Dealing with infertility is a challenging and intense time for couples and there’s no escaping the fact that a rollercoaster of emotions come into play. Here are some aspects of infertility that couples have to face as they come to terms with it and go through treatment.

It comes out of the blue

Couples don’t expect to have to deal with infertility – we all imagine that it’s something that happens to other people. Unfortunately, as with most of life’s challenges, it can happen to anyone. Common reactions such as guilt, shame and disappointment, feeling alone and feeling as if you’re the only people going through it are tough to handle and can affect the self-esteem of you both.

It’s hard to talk about

Infertility is a tough subject to discuss with those around you. Social pressure and the stigma of infertility may make couples hang back in seeking medical advice. Once they do, a big decision to manage together is how much to tell family and friends – and when. A very common and natural response is simply to shut off from the people close to you. If you’re dealing with infertility, it can be a big help if family and friends take a step back and are there to listen, rather than offering advice.

Women and men cope with infertility in different ways

Women tend to take responsibility when bad things happen in general – and often bottle up how they’re feeling. It’s no different when it comes to infertility: hiding emotions and trying to take on most of the responsibility for the treatments is one tendency that can do more harm than good to a relationship. While you may choose to go for appointments on your own to ‘protect’ your other half, the more involved your partner is in the diagnosis process, the better for the relationship.

Men are the providers, traditionally, and will feel that they have to take charge and make decisions without letting emotions get in the way. That means they can find their partner’s emotions too much to deal with and struggle to talk about their own feelings. They may bury themselves in work as a form of escape in a situation that they want to be able to fix but can’t ‘solve’ themselves.

Taking the blame doesn’t help

If there’s a fertility problem, it’s usually assumed that it lies with the woman – although this is only true half of the time. If the cause of infertility is pinpointed and it lies with one person, it’s natural for them to feel guilty, frustrated and disappointed.

Less is known about male infertility than female infertility, and it’s not a topic that’s widely spoken about. Added to that, there’s a link between fertility and virility in many cultures, so men may feel relief if the problem doesn’t lie with them.

Whatever the root cause of a couple’s infertility, the best approach is to deal with it as a shared problem rather than one person letting the other down, regardless of the medical diagnosis. Bottling up anger and frustration can damage the relationship longer term, so it’s important to be open.

Sex can become pressurised

Infertility treatment is a big undertaking, and it can have a negative impact on a couple’s sex life as they go through it. Men can feel as if they need to ‘perform on demand’ and that sex isn’t associated with pleasure any more. That can mean that the frequency of sex lessens, and that feelings of fun and intimacy are affected.

Life feels uncertain

As couples go through infertility treatment, they’re likely to be coping with a combination of tension and anxiety, lifestyle adjustments to make sure they’re in good health and, in some cases, financial strain if they’re funding the treatment themselves. It’s a big ask, particularly with the uncertainty of not knowing what the end result of treatment will be.

Supporting each other makes a big difference

Most couples agree that whilst infertility is a huge challenge to overcome, it’s made their relationship stronger. Here are a few simple ways to come out the other side with a healthy relationship.

  • Keep talking: good communication will help you solve problems early
  • Be accepting of your feelings and honest about them
  • Tell your partner what they can do to support you
  • Ask your partner what they need from you
  • Understand that men and women react differently to the same situation
  • Share your feelings at each stage of treatment
  • Don’t forget to talk about the highs as well as the lows
  • Remember to keep non-fertility related date nights going!

You can find out more about fertility treatment in our blog – and if you’re trying to get pregnant, you can find our handy ovulation calculator here to help you work out the best time to conceive.

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Andrew Drakeley

Mr Andrew Drakeley is the Clinical Director at the Hewitt Fertility Centre, working principally at the Liverpool Women’s site but with managerial responsibility for Knutsford.

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