By: Dr. Gregory Popcak
Infertility affects 17-26% of all couples and it is one of the most difficult burdens a couple could be asked to bear. Longing for a child is noble and laudable, but it can sometimes bring with it a great deal of psychological and relational pain. Medically speaking, a couple is considered to be infertile after one full year of attempting to conceive without success. Infertility is called “primary” when a couple has never been able to have a child and “secondary” if a couple has had children previously. Because it can be so difficult on a couple’s psychological and relational well-being, I wanted to focus on ways to draw closer to each other and to God during this challenging time.
Keep Up (and Increase) Your Prayer Life
It is not uncommon for couples struggling with infertility to become angry with God and possibly to stop praying altogether. What prayer life does remain is often nearly entirely focused on that one prayer, “God please heal my infertility.” While this is completely understandable, it is absolutely critical to fight against these temptations and to get whatever pastoral or spiritual support you need to do so. The more difficult the times, the more that is on the line, the closer we have to draw to God so that he can lead and guide us step-by-step through the trial, and ultimately, help us discover the answers that will bring us peace. That can seem like a pipe dream when you’re going through something as trying as infertility, but remember, as St Paul reminds us, “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” I cannot underestimate the importance of clinging to God–both individually and as a couple–if you want to weather the storm of infertility. Bring all the anger, the pain, the hope and the fear to God. Bring it to him together, and trust that he will help you discover the answers that will bring you peace.
Cling to Each Other
Couples dealing with infertility have a much higher divorce rate and higher rate of infidelity than other couples. It is easy, when going through any trial, but especially one so central to the intimacy of your marriage to want to withdraw from each other; to go off to your own corner to be alone and lick your wounds. Again, this is completely understandable, but it is completely destructive to your marriage. Remember, presumably the reason you want children so desperately is that you and your spouse love each other so much that you want to bear witness to that love by having a child together. You job then, is to not assume that the love you felt for each other will continue, untended, while you deal with the infertility. You MUST make time to take care of each other and to choose certain times of each week that–barring an unavoidable breakdown or new crisis–you will, by mutual agreement, focus on everything else in your marriage except the infertility. Plan to take a break from the intense focus on this one part of your lives during at least one walk, a prayer time, a brief date night, or other specific time that you can remember how much you still ache for each other and not just how much you ache for a child.
Maintain Rituals and Routines
Another important part of clinging to each other–as well as maintaining your mental health–through these difficult days is to maintain your rituals and routines like eating meals together, your game night, date night, prayer time, or other special times that give you opportunities to work and play together. When couples are under stress, it is easy to let mealtime become “I’ll just grab something on the way home from work” or game night to become, “I’m really not in the mood” or prayer times or any other times for that matter deteriorate completely. But rituals and routines define the structure of the relationship. When these go, the whole relationship collapses in on itself. Whether you feel like it or not, even if you’re just going through the motions, keep up your rituals and routines as best as you possibly can.
Stay on the Same Page
One of the factors that determines how at-risk an infertile couple is for possible divorce is whether or not they feel as if they are each on the same page. True, everyone deals with stress differently. That is not the issue. Rather, problems enter in when a couple doesn’t understand how each other is processing the stress or grieving–especially if they do it differently. Take time every day–or at least several times a week–to ask two questions: First, “How are you doing with all of this today/this week/these days” and second, “What can I do to make today a little better for you?” The second question is even more important than the first. Resist easy answers like, “I don’t know.” Or “Nothing.” Instead, give each other at least some small thing you can do to say, “I care about you.” Suggest a small favor you can do for each other, a special request to take to prayer, or a little act of kindness that, if not making everything “all better” at least says, “You’re not alone.” How well the two of you attend to each other’s little needs makes all the difference in the kind of couple you’re be once you’ve made it through this difficult time.
Infertility is often accompanied by a lot of emotional turbulence. It’s fine to try to handle things on your own, but at the first sign that either of you, or your marriage, is in over its head, get professional help–and more importantly–get it together. Even if only one of you is going through a depression and your marriage seems fine, I recommend seeing a counselor that will work with you together so that you can discover how best to support each other through the treatment. In short, the more you are willing to explore all the possible ways that you can learn to be better supports to each other the better you will weather this crisis. Infertility is a terrible cross for any couple to have to bear, but following the simple suggestions above can help you begin to find ways to come out of this experience stronger and more in love with each other. And what couple couldn’t use a bit more of both of those?
For further information related to infertility and other marital issues, consult Dr. Greg Popcak’s book Holy Sex!. If you and your spouse are struggling with infertility, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and talk to someone about any and all the issues related to this difficult challenge. We are here for you in prayer and professional support.