By Sarah Banks
Fertility struggles can put an enormous strain on a relationship and it is a huge thing to go through as a couple. After time Project Baby can take the focus away from you as a couple – you forget that before trying you had a loving relationship and that you got together for a reason
The impact of infertility on relationships
Even if you have a very strong and supportive marriage/partnership, fertility issues can still put a strain on your relationship. Although your partner may want a baby as much as you do, their experience of the process can be very different to yours.
Remember that your partner may be struggling with the inability to conceive too (especially if the issue is on their side), it’s important for you to talk it through with them.
Struggling to conceive can make the focus of most of your discussions about ‘trying for baby’ and ‘fertility treatment’, making you feel like you have nothing else in your life and that you are defined by your struggle to get pregnant. If you haven’t got anyone else to talk to about your issues, you can each feel a lot of pressure to be/seem ‘ok’ so your partner isn’t worried, and it can lead to over-reliance on each other.
When the focus becomes making a baby and creating a family, we often forget that we are already a family, and that there is a reason why we got together in the first place. This can lead to you both feeling unappreciated, un-attractive and un-important.
Fertility issues can also affect your sex life. Sex becomes about making a baby rather than pleasure, which puts extra pressure on both sides to perform and loses the intimacy.
Many couples find that they don’t go out and do things together like they used to (due to saving money for IVF, not wanting to be around others with families or not feeling in the mood to do anything), which again means your relationship becomes focused on baby making, rather than enjoying what you already have together.
How men and women cope differently
It may seem like your partner isn’t as bothered about having a baby as you are if they don’t seem as upset that your period has come, or that they don’t feel like having sex at the best time of the month, but often this is just differences in the way men and women cope with stressful and upsetting situations like infertility, or them not wanting to upset you further.
Men and women have a very different experience of trying to conceive and going through treatment.
It is the woman that has the heartache of seeing their period arrive every month, the woman that has to endure the invasive side of fertility treatment and it is usually the woman that has always known they wanted to be a mother, so their plan for their life is called in to question.
On the other hand the man has to watch his partner go through treatment, which can lead to feelings of guilt if the issue is male factor, and many feel that they have to be strong and supportive for their partner, so hide their feelings to be the rock whilst going through treatment.
Women tend to use coping strategies such as seeking social support, escape/avoidance, accepting responsibility and tackling the problem head on. They often feel more comfortable talking to friends about emotional and sensitive issues, will go on forums for advice and speak to a counsellor. However they are often more likely to feel and show their emotions more freely, want to talk about the issue more than their partner and feel more depressed that their life isn’t how they imagined it would be.
Men on the other hand tend to use strategies such as problem solving, distancing and self-controlling. For men, infertility can be felt as an attack on their manhood, causing them to feel like a failure (which isn’t true). Due to this they often limit who they talk to about the problem as there is an element of embarrassment. They may take a practical approach of researching treatment, focusing on work and keeping their feeling hidden.
This can mean that there are differences in what you both need for coping with infertility and treatment, and you need to ensure you work together to get through it and cope as a couple.
Try to make time to see things from your partner’s perspective. Warning signs to look for:
- Over-reliance on your partner – focusing only on your needs.
- Under-reliance – completely avoiding the subject.
- Losing perspective of yourselves as a couple outside of your fertility issues.
- Losing sight of what attracted you to your partner in the first place.
- Thinking of your partner as the problem, rather than the infertility.
Getting through it together
Remember why you are together and what you love about each other
When you are struggling to conceive and the focus of your relationship has become all about the best time to try, fertility treatments and comparing yourself to others it is hard to lose sight of what you love about your partner and the reason you got together in the first place.
Remember that you are not defined by your infertility, you were a couple before you started trying to conceive, with shared interests and interesting conversations.
It’s always good to remember what you love about your partner (and even more importantly) remind them what you love about them.
Each write down the below things, then swap them over and enjoy reading them.:
- Ten things you love about your partner
- Your favourite feature about them
- What attracted you to them in the first place
- What they do that makes you feel special
- How they have supported you on your fertility journey
Don’t place blame
It is really important to see the fertility issue as a joint issue (whichever side the problem is on). Placing the blame will create a divide between the two of you, you need to see it as something you need to overcome together. Talk about ‘our’ problem (not mine/yours).
Next week we publish part two of Sarah’s wonderful blog. Let us know us whether your relationship was affected by fertility treatment. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Banks is a fertility coach and mentor who works with fertility professionals to enhance their patient experience and success rates. She helps them understand how patients feel, the emotional support they need and helps implement support structures.
To contact Sarah, click here