Times of stress affect many aspects of life and may negatively impact those closest to you. It is sometimes easier to conserve emotional energy by withdrawing than to reach out to a partner.
During a challenge to fertility, this can lead to feeling alone and unsupported, perhaps even for the first time in a previously harmonious relationship. Emotions run deep and can be overwhelming to an individual, let alone a couple. Preexisting patterns may no longer be effective facing this new challenge. We often want to share all our ups and downs with those nearest and dearest, so rather than fending for yourself, try going on offense as a couple.
How do you know what your partner really needs during fertility treatment?
- Ask your partner. Talk openly about what has bolstered coping skills in the past, what worked and didn’t work. What can you do to decrease distress during fertility treatment?
- When does your partner seem down? What kind of reactions do you see to your attempts to help? Notice not only what is said, but also body language. Try to shape your responses to be more sensitive, for example, is it time for closeness or space to be alone?
- Call a meeting of the minds and hearts. Set some domestic ground rules for handling the fertility challenge. Rules can make you feel safer and provide some predictability on the home front. For example, schedule time to both talk about fertility issues and carve out fertility free periods.
- Create “code words” that you and your partner use in public to short cut emotional communication. Maybe you find yourself at a social gathering that is no longer comfortable. Have an alert word that your partner will recognize as the signal to make a hasty exit. Taking action that “gets it right” can make you feel effective as a couple.
- Let each partner have a free pass to initiate an activity to do together, such as escaping to a movie or taking a long walk. Have fun developing a mutually agreeable list of activities to choose from.
- Set priorities as a couple, such as how to spend free time/ time with family/friends or financial choices that affect treatment. Try to stick to the agreed upon priorities and view them as choices. Having a plan can help each partner feel more in control.
- Aim to be positive rather than critical, even of yourself. An interaction with your partner did not go well? Don’t blame or make it a crisis. Mistakes can lead to learning on both sides. Remember to smile and feed each other emotionally.
- Benefit from the wisdom and experiences of other couples. One or both of you can join a support group or counseling. Knowing you are not the only couple on this stressful path can help turn down the emotional heat and free up energy to devote to your partner.
No couple goes through fertility treatment without a few scrapes. Nurturing your partner as your fertility partner, will ease the bumps and inevitable stresses of the journey, helping you arrive at your destination together.