How to Keep a Marriage Strong in the Face of Infertility

Thanks to the inspirational Stephanie Baffone for providing today’s insight and for sharing her heart and experience with infertility to help other marriages…

First I’d like to offer a warm thank-you to Lori for the opportunity to share some advice for couples dealing with infertility.  National Infertility Awareness Week is April 26-May 1, and Lori was gracious enough to extend an invitation to me to guest post on how couples effected by infertility can keep their marriages strong in the face of the emotional turmoil.  Thank you, Lori!

“You are both identical twins?! Wow! How many children do you guys have?” Expecting a staggering number, my husband’s and my response forlornly, has remained the same for 19 years. 

“None.” 

We anticipated categorically, our foray into parenthood would be a breeze. Not only are we both identical twins, we hail from Irish, Italian, Catholic prolific families.  My husband is one of 10, and I am one of five, my mother having had two sets of twins.  Yet our pursuit to hear our own children call us “Mommy” and “Daddy” was more tornado-like.  We didn’t see infertility coming, and the emotional carnage it left in its wake was catastrophic. With reckless regard for our feelings, it left my identity, in particular, desperate to conceive, birth and raise our own biological children, strewn, scattered and beyond recognition, with the only real feasible option to rebuild from the ground up. 

Infertility wreaks psychological havoc on both the men and women caught in its stranglehold. We live in a society where much of our adult identities center on being parents.  When parenthood doesn’t happen easily or at all, men and women individually experience a core sense of loss. Worse though, infertility leaves marriages vulnerable and some don’t always escape unscathed.

My identity as a woman was shattered, but thank God, my marriage was not.   For us, the experience strengthened our commitment. As a therapist who is intimately familiar with infertility personally and professionally, I see many couples who are trying to keep their marriages whole in the face of profound brokenness.

What is the ultimate prize?
I asked my husband recently, how he thinks couples can safeguard their marriages from falling victim to the fallout of infertility.  His tender response made my heart melt. “Steph,” he said, “couples have to get married because they love each other, not because they want to have a family.  Having children should be considered a bonus not the decisive prize.” He elaborated, “I married you because I love you. Independent of children, a couple’s life has to be full, because if creating a family doesn’t work out, you have to be enough for each other.”

His sentiment reminds me that marriages have to be strong from the start so in the face of despair, you can provide shelter for each other. So how do you do this?

Secret to a Happy Marriage
A few months ago, I wrote a guest post at Engaged Marriage titled, “So What’s the Secret to a Happy Marriage? In it I referenced a study that concluded the factor that has the most predictive value in determining whether or not a marriage would be successful is how a couple resolves conflict. 

Infertility can be riddled with discord. Couples don’t always agree to what extent they each are willing to go to achieve parenthood.  For us, luckily we agreed on our limits, but for other couples this isn’t always the case.

Another common issue is men and women grieve differently. Men are often (but by no means always) task grievers.  Women by and large are more emotive.  It is important for couples to understand that neither way of grieving is better than the other; they are simply different.  I often find in my practice when the couple gains a better understanding of the differences, they don’t feel so lonely and misunderstood.  

Likewise, couples going through infertility who find they are struggling with a sense of disconnect from each other, would be wise to seek professional help.  More often than not, couples dealing with infertility benefit from learning a few basic, simple techniques to help them communicate their needs and feelings more effectively.

So, how can couples experiencing infertility ride out the storm while limiting injury to their marriage?

  • Consider children a bonus not the ultimate prize
  • Be proactive and seek professional help at the fist sign of disconnect
  • Learn to communicate effectively
  • Understand that women and men grieve differently

Resources

There is a proliferation of useful information at our fingertips nowadays thanks to the Internet, but some of my most trusted resources still include timeless books like: Fighting For Your Marriage, His Needs, Her Needs,  When Men Grieve, and Grieving Beyond Gender

Couples can and do escape irreparable damage from infertility by being proactive. Reach out for help in creating your marriage’s roadmap to survival.  Infertility is hard enough on us as individuals; don’t let your marriage fall victim.

Stephanie also wrote a post about how to reach out to friends who have infertility

Stephanie “Aunt Steph” Baffone, LPCMH, NCC is a licensed, board certified mental health therapist and writer whose guiding principle is if you have wisdom from which others might benefit you are obligated to pass it on.  She is in private practice and specializes in grief and loss, couples counseling and issues related to infertility. By relation, 39 nieces and nephews call Stephanie “Aunt Steph” a role in which she takes pure delight. She writes a bi-monthly column at Savvy Auntie and blogs about love, loss and life at Stephanie’s Stories. The consummate, Italian hostess, she loves to have visitors, so stop by and say, “Hello!”  You can also find her on Twitter at @Sbaffone or email her at sbaffone@me.com.

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8 responses to “How to Keep a Marriage Strong in the Face of Infertility

  1. Thanks for this article, Stephanie. As a young woman struggling to conceive myself, it’s comforting to hear that “emotional carnage” is not uncommon. Sometimes I feel petty for getting so upset about not having kids (I should be thankful for all my freedom, right?) so it’s comforting to hear that others feel an intense sense of loss, too. Keep up with your great work.

  2. Thank you for sharing your very personal and helpful story, Stephanie. I really appreciate your openness, and this post was very helpful to me.

    While we have been fortunate to have young children, the topic of infertility comes up often in our marriage preparation classes. We always encourage young couples to consider the possibility that their family planning may not go as planned, and to give it some thought and healthy communication *before* they are confronted with it.

  3. Stephanie,

    You are SPOT. ON. We had to learn the hard way, after 6 years of not being on the same page, to get professional help when you and your spouse don’t agree on how to approach infertility. It’s something we now advocate greatly. When you don’t agree…when you reach an impasse…get professional help. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength, in my opinion.

    Your words on conflict resolution ring true as well. Barbara and I learned early in our marriage to try and resolve every conflict, which helped us maintain a close relationship throughout infertility and into adoption. Unfortunately, our story was one of solving the issue at hand while the bigger issues remained unresolved. It finally took seeing a professional counselor and a heart-change on my part to take my wife’s sorrow much more seriously before we were finally able to move forward together in unity. I’m happy to say that we are stronger as well for the experience, but I certainly don’t wish our journey on anyone else.

    You have a wise husband in regard to children being a bonus and I bet he blesses your life greatly. We wish you all of God’s blessings!

    -Ron and Barbara Manske

  4. Hi Lori,
    Thank you again for the opportunity to guest post on such an important and often misunderstood topic!
    Kathleen, bless your heart. Mourning the loss of not having children is NOT petty. Being a mother is a core desire of most women and when it doesn’t work out easily or at times, at all, it deserves time and respect to grieve. Be kind to yourself.
    Dustin, you are wonderful virtual friend! Always in my corner.
    Ron & Barbara, how thoughtful of you to take the time to leave such a thoughtful response. My love and prayers go out to you guys and your family.
    Blessings to you guys!

  5. Wow…I remember similar feelings after struggling with unexplained second infertility for several years. It leaves you feeling as if you have no control to your life. And, I remember the waiting game was so difficult. But during that time I always knew I would be a mom again…it was just on someone else’s terms and not my own.

    It was a challenging time for our marriage…because men and women do grieve so differently. But women are also the ones that are typically getting poked and prodded every day with needles and vaginal ultrasounds!

    After several rounds of clomid (which made me mean), three artificial inseminations, five rounds of IVF, and two miscarriages, my husband was about to ask me to cease fire.

    I think Steph’s husband is right…we get married because we love each other. Having a family is a bonus. But that is SO DIFFICULT to even consider when you want to be a parent so badly.

    We are now blessed with four children.
    Tiffany

    • It’s great to see women who have experience with infertility reaching out to support one another. Tiffany and her husband are profiled in my upcoming book, and she is an example of grace in the face of difficulty, not just with infertility but with being a deployed soldier’s wife. Blessings to all of you.

  6. Pingback: What if we acted as if Jesus had a clue? | Daily Generous Husband Tips

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