Relationships and the IVF Process
If you are struggling to conceive, infertility and the decisions you make to address it might put a strain on your relationship. The good news is that there are ways to manage this constructively. Between 12% to 15% of couples in the US struggle to conceive. As you and your partner work together to choose your infertility treatments, remember you’re not alone in this. Despite the rise in couples seeking infertility treatment, a recent study has found that couples who undergo treatment aren’t any more likely to separate or divorce than the general public. In fact, the data suggests that the communication skills and coping strategies couples learn on their fertility journey help them maintain a healthier relationship in the long run.
Understanding the additional strain on your relationship
Infertility diagnosis and the process of undergoing treatment for infertility is considered a major life event. Your fertility journey will likely have ups and downs. As each of you may experience and process emotions differently, this may cause tension in your relationship. It can be easy for one partner to blame or resent the other for the problems you may both face as you undergo infertility treatment. Treatments like in vitro fertilization are stressful for everyone, so it’s important that you make the effort to support one another.
Sex and intimacy while struggling to conceive
Your sex life may be one of the first things to suffer as you undergo infertility treatments. At this point, you’ve probably worked hard to conceive on your own without much success. The emotions surrounding sex may feel overwhelming and painful. If one partner is less interested in sexual intimacy during this time, it is important for the other partner to be understanding of their needs. You may need to take a step back and examine how you want to approach physical intimacy with your partner. Search for other fulfilling ways to be intimate outside of the bedroom. It could be as simple as making plans to go out for a romantic dinner or planning activities that you both enjoy.
Tension & resentment
Struggling to get pregnant can become a sore point in a relationship, particularly if only one partner is diagnosed with infertility. Both partners may be dealing with difficult emotions. It’s only human to feel resentment towards your partner at times because of the different roles you must play in fertility treatment. If one partner is undergoing in vitro fertilization, they will be taking hormone medication and may feel more sensitive or irritable. It’s important to remember that you may both be struggling, and that struggle may not be outwardly visible in the ways you expect it to be.
Fears your partner will leave
If you’re a partner diagnosed with infertility, you may feel insecure in your relationship and concerned that your partner might want to leave the relationship. The strength of your relationship may be tested during this time, but it’s important to remind yourselves that you’ve embarked on this journey together. Be honest with each other about your fears and give yourselves the opportunity to be supportive.
It’s not unusual for couples to disagree about finances; infertility treatments like IVF are expensive. Some treatments may not be covered by insurance, and even with partial coverage, it is a huge financial commitment. If you need a treatment like IVF, you may need to consider going into debt to cover the costs or you might want to ask for help from your family. You should also plan ahead for the likely possibility of having to pay for more than one cycle of treatment and the additional medications required.
Common communication breakdowns
Disagreeing on how and when to pursue infertility treatment may be one of the first communication breakdowns between couples. This disagreement may have to do with finances or fear of further straining your relationship. If you begin infertility treatment, and it’s initially unsuccessful, you may not agree on whether to continue treatment or to pursue alternative parenting avenues. It can be beneficial to work with a couple’s counselor to help resolve disagreements.
Deciding when to seek help
If you’re unsuccessful after one year of trying to become pregnant on your own, you may want to pursue fertility support. Waiting to seek treatment may lower your chances of success as age is a major factor in getting pregnant. Either way, it can be helpful to book a consultation with a fertility specialist to learn about your options. Having that information can help you come to a decision together.
Deciding who to tell
If you’re trying to get pregnant with another person, you’ll need to decide together how and to whom you’ll disclose this information. If you’re feeling shame about your infertility diagnosis, you may be hesitant to share this with others. It can be very helpful to have the support of friends and loved ones, but having conversations with your partner about how much you are comfortable disclosing is an important first step.
Misunderstanding how each partner is coping emotionally
Everyone deals with difficult situations differently. Make space for those differences. Don’t assume you know how each other is feeling. If they know you’re struggling, your partner may be holding in feelings to avoid overwhelming you with theirs. It’s not always easy to express negative emotions.
How to overcome the relationship stressors caused by IVF treatment
For many people, their fertility journey may be a difficult and painful one. It’s not uncommon to feel ashamed or insecure about needing infertility treatment to conceive. The stress caused by infertility treatments like IVF can also produce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Often this comes from feeling isolated by your condition. One of the best ways to overcome the stress of treatment or diagnosis is to be proactive about asking for support, and work on communicating more effectively with your partner.
Learning how to communicate effectively
There are a lot of big decisions you and your partner will have to make while pursuing fertility treatment. Being able to communicate your needs clearly and without judgement is essential. Be respectful of each other, especially when you disagree. Work on becoming a good listener and be empathetic with your partner. Most importantly, be honest with each other. If you keep things bottled up, the tension may come out at a time when you both feel vulnerable and unprepared.
Acknowledging each other’s emotional needs and experiences
You and your partner each have personal emotional needs that come from your own background and experiences. Everyone processes their challenges differently, but just because your partner is struggling with a different area of your fertility journey, don’t forget that you’re in it together. It can be helpful to make time each day to check in and discuss how you’re feeling or if you need more support in specific areas.
Making a plan, together
Work together to decide how to approach each aspect of your infertility treatment. Whether you pursue a treatment like IVF or try a different form of assisted reproductive technology, make the decision together. Find a fertility treatment specialist who can help you address your particular needs. Remember that everyone’s fertility journey is different.
Couples counseling & fertility support
If you’ve never been in couples therapy, now is the ideal time to consider it. It’s a myth that couples counselling is only for those whose relationship is on the rocks. Working with a counsellor before you start having problems is ideal because it will help you develop healthy strategies for managing conflict or disagreement in your relationship. Acknowledging that you need help and additional support can also strengthen your relationship and commitment to each other. Find someone who is experienced in infertility treatment and can work with you on ways to cope as a couple. Some therapists in this field may have personal experience with infertility and can work with you to ensure you and your partner feel fully prepared to face the unexpected together. Additionally, you might find a fertility clinic that has working relationships with infertility or couples’ therapists in your area.