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5 tips for minding your relationship during fertility treatment

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Struggling with infertility can feel lonely and isolating, even when you have a partner. Navigating treatment is a lot to manage, and it can get even more complicated when you bring another person into the equation. If you’re already dealing with doctor’s appointments, hormone treatments, and financial stress, talking with your partner about what’s happening may feel more like a burden than a source of support.

For some couples, fertility treatment can be very distressing. It may feel hard to figure out how to reach toward each other in these tender moments of trying to build a family. But other couples find they can rely on coping skills they’ve already built during prior difficult situations. If you and your partner understand how to read each other’s emotional cues, then the process of fertility treatment may cause less stress.

No matter the state of communication in your relationship, the reality is that every couple feels some kind of impact from a diagnosis of infertility. Regardless of who will be going to medical appointments or giving birth, both partners may have feelings of loneliness, sadness, or blame that they express in different ways.

How to start the conversation

If you’re finding it hard to talk with your partner during fertility treatment, try these five tips to help ease the way:

1. Find a designated time to talk. Throughout treatment, there will be moments when feelings get big and messy and spill out all over the place. If you set aside a specific time to share how you’re doing, you’ll be more likely to be able to hear and support each other without getting overwhelmed. Having our emotions seen and responded to is a basic human need. Even if you aren’t sharing the same feelings, you’re each on your own emotional journey. Be intentional and thoughtful about checking in with each other.

2. When you sit down to talk, set a timer. This gives the conversation a beginning and an end, allowing you to stay focused and make effective use of your time. When the timer goes off, you can make a plan together to resolve any lingering feelings. The sound of the timer may also act as a signal, encouraging you each to use a safe “emotional container” to hold your feelings with intention and reflect on them until your next designated time to talk.

3. If your partner isn’t available when a big feeling comes up, write it down. Then take a moment to check in with yourself. If you peel back the first layer of the feeling you wrote down, what’s the feeling right under it? (Hint: It’s usually about fear.) Share both feelings with your partner when the time is right.

4. When you have intense feelings, ask for what you need. Because fertility treatment is so focused on the physical body, the emotional side of the process tends to be ignored or pushed aside—but it’s often the most powerful part. It may help to think about what’s most comforting from your partner in tough moments. A look, a touch, a smile, a hug? Help guide your partner by letting them know how they can meet your needs.

5. Be patient with yourselves and each other. Longing for a child can be a deep emotional ache that’s hard to see past in the moment. Try to allow yourself and your partner space to reach beyond your immediate pain and find what will soothe it. When you take steps to slow down your emotional process, you can catch your breath and name the thoughts and feelings that fuel your anxiety. This will help your partner be there for you in new ways that provide comfort and support—and remind you that you’re not going through this alone.

Find help now

If you’re struggling with the fertility treatment process, help is available. Support from a mental health professional—whether you access it on your own, with your partner, or both—can make a big difference. To find a therapist with the right expertise, browse therapist.com’s directory and select “Fertility, Pregnancy & Postpartum” under “Clinical Specialties.”

Through my private practice, Aporia Counseling & Psychotherapy, I offer courses designed to help couples navigate infertility and transition into parenthood after infertility. Learn more to see if they could be another source of support for you.

About the author

Kristy Koser, PhD, LPC, LPCC, specializes in fertility counseling, helping couples navigate complex decisions while maintaining their relationship through infertility. She is a member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and was selected to present her work at the 2019 ASRM conference in Philadelphia. Her writing recently appeared in The Family Journal by Sage Publications, and she has two chapters pending publication with Cambridge University Press and a highly anticipated course on fertility counseling with Psychotherapy Networker due to launch in 2022. She is in private practice, working remotely in several states across the US.