Communicating Your Feelings about Fertility Challenges
The first step to effective communication has less to do with talking to your partner, and more to do with your internal dialogue. You need to be aware of the assumptions you make about what your spouse thinks and feels, and then rather than acting as if these assumptions are true, check them out.
One way to do this is to state your observation, and then ask a question. For example, let’s say you’re telling your husband about a doctor’s visit. You notice that, after a while, he becomes quiet, and you find yourself withdrawing, thinking, “He doesn’t even care about having a baby!” Rather than allowing your feelings to escalate, STOP!! Instead, say something like, “I was just talking about my doctor’s visit, and I notice you’ve gotten quiet. How is all of this for you?” More often than not, when my clients used this strategy they were pleasantly surprised to find that not only were their assumptions wrong, but they both felt freer to open up to each other.
The other thing to remember is that it’s your responsibility to speak up and tell your spouse your truth: how you feel and what you want. The fantasy that says that if your husband really loved you he would “just know,” doesn’t work in real life. A couple I recently saw in my office is a good example. Diane and Larry had been in fertility treatment for only a short time, but already their relationship showed signs of strain. Diane wrestled with feelings of shame, seeing herself as stigmatized by her struggle. But rather than talk about this, she acted it out by withholding from herself the emotional support she desperately needed. She made fertility treatment a solo affair, all the while resenting her husband. Eventually, the tension between them was so great they decided to seek counseling. Only when Diane was willing to talk about how she felt and what she needed, were they able to bridge the distance between them.
Be mindful, too, of little irritations building up, or of overreactions to small issues. These could be warning signs that something bigger is brewing under the surface. Ask yourself what the issue really is, and once you know, talk to your partner. Be willing to listen, too, even if his take on things is different from yours. The goal of effective communication is understanding and supporting one another, not complete agreement.
Setting Up a Structure to Talk
Now that you know how important talking is, the next step is to set up a time and space for it. Fertility treatment has an insidious way of creeping into every corner of your life. .
One simple solution is to put aside a preset amount of time every evening after dinner, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how long you’ve been going for treatment, how frustrated you’re feeling, and how many issues you’re dealing with. Set a timer so each of you gets equal talking time. Start with one of you speaking without interruption, while the other gives undivided attention, and then switch. This strategy allows each partner to stay involved and feel listened to.
Putting Fertility in its Place
Sometimes, the grind of treatment can make your relationship feel small and confining. But you can break free of this by realizing that within your marriage you can create your own private oasis. Talk about ways to nurture yourselves and one another. Remember the activities you enjoyed early in your relationship. Relish doing simple things together, like cooking a meal or taking a walk after dinner. Snuggle up together and watch a movie. Discover fun ways to beat stress and be close, like couples’ yoga or ballroom dancing. Take periodic breaks from scheduled intimacy, and enjoy the connection of spontaneous romance.
Take the time to talk to each other and celebrate the whole of your relationship. Soon you will be able to recognize your fertility treatment as the challenge it is, but also as the passage it can be—to a strong and resilient marriage.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Conceive Magazine.