Infertility has become more and more common among couples. The widespread availability of contraception, more women in the work force, and the age at which couples choose to get married and start their families have all contributed to increased infertility rates.
Experiencing infertility, at any age or stage, can have a tremendous personal emotional impact and a considerable impact on a couple’s relationship. There is much research that diagnoses of infertility have been associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness in both partners.
Important but Less Well-Known Consequences of Infertility:
Infertility can have a profound impact on identity.
For many women and men, although more common among women, the dream of becoming a parent starts well before trying for a baby. When experiencing infertility, a woman’s ‘womanhood’ might feel threatened. She may feel like her entire future is out of her control. This is especially painful when women are surrounded by friends and family members, who are pregnant, able to get pregnant easily, or who announce their pregnancies.
Infertility can have a tremendous impact on the couple’s relationship.
Infertility is one of the life’s greatest stressors and can contribute to marital breakdown. The process of infertility forces a couple to come together, make decisions together, self reflect and develop mutual levels of empathy. Unfortunately, many couples cannot withstand the turmoil of infertility. In both my professional and personal life, I have witnessed first-hand many marriages dissolve because of infertility and the couple’s inability to withstand such pressure.
In my practice, I always deliver the same underlying message to couples trying to conceive: couples must be on the same wavelength to move ahead with fertility treatments, at every stage. They must wait for their partner to be at the same place before any future decisions are made. This way, they will grow together in their journey rather than veer off into different directions or end up resenting each other.
Sometimes, a diagnosis of infertility in both men and women, could lead to diagnoses of other underlying health issues.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Endometriosis, Low Sperm Mobility/Motility, complications from previous pregnancies or eating disorders, etc. Often, individuals are not ready or willing to hear that ‘they might be the reason’ that they are not able to have children. Not only does this force them to seek treatment for other health related issues, but it results in a tremendous amount of guilt.
For men, in particular, having low motility/mobility sperm has been researched to have a tremendous impact and threat to their masculinity, possibly leading to performance anxiety as well as to shame and embarrassment with his partner and extended family and friends.
Sex and love making becomes a business transaction.
There is no other way to frame it. When couples are trying to conceive, the spontaneity in their lovemaking is taken way. They are on a schedule of when to do it, as well as when not to do it. During this time, there is an increase in erectile dysfunction in men who have never had problems, and performance anxiety for both men and women. Talk about throwing coal onto the flame. Couples have a tremendously hard time bouncing back from this. If the struggle with infertility is a long one, it is easy for couples to fall out of the habit of having intimacy and spontaneous sex. Over the long term, even well after ‘trying for baby’ is long over, many couples’ relationships are impacted and they have a difficult time reigniting that flame.
When to Seek Professional Emotional Support for Infertility:
The emotional impact of infertility is well researched, and there are many other factors on the self and on the couple which could be affected. Too many for the scope of this article. It is wise to seek the services of a social worker if one or both partners start to feel the emotional impact or require support at the following stages:
Being a parent is a huge responsibility, one that most people take very seriously. But when we are young and falling in love, how many of us really discuss parenting philosophies and the ways in which we wish to raise our children? Aside from discussing whether or not we want children at all, it is unlikely that we get down to the nitty-gritty of child rearing and methods of discipline.
Perhaps it would be wise for couples to have a conversation about their parenting philosophies before they are faced with the parenting challenges I see amongst my clients and within my own social circle.
As synchronized as couples might be in their work ethics, culture and religious beliefs, I see among my clientele a growing trend in couples who cannot agree on how to parent or discipline their children. Although they fundamentally agree on the message that they are trying to send, they disagree on how to relay that message.
Differing Parenting Philosophies:
Whose job is it to get up with the children during the night?
Clearly, this is not referring to a mother who is breastfeeding. (Although many would argue that even if a woman is breastfeeding, as soon as she is done the feeding, it should be her partner’s responsibility to get the baby’s diaper changed and back to sleep.) There is also the assumption that women, by default, much to their dismay, take on this role. In same-sex partnerships, I have seen a more equal division of labour.
Involvement of the grandparents.
How much is too much? How much is not enough? By involvement are we referring to physical access or are we also referring to discipline?
Couples have a tendency to disagree on this issue. While they want their children and their parents to have a relationship, they often disagree on how far grandparenting should go.
More often, when I see couples seeking guidance around this issue, it is usually the male partner who is more at ease with his parents (more so his mother) disciplining the children. His wife, however, often feels that this boundary is too fluid and that her in-laws might use this opportunity to undermine the structures and discipline that she has already put in place.
Criticisms on how our partners parent.
Who’s to say if there is a right or a wrong way to do something? Growing up, we become accustomed to doing things a certain way. We watch our parents manage the household, and we learn from their parenting philosophies, rightly or wrongly, how tasks get done.
When we get married and have children, we believe that certain tasks are supposed to get done in a certain way. But when we raise children with someone with different experiences, are we able to admit that sometimes, there is more than one way to achieve the same goal?
Couples have a very difficult time releasing control over what they feel is the right way, and it can become an ongoing source of conflict between them.
Disciplining our children.
Let’s face it, we all have our own ways of disciplining. We all grow up being disciplined differently. Some of us are strict. Some of us are more laid back. Some of us are not afraid to stand our ground with our children. Yet some of us are more worried about upsetting our children than the need to discipline them.
Our children pick up on these mixed messages. They see mom and dad disagreeing. They gravitate to the parent who will ultimately give in or discipline them less harshly.
The truth is that children are better off when their caregivers present a united front when it comes to discipline. Children thrive on consistency. And receiving mixed messages from parents has been shown to increase anxiety levels and insecurity.
So what is the answer?
Partners should take a few minutes together and discuss how they wish to approach their child on a matter that requires discipline.
Parents are better off walking away for a few minutes to discuss and regroup and then approach their child together.
Most significant, partners in parenting need to remember that parenting is a team effort. It really does take a village. If primary caregivers are prepared to communicate openly with one another, focus their efforts on supporting rather than contradicting each other, they might discover that they share more common ground in their approach to parenting than they initially realized.
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