Staying connected with your partner during infertility
I've been fortunate to meet Karen Focht, of Focht Family Practice, who is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist in Chicago. In the below interview, she graciously shares her tips and expertise on how to keep your relationship strong during your fertility journey.
What tips can you share for couples wanting to stay connected during their fertility journey?
The fertility process is experienced differently from partner to partner. With that being said, it is common that each person will have their own individual feelings and needs that may differ from one another. The most important thing to focus on is communicating with your partner, sharing your process, and advocating for your specific needs throughout the journey - while also holding space for your partner's needs. Recognizing and allowing for these differences will create support within the relationship.
Do you have recommendations of things to "do" or ways to "be" to help keep the relationship strong through this challenging time?
Here are a few things to consider as a couple during the process:
- Communication: It is important to allow space for open and honest thoughts and feelings. Remember that the way you deal with the process may look different from your partner. Allow for acceptance of this difference while also advocating for what your specific needs are. The treatment process can at times feel all consuming. Try carving out specified time for a regular check in with your partner each week. This time can be spent sharing your thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears along with checking in with your partner around their needs. Day to day life is already busy and with added doctor's appointments and treatment, it can add challenge to taking the time to share. This check in will make the time while also creating safety in knowing that there is intentional space to share with one another
- Counseling: Providing support to one another is important. With that being said, you are each going through this process. Identifying professional support can be vital to keeping communication strong while also providing a platform to share your emotions and experience.
- Time for fun: When fertility treatment becomes all consuming, this is when you should think about things you can do together as a couple to help create more of a balance within life and the relationship. This could be as simple as a date night, cooking class or other activity that may have been pushed aside while navigating through the fertility world. Re-engaging in quality time, activities, and hobbies will allow for positivity and connection.
- Sex & intimacy: The science behind fertility treatment creates very specific instructions around what you can and can not do...especially when it comes to sex. This can be experienced as taking the fun or pleasure out of the relationship which may result in a decrease in intimacy and sexual satisfaction. If you are instructed to restrain from sex, consider nonsexual forms of touching in order to connect. This could be as simple as a hug, holding hands, massage, or cuddling.
On the other end of the spectrum is the instruction to have intercourse during very specific times. This can often create pressure and take the fun out of sex altogether. Consider making a change to the norm. Plan for a "staycation" with a stay at a local hotel, a night out on the town, or a romantic dinner at home to create an opportunity for something outside of the "norm". Talking about sex with your partner will help build a stronger bond with intimacy. Working with a couples therapist can help guide you through these challenging conversations while providing support.
I often hear questions from my female clients about their male partners. Questions like, "How is he feeling?", "Does he need additional support?", and "Who can he talk to?". What response would you offer?
Although it is important to provide support to one another, it is also beneficial for each partner to identify and access additional support through the process. This can be through family, friends, a therapist, or support group. Unfortunately, there aren't many support groups out there for males which ends up reinforcing a message that male partners don't need support. This is not the case and support through community can be very helpful. A list of support group providers can be found here.
Many women will tell me their partner is the "rock" and the "hopeful one." This works well - until s/he falters. What are some of the signs that your partner may be struggling, and what would you suggest to help?
The most important message with this is the fact that each partner is going through this process together in real time. Yes, it is important to support one another, but it is also vital to have access to additional support outside of the relationship. Being proactive and identifying this support early on will ensure that each partner has options as struggle, disappointment, and challenge may arise.
When should a couple consider therapy as part of their fertility journey? What should the couple expect from the therapy process?
I find it to be beneficial to proactively seek additional support through this journey, which also includes couples therapy. It is important to identify a therapist who is familiar with fertility treatment and has specific experience working with couples. The therapy process holds a focus of creating a safe platform to communicate and share with one another while also identifying goals to focus on throughout the process.
What are some resources you recommend for additional information?
Support through fertility treatment is vital. Here are a list of resources to check out:
- Where to start when looking for a local support group
- Where to start when looking for an individual or couples therapist
- Shine Fertility, a Chicagoland non-profit providing free mentorship, support, and education to women with infertility
- RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
- (And one added by My Fertility Coach): Focht Family Practice