Having some marital squabbles around your infertility journey?
Join the club.
Infertility is an incredibly stressful experience and everyone deals with that fear, frustration and trauma differently. This means that everything from small disagreements to huge, dramatic sob-fests are simply part of the infertility journey. And while knowing that they’re inevitable is helpful, it certainly doesn’t make any of those screaming matches or silent treatments feel any better in the moment.
In this piece, we’ll explore some of the most common fights that couples experiencing infertility face, as well as some tactics for how you can best approach them. Get ready, because shit’s about to get realllllll personal…
1. Fights About Sex
Why it happens: If you’re trying to conceive, you’re also having sex. Sex can be a hot button issue for every couple (What kind? How frequent?), but having sex while trying to conceive begets a whole different kind of stress. One partner might feel like they’re not having enough sex. Another partner might feel like they’re being used only for their sperm donation. Another person might feel too much pressure to perform and therefore fully disinterested in sex, possibly picking fights the exact date of ovulation. There’s no shortage of sexual fights, mishaps and dysfunction that can rear its head.
How to approach the fight: Your partner’s comfort should be your top priority, even if that means missing a month to talk things out or get back on the same page. Make sure you’re creating an emotionally safe space for your partner to share if they are uncomfortable or unhappy with the new sexual expectations. While “scheduled sex” gets a bad rep for being non-spontaneous, it also just becomes part of the TTC routine. Find a way to get on the same page and compromise so both partners feel heard, seen and respected. Also, make sure you understand the do’s and don’ts of having sex for fertility. I know that probably sounds stupid…but there are many misconceptions around when to have sex and how often to have sex that might relieve some pressure in the bedroom.
2. Fights About Finances
Why it happens: It’s no secret that fertility treatments are incredibly expensive. Even a simple prescription can cost hundreds of dollars. Similar to sex, financial arguments are pretty common even in the strongest marriages, so it’s no wonder that infertility can light a match on underlying financial stress. All of a sudden you’re faced with huge financial decisions…would you rather buy a house or go through IVF? Take a vacation or have an IUI? How do you plan to pay for another round of treatments after a failed one? Is it worth going into credit card debt? Should you borrow money from your folks, if that’s an option? You both share your savings and any debt you might incur, so naturally you’ll both have different opinions around how to best invest your money.
How to approach the fight: When it comes to finances, knowledge is power. Know exactly how much money you need to pursue the treatments you want to pursue, including medications, insurance coverage, tests, procedures, etc. Research any options that might be cheaper than IVF (perhaps consider embryo adoption or even doing your treatments abroad). Then have a long discussion over your own financial situation. What are you and what are you not willing to save and sacrifice in order to make this work? Are you willing to get an extra part-time job to help supplement your income temporarily? This task is much easier to accomplish when you and your partner are aligned on your treatment path and can feel almost impossible if you disagree on the right course of action.
3. Fights About How Someone Is (or Isn’t) Feeling
Why it happens: People experience disappointment, loss and grief differently. Some cry all day long. Others want to talk about their problems. Others want to drink. And still others want to push their feelings deep, deep down. It’s easy to judge our partners for how they are or aren’t outwardly expressing or reacting to your personal fertility-related news. If I had a dollar for every time my husband implied I was being melodramatic in our first year of TTC? Woof! Meanwhile, I was so mad at him for not seeming sad enough, especially after our first round of IVF failed. I spent weeks sobbing and mourning and feeling sorry for myself, while he built a deck. He was sad too, of course, but was dealing with it in an entirely different way. And while I hated how alone I felt in my grief, I also knew that he was sad too…he was just processing it in a different way.
How to approach the fight: Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to feel. Feelings just happen (or they don’t). It’s not fair to be mad at your partner for not seeming sad enough just because they are experiencing or coping with reality in a different way. That said, you’re responsible for getting the emotional support YOU need—so if your partner lacks the empathy gene, it might be time to confide in a good friend, get a fertility mentor who gets it, or find a kickass therapist or fertility support group.
4. Fights About Who to Tell
Why it happens: Infertility is an incredibly private, intimate issue and many couples feel differently about who to tell and how much to share. Oftentimes infertility is connected to deep, shameful feelings around inadequacy and failure. This makes it harder for some people to feel comfortable opening up to friends and family members about their struggle, for fear of looking weak or being pitied. Meanwhile others find great comfort and support in being open about their story and confiding in those who matter most. This can cause tension in relationships…when one party wants privacy and the other wants community.
How to approach the fight: It’s important for both parties to feel like they are getting the emotional support they need. And this is one of those problems that needs to be solved with a compromise that both parties can feel satisfied with. Whether that means telling only close friends and family members, or only telling support group members or a therapist or creating an anonymous Instagram or Tumblr account, both partners need to feel ok with how much of their personal business is being shared. Because once you share that kind of information, it’s impossible to take back. If you’re not sure whether you want to share your story, read our post around the pros and cons of sharing your infertility journey.
5. Fights About Which Options are On and Off the Table
Why it happens: Everyone’s vision for their future looks entirely different. While some people want to be parents, no matter what…others might not care enough to spend years and thousands of dollars pursuing parenthood. Meanwhile, some partners might be 100% comfortable pursuing donor sperm or donor egg options, and others might only be interested in being genetically related to their children. While one partner might be passionate about adoption, the other might feel uncomfortable with the idea. And even if both partners agree that adoption is an option, one might want to pursue international adoption and the other might feel passionately around the foster-to-adopt path. It’s really tough when you need both parties to agree unanimously…especially since minds can keep changing throughout the process…
How to approach the fight: It’s deeply important for both partners to be 100% confident and invested in whichever decision you decide to pursue. The last thing you want to do is make your partner feel unheard or resentful later on after being pressured into making a decision they weren’t 100% comfortable with. The decisions you make together are irreversible and will affect your family forever, so making sure both partners are comfortable is invaluable. Sometimes getting on the same page can take a longgggg time, so don’t rush your partner. Don’t try to emotionally manipulate them, or pull away emotionally. Keep talking things through. If you get frustrated or mad, take a break and come back to the issue later when you’ve cooled off and processed your own feelings. Listen. Don’t pressure your partner or judge them for feeling differently than you. Make sure you communicate your own point of view, but listen to them too. Understand that feelings might change as time moves on, diagnoses are uncovered or financial realities change. What was once off the table, might later be on the table. Or what was once on the table, might later be rethought. It’s a long, organic process and it takes time, patience and good communication to make sure both parties are feeling heard, appreciated and respected.
What are some of the biggest fights you and your partner have gotten in related to your infertility journey? Which approaches seemed to work for you (and conversely, which approaches SO didn’t work)? Please share any valuable learnings in the comments below that you think other fertility warriors would benefit from hearing.