levels. Undergoing diagnostic tests and medical procedures may cause embarrassment and create logistical problems that interfere with work. The financial impact of treatment may be daunting. Watching friends become pregnant may be excruciating, and your family may not understand your grief. In short, infertility may have a negative impact on all areas of your life.
- Do practice stress reduction strategies together. Exercise, meditation, yoga, and attending a mind-body program all may be helpful. Reach out to others for support and try not to withdraw from social contact. Consider talking to a mental health professional that specializes in infertility.
Although infertility poses a significant life crisis, following these tips may help you support one another and increase your closeness and intimacy. As with any crisis, there is an opportunity for growth.