By Kate Brian, journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility
Going through fertility problems can be a real test of your relationship with your partner, and many couples find that the stresses of trying to conceive unsuccessfully take a toll. Being kind to one another isn’t always easy when you may feel at a low ebb, but taking some steps to try to protect your relationship can really help.
Fertility problems and sexuality
Research shows that it is very common for couples to find that fertility problems affect their physical relationships. If you have been timing intercourse to try to maximise your chances of success, making love can become focused on baby-making. It is not surprising that the lack of spontaneity has an impact on the physical side of your relationship, and the psychological stresses of infertility itself can also play a role in diminishing your libido.
In theory, once you are being treated at a fertility clinic, you should be able to stop timing intercourse, relax a little and bring back some spontaneity into your sexual relationship, but in reality this is often easier said than done. What can help is to try to shift the focus away from sex itself, and to make some time for one another and for doing things together that you enjoy. Taking your partner out for a romantic candlelit dinner or snuggling up together to watch a favourite film may not solve things overnight, but it may help to restore some physical closeness and romance to your relationship.
Blame and guilt
Another common problem for couples who have fertility problems are feelings of guilt or blame if one partner worries that they bear responsibility for the difficulties getting pregnant. It is important to remember that not being able to conceive is a joint problem, regardless of whether there are male or female factor causes. No one is to blame and it isn’t anyone’s fault, so try to talk to one another about this rather than feeling guilty or angry. Don’t forget that you want to have a baby together, as a team, and so a fertility problem is a shared issue.
One of the key ways to help your relationship through a fertility problem is to make sure you keep the channels of communication open with one another. If you are angry or upset, sharing this will help your partner to understand how you are feeling. Sometimes one of you may feel the need to be the strong one, and may try to hide your feelings from your partner – who may then assume that you don’t really care as much as they do. Being honest and open can help you to support one another through the difficult times.
If things are really difficult, seeing a counsellor can be very beneficial. People often feel anxious about seeking out counselling support, but getting help when you realise things are not going well between you can make all the difference in ensuring you can cope better.
Aim to face your fertility problem together, putting on a united front, whether that’s having a joint strategy for dealing with your friends and family or going to the clinic together. Sometimes men feel that they are rather sidelined during fertility treatment as so much of it actually happens to their female partner, but sharing as much as you can and doing things together will help you to feel that you are tackling this as a couple.
It may be hard to imagine when you are in the middle of your fertility journey, but once they emerge from the other side many couples say that their experiences of going through fertility problems have brought them closer together and have strengthened their relationship.
Writer and journalist
Kate Brian is a journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility, including The Complete Guide to IVF. Kate started writing about the patient perspective on infertility after having IVF herself.
Currently, she contributes to various types of media as an expert on fertility and writes her own blog, where she gives all the latest news and views on fertility issues, as well as useful advice and links for anyone trying to have a baby.