Deciding to have a child may feel like a dream, whereas learning that you have fertility issues may feel like a nightmare. Alongside questions about what the future might bring, you may find yourself ruminating about the past. You might wonder if your attempts might have been easier earlier or if there might be a better time to try in a little while. You might rack your brain, trying to think of every source of stress, every hazard to your health that you want to try to avoid. There may never be an easy way to move through infertility, and there will never be a good time to cope with it.
You and/or your partner may find that you have or had ideas of how the process would go. One or both of you may have people in your life for whom getting pregnant happened in a snap or by accident. You might feel super sensitive about their “luck.” You might also know some people who have been on a similar journey to yours. You might have formed ideas and/or judgments about their story, and now you can’t believe that you ever felt that way or knew so little about their position.
Each of you may find self-doubt and insecurity to be high. In the early stages, you may worry about it being “your fault” versus your partner’s. You might worry that your partner holds you responsible or be concerned that your partner thinks that you blame them. You may hesitate to reach out to others; you might worry that this is a private matter or that your partner wouldn’t want anyone to know. The decision to try to conceive is an interesting life choice because it is not only deeply personal but involves another person.
Signs and Symptoms that Infertility is Impacting Your Couple’s Relationship Negatively
There are several signs and symptoms that you are feeling the pressure of your infertility struggle. You may feel as though you and your partner are suffering from a disconnect or experiencing more conflict and arguing more than you did before. This conflict might be blatant or be a more subtle tension. Feelings of resentment may begin to grow, as may feelings of inadequacies if the infertility issues stem from one partner. One or both of you may experience worsening mental health in general, even if the issues that come to the surface don’t appear to be related to fertility at all. Anxiety is often exacerbated by trying times, as are mood disorders in general.
You might feel an increase in sexual stress. Tracking, taking temperatures, utilizing ovulation sticks, and timing things out can quickly make something that used to be fun feel like a chore. One or both partners may experience a decrease in libido, making things feel off-balance between you. The pressure to “perform” in the face of additional stress can feel especially upsetting. Self-consciousness, insecurity and even self-loathing can set in with one or both partners if there is a struggle to feel up to the task at hand.
Another major issue may come from differences in how you and your partner would like to seek medical help. It is common to have differences in how the couple would want to move forward, and this can bring additional stress to the relationship. You and your partner may find yourself on different timelines about when to seek intervention. If your partner wants to delay, you might start to worry that they have had a change of heart about proceeding and vice versa. This is the sort of scenario that is so high-stakes, that it can be easy to assume or project what the other person is thinking or be too scared to ask.
3 Ways to Protect Your Marriage When Trying to Conceive
1. Acknowledge your feelings and the negative experiences involved:
It is important to recognize that this is a difficult season for both of you, maybe even traumatizing. Based on where you are in your journey, you may still be feeling shocked and in denial or overall exhausted and tired. Acknowledge to yourself that you are struggling. Take ownership of your feelings, and be honest when situations seem especially difficult. You are allowed to notice and grieve the tough times.
It is just not enough to notice and identify your emotions. When you are able to identify them, they then need to be communicated. It is necessary to hold space for the feelings that you and your partner are experiencing non-judgmentally. In doing so, you remember that you are both on the same team and have chosen one another as your life partner for a reason. You might feel nervous about sharin and worrying about how your partner will react. Perhaps one or both of you have already shown a tendency to speak without thinking or make rash decisions. Being able to meet one another with respect, and approach your fertility struggles as something to tackle together, will allow you to lean on one another. Even if you disagree about some things, it is better to communicate about them from a place of compassion than to keep your thoughts and feelings bottled inside.
There is a lot of advice about mindset on the internet these days. Your mindset is indeed a key factor in how you move through the world. Your thoughts become your actions, your actions become your habits, and habits build your day-to-day life.
However, there is also a subset of “toxic positivity” that insists upon always seeing the good and feeling like your best self. This sort of thinking seems to say that there is never any reason to be unhappy, which is incredibly invalidating. Moreover, it claims that you attract life events based on how positive you are. What this line of thinking leaves out is that sometimes, things are simply beyond our control; blaming someone’s misfortune on their “bad energy” is neither accurate nor productive.
The key to moving forward in life and creating a positive outcome isn’t ignoring all bad things and pretending they don’t exist. That is just denial and repression; it doesn’t actually help you sort anything out. The key is actually how resilient you are and your ability to keep trying. Even if it’s only one small step a day. Even if you take a lot of rest and breaks, emotional or otherwise. You have permission to feel upset. You have permission to recognize that the situation you are in feels bad to you. That you are scared, frustrated, angry, and sad. The only way out of those emotions is through them.
Recognize when you are struggling, and seek solutions through self-care. “This has been a tough week. I need to make time to get together with my best friend”, or, “I am having a tough day; I’m going to put on my comfy PJs and watch my favorite movie.” Even if you can name your emotions but aren’t sure how to comfort yourself, you’ve taken a good first step. Affirm to yourself that your feelings are valid: “I am upset, and that is a normal human emotion.”
2. Make time for yourself and each other:
You will need to focus on your self-care while also finding ways to improve the connection in your relationship. In order to strengthen your relationship, you will have to start with yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup.
What are your coping skills? How do you give yourself the compassion you deserve? Do you enjoy self-care? These questions might seem overwhelming at first if you’ve never sat down and thought about them.You can take some time to sit and think about your coping skills or keep track throughout the day. Perhaps you are someone who likes to go for a walk to clear your head. You might be someone who wants to rest and relax in order to deal with stress. Maybe you like distractions, such as an activity or hobby. The same goes for your self-compassion. Do you have systems in place to check in with and support yourself and your emotional health? Do you speak to yourself the way you would speak to a loved one in the same circumstance, with kindness and respect? Do you have empathy for yourself?
Making time to be with your partner outside of your fertility efforts will help keep you connected and remind you that there is a life and relationship outside of having a baby. This is in no way meant to downplay how much you want to be parents. You have every right to want what you want! However, we tend to have tunnel vision about issues like this and lose sight of other things. You and this person want to expand your family for a reason: because you love one another and have chosen to share your life together. Throughout your fertility journey (and the rest of your lives), the constant you will have is one another.
3. Seek support, but have boundaries unapologetically:
Seeking support for infertility can be tricky. While it is important to ask questions and process feelings with those who have been through it, you also have to remember that what works for someone else may not work for you. More importantly, just because your journey looks different than someone else’s does not mean yours will turn out badly. Make sure that whoever is supporting you also respects that you might have different opinions and/or situations that impact how you want, need, or choose to proceed. Remind yourself of this fact as often as you need to. If it helps, visualize a map of your neighborhood, and pick a place to get to. Imagine all the different routes various people might take to get there. Imagine that some people have to go a little out of their way to get groceries first, whereas others live right next door. You can even pull up the map on your phone and look at the countless possible ways to go from one place to another. In the end, everyone can end up at the same spot, even if the roads they travel to get there are different.
You may opt to connect with people outside your usual circle who are on a similar journey through online groups or meetings. The comfort of relative anonymity combined with feeling seen and related to might be of particular comfort to you. You might want to speak to a therapist or counselor on your own and/or attend couples therapy with your partner. We offer couples therapy in Woodland Hills, CA, and see many couples trying to navigate difficult situations as a team. Whether as individuals or in a pair, therapy can provide an outlet for emotions and tools to tackle the issue(s) at hand.
When it comes to those people in your life to whom you have not reached out for support, you may find this to be a particularly tricky time. We as a society have come a long way about not commenting on peoples’ bodies or life choices. There are many people who now understand that asking a couple, “When are you going to have babies?” is inappropriate. Unfortunately, not everyone has heard about this or agrees with it. You may come across people who ask you this question upon finding out that you are married. It may come following a negative pregnancy test or even a miscarriage; terrible, heartbreaking timing. Do not be afraid to refuse to speak about your private medical information. Whether you assign the task of shutting down the conversation to your partner, a trusted friend, or family member or feel you will be able to speak for yourself at that moment.
Like all tough times, fertility struggles can increase stress and pressure on your closest relationships. You and your partner are on the journey together but having separate experiences. Sharing and communicating with one another is the key to remaining close and nurturing support and understanding between yourselves. No two people are the same; therefore, no two couples are the same. What has worked for other couples during their fertility journey might not work for you, and that’s okay.
Maintaining open communication, quality time together, and regular self-care will go a long way toward not letting this struggle pull apart your relationship. You might feel a sense of guilt or like you are “tempting fate” if you put your energy into something outside your pregnancy goals. You do not have to prove to anyone that you want a baby. Always remember that you have individual needs and that your couple’s relationship has needs as well. Focusing on strengthening your bond is completely valid and it doesn’t mean you aren’t invested in having a baby. Your mental health deserves protecting, as does your partnership! Be kind to yourself.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.