When You're Ready for the Next Step, and Your Partner Isn't
As you enter consider receiving fertility treatments, you may find that you are ready for the next step, but your partner isn’t. Implementing strategies to encourage agreement on family-building decisions can help.
“Everything they say and do, is information about them, not you!"
The rhyme works well with coworkers, friends and family. But when it comes to living with a life partner, it's difficult not to take what "they say and do" personally. Particularly if you are dealing with a fertility issue. I hear every day from patients, "if he really loved me, he would say yes to trying for a baby now..." or "if she really understood me, she would put off ovum donation until we have enough money for a house, too..."
Agreeing on family-building decisions is important, but the most important decision is this: what are you going to do when you don't agree. If you are both willing to listen and respect each other's timelines, trade and compromise, these decisions will not interfere with your bond. I so often hear one partner saying, "I really never thought of myself as having more than one child, but it's so important to my partner that we are going to try for a second." Or, "I never thought I'd be happy raising a child in the suburbs, but I gave it a try for my partner and she gave in to having a dog..."
But if you and your partner are not yet able to trade, compromise, or make a mutual decision, here are some strategies to help you deal with the disconnect:
Try starting the family-building conversation with your partner by first stating their side so they know you understand it. Then offer your thinking. Now you are in a discussion together, not debating or fighting.
Don’t assume that the conversation will end with an agreement or decision. You and your partner may need many discussions before that point. And you may need some time-outs from discussions, too. Talking about this too much can be counter-productive.
Instead, end each talk by mutual consent when you both feel heard. Storming out or shutting down and withdrawing will increase the time it will take to work toward a decision as a team.
Try to maintain intimacy while you and your partner are working through the fertility treatment decision. It will help you feel emotionally close even though your feelings about fertility treatment are not close. Beyond sexual intimacy, keep sharing other intimacies that are part of your relationship - back rubs, making meals together, listening to music together….you get the idea.
Avoid the blame game. Some say to their partner, “I have the fertility problems and I feel terrible because this is all my fault“ to create sympathy. Others say “My fertility is fine. This is all your fault” to justify their reluctance to enter or continue treatment. However, couples’ therapists can tell you that the blame game never has a winner. Guilt can get you short-term power gains but long-term emotional losses because your partner will feel manipulated.
Make sure the problem isn’t money. Some partners feel worried about the costs of both further fertility treatment and the costs of having a child, but feel that they are putting finances above family building and that you would not understand if they admitted that. And they may be right. If finances are the problem, offer to work on a practical solution together.
If you and your partner are still at odds over moving forward with fertility treatment, think about speaking to a counselor trained in couples decision-making and see the counselor together, so the client is both of you, as a couple. If only one of you sees a counselor or you each see your own, the result is often conflict escalation, not conflict resolution
As I said before, the key is not to take your partner’s feelings personally. You may not agree with your partner, but taking their position personally can make you feel too angry, betrayed or misunderstood to work on the decision together. And remind yourself that although you love each other, couples are only of "one mind" in song lyrics and Gothic novels. You are two people and as long as your different concerns are not greater than your similar values and commitment, you will be able to move forward together to be a family.