A recent study shows that among heterosexual couples having trouble conceiving, there can be big differences between how much each spouse shares about their infertility with others. Research in the August issue of Journal of Applied Communication Research looked at 50 married couples with a total of 250 members of their “social network” – friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. The couples had been dealing with infertility for five years or less, and 85% had had at least one medical procedure to help them conceive.
The researchers asked about each partner’s social network, which ranged from two to 32 people, and asked each about how willing they were to disclose personal information about their fertility treatment plans, outcomes, their emotional responses to infertility, and any marital issues related to infertility. They also asked if the couple found people in their network became more distant or said hurtful things when they learned the couple was dealing with infertility (what the researchers called “personalized stigma”), and if they kept their infertility a secret.
The results? The scientists, led by Keli Ryan Steuber, asssistant professor in the department of communication studies at the University of Iowa, and Denise Haunani Solomon, professor in the department of communication arts and sciences at the Pennsylvania State University, found the wives experienced more stigma than the husbands did, but also more closeness and caring from their network (especially with other women in their circle), and also that the women disclosed more about their fertility struggles than the men did. Husbands, for their part, were more willing to confront others if they were hurt, angry, or disappointed when those in their social network were unsupportive or hurtful. The interviews also showed that if the infertility was linked to the husband that both spouses are “especially inclined to protect their information,” wrote the study authors.
In short, what this study found may be very similar to what you’re experiencing – that you want to share some (or even most or all) of what you’re going through on your TTC journey, in an attempt to find comfort and support – but you also want to protect yourself, as the reactions we get to this emotional and medical challenge aren’t always what we want and need.
How do you balance maintaining your privacy, but also finding support? Do you and your partner agree or disagree on how much to tell and how much to keep private?