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Managing Relationships: Infertility- The Univited Visitor

Posted Jul 02 2009 6:31pm
By: Phyllis Martin, MEd, LPC, Leader of GIVF Donor Egg & IVF Support Groups

Have you ever had to put up with a house guest who stayed too long? Perhaps a friend of your spouse's that you really don't like? Imagine this: Bill pops in and says he is in town! You are surprised initially, but quickly adjust and decide he can stay for a bit. What are a few days? You tell your partner that is OK, but no more. So soon you and your spouse are fighting because you don't know what to do with Bill. He doesn't seem to have any intention of leaving. He always has another excuse to stick around. He is eating your food, running up your bills and affecting your social life because he tags along to events. Your family wants to know all about Bill and then offers opinions on what to do, even though you didn't ask. You feel uncomfortable talking about him to friends because it may reflect poorly on you. Bill makes you late for work because he is in the shower and you haven't had yours yet. Wife is mad at husband, who says she is over-reacting, Bill will be gone eventually; let's pretend he isn't here right now. Husband is mad at wife because he knows just asking Bill to leave won't work, there is no quick fix, and he is tired of being blamed. One morning at breakfast Bill says that he overheard your love-making. You cannot stop thinking of Bill, even when you are having sex. Your libido dwindles. You feel guilty and mad at your spouse because he/she does not understand. Eventually you stop having sex unless you know that he is out, which tends to be only a few days a month. The strain is making your marriage suffer, so you plan a nice dinner alone together. But during this romantic evening, all your partner wants to do is complain about how bad an experience it is to live with Bill. You are tired of talking about Bill and point out that there are other things to discuss, but Bill overshadows everything. Neither of you can remember life without Bill and neither of you really know what to do except look forward to the day he is gone. Finally, Bill leaves. You thought you and your spouse were going to do the Dance of Joy when that moment arrived, but strangely you don't. Instead, you find that all the anger, all the hurt, all the inconvenience and annoyance is STILL there, despite Bill being gone. Now you realize the problem is not about Bill, but about the damage that was done and not attended to while Bill was there. Is it too late to reconnect? Infertility affects all aspects of your life, including your marriage. But how, why and what can you do about it? Like coping with an uninvited guest, couples first have to adjust to the mere idea that they are going to have to use some sort of medical assistance to get pregnant. Many couples start by ranking what they will and won't consider. As a couple proceeds, they often find themselves drifting right into those options they said they would never consider. They frequently find themselves dealing with scenarios they did not even know existed. Usually, infertility is the first major life crisis a couple faces together. It is a time when you see your spouse and yourself in new ways. You may find it frustrating, maddening or sorrowful. You may feel perpetually helpless at seeing what your spouse does or does not do under this kind of pressure. Infertility illuminates your different ways of coping when handling stress, grief, lack of control, depression and anxiety. For a couple, it exposes how you communicate with each other. Infertility teaches you things you may not have known about your spouse's assumptions and expectations. When all of these things differ, infertility can tear couples apart. Sometimes the damage is so great that having the longed-for child does not repair the damage because bitterness and hurt remain. Divorce occurs despite the resolution of infertility. In order to pad the effect infertility can have on your relationship, remember the small things first. Accept your partner's differences in making choices, handling stress and grieving style. As the various areas of life become affected, a couples' communication often suffers most. Be patient with your partner and separate him/her from his/her communication style. Some people isolate and become very quiet. Others surround themselves with resources and people. They may seem to talk about it constantly, even after a decision is reached. Frequently, couples are accustomed to making decisions together rather than just sitting with difficult feelings. To communicate but not focus on fixing, acknowledge and validate what you are hearing. Do not try to fix it, or be a perpetual cheerleader for your spouse. Validate your partner's feelings. Infertility does not have to be a wedge. It can be a shared experience that actually becomes a strengthening bond. It is important for couples to remember that there are many ways to experience intimacy and that sex should not be the only way to feel emotionally connected to your partner. Physical intimacy should be a focus during time you have together, without making a spouse feel that sex must result. Unexpected hugs, kisses just because, a foot massage, a shoulder massage while watching TV or a pat on the back all express caring. Sex in a different location can feel freeing as well. Non-physical ways to encourage intimacy include calling your partner in the middle of the day to say you are thinking of him/her/. Do not mention appointments, errands, and logistics and so on. Laughing together is a release as well as a tool to put your stressor in perspective. Laughing together also builds a bond and gives couples something to recall and laugh at later. Text or email flirty messages, loving messages or funny messages. Use the element of surprise to break from feeling tied down to a treatment plan. I have had clients plan a living room picnic, go to a show, go for a weekend drive, and re-visit something that was a joy before infertility moved in, such as going to flea markets or a café for a favorite brunch. Couples can use this phase of life to build a relationship that is more solid than ever before. Infertility can be a common bond, sort of a battle scar shared by soldiers in the same unit. By keeping your eye on each other, not just on achieving pregnancy, you will make it through and have your relationship intact once your fertility is resolved. When couples learn to accept that each person will react, feel and behave differently during this life phase, they are more understanding of their partner. Get help when you get stuck in these areas in order to learn new ways of communicating. When there is a sense of "us" trying to resolve our infertility, the experience itself helps cement relationships and increase the ability to count on your partner. There is a new perception that says "together, we can handle whatever happens and be okay."
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