It is rare that women and men communicate thoughts and feelings about fertility in the same manner.
Women typically talk about the difficulties they are experiencing with treatment, even ruminate.
Because they are not used to voicing and sharing their concerns, men have learned to bottle up their feelings. So, dealing with the emotional effects of infertility can be more difficult for them. Men will often internalize their feelings, sending the message to their partner that they can’t or don't want to talk about infertility issues. Because of this, despite their deep concern and commitment to their partner, men can be perceived as emotionally distant and less likely to express their emotions.
Women tend to be more open about infertility issues, and often need to talk about their experience with their partner, family or friends. However, if a couple is infertile due to male factor fertility, women may feel they need to keep this a secret from others. In this case, women often seek counseling without their partners, because they need to get support and express themselves, but can't seek help from their family and friends. Women can be quite protective of their partners in these situations, feeling that they need to deal with their emotions, such as frustration and anger on their own so as not to burden their partners, which could exacerbate his feelings of inadequacy and shame.
When the problem of the couple conceiving is due to male factor infertility, some men can feel that they are "less of a man." There are men who equate fertility with masculinity, so a low sperm count or other condition can leave them feeling impotent, possibly leading to physical impotence. This can break the implicit "social contract" of the relationship in terms of the roles that each partner would play in reproduction, which can lead to blame and shame between in the couple.
In cases when women are undergoing a majority of the fertility treatment process, men can feel left out of the loop physically and emotionally.
One of the keys principles for dealing with infertility as a couple is to make your relationship the top priority. It is important for couples to remember why they got together in the first place. All relationships needs time and nurturance, regardless of fertility issues.
It is important that both partners are informed about the fertility treatment process. Both partners need to be supportive; it is recommended that whenever possible, both partners go to important medical appointments and treatments together.
As you and your partner cope with infertility and treatment, communication in your relationship may change. At times, you may try to protect one another from painful feelings and keep emotions to yourselves. This may result in different outcomes than you intended, creating difficult feelings such as blame, guilt and anger, which may place even more pressure on the relationship.
It is important to know that you both have the right to feel differently about fertility choices and treatments. After all, you are still individuals with your own separate identities even though you are a couple. Each individual's responses depend his or her personality, coping mechanisms and source of the fertility problem, as well as the couple's relationship with one another.
As a couple, you may find that you are balancing on opposite ends of an emotional seesaw; at any point in time, you may feel hopeful and optimistic, while your partner feels hopeless and despondent. It's ok to agree to disagree; the most important thing is to keep your heads and work through issues honestly and fairly.
Let's face it; infertility puts a lot of stress on relationships. However, if you have the strength and maturity to cope with this crisis together, you'll find that knowing how to cope with infertility helps you and your partner grow and become closer during this trying time as you share your feelings. Your relationship will emerge much stronger having endured this difficult period in your lives together.