Fertility Treatment: The Different Ways Men and Women Cope

Men and women in couples undergoing fertility treatment typically respond differently to the stresses of infertility and fertility treatment. The different – and sometimes even opposing – approaches almost always create conflict and can result in ‘independent coping’, where each partner feels isolated, negatively affecting the relationship at a time when the partners need each other’s understanding and support more than ever.

In this article, Dr Mandy Rodrigues, clinical psychologist and part of the Medfem Fertility Clinic team, highlights some of the differences between men and women when responding to the challenges of fertility treatment.

Understanding these differences may help couples understand each other better on this journey.

During a recent IFAASA webinar, Dr Mandy Rodriques, a clinical psychologist in private practice, an integral part of the specialist fertility team at Medfem Fertility Clinic and chairperson of the counselling arm of the SASREG Board, shared her experience in both the field of fertility spanning 30 years and her own IVF journey. Her professional work involves counselling individuals and couples on their fertility journey, as well as assessing donors, recipients and surrogate mothers.

Dr Mandy says that while gender descriptions are now more fluid and complex, and not all men or women are the same, the tendencies and reactions typical of male partners and female partners in couples seeking fertility treatment are undeniable.

Some of the most prominent differences are shared below.

Differences in what partners focus on

Dr Mandy refers to a book called Why men don’t listen, and woman can’t read maps, a controversial recent book by Barbara and Allan Pease on the differences between the way men and women think and communicate.

This is quite a humorous book, making the assertion that given the same reading, men will hear the title and women will interpret the paragraph.

Men also have an ability to box aspects of their lives into distinct compartments. So, they’re able to box work apart from sport, and can keep their career compartmentalised from their social life. As such, they are also able to compartmentalise the fertility journey from the other aspects of their lives.

Women, on the other hand, are less likely to separate or compartmentalise different aspects of their lives. As such, having a baby or not being able to have a baby or undergoing fertility treatment impacts every aspect of women’s lives, and for this reason, they tend to become more all-consumed by the fertility journey.

Different communication styles

It is also common to find couples undergoing fertility treatment differing in their communication styles. The female partners tend want to talk about their fertility challenges more often, even every day. The male partners often feel that they have already spoken about it before, and that they feel like it’s the same talk again and again.

Sharing the journey in different ways

Similarly, when it comes to talking about their fertility challenges and treatment, men and women have different tendencies.

Men are far less likely to share this information, even with close family and friends. They tend to keep the experience quite private and also internalise the stress.

Women – although not all women – are more likely to share the experience with family and friends, obviously with discretion. Even so, this difference can clearly lead to relationship difficulties, and it is better for couples to negotiate their expectations regarding what and how much information to share with others as soon as possible.

Differences in main concerns

In addition to worrying more about the impact of fertility treatment on the couple’s finances, men also tend to be more concerned about the impact of infertility on their wives.

Many of the male partners in couples receiving treatment at Medfem Fertility Clinic are quick to say that their wives have changed and their lifestyles have changed, and they want to draw a line somewhere, because they got married to live happily together with their partner, come what may.

Women tend to be concerned about more abstract values associated with having a child, like a sense of belonging, or a sense of achievement. They are also more likely to change their lifestyles with regard to socialising, drinking, eating and smoking, to ensure a better chance of conceiving. This is because they tend to be more all-consumed by the fertility journey and willing to push the limits further – including being more willing to investigate invasive Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART) sooner than men.

All of this may lead to a woman feeling that she is making the all the changes and putting in all the effort, and it can cause feelings of resentment.

Different outlooks

Among couples receiving ART such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilisation (IVF), the male partners – often being more solutions-driven – tend to react more optimistically. They focus on appeasing and encouraging their partners, looking to the future and affirming that there will be a baby – whether it is going to happen naturally or through treatment such as IVF.

Men also tend to take one step at a time, and discuss the next step on the fertility journey only when they get to it. As a result, many women feel that their partners are not keen to go further on the fertility journey, but often it is simply that men only begin to engage in the next step when it is placed on the table by the fertility specialist or decision-making team.

Most women, on the other hand, want to look at the entire journey – they want to consider in advance the whole possible process and the various options along the way. They are often already thinking about how far they might be willing to go on the fertility journey, for example, how many IVF cycles they would be willing to complete. In addition, they also want to think about and prepare for the worst-case scenario: if this or that treatment doesn’t work, what do we do?

The result: independent coping

These different and sometimes opposing approaches to an already trying situation will create conflict. The result is what is called ‘independent coping’, where each partner feels isolated and often this ‘elephant in the room’ is never discussed.

A better way of coping with the strains of fertility treatment is for both partners to understand and support each other through the process, regardless of their different approaches.

This can be done by learning the coping strategies detailed in our article Fertility Treatment: Better Coping Strategies For Couples.

It can also be achieved by seeking counselling and support from professionals such as the team at Medfem Fertility Clinic.

Reach out for relationship support

At Medfem we believe in helping you reach your family dream through:

.: World-Class Fertility for Everyone – we believe in making world-class fertility treatments available for everyone

.: A Positive Fertility Journey – It is our joy and commitment to give you a positive outcome to your fertility journey

.: Delivered With Empathy & Caring – So you may have a fond memory, of a feeling of empathy, caring and being part of the Medfem family

You can meet one of our fertility specialists at Medfem Fertility Clinic, by simply clicking here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.

Our Fertility Specialists can also meet with you during a Virtual Consultation via Zoom or Skype. Click here to book a virtual consultation now.

We look forward to meeting you at Medfem Fertility Clinic!

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