Navigating Infertility within Relationships
The thought of those two words attached in the same sentence almost produces an oxymoronic reaction.
In many cultures, love is "supposed" to be the precursor to fertility and procreation. But what happens when you find an issue in your reproductive journey? How does it then affect your relationship with your loved one? Infertility is typically defined as the inability of a couple to conceive a child after a year or more of intercourse.
It is a medical condition that can affect one or both partners and result from various factors, including issues with reproductive organs, hormonal imbalances, or genetic factors. This is typically diagnosed when a couple has actively tried to conceive without success for an extended period and seeks medical evaluation and assistance to determine the cause and potential treatments. Infertility is a deeply personal and often painful journey that affects millions of couples worldwide.
Some ways infertility can affect relationships are through traditional gender roles and expectations that can be challenged when dealing with infertility. This can lead to shifts in how partners perceive their roles within the relationship, causing additional stress.
Societal norms often emphasize having children as a milestone of adulthood and a demonstration of "success". The pressure from family, friends, and society can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and strain the relationship further, especially for women.
Other ways that can affect relationships are how partners cope with stress differently. One partner may want to discuss their feelings and seek support, while the other might prefer to handle things privately. These differing coping mechanisms can lead to misunderstandings and emotional distance between the spouses. Infertility can force couples to decide whether to continue pursuing fertility treatments, consider adoption, or remain childless. These decisions can lead to disagreements and require careful consideration of each partner's desires and feelings. Not all hope is lost for couples who are navigating these waters. The journey can also be a profound bonding experience due to the resiliency that can be cultivated in the relationship.
Here are some ways couples can assist each other in the process:
Emotional Turmoil: Infertility can trigger a range of emotions, from frustration and sadness to guilt and anger. Acknowledging and validating each other's emotions is the first step toward maintaining a strong bond. This involves creating a bridge between each other's pain and curating compassion for what the other person is experiencing.
Communication: Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. However, discussing infertility can be challenging due to its sensitivity and triggers. Creating a safe space where both partners can express their feelings without judgment is crucial, and this can be in an area of the home that has been discussed prior or even in a place outside of the house where there is a neutral base. Regular check-ins to discuss treatment options, emotional well-being, and plans can be the objective of these conversations.
Blame: Blaming oneself or each other for infertility is a common response, but it's important to remember that infertility is a medical condition with multifaceted causes. Encourage one another to replace blame with mutual support, recognizing that you're both on the same team, facing the challenge together instead of being opponents.
Navigating Intimacy: The intimacy shared by partners can be affected as the focus on conception takes precedence over the romantic essence of sex. Sex might become more about achieving a goal rather than connecting emotionally. Finding ways to maintain intimacy outside of the goal of conception is essential. In this way, the act can curate feelings of closeness and be less transactional.
Seeking Support: Isolation often accompanies the infertility journey, almost like a secret that only you and your partner know. Although this can feel like it brings them closer for some, it can often feel like you're on an island where no one understands you. Reaching out to support networks, both online and offline, to connect with others who understand the struggle is a great resource. Seeking professional help, such as counseling or therapy, can provide tools for coping and communication.
Infertility tests the strength of relationships, but it's important to remember that you're not alone in this struggle. By fostering open communication, empathy, and understanding, couples can navigate the emotional landscape of infertility and emerge with a stronger, more resilient, and deeply connected relationship. Your journey creates a layer of durability in the relationship, creating an impenetrable wall around your relationship.
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