The emotional, mental, and relational strains of trying to conceive are compounded when the couple faces infertility and/or is unable to conceive without utilizing assisted reproductive technology (ART). This blog will explore some of the common areas of impact and offer coping strategies for individuals and couples traversing infertility.
By: Brittany Williams LMFT, PMH-C, CIMHP
Areas of Impact:
- Sex/Physical Intimacy
- Self-Confidence & Relational Confidence
- Disagreements on how and when to seek help
- Privacy vs Community
- Financial Strain
How to Cope:
- Connect in other ways
- External Support
- Allow space for both experiences
- Make a plan
Physical Intimacy. One of the first areas couples notice experiencing increased pressure is in their sex life. When sex starts to feel like a “chore” or a “means to an end” for either partner it’s important to communicate your feeling in a respectful manner. Utilizing I-Statements are a wonderful tool in this instance. For example, “Honey, I am excited to grow our family with you. And I have always cherished our physical intimacy. Recently I’ve noticed that it is feeling more like a chore for me and I don’t want it to feel that way. How is it feeling for you? What are your thoughts on us intentionally inviting more spontaneity and fun back into our sex?”
Confidence. Various studies show both men and women experiencing infertility report lower self-esteem than individuals not experiencing infertility. Similarly, individuals faced with infertility often notice an intrusive fear that their partner will leave them for someone else who may be able to help them conceive a child. Likewise, couples are weary that the strain brought on by infertility, will result in the dissolution of their relationship. The best way to deal with low confidence and the fear of the relationship ending is to open up to your partner about them. By talking about your fear, it loses power over you. And sharing vulnerably with our partner’s is one way of making a bid for deep connection. When that bid is met with compassion and love, it can increase your confidence in the relationship and within yourself.
Disagreements on how & when to seek help. Some couples experience no conflict when it comes to how and when to seek help. As ART treatment options expand and couples have more choices to make, this can lead to conflict. Similarly, tolerance levels for interventions seldom aligns perfectly between couples, increasing the opportunity for disagreements. One way to decrease disagreements is to follow suggested medical treatment options offered by your fertility specialist.
Privacy vs. Community. With the exception of men and/or women trying to conceive via a sperm and/or egg donor. Infertility is a couple’s experience. As such, when it comes to disclosing this experience, it is recommended to first discuss this with your partner. When life presents hardships, some people prefer to face them alone or with the support of a few close individuals. Conversely, some may feel more comfortable with having a larger support group in place. Neither way of being is better than the other. It’s simply important to know where you and where your partner falls on this continuum.
Financial Strain. Arguments about money are not unique to couples facing infertility. However, due to the price tag attached to treatments, fertility tests, co-pays, and treatments not covered by insurance, tension over finances are elevated for individuals facing infertility. Additional expenses and factors connected to financial health include missed work for frequent appointments, travel time, lodging and transportation expenses to and from fertility clinics impact couples overall financial health. One way of coping with the financial burden is to establish a plan with your partner. Know what your insurance will and will not cover. Know what your employer’s policy is regarding attendance and missed days. If needed, know where you can borrow and/or finance money to help ease the financial strain that comes with infertility.
Even though infertility can feel insurmountable it doesn’t have to steal the joy in your life and your relationship with your partner. Intentionally exploring ways to connect with yourself and your partner can help maintain and restore your overall quality of life. This could like a random trip with your partner over a long weekend, or treating yourself to a new outfit. More simply, scheduling a random day just to read and lounge in your pajamas could be just what you needed. Lastly, infertility can feel like it’s happening “to you.” It’s important to frequently check-in with your partner, inviting them to share with you, their experience. When these conversations go well, individuals feel seen, secure, and deeply connected to one another.
Note on the research: the vast majority (if not all) of studies on couples and infertility stress have been done with heterosexual married men and women. More studies are needed, especially ones that include a variety of relationship styles. Until then, we can use what we learn from marriage research, and at least partially apply those results to other kinds of romantic partnerships.