Going through a fertility journey as a couple offers many comforts, but also many challenges.
When you seek fertility treatment as a couple, you’re committing to a common goal together. Many couples find that the process strengthens their relationship.
“Going through treatment brought us closer together,” said 35-year old Annette, who gave birth to twin girls after three cycles of IVF. “When things were bleak we would think at least we’ve got each other. That’s the main thing.”
But fertility treatment can also be very stressful. The uncertainty, the loss of privacy around your medical and sexual life, and the potential for disappointments along the way, can all strain relationships. Infertility can easily become the only thing you want to talk about—or the last thing you want to talk about.
Communication Challenges for Couples
Talking is more important than ever during fertility treatment, even if it’s hard because of the anxieties and emotions involved. Some of the challenges for couples include the following.
Disagreeing about big decisions
If a particular treatment doesn’t work out as hoped for, you may need to make difficult decisions about what to do next. For example, if IUI isn’t successful, you will need to decide whether to make the greater personal and financial commitment to IVF. It’s natural for couples to disagree, or be unsure, about major life decisions with many different pros and cons.
Even if everything goes perfectly, you’ll have moments of uncertainty and stress during fertility treatment. As all couples know, stress can cause one (or both) partners to communicate less effectively or lash out. If you’re undertaking IVF, there’s likely to be a financial commitment too, which can raise money worries.
Guilt / Loss of Identity
For many people, the ability to create children is deeply intertwined with their identity as a man or woman. As a result, it’s all too common to feel guilt, or a loss of sense of self. The sense of not being a “real man” or “real woman”—however misconceived—can make sex and fertility painful and sensitive subjects.
“I found it very hard to see my wife go through the process of IVF when we understood that the fertility problem lay with me,” said Andrew MacDougall, who adopted a son with his wife in 2013.
Communication about sex
Sex for conception can be very different to sex for pleasure, and it can be frustrating when one or both partners feels pressure to perform, or that their sexual needs aren’t being met. If those frustrations aren’t addressed, they can generate conflict and add a layer of stress and resentment to the fertility process.
Overcoming Communication Challenges
Communication issues can test your relationship, but they can be overcome if you keep informed, stay respectful and open about your feelings, and get help when you need it. Here is some advice for the journey.
Research your options
Being educated about your options for each stage of fertility treatment can help you make decisions together with a clearer head. During fertility treatment, there’s a lot to information to absorb, understand, and process emotionally.
The earlier you start to plan and discuss how you feel about different treatment options, the more time you’ll have to reflect on what you want, and make better-informed choices. If you strongly disagree with your partner about a particular course of action, it’s better to know that before you may be faced with that scenario.
Stay connected and share feelings
You don’t want to avoid ever talking about fertility treatment. You also don’t want fertility treatment to be the only thing you talk about.
Some couples make a regular time to “check in” about their feelings or concerns about the process. Some find it constructive to limit how long they talk about infertility during a check in. That gives couples a chance to express their feelings and then set the topic aside.
“Fighting fair” is important in any relationship, and it’s especially important during your fertility journey. Genuine conflict between partners should never be avoided or glossed over.
At the same time, techniques such as listening, avoiding personal attacks, asking for specifics, and finding points of agreement are valuable. PsychCentral has an excellent list of rules that can help keep disagreements respectful and loving.
Seek help if you need it
If you feel you’re struggling to work through your problems as a couple, you shouldn’t be afraid to see a couples’ counselor to talk through everything. “I was a bit sceptical but it was actually good to talk to a stranger, someone outside of the situation and emotionally detached,” says IVF patient Sharon, writing at ivfsuccessstories.net.
If you feel like you may be facing your own mental health issues, you should consider seeking counseling. Infertility support association Resolve.org has a useful fact sheet that can help you decide whether you need professional help. Joining (or even starting) a support group is another option to consider.
At Aspire, we strive to eliminate every unnecessary source of stress from your fertility journey. To learn how, visit our Process page. For more information about what to expect from fertility treatment, our Patient & Family Support page is a valuable resource.