Protect Your Relationship From the Impact of Infertility

Posted by on May 31, 2015 in Couples Counseling | Comments Off on Protect Your Relationship From the Impact of Infertility


About 5% of people in the developed world experience either primary infertility (difficulty conceiving their first child), or secondary infertility (difficulty conceiving or carrying a child, following a successful pregnancy and birth).

When a couple is diagnosed, it is unwelcome, unexpected and exceedingly disappointing.

If you and your partner are in this position, your world is rocked. You’re both stressed. Your relationship may be strained.

In fact, studies show that many women facing infertility feel as much anxiety and depression, as people who deal with serious medical conditions like hypertension, cancer, and diabetes.

“What’s wrong?”

Most couples trying to conceive a baby believe they will be successful. They don’t really question the process until the “normal” timeframe for conceiving a child, usually a year, goes by.

At that point, one or both partners start to worry. The help of a fertility specialist is sought, evaluations ensue, and possible treatment begins.

Optimism & Despair

Partners often respond to infertility differently.

A woman attempting to get pregnant tends to develop a lot of anxiety around her menstrual cycle.

Emotions swings upward with hopefulness early in her cycle, and quickly sink into sadness when menstruation does occur. She may wonder if she’ll ever be a parent.

The other partner must deal with his or her own emotions, as well as contend with the partner’s distress. The roller coaster of vacillating emotions can really do a number on a relationship.

The “Medicalization” of Sex

Infertility drops something as personal and private as sex into a medical setting.

Invasive appointments and exams can place an enormous amount of strain on a relationship.

Sex “on demand,” specimen cup collection and impersonal, in vitro-fertilization that doesn’t require intercourse at all, can upset your connection.

Unfortunately, many physicians don’t educate couples on the impact infertility and treatment can have on individual emotional well-being and relationship.

Treatment Tension

Couples may also find they are not on the same page regarding the financial burden of treatment.

Typically, the further you go with treatment, the more expensive it becomes.

Family-building decisions are also a factor. If treatments are unsuccessful, couples have to decide what do next: adopt, remain childless, keep trying?

Disagreements in these areas can cause a tremendous amount of conflict between couples.

How to Keep Your Relationship Priority

Minimize the potential problems in your relationship due to infertility in the following ways:

  1. Prioritize your partnership. Remember, without an intact relationship, there won’t be a family.
  2. Develop a “fertility free zone.” Take some time to break from your fertility focus. Go on dates, reconnect, have fun together to keep your connection strong.
  3. Allow some time for intimacy without an agenda. The giving and receiving of pleasure, unrelated to procreation, is important for maintaining your bond.
  4. Set a treatment timeline. Limits provide structure and reduce overwhelm throughout treatment. Reaching your time limit doesn’t mean you have to stop treatment. You simply have a preset period for reassessment. Do you want to stop, continue, or change course
  5. Communicate. Infertility can bring up so many negative feelings: anxiety, failure, stress, guilt, grief, anger and more. You and your partner may feel isolated from the fertile world, and from each other. Losing the ability to conceive is a genuine loss. Express your feelings even though it’s difficult.
  6. Seek supportive, professional care. Many larger communities and fertility clinics offer support groups and mental health counseling. Couples living in smaller locations may benefit from online resources, and work with a local therapist, who is knowledgeable about fertility issues. Couples that feel stuck, or are experiencing depression and anxiety that interferes with their functioning, should consider treatment as well.


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