Staying Strong in Your Relationship As You Face Infertility
When my husband and I said ‘yes’, we never thought we’d face infertility.
If you’re married, I’m guessing you didn’t talk about embryo quality, sperm count, or injections as part of your wedding planning. It certainly wasn’t a part of mine.
I’ve never felt more alone and distant in my marriage as I did when I avoided talking about how I was feeling while we dealt with infertility. I found the stress of infertility and all the interventions created tunnel vision. There were times when I lost sight of the positives in my life; when all I could see were the challenges and the shortcomings of what the world of medicine had to offer.
Infertility has the potential to create distance or to draw you closer in your marriage.
Having taken this unwelcome journey and emerged with a deeply satisfying marriage, here are a few ways we’ve learned to deal with infertility and stay strong as a couple.
1. Do Something to Keep It light
The infertility experience feels heavy when the decision making process carries the weight of the world. As we navigated these decisions, we had to be intentional about having fun along the way.
We would extend a trip to the city with a hotel stay and a meal out, or attach a shopping trip at a new mall near our doctors office. It would take some of the focus off the appointment or treatment. We had something to look forward to aside from anxiety about what the news would be this time. You see, a couple may face infertility for so long that it feels never-ending.
Finding ways to infuse joy into otherwise stress-filled days created special memories we fondly look back on now.
2. Avoid Overanalyzing
Overanalyzing things only led me to feel emotionally drained. If you want to keep joy in your relationship, be sure to avoid overanalyzing!
My partner and I discovered that we could only emotionally process the next immediate decision. At times, I would want to know the next 5 possible outcomes and all the potential steps that flowed from each. It was a coping strategy to ease my anxiety of the unknown, but it was absolutely overwhelming.
We learned the hard way not to analyze information that wasn’t available to us yet. We kept our deep-dive decision-making conversations limited to the next immediate decision that had to be made. This was such a vital relationship strategy. Emotional drain is very real during this season. Adding potential scenarios and imagined solutions to the immediate problems drains very precious time and emotional energy.
Case in point: years before we started treatments, we said we would “never do IVF” (in-vitro fertilization). As it turned out, we would go on to do 6 intrauterine inseminations and 2 rounds of IVF. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Early on, our conversations were consumed by analysis, with me charging out in front. Setting boundaries to preserve our emotional energy allowed space for our relationship to grow during our infertility journey.
3. Share How You’re Feeling About Interventions
Usually, only one of you will be required to closely monitor hormone changes and to take medications for treatment. For us, the medical load fell more heavily on me.
When infertility interventions fall heavily on one of you, resentment can build. It took me time to appreciate that I was frustrated and resentful of the interruptions to my work schedule, the emotional impacts of hormone treatments, and all the time I spent at appointments.
I would misdirect these stifled emotions at my husband.
I knew he couldn’t do these things for me. Biology predetermined this. However, I was still feeling overwhelmed by the very strict diet and prescribed supplement routine. When I finally got in touch with these feelings, I shared with him how frustrated I was that his life just carried on while my world felt completely overhauled.
He heard me and immediately understood. He needed to know the reasons I was frustrated and angry. After all, I was subconsciously directing these emotions toward him without realizing it.
Once I had clearly communicated how I was feeling and why, my husband offered support by committing to the diet as well.
Note that it’s not just the partner going through the interventions who bears the emotional burden. It is challenging for both of you. When both of you share your frustrations and other emotions as they arise, you prevent that wedge of resentment from becoming a wall.
4. Focus on the love you bring
Searching for and noticing the ways your partner offers support is part of love.
Love is what we’re really looking for, isn’t it?
We both shared the goal of building a family out of our love for each other. It started with love and we wanted it to end with love, too. The optimism my husband brought when I had none demonstrated his love. Holding my hand during the medical procedures – that was love. Eating an excessively healthy diet to offer support instead of eating Friday night pizza – that was love.
Looking for love in action allowed me to appreciate the good in our experience with infertility. This season held some of the deepest challenges and greatest joys in my life. We are better people for having walked this road. We’re stronger as a couple for it. Investing in heartfelt love with the life partner you’re on this wild ride with is invaluable.
Infertility is notoriously hard on a relationship. Our fertility doctor asked how we were managing after our treatments didn’t result in a pregnancy. Perhaps you know couples who didn’t make it out the other side. Unfortunately I do, too. The depth of pain can translate into turmoil so easily. Conscious relationship check-ins along the way are a must.
Remember the love that motivates you to fight infertility.
The vulnerable conversations that were essential during this season of our marriage were difficult for me. After the fact though, I was astonished to discover that some of our closest connections came from having these very conversations.
May your relationship grow stronger as you navigate the painful, courageous journey of infertility. May you look back and see that every part of your story shaped you for the better.
Dr. Karen Snow, BSc, ND
Naturopathic Doctor and Author of Infertility Lies: A Journey of Discovering Truth