It is estimated that 1 in 6 couples struggle to get pregnant. Infertility is often a hidden suffering, and is even considered a “normal,” albeit temporary, difficulty encountered in some marriages, but easily fixed if the couple would “just relax.” The truth is that, for the couple going through this struggle, nothing about it is easy, especially when treatments, tests and medications become a regular part of life, and marital intimacy must be scheduled to fit within fertile times, transforming the gift of self into a “job” to be completed. All of this takes its toll on a marriage, with spouses left feeling like failures and abandoned by God, Whose command to “be fruitful and multiply,” they are seemingly unable to fulfill. Men and women experience the pain of infertility differently, which can lead to conflict in a marriage, making their burden feel all the more cumbersome and hopeless.
The Springs in the Desert team knows, from our personal experiences and from hearing from hundreds of women and couples, that it is essential for us to nurture our marriages, especially when we’re faced with challenges like infertility. Here are a few things we’ve learned that might help you to strengthen your relationship with your spouse—and with God, too:
5 Ways To Nurture Your Marriage In A Season Of Infertility
- Be honest with each other about your feelings, how you’re handling treatments, and what kind of support you need from each other. Communication is key in marriage, and it’s especially important to talk with each other when facing a challenge. Share your feelings with each other, be open and honest, and give each other space when you need it. Keep in mind that your spouse may not grieve the same way you do and may not be ready to have a difficult conversation at the same time you are. Be patient and understanding—you are in this together!
- Attend doctors’ appointments together as often as you can, to offer your support, ask questions and get to know more about your spouse’s health. Although it’s usually women who undergo more of the tests and treatments necessary to help restore and maintain good reproductive health, men may also need to undergo testing, take supplements, and work to improve their overall health. Infertility isn’t a “woman’s problem” or a “man’s problem.” Infertility is a shared experience that you address together as a family.
- You’re married – but you should still be dating! Make time for each other to do fun things, maybe things you haven’t done since before you were married. Go to the movies, order in and cuddle up on the couch in front of your favorite show, take up a hobby, form a two-person book club, or learn something new together. Whatever you choose, make a point to set aside time for just the two of you, to enjoy each other, have fun and reconnect. Your relationship and marriage are worth investing in!
- Pray together. Every day. When we pray, we are spiritually vulnerable before God, crying out in pain, asking for what we need, and praising Him for His kindness and mercy. Praying with our spouse can be an intimate and deeply bonding experience, and will help you grow in your relationship with God. If you’re not used to praying together, or feel awkward, start simply. Say the Our Father and a few Hail Mary’s, and add a couple of your own intentions. As you get more comfortable, just speak from your heart, asking God for what you need, to help you in your struggles, and thank Him for the gift of each other. And if it’s a really tough day, just sit in silence together. God knows your heart, and He can hear the silent echoes there.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Marriage can be tough! And infertility adds another layer of anxiety, self-doubt and frustration that can lead us to take on burdens we don’t have to carry. It’s easy to worry that infertility is a punishment from God for past mistakes, or that if we cannot conceive a baby, we don’t “want it” enough. We may blame ourselves for our difficulty or inability to conceive, and believe that our spouse would have a family by now, if not for us. These are lies, and the devil wants you to believe them because he wants you to believe you are unworthy of God’s love. But God does love you! God wants what is good for you, and if you don’t have a biological child in the end, or as many children as you desire, it’s not a punishment. God is not outdone in generosity, and He has a plan for you and your marriage, to make it abundantly fruitful. Give yourselves a break, and be attentive to the gifts God is offering you.
All marriages face challenges, and for those of us who carry it, the cross of infertility sometimes feels insurmountable. Saint Paul tells us that marriage is a “great mystery” that refers to “Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:32). In other words, marriage is a symbol of how God loves us, the intimacy He desires to have with us, and His steadfast fidelity to us, even when we break faith with Him. A marriage that carries the burden of infertility is a powerful symbol of love, intimacy, and faithfulness, even in those times we carry it imperfectly. God loves you, and He loves your marriage! The more you strive toward loving each other well, the more powerful your witness will be to a world that gives up when life gets hard. Love each other—and be confident that God loves you!
Springs in the Desert is a Catholic ministry that offers community and accompaniment for women and couples who are carrying the cross of infertility and pregnancy loss. Our Team – Allie, Ann, Cassandra, Cassi, Kimberly and Stacey -contributed to this post through their own infertility experiences, and we would be honored to hear your story and walk with you. For more information, visit www.springsinthedesert.org.