There are many vows that partners say to each other with “I do.” Some are spoken, others are unspoken. With the promise to love and cherish comes other promises such as having three children or raising your kids differently than your parents raised you. There may be the promise of having your first child by age 30. Or the promise of giving that child a sibling 2 years later. There’s the shared vision of family that you create together in passing comments and lifelong wishes.
When the spoken and unspoken vows of family building do not happen according to plan, couples can find themselves overwhelmed, disconnected and feeling lost. There can be years of trying to conceive without success, multiple miscarriages or secondary infertility (in which couples have a child or children but encounter difficulty conceiving siblings). Infertility takes on different shapes and forms. For many couples, it can be a disconnecting and heartbreaking experience.
When couples walk through my office door, they bring in phantoms of unfulfilled promises made to each other. They had shared visions and dreams. They had timelines and plans. Many of their friends and family members seem to be moving forward with their lives, and they feel frozen in time or even left behind.
Couple’s therapy is so powerful because it uses the relationship as a solution. We explore and use the relationship as a refuge. As stable ground. As a source of joy and healing.
Now what? How do you build your family while still feeling close and connected to your partner? Here are some tips:
Italian or Chinese food?
I know it is a tall order amidst doctor appointments and busy careers to ask you to make time for a date night. But, it is even more important now than ever to find ways to connect with your partner. Go to your favorite restaurant. Buy tickets to that Loenardo DiCaprio movie you both have wanted to see. Some couples use date nights as an opportunity to update each other about where they are in the infertility process and to discuss next steps. Other couples draw a boundary around their date nights and declare that time together “infertility free”. Whatever your love language, plan a date night.
Find the joy!
Being on the clock of infertility treatments can suck the vitality out of any relationship. I know, it seems easier in the moment to just yell at your husband for leaving his socks on the floor (again!) or to be critical of your wife about burning dinner. But, because infertility is fundamentally a relational issue, you both need each other to get through this. Bring home flowers for your wife. Give your husband a hug just because. Cuddle in bed. It sounds simple. Yet, you also know how easy it is to push marital pleasure aside when stress and anxiety loom large. Try it.
Chocolate and a movie, anyone?
There are a lot of losses to deal with on the emotional roller coaster of family building. Many couples find it useful to have rituals that help them grieve the losses together. There are many creative ways to do this. Some couples plant a garden. Other couples plan a weekend away to veg out and allow themselves time and space to grieve and re-group. Marking the losses along the way can be painful, but creating meaningful rituals can also help couples mourn their losses and move forward.
Probably the most common complaint that I hear is that one partner “doesn’t understand” or “is distant”while the other partner is carrying the load. It can be difficult when partners have different coping strategies (i.e., she gets more worried while he gets more silent). It is important to “turn toward” each other. Be curious how your partner is doing and feeling. Don’t assume that just because your partner is coping differently than you, that he/she doesn’t care. Reach out to your partner and sync up.
Make new promises
Couples struggle to reconcile vows made at the altar with a plan that isn’t going according to plan. So, make some new promises. Expand your vision of what “family” looks like. Update your visions and dreams. It may take some work, some tears and some couple’s therapy. Plan for a future that binds you just as tightly.