Infertility is a very difficult struggle to endure. It can cause major depression, stress, and anxiety issues, and even lowered self-esteem and guilt at times. As a result, coping mechanisms develop to deal with these emotions.
We all have our own ways of dealing with negative situations and emotions in life. Sometimes, these ways of coping are guided along gender lines — including in issues of fertility. But while women and men tend to cope differently, couples can find common ground in their shared emotions and goals, and show one another full support and compassion.
When it comes to dealing with infertility struggles, women are more likely than men to seek social support and engage in confrontative coping strategies than men. In other words, they are very open to admitting that the issue of infertility causes emotional distress, and more likely to seek direct answers to that issue.
For example, women are generally more open to trying infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproductive technologies. They are more likely to believe in — or at least hope for — the success of these treatments.
Women have been found in studies to be more likely to want to speak openly about their infertility, while men were more restrained in this aspect. They are significantly more likely to reach out to their close friends or family, sharing outside of the home instead of just with their partners. They are also more likely to talk to a professional, whether it is from their family doctor, infertility specialist, or therapist.
Establishing social support networks is a crucial part of coping with infertility for many women. Reaching out to others for validation, comfort, and even escapism can relieve some of the depression and anxiety brought on by fertility struggles.
In fact, escapism is another coping mechanism that many women utilize when dealing with infertility struggles. Escape and avoidance strategies — like holding onto hope, fantasizing about an optimistic future, and avoiding people/places/things that remind one of infertility — are common.
At times, adult men are wrongly stereotyped by society as lacking emotional depth. They are considered to not feel as much sadness, or need as much support, as women. This creates a cycle where many men do not feel welcome to seek support or speak openly about emotions. Unfortunately, this can extend to men who are struggling with infertility in their relationships.
This misconception may be fueled in part by the coping mechanisms many men use when facing infertility stress. Unlike women, who are more likely to seek social support from their friends and family, men more often appear to distance themselves emotionally from the issue of infertility when it arises.
Often, men who struggle with fertility will appear to focus their attention onto other issues. While it may be easy to judge from the outside and claim that this means someone does not feel strong emotions about their infertility, it actually indicates the opposite. Focusing on other issues can serve as a form of escape and emotional regulation for many men.
Additionally, men are more likely to see infertility as a problem to be solved. Rather than demonstrating more vulnerable or emotion-sharing strategies like talking to friends and family, studies have shown that men more commonly engage in planful problem-solving strategies.
When considering how men cope with infertility struggles in their relationship, it is important to remember that not all emotions are shown. Not all men feel comfortable opening up about the struggles they face — in part because of the stereotypes which claim they aren’t supposed to. Regardless of how well a man appears to handle the rough emotions of infertility, he must be shown empathy and support.
It may seem like there are more differences than similarities in the ways that men and women experience infertility. However, this really isn’t true.
The truth is that men and women feel many of the same emotions — depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, and even guilt — when experiencing infertility. The apparent differences are really only found in the ways that these emotions are handled — and even then, there are similarities under the surface that we may not see.
Both men and women use these coping mechanisms to gain control over their situation and protect themselves emotionally. Whether one is meticulously planning out a fertility treatment, distracting oneself with work, or daydreaming about the children they hope to have one day, they are aiming for these goals.
When you feel like you and your partner are on different pages or they don’t understand your pain because they are coping in different ways than you, try to remember this. Your partner is going through the same pain you are going through, and may need more support than they are willing to ask for.
There is nothing wrong with any of the coping mechanisms previously discussed. However, some are better than others. Here are some coping mechanisms and advice that can help you and your partner — not only individually, but your relationship itself — in times of infertility stress.
At the end of the day, you and your partner are a team! Tackling this issue honestly and considerately together will strengthen your commitment and connection to one another.
Men and women don’t always have the same approaches in life, including when it comes to fertility struggles. Women tend to want to talk to others about fertility issues, while more men prefer to remain private about their struggles. Women are more likely to use escapism and avoidance as an approach, while men are more problem-solving oriented.
But despite these differences, there is a crucial similarity: the feelings that cause coping mechanisms to arise, and the desire to protect oneself from these feelings. Acknowledging the common ground and being fully communicative and supportive in the relationship will help you and your partner to be stronger in your relationship and as individuals.