Infertility can wreak havoc on a marriage. Whether you have been unable to conceive at all, have experienced a pregnancy loss, or are struggling to conceive after previous pregnancies, childlessness brings a unique grief to each couple and circumstance. This grief is often different between couples and even within a marriage. Alongside your own individual suffering, marriages are at great risk of falling victim to the pain of infertility.
Stemming from our own experience, my husband and I have designed our ‘Top three questions to ask those experiencing infertility’. They are not profound, but we have found them the best way to focus the conversation in a way that allows a couple to be as open as they wish. The questions are:
1. How are you coping?
2. How is your spouse coping?
3. How is your marriage coping?
Due to the intimate nature of the issue, couples need to work hard at building trust within their marriage, and constructing a safe place where they can grieve together, support each other and share their concerns and heartache. In the midst of the pain, it is crucial to not shut down from each other but to work hard on your relationship as one of the most important things. You are married, you still have the ultimate marriage to base your own on. Keep looking to Ephesians 5 for the great picture of the model marriage.
It is worth emphasising the intimate nature of infertility, and how something such as conception, that usually occurs in secret, can by necessity become more public. Out of love for our spouse it may mean not talking so openly about everything involved for the sake of respecting their desire for privacy. Others will find it necessary to turn outside the marriage for support, so it may mean putting aside your own preference for confidentiality, in order to allow your spouse to debrief with friends or family.
This is true for both men and women. Until recently, the issues of identity and failure in men had been neglected in a traditional view of childlessness, yet can be just as prevalent as with women. Within the marriage relationship, we wives need to work hard at caring for our husbands in their distress.
On a related note, a couple’s sex life can be one of the first things to be affected by infertility. We know that sex is a good gift from God, but like everything else in today’s world, it is fallen. The fallenness of sex can come to the fore in the face of infertility, with what was once a joyful union now seemingly dictated by the calendar, the clock and by correct positioning. Sex is the glue that joins a man and wife together, so it is crucial to keep a healthy sex life for the sake of being ‘glued together’, not just conceiving (1 Cor 7:3-5). One of the most helpful tips given to us by an older couple who had experienced inferility before us was to keep having sex outside of the times when there is potential to fall pregnant. In this way we are reinforcing to each other that we see the benefits of sex in a marriage other than simply to make a baby.
Whilst the effects of infertility on a marriage are traumatic, we must not let this be an excuse to stop investing in our existing family unit. Protect your marriage!