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When Infertility is Hurting your Relationship

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Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
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Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:

When infertility is hurting your relationship


  • About 9% of men and about 11% of women of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems, so you’re not alone
  • Infertility can be devastating and can have an impact on even the healthiest of relationships
  • The monthly cycle of hope and despair combined with the pressure of making difficult decisions about treatment options can become overwhelming.
  • Communicateto tackle the issue head on as a team, be open about how you are feeling and remind one another regularly that you love each other. 

 It’s such a delicate subject and we completely understand that, for people impacted by infertility, the issue can be devastating. It is a heartbreaking time, both for you as a couple and for family members who are seeing you suffering. But perhaps one of the most saddest things that we see so often is the very real impact infertility can have on relationships. It’s understandable that the struggle and strain of trying to conceive can put pressure on a previously loving relationship. But Bllueheart can help you. 

Coming through diagnosis and infertility treatment is tough, but with love, support and understanding, many couples struggling with infertility find it makes them stronger than they ever were before. If you're just starting this journey, have hope. It may not be easy but take care of one another and be patient and loving with each other.

How common is infertility?

Infertility is actually more common than a lot of people think. According to the CDC, "about 9% of men and about 11% of women of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems". In one third of infertile couples, primary infertility lays with the man. In another third, the problem can't be identified or is with both the man and woman. And in another third of these couples, female infertility is the main issue. While these stats are interesting, in your relationship, it doesn’t matter which person has the biological issue, this is a couple problem you face together. 

Up to 85% of couples would expect to fall pregnant within one year if they are actively trying, but this declines markedly with age. It's thought that in their thirties, women are only half as fertile as they were in their 20s (1), while male fertility declines much more gradually with age. That race against time can add extra stress and pressure to the fertility journey, making it all the more difficult. Not to mention the social expectations of relatives asking you when you’ll give them grandchildren at every family barbeque.

The impact of infertility

Whether it's unexplained infertility or a specific medical condition that's known to carry a risk of infertility, a diagnosis that could impact your ability to have children can feel life changing. If you've always imagined yourself becoming a parent, to be faced with the knowledge that it may not happen is akin to losing a loved one. It's a grieving process. And, if you’re trying, unfortunately, it's one with which you're confronted every 28 days while you wait to find out if you've successfully conceived or not.

That cycle of hope and disappointment can feel too much to bear, particularly if you have friends who become pregnant around you and can't wait to share their joyful news. In fact, dealing with infertility can have a huge impact on your emotional, physical and mental health. Not to mention causing financial stress as you begin to investigate medical treatments such as intrauterine insemination.

Dealing with infertility as a couple

Grief and loss can impact people in very different ways. It's important to be mindful of the fact that we all have coping mechanisms and we all show our emotions and frustrations differently. It's been shown that men, in particular, may struggle to come to terms with an infertility diagnosis if they see it as a point of failure. This is of course not the case, but as the partner in this situation it can help to take an empathetic approach. Look at things from your loved one’s perspective and really think about how they’re feeling and why they're perhaps acting a little differently to normal. If your partner seems more emotional or quick to 'bite' than usual, cut them some slack and try giving them a hug instead of retaliating. 

Give one another time to destress and work off some of those feelings. But find time to talk, too. Be mindful about sticking together. There will be difficult conversations, but facing up to them, together, will put you in a much better situation moving forward. 

How to protect your relationship

It's one of the hardest things you'll go through as a couple, but there are lots of ways you can make sure it doesn't damage your relationship.

Try not to play the blame game

Whether you know your husband has a low sperm count, you found out you have a hormone imbalance, or you've been told your egg quality is poor, shouldn’t change the way you feel or behave. Infertility is no-one’s fault. You have very little control over it, and you can’t turn back the clock and do anything over. The fact is, you chose one another because you love one another, and you’re in this together. So, face the reality of the situation together and support each other through it as best you can.

Talk about your feelings openly

Anger, frustration, bitterness, jealousy. The chances are you’re feeling all these things, and almost certainly your partner will be, too. Try to label them when they come up and talk to your partner about them. Keeping your feelings hidden away is more likely to impact negatively on your mental health and mood.

Be in it together

For the sake of your relationship, make sure you’re both facing the infertility issue head on. As a team<link to batch 15.2 blog 1>. That means doing the research together, attending appointments and physical exams together, making dietary changes together, coping with side effects together and explaining to family and friends what’s going on together.

By committing to joint action, you’ll both feel much more like you’re not in this alone.

Turn to professionals or support groups

One of the most useful things you can do, when you're faced with infertility and the different fertility treatment options available, is to seek support. Specialists and professional counsellors and therapists will be able to talk to you about your situation and perhaps even facilitate conversations between you and your partner if that's proving tricky.

Often, we find couples struggling with infertility prefer to seek support from those who are facing the same issue. This might be face to face or via online support groups. If you feel you're in a different place to your friendship group, it may help to seek out others with a shared experience. 

There is one downside to this though. If members of your support group do conceive and carry a successful pregnancy, it can feel incredibly bittersweet for you. You want your new friends to be happy, of course you do, but it can feel in very stark contrast to what's going on in your own relationship and childbearing journey. While it may be hard, try to view this as a sign of hope rather than anything else. But if you feel you need to withdraw or distance yourself a little, do so, your mental health must come first. 

Change the way you’re having sexual intercourse

If you're struggling with unexplained infertility, it can feel like you're just shooting in the dark each month and sex can begin to feel like a chore rather than a loving part of your relationship. No doubt you're keeping track of your menstrual cycle and making sure to have unprotected intercourse around the time of ovulation each month. The thing is that goal-orientated sex - purely for the purposes of trying to conceive - can mean you lose the spontaneity and fun. 

Try to be mindful of this and work towards becoming more present in the moment, focusing on the sensations and enjoyment. Mix up the positions you use or introduce some sex toys into the mix. Anything to break up the monotony and inject some excitement.

Give yourself a break

We mean this both literally and figuratively. 

Remind yourselves why you love one another and how it felt before infertility reared its ugly head.

1. Dunson, D., Baird, D. and Colombo, B., 2004. 'Increased infertility with age in men and women', Obstetrics & Gynecology, vol. 103, no. 1, pp. 51–56.
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