Infertility “can affect your relationship in profound and confusing ways” according to Janet Jaffe, Ph.D., Martha Diamond, Ph.D., and David Diamond, Ph.D. of The Center for Reproductive Psychology. Reproductive trauma can strain your relationship to the point you feel alone. Differences in how you respond to stress and loss and cope with the heartache may be causing unintended emotional wounds.
Men and women feel the heartache of infertility differently. For the woman, she is reminded of the struggle each time her period starts. Each time it’s late her hopes are raised, only to be dashed. For a woman “the experience is physical – she feels the hormonal shifts and mood changes, feels the changes in her body, feels the cramps of a menstrual cycle” (CRP).
The man’s “experience is much less immediate; he is physically removed from it” (CRP).
How men and women desire to be comforted in their heartache may vary as well. A woman may desire to have a lengthy talk and be reassured in various ways. A man may feel the best way to deal with the pain is to address it briefly, then move on from the discussion to a lighter topic (CRP).
It’s important to recognize the difference in how you and your spouse cope with heartache. Ask each other: “How do I respond when I’m overwhelmed emotionally? When I’m stressed? What does my survival mode of operation look like when I feel I’ve lost control?”
Being aware of your coping strategies can help diffuse a tense situation and help you see you’re both responding in a reasonable way given your unique tendencies. Discover ways to share your needs while paying attention to your partner’s, not just the ones they verbalize to you. According to The Center for Reproductive Psychology, “Recognizing how and when to talk with each other and when to give each other space, is essential in dealing with the ongoing crisis of infertility.”
Talking about infertility can be a challenge, as you may not always understand how you’re feeling well enough to wrap words around the anger, frustration or sadness that may be overwhelming you. It may help to pause when the emotions seem overwhelming and think about what you’re feeling. Words are powerful tools in your battle to sustain intimacy and dodge hostility. In the midst of a verbal war it will help to retreat briefly, taking time to collect yourselves again without allowing enough time to pass for you to both draw out completely. This time of self-assessment will help you to determine whether you should share your emotions with your partner, journal them, or talk with a third-party (CRP).
Though your fertility struggle may have placed a wedge between you and your partner, recognizing it and giving each other the freedom to feel and express heartaches and needs may be the first step to recovering your initial spark.
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