Coping with Male Infertility
by Sirka Louca, LCSW-R
Understanding the Emotions
A common misperception is that infertility is usually due to issues with the female partner. In fact, male-factor infertility occurs approximately 50% of the time; however, much of the focus on treatment and support is directed towards women. This can leave male partners in general feeling frustrated and with few coping options. Both men and women experiencing infertility often have intense emotional pain such as shock, depression, anger and anxiety, and they can have feelings of social isolation as well. When it is the male partner who has the fertility issue, there can be even more emotional challenges and the man may find himself having reactions quite different from his female partner.
In addition to the difficult emotions described above, men may feel like their masculinity and purpose within the couple is threatened. They may also feel:
•Shame •Inadequacy •Anger •Loss of Control •Failure
It is important for both partners to understand that it is normal to have different emotional responses and to respect their partner’s emotional needs. Men tend to respond to feelings of shame and inadequacy by isolating themselves emotionally and distracting themselves with work or activities outside the partnership. Women may misinterpret these behaviors as an indication that their partner doesn’t care about the fertility issue or her feelings when in fact, it’s likely that he cares immensely and feels immobilized and overwhelmed by his emotions.
As challenging as it may be, men should try to communicate with their partner about their feelings. This can feel very scary, so it’s ok for the man make a statement to his partner like “I realize you want to talk to me about your feelings and I’m ready to listen. I also realize you’d like me to talk about my feelings, but right now all I can share is that this is very hard for me to do. I’m willing to work on this if you’re willing to be patient and supportive”.
Because the needs for communication can be so different for each partner (often the woman wants to communicate more frequently, the man less), it’s a good idea to establish an agreed-upon communication schedule; for example, every Wednesday and Sunday night for 30 minutes, or whatever feels right to you as a couple.
It’s important to find healthy outlets for your stress. Exercise, outdoor activities, spending time with good friends, hobbies and personal interests that you enjoy are all wonderful ways to release stress, bring some fun into your life and rejuvenate emotionally. It would be a good idea to choose some activities (not necessarily all) that your partner can join in with you. Sharing time together that is enjoyable and does not focus on infertility can be very healing for your relationship.
Infertility is a health crisis with very real and difficult emotional components that can affect many areas of your life such as self esteem, your marriage/partnership and other relationships, friendships and work. When in a crisis, feelings can become overwhelming and we many need to turn to professional supports. This is not a sign of weakness or failure, rather it’s a healthy and wise coping skill that can be greatly beneficial. Professional support can include individual, group or couples therapy and there are advantages to each one. It’s important to seek out a mental health professional who is experienced in the area of infertility and is recommended by parties you respect.
Sirka Louca is a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 16 years of experience providing psychotherapy, counseling and support services to individuals, couples and families. She has a private practice in Setauket, New York.