Infertility put a big stress on my marriage and familial relationships during my very long and painful journey of over 11 years. Many times, I failed to be intentional about how I wanted to show up in my relationship, how I wanted my husband to support me, how I wanted to support my husband, and how we as a couple would tackle tough questions and conversations around the act of “making babies”.
Making a baby was not sexy anymore. Having sex on demand felt more like an unwanted chore and was a big turn-off. It felt robotic. Infertility affected both our sex life and our social life. A lot of unwanted and unhelpful thoughts crept up and tested the strength of our relationship not only with each other, but with the people around us. Many times, when I was feeling lonely, I allowed thoughts like “why am I in this relationship?” to creep up. This was not helpful and made me even more miserable.
Since then I have spoken to many individuals and couples and they shared similar stories. While the names below have been changed for the purposes of privacy, these are direct quotes from people dealing with infertility about their relationships”
“The constant stress of it all has definitely strained our relationship.” – Mary, 30 years
“This process truly is a make or break on relationships. It has broken mine.” – Jane, 37 years
“My husband got a job in city B. And I still lived in city A…. and as much as I didn’t like being apart. I think it helped.” – Cindy, 34 years
“I literally just had a fight with my partner. The emotional and financial strain is really pushing us to our limit.” – Anu, 37 years
“It’s awful!” – John, 41 years
“Infertility is a complex massive problem. We don’t acknowledge the effect it has in marital relationships enough.” – Nick, 37 years
The good news is, it’s not always this gloomy and there are many couples who also shared stories of how infertility brought them closer together and made their relationship even better than before.
For those who are in a similar boat like I was many years ago with my infertility struggles, I wanted to offer 6 tips that will help you repair, rejuvenate and strengthen your relationship for a more positive experience as a couple irrespective of the outcome.
1. Have 5 Positive to 1 Negative interactions: In an extensive research study done by Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson on married couples over the course of 9 years, they found that couples who have 5 positive interactions to every one negative interaction tend to stay happily married. So even with the hardships of infertility, be intentional about having more positive interactions with your partner. A few ways to accomplish this is:
· Be genuine and specific in appreciating your partner
· Be a good listener and truly hear them without interrupting
· Empathize with your partner
· Apologize for your mistakes
· Bring play into relationship with teasing and joking
· Show bodily affection such as holding hands, hugging, looking at them in the eyes when speaking, giving them an impromptu massage, or kiss etc.
· Tell them you love them and give them a specific reason why you do. “I love you” because……. · Do something nice and thoughtful for your partner as a surprise (doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant)
· Be willing to hear your partners perspective without being defensive
2. Work on one thing you want to change about yourself: Think about and write down one thing you want to change about yourself to improve your relationship with your partner. Set some time with your partner and discuss how you want to be more intentional about changing this one thing. This shows that you care about your partner and are committed to making the relationship work amidst the hardship with infertility.
3. Request one thing you want your partner to change: Think about and write down one behavior that you would like your partner to change to help improve your relationship. Set some time and share this request with your partner. Discuss how she/he can address that request in an effort to be more international about improving your relationship. The important point here is that you are not telling your partner to change, rather you are placing a request on your behalf. When it comes as request, the chances of it being heard is a lot more that when you tell your partner what you want them to change. Also, you are giving them an opportunity to tell you how they would address that if they accept the request.
4. Creating Relationship Rituals: Ever since we got married, my husband and I had this Friday evening ritual of going to dinner and watching a movie in the theater. My husband’s responsibility was to find us a new restaurant to try. My responsibility was to look at rotten tomatoes or something equivalent and find a new movie for us to go to. Without fail you would see us in the movie theater with popcorn on Friday night. I really enjoyed this ritual because it was our “special” thing on Friday nights. As we got caught up in our lives with fertility treatments and struggles, we didn’t keep up with this ritual. Many times, I binge-watched Netflix shows on Friday evenings as a mechanism to feel numb and escape from my reality with infertility. I don’t even recollect what my husband did when I was being a couch potato. Now looking back, I realize that our “rituals” were something that was special, and it brought us closer together every week. We both looked forward to creating that memory together. To this day, we still talk about the restaurants we tried and the movies we watched together including some of my picks like Mean Girls and Legally Blonde.
5. Write a good old-fashioned love letter: Writing a letter has become a lost art. In this decade of communicating in emojis, our younger generation may not even know of letter writing as a common form of communication amongst family and friends even 30 years ago. Writing love letters to people we love was even sweeter when there was a pen and paper involved. Find an opportunity to open your heart and write a love letter to your partner with a bit of romance and touch of spice. Some questions to consider answering in your love letter:
· What attracted you to them in the very first moments of meeting them?
· What did you first notice, feel or experience about the other person?
· What circumstances brought you together?
· What fantasies or hopes do you have for your relationship?
6. Feeling Fridays: Expressing feelings for each other as couples is critical in establishing an on-going intimacy in marital relationships. As couples, we can easily get out of the habit of intentionally sharing our feelings about our day or life in general This exercise will really help you both in understanding each other’s deeper desires, wishes, fears and dreams. As couples, make it a deliberate practice to express your feelings to each other by answering 1 or 2 of these questions about that past week.
· What made your heart sing and how did that make you feel?
· What disappointed you and how did that make you feel?
· What did you learn about yourself this week and how did that make you feel?
· What impacted you deeply and how did that make you feel?
Start with these simple ones and get comfortable expressing feelings and then move on to some deeper subjects that you tend to avoid talking to the other partner about.
As far as my relationship with my husband, despite our struggles with infertility, we came out of it stronger and more connected.In fact, we just celebrated our 18th anniversary by acknowledging and reflecting on our struggles with our marital relationship and how we stood together through the thick and thin with infertility.
Oh, and we also realized our relationship ritual was a big part in nurturing our intimacy. Now, we are trying to establish a new Friday ritual that includes our 6-year-old son with a movie and a pizza on our living room floor! My husband found this new pizza place that delivers amazing pizza we all love and me and my son are responsible for the movie selection which is mostly PG and we are loving it!
Guest Post by Pradeepa Narayanaswamy for Fertility Road