When you are in what feels like a desperate quest to have children, it’s easy to forget that your marriage needs care and nurturing. That’s too bad because in an ideal world your partner will be with you long after your children have grown and moved out. If you do your job right as a parent you will work yourself out of a job in about 20 years. With care, your marriage will last a lot longer – even through fertility treatment.
It seems that some folks who have suffered from infertility are able to keep their marriages thriving. Yet others find their relationships take a real beating in the quest to build their family. We wanted to know what might make the difference between those marriages that thrive and those that don’t. So we went to our widely experienced “experts” in our Creating a Family Facebook Support Group and asked:
What are your top tips for surviving fertility treatment and keeping your marriage healthy? In other words, what can you do to protect your marriage from the stress of infertility?
Here’s what they had to say – in their own words as often as we could pull off!
Tips for Staying (Happily!) Married While In Fertility Treatment
1. Talk to each other.
Yup. It’s a good starting point. Talk to each other. Don’t assume your spouse knows what you are feeling.
“My husband isn’t big on talking, so I give him a heads up by telling him that I’d like to talk about the next steps this weekend to give him a couple of days to think about it and get ready.”
“TALK! Seriously some nights all I did was talk and cry about it. We had to do things to take our minds off of infertility. But talking was the tops!”
2. Find someone else to talk to while doing fertility treatment.
Close, trust-worthy friends, an experienced therapist, and support groups – both online or in-person – all work. The bottom line is to find support for your experience beyond just talking with your spouse. It’s a lot to ask one spouse to be the entire support for the other.
“My poor hubby – he really is dear and we did talk. It was just that I needed to talk some more and to people who could understand without preamble.”
“Our therapist was a life and marriage saver!”
3. Realize that your way of handling stress, grief, and decision-making isn’t the only way.
Give your partner space and grace to find his own way of handling the experience of fertility treatment. Ask him how he’s handling it and why that might work for him. But give him the room to get through it his way.
“My husband acted like our infertility wasn’t that big a deal, but then I realized that his way of dealing with it was to try to stay busy and not think about it. He cared – a lot – but needed to work through it with busyness. We all get there differently.”
“Everyone handles trials differently. It was hard for me when I was sad, but my husband didn’t seem to be, but I came to realize we both handled it very differently and that’s ok.”
4. Preserve the intimacy and fun in your sex life.
While going through fertility treatment, it’s easy to think of intimacy as something you need to do to produce an outcome. Many couples even see it as a chore to get the results you want. As difficult as it is to erase thoughts of baby-making from your mind, sometimes it is really good to just be together for the fun of it.
“The timed sex can really eat away at intimacy coupled with the heartbreak of yet another period at the end of the month. We needed to make sure we had pressure free sex.”
“Make love when there is no possibility of getting pregnant.”
5. Take occasional breaks from trying.
“We took day trips as dates that had nothing to do with babies. We’d go antiquing or just for a scenic drive and not talk about conceiving at all that day.”
“The big thing was to make sure that sometimes we were having together time that had nothing to do with having a baby.”
“We would take two months off if any approach was medication intensive like IVF since the meds can A) make you kinda volatile and B) my husband gave me my shots and HE needed a breather between jabbing sessions.”
Stepping away from the rigorous routine of fertility treatment can be refreshing for your mind, body and spirit. It’s necessary once in a while to re-discover the simple joys of being together or to find the space to heal a bit.
6. Take care of each other.
Whenever you can, find small, intimate, and kind things to do for each other. Notice and comment on the sweet, positive things you appreciate about each other. Think about why you fell in love, talk about it together. And don’t blame each other for the struggle to conceive.
“It’s so important to remember to put your relationship first and to not let yourself get so caught up on infertility that you forget each other. It’s so much easier said than done, I know!”
“Try to focus on meeting your partner’s needs first rather than yours. It’s amazing what an impact that can have.”
“We constantly reminded each other that it was US. Both of us. No infertile couple should focus on the fact (no matter the real case) that ONE of you is broken/ unable/ baron. Infertility is a couple’s problem. We were a team. Always.”
7. Focus on your shared faith or values.
Whatever faith or religious practice you observe, try to find common ground with each other, and lean into your shared faith. If you have different religions, try to explore each other’s thoughts and feelings about what feels supportive or comforting about their faith. Share your experiences as they relate to the fertility treatment process, and find common ground there if you can.
“My husband and I have God as the foundation of our marriage and realize that the timing of our children is in His hands.”
“We put our faith in the Lord & know His timing is perfect, period! Even with our faith, the struggles with infertility is difficult, to say the least.”
“Lots of prayer, counseling, and church family support. If I did not have God in my life I would have given up a long time ago.”
8. Count your blessings.
As cliche as it may sound, make a conscious choice together to focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have. Choosing gratitude together is a strong platform from which to face the challenges of infertility.
It took me a while, but I had to come to a place of just being thankful for my husband. Not everyone gets to have time with just their spouse. I was talking to an older woman who had children right away after getting married and planned to have her retirement years with just her husband, but he died from cancer before that could happen. I know that could be our story as well. We have now had 5.5 years just us that no one can take away from us, but that I let infertility steal too much time from.
“We choose to look for the positives in every day, & every experience, even though we could just focus on the thing we don’t have–children.”
9. Don’t try to protect your spouse from your pain.
Fertility treatment is painful. It’s hard on your body, yes. But it’s also hard on your heart and your mind. You cannot avoid the pain but you can buffer each other and be a safe place for that pain to be managed together.
“We chose to turn towards one another, rather than wall ourselves off, which can easily happen when we are in pain.”
10. Do things you will not be able to easily do when you have children.
Brainstorm together and create a “Before Baby” bucket list together. Schedule some of the events out to give you something to which you can look forward together. Try to include some self-care that you can do together.
“We did lots of things we knew we wouldn’t be able to do anymore once we had kids, like, travel, eating out spontaneously, and seeing lots of theatre performances.”
“Do things that aren’t kid-friendly, like comedy clubs and late-night movies.”
11. Talk about how far you think you want to go up the infertility treatment escalator.
You can always change your mind later, but it helps to be on the same page at the beginning. Check with each other as you proceed through the fertility treatment process to be sure you can both stay on that same page. It’s okay to change pages, so to speak, as long as you are doing so together.
We had to talk a lot about how far we would go to try to conceive a child. In our case, we decided it was a family that we wanted, it didn’t matter how we started that family. We didn’t want to go too far down the road of treatments. IVF was our stopping point.
Before we started we had a long talk about how far down the road we would go. Do we do IVF if IUI doesn’t work? If so how many cycles? Would we do donor eggs/sperm if either was the issue? Knowing each other’s boundaries ahead of time really helped.
Make your goal that your marriage will be strengthened through the trial of infertility so that you will better be able to handle all the ups and downs of parenting and life together. As one woman in our support group said, “Trying to build the family of our dreams – we’ve struggled, but we love each other more unconditionally because of it. We now see and respect the fight in each other.
Do you have a tip to add to our list? Share it in the comments!
Updated in 2020. Image Credit: Trevor Hurlbut; Jules & Jenny;