One of the most challenging things to cope with on my journey towards the motherhood was to hold my relationship together. Just as infertility causes emotional stress to an individual, it also impacts relationships – most especially, your romantic relationship.
Trying to conceive can create conflict and tension, but it can also bring couples closer together. It can do both at once! Here are some of the most common relationship challenges brought out by infertility, followed by practical steps you can take to heal and grow from the experience.
Sexual Stress When Trying to Conceive
Your sex life may be the very first victim of trying to conceive. At first, whispering, “Let’s make a baby” can be a turn on. After months of trying, it’s the last thing either of you wants to say or hear.
Stress in the sexual relationship is even more common for couples trying to time intercourse for their most fertile time. Research has found an increase in sexual dysfunction – both for men and women – when timed intercourse is used to get pregnant.
Because sex is also a way to feel closer to your partner, stress in your intimate life can lead to tension in your overall relationship.
Disagreements on When to Seek Help
When should you get help? Well, from your doctor’s standpoint, this is a straightforward question. If you’ve been trying to conceive for one year, you should see your doctor. If you are 35 or older, you should seek help after six months. If you have any symptoms or risk factors for infertility, talk to your doctor right away.
Some couples have no arguments about seeking help when the time comes. However, what happens when one of you wants to get help now, and the other wants to wait? This can lead to conflict.
Disagreements on Telling Other People
The partner who doesn’t want to share may be experiencing shame or embarrasment. They may feel infertility is too personal of a topic.
The one that wants to talk to others about the fertility challenges may feel isolated and lacking social support. This can lead to more trouble coping with infertility itself, feelings of resentment towards the partner who insists on keeping things secret, and increased relationship tension.
Fears Your Partner Will Leave
“I’m afraid he’ll/she’ll leave me because I’m the infertile one. I’m afraid they will leave me for someone who can give them a child.” This is a very common fear and one that many people never reveal to their lover.
If your relationship is otherwise strong, infertility is unlikely to break you apart. The best way to deal with this fear? Put it out there. Talk to your partner about your fears. Interesting side note: research has found that those who resort to self-blame and criticism – it’s my fault, I brought this onto myself – tend to have higher levels of infertility stress.
Researchers propose that some men and women choose self-blame as a way to take away stress from their spouse. In other words, by saying, “This is all my fault,” they hope to reduce the emotional pain of their loved one.
However, studies have shown that this kind of thinking hurts relationships. It is of no benefit to anyone and doesn’t take away or relieve any stress for the other partner.
Tension and Resentment
Who has it worse, the one who is subjected to the most procedures? Or the one who is infertile (if only one of the two), and therefore has the emotional burden of feeling at fault?
Who has it worse? The one who has invasive fertility testing, or the one who has to go into a room alone, in a fertility clinic, and masturbate on demand? For some couples, these issues lead to resentment. The Pain Olympics are not unique to couples. This occurs between fellow fertility challenged peers and certainly outside of the infertility community.
Everyone copes with stress in different ways. Studies have also found gender differences in the way people cope with infertility. These differences can lead to misunderstandings.
For example, one partner may accuse the other of “not caring enough” if their coping style is more subdued. On the flip side, one partner may accuse the other of “overreacting.”
Studies have also found that women are more likely to experience marital stress than men, regardless of the cause of infertility. This doesn’t mean the men don’t care. Only that their relationship stress levels from infertility are lower.
Arguments over money are not unique to infertile couples. However, because infertility cann be very expennsive, tension over finances is common. Co-pays, fertility tests and treatments not covered by insurance, travel to and from fertility clinics, lost work time due to procedures and appointments – all of these may lead to financial strain.
Most couples will not require IVF treatment. For those that do, it can lead to long-term financial burdens. Almost all couples that go through IVF need to borrow money. This can mean years of debt.
Even once infertility or IVF is behind you, the financial stress of infertility may follow for quite some time. Other possible sources of financial stress include:
disagreements over whether to pursue treatment (due to costs)
whether and how to borrow money
whether or not to ask friends and family for finanncial help (like through crownnfunding)
whether to skip treatments and go straight to adoption (which is also expensive)
Differences of Opinion on Moving Forward
Some couples may disagree on whether to pursue IVF treatment or any fertility treatment. Those disagreements can be related to debt and bills, but they can also be about discomfort with the treatments themselves.
Couples may disagree on whether to take a short break from testing and treatment. They may disagree on whether to keep trying or move on for good. They may disagree on whether to pursue adoption or live a childfree life.
When the question of using a donor or surrogate arises, decision making becomes even more difficult and complex. This is why almost all fertility clincs require couples to speak to a fertility counselor before pursuing donor or surrogate fertility treatments.