Infertility can have a profound physical, mental, and emotional impact on an individual. This can understandably take a toll on romantic relationships, as navigating the stress, conflicts, negative emotions, and financial investment associated with fertility treatments can be a struggle for many couples.
However, the relationship challenges caused by infertility and fertility treatments do not have to cause a rift between you and your partner. Your fertility journey can actually be positive, and bring you closer together with your partner. Although every relationship is different and comes with its own unique struggles, there are ways you can still be a supportive partner and use the experience of infertility to heal and grow as a couple.
How Infertility Affects Relationships
Emotional Burden of Infertility
One issue that many couples can face is shame and guilt over their struggles with infertility. Since infertility can be taboo, it is common for couples to feel like they are alone in going through infertility treatments, or that something is wrong with them. However, millions of people struggle to conceive — in the U.S. alone, over 13% of women aged 15-49 have lowered fertility, and millions seek out infertility services. But, fears of failure and inadequacy can still persist, and cause a disconnect between the partners of the relationship, especially if it is not directly addressed.
Couples facing infertility are often thought of as grieving parents — the loss of hope for a baby, a failed fertility treatment, or a miscarriage can be the source of great pain for many patients. Patients struggling with infertility are more likely to experience anxiety and depression, and thus bear an intense emotional burden. Every individual grieves differently, and the isolation of grief coupled with the countless other struggles of infertility can make it particularly difficult to reach to a partner during times of need.
Infertility can also be the source of much disagreement for couples, due to differing opinions on medical treatments, who to share their infertility experiences with, and finances. Couples may also miss their old relationship prior to the start of fertility treatments fraught with doctors appointments, needles, and the complications of infertility, further causing a rift in the relationship. But these hurdles are not insurmountable. Using the right strategies for communication and planning, it is possible to move past any infertility-related disagreements that arise.
Struggling with Failed IVF
Although in vitro fertilization (IVF) has had much success in helping couples have healthy children, the process is imperfect, and IVF cycles can fail even for young and healthy women. This can mean patients have to undergo multiple cycles in order to successfully have a live birth.
The process of undergoing multiple cycles of IVF can be incredibly burdensome, especially for the woman. Each cycle means the patient will have to endure hormone injections, egg retrieval surgery, possible side effects from fertility medications, and the emotional rollercoaster of growing and implanting an embryo with the hope that it will lead to a lasting pregnancy. This physical, mental, and emotional burden, alongside the possible added stress of balancing treatment with a job, can put strain on an individual and their relationship.
How to Be A Supportive Partner Through Infertility
Although fertility treatments can present new hurdles for couples, there are ways that individuals can reconnect with their partners and support each other during such a challenging time. One key aspect of resolving possible tensions with your partner is to address and resolve issues as they arise, rather than waiting for fertility treatments to be over. Communication is key — listen to your partner and what they need, while also discussing your own struggles. It might also be necessary to strike a balance with how often you discuss infertility — it might feel like the topic is not discussed enough, or that you are talking about infertility all the time.
Further, remember that you and your partner may be handling the struggles of infertility in different ways, so don’t pressure your partner into doing things your way. Everyone copes differently, and some might be more emotional than others. Offering support to your partner, without judgment or comparison, can ease tensions by allowing your partner to experience infertility in a way that feels right for them.
It can also be helpful to work with your partner on making a treatment plan that you can stick to. Discuss the financing, timing, and priority of fertility treatments relative to your other life goals to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page. Some other concrete tips to help your partner through fertility treatments can be to ease everyday hassles like chores, make time for breaks and romance as a couple, and aim for compromise.
Although it might not feel like it, your relationship with your partner is not just about getting pregnant. Show your support by spending time with your partner outside of fertility treatments, especially when your partner is feeling distressed. Remember that you and your partner are still on the same team struggling through infertility, even if each partner has their own experiences. Couples therapy can be another source of support to help couples navigate the difficulties that arise in their relationship during infertility.
Every couple experiences and handles infertility in their own way, but togetherness is crucial. You won’t be struggling with infertility forever, and with time you and your partner can come out of infertility feeling stronger and even more connected than before. Regardless of the outcome, there is life after infertility — although the journey may be difficult, making the effort to be a supportive partner and keeping your relationship strong and healthy is essential in making the challenges of infertility easier to bear.