The Best Ways to Support a Partner Facing Infertility

E.B. Johnson

by: E.B. Johnson

In life, there are those who look forward to building a family of their own more than anything else. Sadly, those dreams are snatched from them when they receive the life-shattering diagnosis of infertility. Have you and your partner recently had your family plans shifted? While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for healing from this heartbreak, there are steps we can take to help our partners (and ourselves). Reach for one another in empathy and understanding, and know that this is only a change — not the end of the road.

Infertility can take a serious toll.

When building a family is a key part of your life’s plan, it can be hard to comprehend the complicated emotional fallout that comes with an infertility diagnosis. Society places a lot of emphasis on the organic creation of the family. When we can’t do that, it can put us in a place of grief, shame, and even loneliness. In order to help our partners heal, we have to confront these side-effects and create a new vision of a happy future.

Grief and sadness

Perhaps the most immediate and common emotion post-infertility is grief. When building a family is important to you, finding out that you’re infertile is like having a dream ripped right from your hands. It’s a loss of all the children you imagined and the family you fantasized about. When that’s been our focus for so long, it takes time to build a new vision worth investing in.

Overall decline

Receiving an infertility diagnosis affects us on a number of levels. Extremely painful on an emotional level, when we learn we can never have children, we can find ourselves battling feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, stress, fatigue, worry, and hopelessness. These build until they also create adverse effects for our physical body. A partner in grief for their infertility can experience an overall decline in mental and physical health.

Sense of loneliness

There’s a certain kind of loneliness that infertile people can experience. Even if they are surrounded by the love of family and friends, they can still lack in the presence and love of a child. This parental experience is very important to some, and without it they can develop a warped sense of loneliness or lacking in their lives. In order to escape this, the hurting person has to learn how to see the love around them in a new light.

Excessive shame

There’s a shame that comes with infertility that people don’t like to talk about. Nonetheless, it exists. Women are especially vulnerable to this, as there is an extreme emphasis placed on their ability to create life. When they fail to do that, a quiet sense of shame can generate. This shame is goaded on by outlandish statements like pregnancy being the “proof of womanhood”.

Stressed relationships

Infertility issues aren’t something which just take a personal toll. They can also cause a lot of stress in our overall relationships. Were you and your partner banking on building a family together? Being diagnosed with infertility strips a dream and a plan from both of you. That’s hard to deal with, and so is the emotional fallout. This can put a lot of stress on a relationship. Conflict often can (and does) arise.

Feeling like a failure

Because the world places such an emphasis on “having a family” we can feel like a major failure when we aren’t able to have that. We feel like we don’t fit in, or as though something may be lacking in us on a personal level. None of this is true, however. Nevertheless, these feelings of failure can lead to lowered self-esteem and all other types of negative feelings.

Supporting your partner through infertility.

If your partner has recently received an infertility diagnosis, there are steps you can take to support them (and yourself). Respect their feelings and never underestimate how the hurt might affect them. Take your ego out of it, but don’t forget to reach out for your own support when you’re struggling. More than that, don’t try to fix things. Talk when they’re ready and be present as a shoulder to cry on in whatever way they need.

1. Respect their feelings

The first step in supporting our partners through infidelity is necessarily respecting their feelings. This goes hand-in-hand with our boundaries. Your partner is going to respond emotionally (and perhaps physically) to their loss. Within that, they are going to need you to react or stay on the peripheries. Although their pain may make you want to save them, this isn’t the right move. What you have to do is observe what’s going on and then work to honor whatever healing journey your partner begins.

Respect your partner’s feelings in totality. Respond to their emotions the way they need you to respond. Maybe they want space, maybe they need you to hold them while they cry. Be the partner their emotions need you to be. Don’t try to push in by providing what you think they need in this moment.

It’s important to note here that you cannot predict your partner’s grief, no matter how well you know them. We all respond to profound pain differently. Some of us automatically harden ourselves and rise above. For others, the road is a lot longer, and a lot more emotional. Your partner may be unable to attend a party or a restaurant with babies for weeks or months. Their personality might change entirely. You need to make room for these changes and look to make adjustments of your own as things move forward toward healing.

2. Don’t try to fix things

Being forced to watch your loved one suffer is, in many ways, worse than suffering yourself. When you love someone, you don’t want them to experience pain. Unfortunately, that’s not something you can protect them from. We can’t strip our partners of their suffering. We can’t take it from them, or fix it for them. The only thing we can do is support them. Stepping in and taking charge is really one of the worse things we can do.

Don't try to fix things for your partner — no matter how badly you want to. There’s nothing you can do to change the reality of this situation, and it’s not your job too. Your only real role is to be a continuing fount of love and support for your partner who is struggling in a very deep way.

You have to resist the urge to step in. When you do this, you actually step over your partner’s feeling and their experience too. You take over it, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for them to grieve and express themselves in whatever way is needed. That’s why it’s crucial that you avoid taking action as the initial throes of grief wash over your relationship. Sometimes, in a storm, there’s nothing to do but buckle down and hold on. Once the brunt of the nastiness has passed, then you can begin the cleanup.

3. Get your own support

Believe it or not, being a supportive partner isn’t just about being there for your loved one. It also involves being there for yourself. Even if you aren’t the one diagnosed with total infertility, the discovery can still take a toll. Beyond that, dealing with your partner’s pain will also increase your own pain; which erodes your happiness and sense of self, too. You need support as much as your partner does. If you really want to be there for them, then you need to have someone there for you.

Don’t — for a second — underestimate your own need for support throughout these trying times. Build your own support network. Reach out to your most-trusted loved ones and let them know what’s going on. Lean on them and allow them to show you the same support you’re showing your partner.

It’s also important that you seek your own medical support when the time is right. If you’re still serious about building a family and getting to the root of your infertility issues, then you should go out on a limb and get your own medical history checked out. Sometimes, the failure of a partner to conceive can be tied in to our own medical issues. Make medical reassurance a part of your own healing journey. It can be of great help down the road when you and your partner have future conversations.

Putting it all together…

Has your partner received an infertility diagnosis? This is one of the most painful experiences we can undergo, and it can dramatically change the trajectory of our lives. In order to heal, we often need the love and support of those closest to us. That’s where you come in as a partner. As the center of their interpersonal relationships, you have a responsibility to show up in the ways in which your partner needs you to.

Respect your partner’s feelings and whatever grieving needs they express. Everyone responds differently to their pain. If they want space, give them space. If they want you to hold them close — reach out. Take your ego out of it and don’t try to fix things for your partner. They don’t want you to take charge of their grieving process. They want you to be present. When they’re ready to talk, sit down and quietly listen as they open up and share their hurt with you. Don’t judge then. Don’t interrupt them. And don’t assume you know what they’re thinking. Beyond that, make sure you get the support you need. The journey of coming back from infidelity is a long one, and it’s going to take a toll on you too. Remember to have your own loved ones to lean on when the challenge grows too great for you to bear.

  • Noorbala, A., Ramazanzadeh, F., Malekafzali, H., Abedinia, N., Forooshani, A., Shariat, M., & Jafarabadi, M. (2008). Effects of a psychological intervention on depression in infertile couples. International Journal Of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 101(3), 248–252. doi: 10.1016/j.ijgo.2007.12.010
  • Pengelly, P., Inglis, M., & Cudmore, L. (1995). Infertility: Couples’ experiences and the use of counselling in treatment centres. Psychodynamic Counselling, 1(4), 507–524. doi: 10.1080/13533339508404151

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