Navigating Male Fertility Challenges as a Couple
Infertility is a Shared Problem
About one in six couples globally struggles with infertility. While this is often considered a female issue, approximately 40 percent of infertility cases in the United States are connected with male infertility, making it, most definitely, a couple’s issue. While both partners experience emotional distress and relationship stress, the perceived social stigma regarding male infertility and, indeed, male emotional response to infertility, make it challenging for men to find support. Here, we offer advice for couples navigating male fertility challenges.
Men Have Feelings Too
Let’s just start by stating the obvious. Boys and men are conditioned by society to avoid vulnerability, hide their feelings, and be strong, no matter what, but that doesn’t mean their feelings don’t matter. Infertility and pregnancy loss are very painful experiences, and can deeply affect a person’s mental health. It can be hard to process this very private kind of trauma, but infertility is definitely painful. Feelings men experience as a result of infertility can include:
- A deep sense of loss and grief can accompany the knowledge of an inability to conceive a child.
- Guilt and shame can result from not living up to societal expectations of virility and fertility.
- Men sometimes experience a sense of inadequacy, feeling they’ve failed their partner.
- It can feel isolating to experience infertility, and men feeling the pressure to be strong and stoic may not feel able to ask for support.
- Anger and frustration are natural when dealing with infertility, especially because it’s easy to feel powerless when faced with failed attempts, the inability to find a specific reason for infertility, or seemingly endless fertility treatments.
- Anxiety and depression are common for both partners experiencing infertility, as financial strain mounts, disappointments recur, and the future seems uncertain.
Navigating Infertility as a Couple
While men may have difficulty expressing their emotions, and may feel the need to be strong for their partners, the truth is that infertility is a shared concern. Like many things in a partnership, it is best addressed together, working as a team. How can you work together to overcome the mental and emotional challenges of infertility?
- Talk about it. Communication is important in a relationship, and it is crucial during challenging times or periods of stress. It can be hard to talk about difficult topics, but if you can start out with talking about thoughts it can be easier to segue into talking about emotions, too. Make sure that each partner is spending equal time listening and being heard, be honest with each other, and keep it a safe space, where you can each express difficult thoughts and emotions without judgement. Make sure not to rush these conversations, but carve out time for each other and really listen.
- Don’t neglect other aspects of your life. Infertility can feel all-consuming, but it’s important not to let it overwhelm your life. Make time for fun, go out on dates, play games, and spend time with friends and family. Take time out from fertility drama and make sure that other parts of your life don’t fall by the wayside. Spending light-hearted time together can help alleviate the stress you’re experiencing.
- Learn as a couple. There are plenty of resources for those experiencing infertility, but there is also plenty of misinformation floating around. It is important to know how to separate fact from fiction, and to educate yourselves together. It can be hard to find good resources, which is why it is so important to contact a fertility specialist to help you identify solutions that are good options for you.
- Share responsibilities. Make infertility treatment a team effort. Keeping up with all the medical appointments, medication, and bills can be overwhelming, but it’s less so when you’re both shouldering the responsibility.
- Have clear boundaries. Talk to your partner more than you talk to other people. If you are going to share information with friends of family members, make sure your partner is on board with it before you do it. It is important to have support, but it’s also important to protect your partner’s privacy.
- Seek outside support. While you need clear boundaries, you also need a safe space to share what is happening. Joining a fertility support group where you can interact with others who understand what you’re going through, can be a good way to keep from feeling isolated. Support groups can be in-person or online, and they offer a safe, friendly environment in which to discuss difficult topics.
- Don’t equate infertility with failure. Whether or not you conceive, it doesn’t change who you are as a couple. Fertility is not a reflection on your relationship, and infertility is just one of the challenges you will face in your life together. By keeping communication strong, you can also strengthen your relationship and more easily navigate future challenges.
How Men Can Protect their Mental Health
- Express your emotions. Don’t feel you always have to be strong and stoic. Talk to your partner and find others to talk to as well, who will listen supportively.
- Distract yourself. Plan a weekend getaway, go hiking, take a trip, or just go out to dinner at a new restaurant. You and your partner need things to do that don’t have anything to do with fertility.
- Find support. Whether it’s a support group, a counselor, or a trusted friend or family member, think about who you want to turn to when things are tough. Make a list for yourself of people you can call when you need support.
- Manage stress. Maybe it’s engaging in hobbies you enjoy, or maybe it’s meditation or listening to music. Whatever helps you feel less anxious, more grounded, and happier is good for managing your stress.
- Remember who you are. Infertility doesn’t define you, and it doesn’t define your relationship. Look at old photos, reminisce with your partner, embrace new hobbies, and remind yourself that infertility is just something you’re going through, and not who you are.
Seek Help From Fertility Experts
If you are having trouble conceiving a child, help is available to you. At the Center for Vasectomy Reversal, we pride ourselves on helping men improve their fertility through uncompromising, concierge-level patient care. Under the direction of Dr. Joshua Green, our team provides state-of-the-art treatment for men who need a reversal of their vasectomy or have other fertility concerns. To learn more, contact us through our website or call 941-894-6428.
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