It’s an exciting time when you decide to start a family. But things can shift into disappointment and worry if pregnancy doesn’t happen right away. Some couples will eventually decide to try fertility treatments, which can open up an entirely new world of stress and anxiety.
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You may wonder how you can support your partner through this challenging process. (Or maybe you’re struggling to support a friend or family member who has confided in you.) Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do. The experience can even strengthen your relationship or friendship.
Infertility: Why the stress?
Fertility treatments are time-consuming and often uncomfortable or invasive, says psychologist Karen Hurley, PhD.
Here are a few more reasons why infertility can cause so much stress:
- Treatment can be expensive.
- Treatment can involve hormones, medications, and/or frequent appointments that upset your routines.
- Infertility often creates a feeling of an emotional roller coaster. “There’s a constant cycle of hope and disappointment,” says Dr. Hurley.
- If you’re walking through infertility, you might not garner much outside support because you’re more likely to keep things private. “If you break your leg, everyone rallies around you — they bring you lasagnas, and then you get better and it’s all over,” says Dr. Hurley. “With infertility, you don’t get that same ‘rallying around’ and often times there’s no direct path.”
All this stress can have a serious impact on your relationships, especially with your partner. Minor problems that used to be easy to ignore or manage may become magnified. So how can you make a difference?
Tips for supporting your partner
“Partners want to be supportive, but often don’t know what to do. They sometimes feel helpless because they can’t fix it or make it better,” says Dr. Hurley.
Here are her tips:
1. Reduce everyday hassles. Daily stresses may seem minor, but they can be strong drivers of negative moods over the long haul of treatment. Get extra help for childcare (if you already have kids) or for housekeeping. Consider having groceries delivered — anything that makes life a little easier. You might view the cost as an investment in the treatment process.
2. Lean on close friends. You need to confide in and support each other, but you need outside support as well. Dr. Hurley suggests that each partner confides in one or two trusted people outside the relationship. This helps relieve pressure for both partners.
3. Set healthy boundaries with those who are nosy or invasive. Decide as a couple how much information you’re going to share, and with whom. Don’t feel pressure to disclose intimate details if you don’t want to — even to family members.
4. Don’t avoid couples with children. Avoidance increases emotional distress in the long run. “Isolating will eventually reduce your resilience,” Dr. Hurley says.
She suggests approaching such situations with a sense of acceptance. “Look at other couples with children and say, ‘They’re at their place in life, and we’re at our own, which is different.’ ”
5. Work together on treatment goals. Check in with your partner regularly to make sure you’re on the same page about how many attempts to make and how much money to spend. Being flexible about your goals in the face of obstacles helps in the long run.
6. Recognize and accept differences in coping styles. “Partners will sometimes try to talk each other into using their own coping strategies,” says Dr. Hurley, “arguing about whether it’s better to be ‘optimistic’ vs. ‘realistic,’ ‘logical’ vs. ‘emotional’ and so on.”
Some partners are uncomfortable listening to problems without immediately trying to fix them, but jumping in with a solution when the other person “just wants you to listen” can make her or him feel invalidated. Make sure to take turns listening, and recognize each other’s needs.
7. Make time for breaks. Take breaks, both individually and as a couple. “Being supportive doesn’t mean being on 24/7,” says Dr. Hurley. “Restorative breaks increase resilience.”
Infertility treatment is never an easy path, but by taking steps to keep your relationship strong and healthy, you can make the challenges easier to bear.
“This is when the uniqueness of the relationship comes out,” Dr. Hurley says. “You see what you’re made of, what brought you together. You see how your strengths harmonize to create a stronger whole.”