How to reconnect as a couple during infertility

Infertility can impact your marriage and sex life negatively. Learn how you and your spouse can bounce back.

Homemaker Tan Hwee Leng, 40, remembers just how frustrating it was back when she and her husband could not conceive after nearly two years.

Tan and her husband overhauled their lifestyle ― the couple changed their diets, stopped drinking alcohol and exercised regularly. Tan also made sure to take prenatal vitamins, charted her ovulation faithfully and even measured her body temperature several times a day to pin down the optimal conceiving period.

She notes, “My husband and I tried all sorts of positions ― I even called my husband back home in the middle of the work day just to have sex because my body temperature was the most conducive then!”

This took a toll on their sex life and marriage. After a frustrating two years, they decided to seek help. The now mother of two notes, “We were only in our late 20s and didn’t think we needed medical help. We thought we just needed more time. However, two years of futile attempts at conceiving proved us wrong. We should have sought help earlier, instead of subjecting ourselves to the frustration, anger and self-doubt that came along with infertility.”

We should have sought help earlier, instead of subjecting ourselves to the frustration, anger and self-doubt that came along with infertility.”

Some 15 per cent of couples in Singapore don’t conceive within 12 months of having regular unprotected sex. Relationship counsellor and clinical sexologist Dr Martha Tara Lee of Eros Coaching notes that infertility can be a frustrating issue for couples.

She notes, “Not only because of the inability to get pregnant, but also because of the emotional stress it puts on a relationship. Sometimes, trying to start a family can end up ruining or breaking a family. The feeling of loneliness, financial strain, and stress that can come with infertility takes its toll on a marriage.”

However, infertility is not just a women’s issue. Notes Dr Lee, “It is a couple’s issue that is more common than you think. About one in eight couples struggle with infertility, and men contribute to 50 per cent of infertility cases.”

Indeed, sex can become a source of frustration when you have been trying to conceive for some time. It may start to feel like a chore and suck the romance out of your marriage as you struggle to achieve an unreachable goal ― to get pregnant. As it becomes a major mood killer, both parties end up being unable to perform.
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Dr Lee explains, “The idea of sex on demand, or pairing sexuality with failure, because there isn’t conception, or having to time your sexuality based on your gynae is telling you to, can certainly negatively impact one's enjoyment and spontaneity, with regard to sexuality.

She notes that some men may develop performance anxiety as it’s hard to get an erection on demand. Some women may lose their ability to become aroused and lose sexual interest.

Sex for procreation can have a negative impact on a couple’s sex life. Sexual problems like premature ejaculation (where the partner is unable to wait to ejaculate into the vagina) can inhibit conception.

Resentment might build up, with angry words and blame being heaped on each other. For some women, painful sexual encounters like dysparunia, or vaginismus (where the vagina actually tightens to prevent penetration) can also cause problems with conception.

Infertility may also lead to self-esteem issues, as the wife or husband may feel unattractive to the other. Anxiety and depression may also kick in. It’s important to note that you are not alone in this.

Infertility may also lead to self-esteem issues, as the wife or husband may feel unattractive to the other. Anxiety and depression may also kick in.

Coping with infertility

Dr Lee has advice on how couples can prevent infertility from affecting their marriage and sex life:

1. Get physical
Exercise can stave off depression and improve overall health, which could help you conceive faster. Consider meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or some other practice that alleviates anxiety.

2. Be patient and let go of expectations
Avoid viewing a pregnancy as the key to happiness. Find ways to be happy now rather than believe that a child is the be all and end all.

3. Understand and communicate
Find ways to reach out to your significant other. The relationship is the first thing to suffer when you’re dealing with infertility. Find ways to support and love your partner.

Do not take everything personally. Your spouse’s anger and frustration have nothing to do with you. They may be going through some type of hurt, anxiety or frustration towards themselves.

Ask if you can help but give him or her space to work through their own emotions. Involve your partner in decision making and have an agreement on how much information you will share to friends and family as they may not appreciate you airing your laundry in public.

4. Consider getting therapy
Learn how to communicate hurt, anger, and frustration without wounding your spouse or your marriage. Don’t delay too long before seeking counselling help.

Reconnecting with your spouse

Trying to conceive does not involve just sexual intercourse. Intimacy and emotional connection play a very large part, too. If you are feeling neglected or isolated from your partner, plan some downtime with each other that does not involve sex. Let go of expectations and demands and make each other a priority.

Don’t wait to address your sexual problems. The longer you drift away from each other physically, the more difficult it is to reconnect later. Dr Lee warns that the strain of getting pregnant may continue way after the child has been born as they may have been put off by mechanical baby-making sex.

Couples need to be prepared to have sex at non-ovulatory times to remind themselves that sex really is about other things than just conception. Dr Lee advises couples to do fun things together, both things you already enjoy or would like to but haven’t done before.

She adds, “Create couples rituals ― something regularly that bonds you, such as chatting before bed. Institute a daily check-in and work on your communication by attending couples workshops/ counselling or coaching.”

Photos: iStock

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