Author: Laura Gately
Many of us know about the toll infertility may take upon us as individuals — physically and emotionally — but often overlooked is the havoc it may wreak upon your relationship. In fact, one recent study of over 47,000 Danish women published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, found that couples who were unsuccessful in their fertility treatments were three times as likely to divorce or end relationships versus those that do.
Although sobering statistics, it’s not surprising when you consider the indelible strain years of failure, unanswered questions, physical stress, and significant financial output may place upon an otherwise healthy union. The worst case scenario may result in one partner crying uncle before the other is ready to move on. That’s exactly the fork in the road my fertility journey led me to; my husband said he “was done” and asked me to live child-free. Yikes! So, how can you navigate the already challenging infertility process without losing your relationship?
Of course there are no guarantees, but we’ve identified four strategies that may help.
1. Work Together to Set Guidelines
Whether at the beginning, middle, or deep into your fertility journey, devise some limits for what you’re willing to do as a couple. Whether it’s a number of cycles (i.e.,we’ll do 3 cycles, or we’ll do 1 more) or a total dollar budget, having some established parameters will facilitate a sense of partnership and make the process go more smoothly. This way, if you agreed on 3 cycles, and the 1st one fails, you can jointly grieve that failure, and move on united, without having to debate next steps.
2. Keep Endpoints Flexible
It’s best to use your guidelines as a trigger for further discussion and consideration, rather than hard decision. There’s no way to predict how you will actually feel when you come to that place. Let’s face it, none of us ever imagined infertility at all, let alone having multiple failed cycles, or spending thousands on treatments. Instead, agree that hitting those pre-determined limits will require a pause to come together and figure out what’s next.
3. Seek Professional Help
As in many things, communication is king. Be open and honest with your partner about how you’re feeling. But sometimes, the minefield of infertility can thwart our best intentions and leave us talking from a place of stress and anger. If it seems you’re hitting a brick wall, it might be time to seek outside help. Talking with others going through the same thing, or a professional couples’ counselor, may get things back on track. RESOLVE has a nice resource for all the national support groups, some professionally led as well as a directory of counselors and mental health professionals. If you don’t see what you need, try to get a personal recommendation of a good couples’ counselor in your area.
4. Take a Break
There’s a lot to be said for a forced “cooling off” period if you’ve reached an impasse. It can be incredibly therapeutic to get off the fertility rollercoaster periodically, both emotionally and physically. Perhaps agree that you will take three or six-month break, and resume talks later. During that time, prioritize reconnecting as a couple. Take a trip, go on date nights, and be intimate just for the fun of it again! Of course, it might seem crazy to stop, as you feel with each passing month you lose precious time. However, it might be the best investment for your long-term success as couple. One option might be to freeze embryos, eggs, or do mixed cycle (freeze eggs and embryos) and then take your hiatus. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have some already on ice, score! Go and enjoy life for a while!
As with infertility treatments themselves, keeping your relationship solid during this trying process will take honesty, teamwork and some creativity. But, hopefully you emerge from this journey as a even stronger duo, and better yet, as parents!