“I want to support her more but I don’t know what I can do.”
“I feel bad that she has to do all the work.”
These are common statements I hear from men whose female partners are undergoing fertility treatment. You may see your partner becoming emotionally taxed, physically drained, and want to help, but feel there is nothing you can do.
I’d like to tell you that you have more power than you think!
There is a tremendous amount you can do to help your partner during this time. And while these actions may feel small to you, they have a significant impact. Your partner will be able to cope better knowing you are by her side, and she will appreciate your efforts to lift her when she may be feeling down.
- Listen - Sometimes, it’s as simple as being available to listen. Let your partner know, on more than one occasion, that this is important for you both and that you are available whenever she may want to or need to talk.
- Share Your Thoughts and Feelings - What she most wants to know is what you are thinking and feeling about treatment. Don’t minimize your feelings to spare her from feeling overburdened, she wants to know that she isn’t alone in the process.
An analogy that has been helpful for couples: fertility treatment is like witnessing a major event. You both see it, but one person reacts with, “Wow! Did you see that?” and the other simply says, “Huh.” You can see how this may cause a disconnect. Your partner wants to know that you saw the event and feel something as well.
- Get Involved - This is a team effort. You both have strengths and weaknesses, so take those into consideration and divide tasks accordingly. You can help her by administering injections, coordinating invoices and payments with insurance, picking up prescriptions and pregnancy tests, doing online research to learn about the process, taking charge of the laundry, giving a foot rub during TV time, or cooking dinner while she is at a monitoring appointment. Stepping in when you can and making her day-to-day easier will help her balance responsibilities and self care.
- Be Her Voice - If there is a family member that isn’t sensitive to your situation, privately let them know. If you think she’d benefit from time with a close friend, let them know. If your partner feels she can’t attend an upcoming baby shower or birthday party, RSVP on her behalf. Let her know that you can be her voice whenever she’d like you to be.
- Schedule Fun - Taking a break from the stress of treatment brings levity and makes everything easier. This could be planning a picnic dinner in a pretty park or jetting away for a surprise weekend to see new sights. Volunteer at a dog shelter to care for little puppies or create your own chocolate tasting flight. The possibilities are endless.
- Pamper Her - The surprise of tulips in a vase, a relaxing massage, a romantic dinner, or a pedicure show her that she is loved and appreciated. These gestures - no matter how small - show her you care and delight her in the process.
- Tell Her You Care - You may feel that it goes without saying that you love her and appreciate her. Of course you do! But she needs to hear it. She could hear you say it every day and never get sick of it. Saying, “I love you,” “I appreciate you,” “I am here for you,” “We are in this together,” and “What can I do for you,” will never, ever get old.
If your relationship is feeling strained, I recommend listening to an episode from the Time to Talk Fertility Podcast: How to Stay Strong as a Couple Through Treatment. In the podcast I answer 14 questions around how infertility impacts men and women emotionally, how this can differ from partner to partner, common challenges couples face, how emotions and reactions evolve over time, and most importantly, how couples can meet these challenges head on and come out stronger as a result.
It’s also important to recognize that you are experiencing all of this with your partner, you are also hurting, and you have to listen to your needs as well. Talking to a professional with your partner can help. I have worked with countless couples who have walked the same path, and I know the unique obstacles that arise on the journey. Don’t be afraid to tell your partner that you think it’s time for more support, it’s likely that she may feel the same way.
Dr. Tiffany Edwards, Clinical Psychologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois