May 27, 2024
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Grappling With Infertility: Could Our Relationship Issues Be a Factor?

Dear Dr. Chani,

My wife and I have been waiting for a child for five long years. We have explored every possible medical reason for our infertility, but the doctors have not been able to identify any problems. They told us that we always have the option to try various reproductive interventions, but it seems like we should be able to have a child naturally on our own. So far, we have decided to keep waiting for a miracle.

I recently read that one reason why a couple might have trouble having a child is because of relationship problems. It sounds irrational and improbable to me. Yet, I am willing to try anything to have a child. The reason it struck a chord within me is that my wife and I might have issues in our relationship. I never thought so before, but our situation has given me pause to think about it. Whenever we have an intense conversation, she always ends it by saying, “You never listen to me.” I cannot understand why she says that. It really makes me upset because I always listen to her. I understand what she is going through and it pains me.

One of the big things she always wants to talk about is our infertility. She ends up crying a lot. I hate it when she cries. I try to explain to her that I understand what she is upset about. You know, our infertility affects me just as much as it affects her. I tell her that I know her pain because I feel the same way. I also tell her that I would love to make it better, but I am doing everything I can. There is nothing more that I can do.

She keeps talking about how hurt she is. I really don’t know what she is talking about. We are doing everything we can. I think she must have been hurt at some point in her childhood, but she doesn’t want to talk about it so I let her have her space. I am really worried that maybe her unresolved hurt is causing her stress. Maybe that is one of the reasons for our infertility.

What do you think I should do to patch up our relationship issues? Do you think I should encourage my wife to go for therapy, or should we try couples therapy?

Thanks for your help,

Adir

Dear Adir,

My heart goes out to you and your wife for your pain of infertility. The challenge touches so many aspects of a couple’s life. You are wondering if your relationship issues may be contributing to your infertility. While it is difficult to know if your relationship tension is causing your infertility, it makes sense that the stress is increasing your relationship issues.

There are so many facets to struggling with infertility. There are physical, emotional and financial stresses, among others. Even if a couple is blessed with a support network of people to help them deal with all of these burdens, there is still an untold amount of pain and stress. Those heavy feelings can exacerbate issues in your relationship. When you face a life crisis, you need to call upon your relationship strengths in a stronger dose. If those aspects of a relationship are missing, it will become more noticeable in times of duress.

One of the most important parts of a relationship is the ability to listen. One might say that communication is the art of being able to listen (not to talk). That is the foundation of relationships. The more you are able to listen to the other person, the deeper, more secure and more satisfying your relationship will be.

The goal of listening is not to gain information from the other person. The point of listening is to allow the other person to share and to hear the other person’s thoughts and feelings. When someone shares emotions and you acknowledge them and try to understand them, it makes the person feel better and more connected to you. Listening is not about problem solving. The goal of listening to your wife is to hear her thoughts and feelings and let her know that “you get her”—not trying to solve her problems, fix her or change her.

Your letter gives some examples of where you can improve your listening. When you talk about your wife’s reactions to conversations that you have with her, you say that you tell her you understand where she is coming from because it “affects me just as much as it affects her.” Although it might feel like you are being understanding, you are really adding to her hurt.

When your wife is talking, you need to focus on her feelings and try to understand what she is saying from her own unique perspective. Even if you think you feel the same way, when you interject that too early in a conversation, your wife may feel like you are focusing on your own feelings, rather than hers. You are essentially shifting the conversation from her to you, which is not considered listening. She may feel like you are cutting her off from expressing her own feelings, by telling her that you know how she feels before she has finished expressing her feelings to you.

Also, although you sound supportive, you may be giving your wife the message that the reason you understand her feelings is because you feel that way also, but not because her feelings are valid and important in of themselves. She needs to feel that she can lean on you in her time of need and unburden herself, without feeling that you are comparing the way you feel to the way she feels. She needs to know you will not judge, stifle or silence her. Listening is about hearing what your wife is saying and trying to understand where she is coming from, not telling her that you agree or feel the same way. Just listen to her without projecting yourself.

In a similar way, you mention that when your wife cries to you, you lovingly try to solve her problem or tell her that you have the same one. Both of those things, problem solving or including your own emotions, will probably make your wife feel more distant from you. Problem solving (or saying that you wish you could solve her problems) makes her feel that you cannot hold her emotions. She gets the message that you cannot handle how she is feeling. Instead you need to rescue her and yourself. While it may sound like you are being helpful, the opposite is true. Your wife gets a sense that you cannot sit with her and her emotions, letting her feel the way she feels, and trying to understand her. Instead, you communicate that you are trying to make her feelings go away. That makes her feel worse and more distant from you.

When she is crying, listen to what she is saying. Let her know that you care about how she feels and you would like to understand more. That will help your wife feel that you are there for her to help her through her difficult time and her negative emotions. Your wife has a lot of feelings inside her. The greatest thing you can do for her—and for you—is to listen to her. When she tells you about her pain or frustration, summarize what she says or ask her follow-up questions to understand her more. Both of those let her know that you are really trying to understand her emotions. That will make her feel better and closer to you.

As you work on listening to your wife, you may find that it does not come naturally to you. In that case, I would recommend seeking the guidance of a couples therapist to help you to experience the joy and bond that comes from listening to one another. Strengthening your listening skills will allow you to grow together as a couple, as you face life’s challenges together.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com.

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