You spend all your time and money focused on having a baby. You change how you eat, you try and reduce your stress and exercise. But wait, somewhere along the way your relationship has taken a back seat. You feel disconnected from your partner. Angry even. You find yourself in more conversations of conflict than love. Physical contact feels mechanical. Conversations revolve around body temperature, cycles and schedules.
I am going to say something here that may feel controversial: your relationship has to come first… before baby, in this journey, and into parenthood. If you are each putting the relationship first, you will find the decisions you have to make throughout the fertility process much easier and your romantic connection will remain a priority.
This journey is not easy. Difficult feelings arise and will continue to arise. You probably have felt angry, alone, scared, jealous, you doubt your body and yourself. Finding a way to connect in those moments will make you both stronger and improve your chance of conception. A reminder you are on the same team.
Where do you start?
The challenging part in any transition is that it highlights the areas that need work. As in, you are about to sell your house and suddenly you see the paint peeling on the walls and a crack in the ceiling you have never noticed. Take some time and talk about the difficulties and the strengths of your relationship. Assess the foundation. Reflect on how you have been communicating. Ask for what you feel like you need in this process. Give yourself permission to vent.
An exercise I often recommend to couples is “Air your dirty laundry”. Just like your clothes, your relationship gets dirty every day. Often unspoken resentments and irritations sneak into your interactions. Once a week, ask each other this: “What have I done to make you feel unappreciated, disrespected or unloved?” It will take some time to trust that you can answer openly and honestly. Do not allow each other to just say everything is “fine”. Answer, and when you are the receiver, listen. Really listen. When you feel a reaction coming up or the need to defend yourself try asking something like, “so when I did not take the garbage out, you felt like I did not respect you? Tell me more about that.”
Truly investing time and space to understand how your partner feels will soon open doors to deeper more meaningful communication. It will also increase intimacy between the two of you, and allow you to face conflicts head on together.
2. Schedule Couple Time
There are two important components to couple time. First, actually schedule time for weekly fun. I
mean like break out the iCal or Google calendar and put it in your phones or on your fridge. Go to a movie, take a class together, go for a walk but ensure that you get at least 1 hour of uninterrupted time to hang out and not talk fertility (yes, this means leaving the phones at home). Vital to your relationship health is finding time to laugh together and just be with each other. No expectations or hard conversations.
The second component is scheduled sex time. When navigating fertility concerns, sex often gets left for the week of ovulation or certain phases of treatment. It often loses the fun. I want you to spend time separating “baby making sex” from sex. Find a way to differentiate it. Maybe baby-making sex is only in the bedroom on the bed, and the non-baby making sex is in every other room in the house. You need to find a way to separate your sex life and physical connection from fertility. So change it up. Share in each other’s fantasies. Investigate new positions. Take the pressure off of sex and put fun back in.
3. Become Mindful
Mindfulness is a skill. It increases our awareness of what we are experiencing and allows us the space to decide how we want to act in our daily lives. Mindfulness practice doesn't just enhance our individual well-being. It is has a positive impact on interpersonal relationships. Mindfulness creates space to notice feelings and not react immediately, allowing you to think about how you want to respond and therefore directly improving communication.
Here is a great way to spend 5 minutes and begin to build mindfulness into your relationship shared from Craig Lambert Couples Therapy.
Daily Appreciation Affirmation:
Every day or every other day, when you are both free of distraction and able to focus on each other, sit down and look into each other’s eyes.
* Describe your partner’s behavior or words that touched you; e.g. “one thing you did this week that I appreciate is…”
* State: “what makes that so significant in me is ….” include how it made you feel: “and when you did that it made me feel…”
Simply paying closer attention to the positive meaningful things that your partner is doing for you will have you feeling more connected and grounded in your journey.
4. Make Time for Yourself
One of the most challenging aspects of the infertility experience is dealing with the emotional ups and downs relating to treatment, the uncertainty about outcomes, and the challenge of having to make decisions such as when 'enough is enough.' It is important to continue to take care of yourself, and make sure that you get the support you need.
Carve out time each day for a daily ritual just for you. Journaling, yoga, meditation, working out, making art. Whatever makes your heart sing. Do it. Everyday.
Know your limits and ask for help. You and your partner may be in this together but you will experience it very differently. Seek outside help. Find a peer support group in your area. Seek out a mental health professional. Making sure you are taking care of your emotional needs will benefit both your relationship and the fertility process.
No matter how difficult this journey becomes, making time to nurture connection in your relationship will create a foundation on which you can both rely on.
- Sondra, Counselor and Full-spectrum Doula at Sisterhood Wellness Collective