Some couples become stronger when experiencing challenges, and infertility is no exception. But the divorce risk is also very real: couples who are unable to conceive a child after years of trying are three times more likely to divorce than those who do succeed.
While every couple battling infertility is different, there are some commonalities that can contribute to divorce, as identified by Crystal Clancy, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Iris Reproductive Mental Health in Burnsville, Minnesota.
“I have seen relationships torn apart by the inability to reach an agreement about what kind of treatments to pursue, how much money to spend, or when it is time to stop trying medical interventions,” says Clancy. But that’s not all. “Usually it either involves the long-term stress and the way that ‘infertility sex’ changes your love life,” she says.
Should we, or shouldn’t we?
When getting pregnant doesn’t come easily for a couple, they must choose whether to try alternative avenues to create a family, and if so, which alternative to pursue. These choices can further stress an already stressed-out relationship. “A couple that was struggling with infertility decision-making was getting closer to being on the same page, but, initially, there was some lack of trust around the wife wanting to pursue surrogacy without giving the husband time to process or agree,” says Clancy.
The wife even went so far as to line up a surrogate and schedule the procedure. “The husband said he felt ‘bulldozed’ and, now that they have already taken it that far, feels obligated to go through with it.”
Dollars and sense?
Infertility treatments are not cheap. Adoption and surrogacy come with a high price tag, too. Any of these routes to a happy family can stress a marriage—for straight or LGBTQ couples—both financially and emotionally. And money issues are one of the top contributors to modern divorce. But Clancy points out that there is another element in play: resentment about the money spent.
Fertility treatments are not often covered by insurance. Moreover, “Infertility issues can force a couple to fundamentally re-examine themselves,” says Steven K. Yoda, partner with Walzer Melcher LLP in Woodland Hills, CA. “What is marriage? What is parenthood? Why did I get married? How important is parenthood to me? What if this marriage produces no children? At what financial cost should parenthood be pursued? The strain of this self-examination can cause a marriage to fracture and lead to divorce.”
Where is my support system?
“Women typically take the brunt of procedures,” says Clancy. Plus, “Even though causes of infertility are close to 50/50 along gender lines, women tend to blame themselves if they are not getting pregnant or are having miscarriages.”
If a woman begins to feel emotionally unsupported, the struggle can become even more heightened. But, of course, the problem of not getting pregnant is not easily remedied, so men may start to feel inadequate at the same time their wife is feeling emotionally unsupported, and the divide widens.
So until men can give birth (a distinct possibility), infertile couples will have to work hard at communication to avoid marital disaster.