We hear it all the time – hardship either tears your relationship apart, or it makes it stronger.
Infertility is a hardship. Those of us that have been through it and continue to deal with it on a daily basis know how hard it can be, and it is understandable that this process, which profoundly changes your relationship with yourself, would also have an impact on your partnership. For some of us, it provides an opportunity to deepen our understanding of one another, but that takes work.
I can think of nothing that makes us more justifiably selfish and self-centred than the pain of grief, so I can see how easily a relationship can become neglected and even hurtful, and I know there were times when I was not the best partner I could be. Because each person reacts to grief in a different manner, it can be easy to judge our loved ones for not feeling the way we think they should feel. We can also end up feeling even more isolated when it seems our partners do not understand our feelings. When this happens, we can become angry and lash out in ways that hurt us and our partners.
Each relationship is different, so it is worthwhile to take the time to figure out what you and your partner value most about each other and your relationship, and to help get that discussion started, here are some things that have helped my husband and I support one another during the darkest times:
I am so grateful to my husband for teaching me the value of expressing appreciation. When I was growing up, we weren’t thanked for doing chores because we were expected to do them. Thanks were reserved for extra effort, so when John revealed that he felt taken for granted early in our relationship, even though I denied it at the time, I realized that I had been taking him for granted. The simple act of expressing genuine thanks every time he cooked dinner (which was every night), was good for me, good for him, and good for our relationship. This appreciation has spread to other areas of our lives – we thank each other for listening when we need listening, for doing the mundane little things that we all have to do, and for the extra effort. It turns out that appreciation cannot be overused, as long as it is sincere.
One of the best pieces of advice we received during our journey was to make sure we laughed as much as possible. When we needed a break from the world (which, honestly, was pretty much every night), we watched comedies instead of dramas. We filled our Netflix lists with stand-up, and we made sure to find the funny in our journey – and despite the pain, we found ways to laugh at the ridiculous analogies the doctors made and the strange things I was willing to try (yes, I even bicycled my legs in the air – you have to laugh when you are doing that!).
It was almost uncanny how we never both seemed to be at our lowest at the same time. If I was in a dark place, my husband was well enough to care for me, and when he was at his lowest, I somehow had the energy to care for him. This happened naturally, but we also both knew to allow each other that time to feel, regroup, and just be loved.
It almost goes without saying that communication is important, but it is especially important when we are hurting. Some of us, (looking in the mirror here), tend to shut down when we are feeling badly, and that can mean shutting our loved ones out. Even though we already talked to each other very openly, and we are both well-acquainted with the principles of nonviolent communication, we also benefitted from joint sessions with a counsellor because she asked us questions that we didn’t think to ask ourselves or each other. Sometimes, it is so great to get a third perspective on a situation.
Because we were both so open about our infertility, we were able to share our feelings with lots of people. Some responded better than others, but having people outside of the relationship to turn to can take some of the pressure off of your partner. We went to a few support group meetings where we met others feeling the same feelings, and that was very validating. I highly recommend finding a local, or at least, an online group where you can air your thoughts and feelings.
The infertility lifestyle can be all consuming. We found it important to continue to find activities we enjoyed doing together and trying new things. We also learned to say no to invitations that were more painful than enjoyable (children’s birthday parties, for example), and sometimes, together time just meant watching a movie and eating our favourite junk foods together.
There is no way around it – grief changes you. You and your partner are both going to be changed through this experience. We needed to give each other room to change and grow, and we spent a lot of time talking about who we wanted to be during the process and exploring options. Your dreams may change. We still haven’t quite figured out our altered dreams, and that is OK.
Affirmation of choice
This was key for me. When we are going through this journey, where we have so little control, I think it is perfectly normal to question, even just for a moment, whether we are with the right person. Quietly ask yourself, and give yourself time to really reflect on this and be honest – If I had to choose, would I rather have children or spend the rest of my life with this person? I say this was key for me because I knew I would choose my husband every time, and when things got tough, knowing this was true helped get me through. My husband also needed to hear this, just as I needed to know that he would choose me. Take a moment to voice this from time to time – as long as it is your truth. We may not be able to choose whether or not we can have children with each other, but we can actively choose each day to love this person.
It is perfectly normal for a relationship to hurt during this difficult time, and sometimes, we will feel let down by our partners who are going through their own journey. As tough as it can be, perhaps the best thing we can do for our relationship is to step outside of our own needs for a moment and consider what our partner may need. I have seen amazing things happen when a person who has felt poorly done by has changed their focus from what they want people to do for them to what they can do for others. Do you know what makes your partner feel most loved? Usually, it is the little things – a foot rub, a sit-down candlelit dinner with no phones, taking care of that annoying task, a favourite joint activity. Don’t assume that what makes you feel most loved is also true for your partner. My husband likes foot rubs, but not nearly as much as I do. For him, a much more romantic gesture would be me making a meal plan and ensuring we had all the ingredients.
Hugs and cuddles
Loving touch is so important to us humans, and sometimes, when we become task-focused, we can forget to take that moment to really physically connect.
I know how hard it can be to look outside ourselves in really tough times, and I hope these suggestions do not seem too overwhelming. I absolutely know that there are times when you just can’t care about anything, and that is OK. No one can be a perfect partner every day.
What I can say is that there is hope that no matter what happens, you can come out of this OK. You and your partner can find an even deeper love in each other, and you can move forward.
You can be a good partner even when your heart is breaking.
Cindy Durrant, www.veggiesanddirt.wordpress.com