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THE EMPTY CRIB: How to Deal With the Pain of Infertility in Your Marriage

QUESTION:

My wife and I have been struggling with infertility for six years and it’s tearing us apart. We don’t blame each other but our emotional and financial bank accounts have been drained by a non-stop effort to get pregnant and I just don’t know if there is any love left to support a family, even if a pregnancy was successful. My wife is furious because I told her that I want to stop trying for now. She even threatened divorce so she can try with someone else. Is there anything I can do to get our marriage back?

ANSWER:

First of all, I’m sorry that you’re going through this painful and challenging time.  Infertility can be indescribably painful and disappointing and create ripple effects in your life in ways that people who have never been through the experience can’t possibly understand.

In addition, the fall-out from infertility—particularly when two people have been trying to extended period to get pregnant—can be damaging not only to you as individuals but also, as you described, to your relationship as a whole.  When two people plan a life together that includes children as a central part of that vision, tearing out that piece of the picture can be excruciating; almost unthinkable.

When this happens, and people are in the throes of grief and confusion, they can begin to question the very purpose and future of their marriage without children in it, and it sounds like this is the space where your wife is living right now.

While you’ll never hear me say “I know how you feel”, allow me to share several things I’ve recommended to other couples in our work together that helped.

 

Infertility and SadnessAllow Your Spouse Some Breathing Room

Your wife is in anger mode, which can feel very energizing.  Thinking about trying to have a baby with someone new may be an appealing option in the moment but is really just a smokescreen designed to prevent her from dealing with the sadness and loss waiting just beneath the surface.

Believe it or not, she may also be focusing on this course of action as a way of avoiding having to face the truth about the fact that she may never get pregnant and the reality that you are probably just as disappointed as she is.  Sometimes, we feel so badly that our partner is hurting that we do anything we can to avoid acknowledging this pain.  It’s simply too overwhelming.

Potentially adding insult to injury are the accusatory or hurtful things you may say to each other when talking about this issue.  In fact, if you’re like the couples I’ve worked with, fertility and everything that comes with it – doctors’ visits, medical bills, menstrual cycles and ovulation, sex schedules, etc. – has become an obsessive topic of discussion.  You may have completely lost sight of everything else in your relationship as “making a baby” became the central focus and objective.

If you’ve talked it to death, more talking won’t help.

 

You may feel very alone, but you’re not.  Here is one woman’s story
about how
Infidelity Almost Ruined My Marriage.

 

Since your wife has threatened divorce, I would send her a simple, straightforward message that:

>>  Acknowledges her anger;

>>  Reassures her of your presence and love;

>>  States your desire that she stay; and

>>  Informs her that you’ll be there when she’s ready.

That’s it.  Don’t beg her to stay.  Don’t tell her you’re willing to try one more time.  Just send this message and leave it at that.  Then take care of yourself until she approaches you to talk further.  If you don’t even think she’ll let you finish a sentence, write her a brief-but-heartfelt letter and leave it somewhere you know she’ll find it.

Communicate Calmly and Clearly

When she is ready to talk, approach the discussion with an open heart.  Try not to assume what she’s going to say and listen to her fully without interrupting.  Empathize with what she shares.

Then, if she’s open to your sharing in return, “say what you need to say” (in the words of John Mayer).  Be honest about your concerns, fears, and desires.

Infertility-CommunicationIf money is one of these concerns, try to stick with the facts, like what remains in your bank account and what you know you’ll need in the future to move forward.

If she’s not open to hearing you out, schedule another time to resume your discussion.

Whenever you get the chance to express your thoughts, be willing to suggest compromises and outline what you are and are not willing to do.  For example:

>>  “I realize that you’d like to try again right away, but I feel I need a year to recover from our recent attempts and save some more money.  Maybe we can meet in the middle and talk about this in 6 or 7 months.  Does that sound fair to you?”

or . . .

>>  “We know we’ll need at least $12,000 to try in vitro again and we only have about $3,400 left in our joint accounts, so we need to come up with a plan.  Are you open to that?”

If you know that you know that you know that you are unwilling to continue down this path, you also need to let her know but try to do so in as kind a way as possible.  For example:

>>  “I’m so sorry because I know how much this means to you and how hard we’ve both tried to make this happen.  I’m disappointed to and I hope we can be there for each other as we heal and talk about what’s next for us.”

 

If you’d like to learn more about how to compromise successfully,
read our blog on 5 Ways to Compromise in Your Marriage.

 

What’s next for you may be the blessing of fostering or adopting children and filling your home with love this way, but don’t feel pressured to enter those waters until you’re both ready.  You’ll know it’s time when your hearts are open and you’re ready to work as a team to make your dream come to fruition in a new, different, and wonderful way.

During this stage, don’t forget that you’re in it together.  You realize this but it may take some time for your wife to remember it and move toward you again.  Emotional pain and grieving take on many different forms and no two people move through it in the same way, so try not to compare or judge; just be there for one another.

Talk to us and start your journey toward healing

 

And About the Money . . .

Aside from what I’ve described above, I know your finances will be an inevitable part of any discussion you have.  Money is always a difficult subject to discuss when it’s tied to our hearts’ desires.  Being in a successful partnership means you must be on the same page (or at least in the same book) in regard to your finances—both saving and spending—and especially spending for something as large and significant as infertility treatments.

Still, while the dream of a baby has certainly been linked to your finances until now, try your best not to intermingle this dream and the toll it’s taken on your bank accounts.  During negotiations about your finances, stick to the numbers to manage your emotions and avoid feelings of blame.  Working together to create a financial recovery plan will eliminate some of your stress, lower the tension between you, and make you feel hopeful again about the future.

Infertility-Couple Walking Hand in HandOnce You Have a Plan in Place

Once you’re back in sync, agree to talk about everything BUT having a baby.

Do you even remember a time when you didn’t talk about your fertility issues?  Odds are, that has been the main topic of conversation for the last six years.

Start talking and dreaming about other things:

>>  Before you began this journey, what did you like to do together?

>>  What did you do – individually and together – for fun?

>>  When was the last time you went on a carefree and romantic vacation together?

>>  What relationships with friends and family have gone by the wayside during this season of your marriage that you need to rekindle and nurture?

>>  What other goals do you have – such as those related to career, fitness, health, and house projects – that you can begin working toward?

>>  Is this a great time to take a class, adopt a pet from the local animal shelter, get away for the weekend, join a community group, or start a new hobby?

Talking about these “new” topics may take some effort from both of you, but once you begin, it will become easier and you’ll feel great about experiencing closeness, success, and FUN again in other areas of your life.

Speak Up

As you take personal action, never forget that you’re not in this alone.  Because of the unfortunate statistics around infertility – such as that roughly 7.3 million people in the U.S. (or roughly 10% of the reproductive-age population) is impacted by infertility* – there are countless means of support out there that can help you and your wife.

There are also national-level organizations that focus on this topic such as Resolve, the National Infertility Association.  Check out their site for resources and local support groups.

Infertility-Others are PregnantIf you haven’t already shared your struggles with trusted family and friends, consider doing so.  You may have shared your desire to have children with them years ago but not continued to share your struggles in the assumption that they would stop listening or would be too disappointed for you.  You may be especially sensitive to others who appear to have gotten pregnant easily during this time, and watching them enjoy this experience has been painful.

While this understandable, carrying the experience of infertility alone can make it unnecessarily painful and isolating.  In fact, one of the most common stories I’ve heard is that, as people share their experiences with others, someone else speaks up and says they’ve gone through the same thing. Getting outside support from others who can relate to what you’ve gone through can make a tremendous difference and accelerate your healing.

And I’m not only speaking about your wife, though most attention and support is focused on women.  Infertility affects men and women equally, so don’t hesitate to reach out proactively for the support you need, even if it’s just to contact us for a session or two to get back on track.

 

In closing, remember your feelings of sadness, anger, and brokenness will not last forever.  Your marriage CAN survive this and be even stronger because of your shared experience.

One day, you may conceive, adopt, or even abandon the idea of parenthood altogether, but regardless, this struggle will end.  You will realize that you CAN preserve and cherish your love and oneness as a couple and keep maintain this central focus, no matter what comes.  You began this journey with your best friend and lover, and you can finish the same way.

 

*Statistics provided by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine

 

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