An Easy Tool To Strengthen Your Relationship
Keeping our relationships strong during a fertility struggle is HARD. We are often juggling so many tasks and appointments, reading and learning all kinds of new information and jargon, and receiving input and opinions from experts (and non-experts). Processing all of this information alone is difficult - yet, sometimes, when we try to bring our partner or spouse into this experience it can feel flat or unsatisfactory.
I remember feeling frustrated when I tried to share my fears and worries with my husband as we were going through our family building journey. He seemed to jump straight to the “fix” - solving a problem I wasn’t sure I had nor did I think could really be solved in that moment. He’d get frustrated if I wasn’t taking his advice. It would usually end with us in separate rooms and stony silence.
One of my clients recently shared that she was just worn out. There was nothing left for her to give to her husband. She knew he wanted more time together, more date nights, more conversations about ANYTHING other than family building - and while she wanted it too, she didn’t feel she had the energy to make the plans, handle the logistics, and then show up ready for “date mode.”
I’ve had more than one client share with me they don’t feel their spouse is involved or connected to the process at all. They feel lonely and alone in the struggle - taking all the tests, doing all the shots, going to all the appointments. “He shows up to ‘provide the sperm’ and then he’s done,” is a (slightly edited) phrase I hear a lot.
And in the midst of these emotional struggles, oftentimes one of the most intimate and personal ways we connect with our partner - sex - has changed, too. When we’re struggling to conceive, sex can become perfunctory, tedious, and even discouraging. We tend to focus on having intercourse at specific points in the month and feel disconnected and disappointed if it “doesn’t work” - which reduces sex to merely a vehicle for procreation when it is usually so much more.
These feelings of disconnection, exhaustion, annoyance and - yes - sometimes even anger are not uncommon. I’ve shared information on this subject before (see here and here) because I believe the connection you have with your primary partner during the family building process is CRITICAL. You need to feel you are part of a team, that you have a strong foundation, and that you’re both emotionally invested in the process (and the struggle).
This person you love enough to want to have a family with means so much to you - his opinion impacts your thoughts and actions, her presence makes you feel seen and safe, and his support and comfort can let you know you’re on the same team.
And you provide the same for him (or her).
So when that connection is off or broken, you both probably feel pretty crappy. Which makes a difficult situation even worse. While the previous thinking that infertility causes increased rates of divorce has since been disproven, for many couples, the experience is still one of the biggest challenges their relationship has ever faced.
If all of this is sounding familiar, here’s something to try: a lovingkindness and compassion exercise.
Next time you feel annoyed, angry, or hurt by your partner, try these four simple steps:
Pause to breathe. Allow your breath to go through your entire body and focus on exhaling the old air within.
Offer yourself love and compassion first. Try saying this as you breathe: “May I be Safe…May I be Happy…May I be Strong…May I Live With Ease.”
Next, offer the same love and compassion to your partner. Recognize that he has been hurt and is responding to that in his own way. Bring her to your minds eye and, while breathing, offer the same set of intentions: “May he be Safe…May he be Happy…May he be Strong…May he Live With Ease.”
Remember and recognize that you love each other - and let this be a starting point. Maybe you do this by touching or seeing a physical object or reflecting on a positive memory or moment together.
Finally, come back together and ask what happened, what he or she is thinking or feeling, or any other open-ended question that gets the conversation started. Listen to the answer with your whole brain and whole heart - resisting the urge to plan a response, retort, or even how you will share how the words make you feel. After he shares, let it be your turn to do the same and ask that he gives you the same gift of intentional listening. Hear what comes up for both of you without the need to respond immediately.
Hillary explains this exercise in greater detail in our seminar on “How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Relationship.” Watch the full seminar below: