Times of stress affect many aspects of life and may negatively impact those closest to you. It is sometimes easier to conserve emotional energy by withdrawing than to reach out to a partner.
Facing the challenge of infertility can lead to feeling alone and unsupported, perhaps even for the first time in a previously harmonious relationship. The emotions that often surround infertility run deep and can be overwhelming to an individual, let alone a couple. Preexisting patterns may no longer be effective facing this new challenge. We often want to share all our ups and downs with those nearest and dearest, so rather than fending for yourself, try going on the offensive as a couple.
How do you best support your partner during infertility? Do you know his/her needs?
- Ask your partner. Talk openly about what has bolstered coping skills in the past, what worked and didn’t work. What can you do to decrease distress during infertility?
- When does your partner seem down? What kind of reactions do you see to your attempts to help? Notice not only what is said but also body language. Try to shape your responses to be more sensitive, for example, is it time for closeness or space to be alone?
- Call a meeting of the minds and hearts. Set some domestic ground rules for handling the fertility challenge. Rules can make you feel safer and provide some predictability on the home front. For example, schedule time to both talk about fertility issues and carve out fertility-free periods.
- Create “code words” that you and your partner use in public to short cut emotional communication. Maybe you find yourself at a social gathering that is no longer comfortable. Have an alert word that your partner will recognise as the signal to make a hasty exit. Taking action that “gets it right” can make you feel effective as a couple.
- Let each partner have a free pass to initiate an activity to do together, such as escaping to a movie or taking a long walk. Have fun developing a mutually agreeable list of activities to choose from.
- Set priorities as a couple, such as how to spend free time, how to spend time with family/friends, or how to make financial choices that affect treatment. Try to stick to the agreed upon priorities and view them as choices. Having a plan can help each partner feel more in control.
- Aim to be positive rather than critical, even of yourself. An interaction with your partner did not go well? Don’t blame or make it a crisis. Mistakes can lead to learning on both sides. Remember to smile and feed each other emotionally.
- Benefit from the wisdom and experiences of other couples. One or both of you can join a support group or counseling. Knowing you are not the only couple on this stressful path can help turn down the emotional heat and free up the energy to devote to your partner.
No couple goes through fertility treatment without a few scrapes. Nurturing your partner as your fertility partner will ease the bumps and inevitable stresses of the journey, helping you arrive at your destination together.
If you have any questions about receiving support during infertility or our Donor Egg Treatment Programme, get in touch with our team by calling 0208 003 0827 or email Amanda Segal, our International Patient Liaison.
About the Author: Carol Toll, LCSW-C, has an extensive background working with individuals, families, and groups. She has an expertise in counseling patients undergoing infertility, with a special interest in donor issues. She recently co-authored, with Patricia Sachs, LCSW-C, the chapter ‘Counseling Recipients of Anonymous Donor Gametes’ in Fertility Counseling: Clinical Guide and Case Studies, edited by Sharon Covington, MSW, LCSW-C, and has also published research on the demographics of anonymous egg donors.