How to manage the impact of infertility on your relationship
If you and your partner have been trying to fall pregnant for months, and particularly if you are beginning to look at fertility treatment to help you fall pregnant, you and your partner may be concerned about the impact it will have on your relationship.
But, as Dr Mandy Rodrigues – resident clinical psychologist at Medfem Fertility Clinic – explained in recent videos, it is not the fertility treatment per se that creates a problem in the relationship… it is the way you manage it. In this article, we look how infertility can impact your relationship and how to manage it.
She says that the reactions of patients who have fertility challenges are often intense. Most of us grow up expecting to have a family one day, and when this doesn’t happen, there is an immense feeling of loss, as well as intense feelings of guilt and responsibility. This reaction to infertility, in terms of depression, has been likened to the reaction of patients who have cancer or heart disease. The reaction can also be similar to post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
“My advice is to enter the process of fertility treatment with both of you on the same page,” she says. “I also suggest making the process more predictable for both of you, so you both know what is happening next and why, and so you are both involved in the decisions and practical aspects, like administering injections, attending scans and discussing issues like who you want to tell about the treatment planned.”
In addition, you might want to look at different options to support your relationship, such as family and friends who have also had this experience, or professional counselling.
Here are some great tips to help you implement this advice, based on Dr Mandy’s more than 20 years of experience working with couples through their fertility journey.
Getting on the same page
It is important to work together as a couple when facing infertility challenges. You will need each other’s support more than ever.
Dr Mandy notes that one of the ways in which the partners in a couple might respond to the challenges of infertility is what is called “independent coping”, in which the partners withdraw from each other and begin to feel isolated from one another. As one dad-to-be described it: “I feel like I’m not supporting her well. I know she needs to talk about all of this, but I just don’t know what to say to make it better.”
It is very important to rather learn to navigate the challenges together and to support each other through all the experiences that come with a fertility journey – disappointment, stress, fear and even financial pressure. Instead of allowing the experiences to cause tension and misunderstanding, proactively focus on strengthening your relationship and drawing together even closer.
As one infertile couple put it: “We always felt close, but going to hell and back together to create our family has brought a new depth to our relationship, and an even greater respect for each other”.
Set aside time to share your feelings with each other and be supportive of each other. Talk with each other about your feelings and allow yourself – and your partner – to feel what you feel, even if that is sad, deprived or depressed.
You will also need to spend time talking about your respective feelings about, for example, different kinds of treatments, or using donor eggs or sperm, or how to finance the fertility treatments, or whether to tell family and friends about it. These are all highly emotive and highly personal issues and decisions, and can easily create tension and disagreements between partners, but it is crucial to find a way to get on the same page about these issues.
Be prepared – make it predictable
Find out as much information as possible about the various treatments and what each one entails, so you can plan ahead and make the process more predictable. If you both know what is happening next and why, it will be easier to provide support to each other.
You and your partner will also face many uncomfortable questions and difficult conversations as you go through your fertility journey, and especially at social gatherings.
Decide in advance how you and your partner will handle difficult and insensitive questions. You may even want to practice your answers. You might decide to be honest with friends and relatives, or you may feel that your fertility is a private matter, or that it’s just too painful to talk about right now. Remember, you don’t have to disclose all the details of your situation. You can simply tell people that it is a difficult and emotional conversation you do not want to have right now.
Similarly, in your usual day-to-day life, you may both face fertility triggers – these include anything that creates anxiety about your fertility – a social media post or getting your period or seeing pregnant women, or being around babies at baby showers or parties.
Dr Mandy says that couples are often entirely unaware of each other’s triggers, and for this reason she has found a way for couples to identify their triggers together in through a game. Each partner writes down the most pertinent triggers, and then each gets a turn to pull a card and say if – and how – that trigger affects them. This is because the same trigger – such as meeting someone who had a successful IVF treatment – could make one person feel jealous, but make another feel hopeful. Watch Dr Mandy’s video here to learn more about this Fertility Game for Couples.
Being aware of what triggers you emotionally – and how – will better enable you to manage your reactions or to avoid certain situations.
Often our patients at Medfem Fertility Clinic find great support among other couples who have also struggled with infertility. For certain, these couples truly understand how you feel and are often the most loving, understanding and tolerant.
Even so, you and your partner might need support from an outside counsellor to help you overcome the challenges and hurdles that arise when dealing with infertility and fertility treatment. A professional psychologist with experience in infertility can help a great deal by assisting you to learn how to cope with the physical and emotional changes associated with infertility, as well as with the demands of fertility treatment.
A good therapist will help you to sort out emotions and feelings, and to build coping skills and strategies. Counselling will also help when choosing the right fertility treatment or when exploring other family building options.
Reach out to us!
At Medfem we believe in helping you reach your family dream through world-class fertility treatments, delivered with empathy and caring. It is our joy and commitment to give you a positive outcome to your fertility journey.
If you would like to meet our team at Medfem Fertility Clinic, simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.
We 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!