As originally published by Dr. Sen in Healthy Living Magazine
In the last edition of Healthy Living, I discussed ways to cope with emotional stress in infertility. Another form of stress often experienced during the infertility process is relationship stress.
During the ups and downs of the infertility process it is not unusual for there to be some tension or disagreement between partners. For many it seems like their partner doesn’t quite understand what they are going through and that they are all alone in this difficult process. But you are on this journey together, you are just experiencing infertility in your own ways.
It has been shown that men and women often react and cope differently. Men tend to be problem-focused, where they want to “fix things” and move on, while women tend to be more emotion-focused and need to stay with the emotional experience. Further, men may tend to look inward while women may reach outward for support.
Since there is often a difference in our ways of coping it is important to try to respect each other’s differences, moods, and opinions. For example, if one partner wants to share and confide in others and the other partner does not want others to know…try to come to a compromise where you tell two mutually agreed upon trusted friends.
Through respect and in turn understanding you will be able to provide and receive the support you need from your partner. It is often helpful to let your partner know how you prefer to cope with disappointment or anxiety. For example, do you need a hug or do you need help figuring out what to do next. Tell him/her what comforts you and what doesn’t work for you as well. Sharing your feelings with your partner is helpful. Feelings of sadness, worry, guilt and frustration are normal. Don’t assume your partner is a “mind-reader”. In fact, it is likely that he/she does not know what you are feeling and what you need. The infertility roller-coaster can be very unpredictable. Try to maintain a sense of control by letting your partner know what you need in the moment.
Infertility treatment can be a long and difficult process. While it is important to go to appointments together and discuss decisions together, it is also helpful to maintain a regular dialogue over the course of treatment to let your partner know what is happening for you during the process, your personal concerns and your questions.
Often the topic of infertility can become the only topic of conversation
Maintaining a regular dialogue is an important part of the infertility process, however when it becomes the only topic of conversation it can be overwhelming, stressful, and damaging to the relationship.
It has been found that designating specific times in one place in the house for discussions related to infertility are helpful and effective. Try to keep the time limited but enough to express concerns; try to avoid discussions during dinner or at bedtime; these are times for talking about the day. Discussions about the infertility process are important, but not meant to “take over” our lives.
Often during the infertility process, sexual intimacy becomes a methodical and timed process rather than an intimate and spontaneous act. In addition, hormonal changes and medication side effects may be affecting a woman’s desire for intimacy. “Recreational sex” seems as though it was in the distant past. If medically practical, it is sometimes helpful to “take a break” from trying to conceive. If this is not possible, finding other ways, such as cuddling, massages, romantic activities, to demonstrate intimacy and affection towards your partner also shows your desire and interest in him/her.
Rediscovering ways to spend time together, remembering what you used to do that was fun and exciting will help maintain a healthy and supportive relationship through this difficult time. If you find you and/or your partner are struggling and need support, a trained professional can help you learn ways to express your feelings and needs. Infertility is an extremely emotional and difficult time, but remember you are both going through the process together.
Author: Dr. Julia Sen is a Registered Psychologist working in private practice in Ontario. Dr. Sen has a special interest in infertility and holds a certificate in infertility counselling.
Look for Dr. Sen’s next article in the next edition of Healthy Living on “Experiencing Infertility: How to talk to friends and family”