Rekindle & Strengthen Your Relationship

Do you remember the moment that you decided that our spouse was "the one" for you? What about how you used to laugh and joke around together? If these memories seem as if they happened in another lifetime or in the very distant past, then you probably need to take the time to recharge and reignite your relationship. This article examines the strain that infertility places on relationships and provides powerful solutions for strengthening and reinvigorating them.

While some people find that their union becomes stronger during an infertility crisis, many others find that the tension and stress can be overwhelming. Couples rarely travel the infertility journey at the same rate and in the same way. Women typically are ready to initiate medical treatment earlier, are more apt to ruminate over infertility issues, feel their emotions more strongly and express them more readily. These factors can contribute toward marital distress, hinder the ability to make treatment decisions, and make being physically intimate more challenging. Therefore, developing and enhancing a couple's communication skills are vital to fortifying the relationship.

A central principle to realize is that the relationship needs to remain a top priority. This requires regular maintenance and nurturance. A solid partnership and strong communication skills add protection against the individual strain of the infertility process. Attending medical appointments and treatments together and informing each other about which events each person feels comfortable or uncomfortable attending (for example, a baby shower or a family function) are ways that a couple can work closely together.

Couples frequently find discussing infertility issues emotionally draining and overwhelming. It helps to be mindful of having these discussions at times when both partners have sufficient emotional resources (e.g., earlier in the day). In addition, it helps to agree in advance to limit how much time will be spent on these topics (e.g., 20-30 minute maximum). Sticking closely to these suggestions can help keep the issues of infertility from consuming one's life and overwhelming a relationship.

Continued from January 2005 Newsletter Article

Many couples benefit from sharing their thoughts and feelings with each other regarding what it means to be dealing with infertility. Discussing topics such as using an egg or sperm donor, living child-free, and/or adopting can be helpful as well. Very often, these discussions highlight that each individual has different thoughts, preferences, and needs. It is helpful to explore what each person desires in the short and long term and which procedures and avenues feel "right" to pursue. Whenever possible, try to understand each others' coping styles, underlying beliefs, and core needs and try to respect and honor each other's differences.

There are many communication tools that a couple can use to reduce stress and confrontation. One such tool is referred to as "I-statements." The process goes like this: When you do A, in situation B, I feel C. All three parts of the message are important because it requires the person to address a particular behavior in a specific situation and the feelings that are generated at that time. An example of this type of communication is: When you do not accompany me to the doctor's office (A) when I am scheduled for a procedure (B) I feel rejected and lonely (C). This tool helps the speaker from getting into the trap of using global generalizations (such as "You always…"). In addition, the person receiving this type of message is likely to better be able to listen to it and find it useful.

Mindful listening is a basic method of enhancing the communication between partners. This is best used in more neutral and positive subject areas (not infertility!). Each spouse is given three minutes to talk about whatever he or she chooses. That person is to speak uninterrupted for three minutes. The other person is there simply to listen (that means no interrupting, commenting, or asking a question, even if the purpose is to clarify a statement). The person listening should try to do so without judging or criticizing (even in his or her own mind).

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do the things with your spouse that you used to do that brought you joy and happiness before infertility. Perhaps you two enjoyed traveling, surfing, going to museums, attending rock concerts. There is no better time than the present to engage in whatever it was that, at one time, made you two smile, laugh, and decide that you want to spend the rest of your lives together.

Gayle D. Crespy, Psy.D., Program Director