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Communicating in difficult times

Different reactions of a couple in difficult moments are normal. After all, two different people with different temperaments, resources, and life histories meet. Even with a common problem, such as infertility, each partner may react differently. Different reactions to a difficult situation are not a threat to the relationship, but not admitting or talking about them is. And believing that when we are together, we should react and feel the same way.

Infertility is a unique disease because we involve two patients in the treatment process. Statistically, 1 out of 5 Polish couples knows this disease in their life. The couples undergo diagnostics, go to medical appointments, have sexual intercourse at the appointed time to increase their chances of pregnancy. So they are sick together, even though each of them has very different expectations about having children. And it is worth talking about these expectations and not just relying on our own imagination to avoid disappointment and regret when our partner has a different attitude than we do. Research has shown that stress levels during infertility treatment increase proportionally to the duration of treatment, the higher parenthood is in the hierarchy of values (Drosdzol A., Skrzypulec V., Evaluation of Marital and Sexual Interactions of Polish Infertile Couples. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009, 6 (12), pp. 3335-3346). If the partners perceive the role of parenthood in their lives differently, they may display different attitudes during treatment, e.g., one person may be preoccupied with the treatment process while the other has other priorities (travel, sports). The moment the partners start going in different directions is an important signal to stop. And to the conversation, which is the basis of any relationship.

How to begin?

Before we begin the conversation, however, it is worth asking ourselves and thinking about what if our partner approaches trying to get pregnant differently than we do? What if the child is not a priority for him or her? Or vice versa – the child is a higher priority for him/her than for me? Will we find the space to accept such a situation? Undoubtedly, it can be difficult when a child is a priority for us. Before I talk to my partner, I should think about what feelings that what I hear from my partner triggers in me.

Importantly, accepting differences in approach to trying to get pregnant does not have to mean giving up. However, it can be a good starting point for conversations and the first step in establishing shared priorities.

Let’s talk.

When you talk about your future together, it is important that you disclose your expectations for living together. A relationship brings together two people who, before they met, had already built up expectations for their lives. Maybe they wanted a baby? Or maybe they never wanted to become parents? Maybe those expectations included a well-traveled biography or a quiet, full-time job? When partners decide to build a world together, they combine these ideas. In the process, some of them may overlap and others may diverge.

What to do if we learn in a conversation that our partner has a different approach to trying to get pregnant than we do?

  • First, we should really listen to our partner and maybe even say, “I hear you.” This also gives us time to really respond.
  • We should tell our partner what feelings this triggers in us. Becoming aware of each other’s feelings is the next step to better communication. Naming our own feelings is also the first step to recognizing them and dealing with them better.
  • When we talk about feelings, it’s better to use a message like “I,” for example, “I feel sadness and anger,” rather than phrases like “You made me feel…” The trick is to notice them, name them, and give them a place in the relationship.

It is a joint task of the couple to balance these differences, not to erase them. On the contrary – it is about giving them space. Because even if someone consciously gives up something that is important to him or her in order to have a relationship, for example, to exchange an insecure job for a steady one in order to be able to give the family a sense of financial security, he or she is parting with something that is important to him or her. Perhaps from something that has accompanied him or her in life for many years? Of unpredictability, flexibility and freedom. Saying goodbye to this part of your partner’s life requires respect. Not consolation, “It will be better this way.” Not contempt: “That was childish.” But rather recognition and permission to be sad when it’s over.

What else should be considered?

If you and your partner have difficult topics to discuss, a few tips can help.

  1. Choose a time for the conversation when you can both take your time. If you are in a hurry and the conversation is already underway, take a break and arrange a time when you are no longer pressed for time, e.g., in the afternoon after work.
  1. Try to prevent third parties from participating in the conversation. Their opinions, views, and emotions can complicate a couple’s conversation. Also, the third party may merge with the partner, which is not conducive to effective communication.
  1. Use “I” instead of “you.” The other party may feel blamed or accused and block communication. For example, instead of saying, “You are not thinking about our efforts at all,” we can say, “I want you to come to me. I don’t want to be alone in this.” Even though they sound similar, they can make a big difference from the perspective of the receiver of the message.
  1. The belief that there is only one correct pattern for experiencing a particular situation is not correct. Everyone can experience it differently because each of us is different. For example, if someone does not cry after a failed IVF, it does not mean that person is not involved in the treatment process. It means that his reactions are different and he is expressing them in a different way. Emotions that we cannot see are also present. Just because we do not perceive them does not mean they are not there.

      In difficult conversations, it is important to look at the relationship as a whole, not just in this moment, which is now. When we are accompanied by intense emotions, cognitive distortions can occur, such as everything not making sense. As the name suggests, these are not thoughts that describe reality, but a distorted picture of the situation we are in. They do not help solve problems, but build up in us the image of a hopeless situation that devalues everything we held dear. If you notice this kind of reaction in conversation with your partner, it’s worth pausing for a moment. Perhaps you interrupt the conversation and resume it after some time.