For men, infertility is often a private heartache. So much of the medical experience focuses on a woman and her body, yet a man is 50 percent of the equation. It can be easy for a man to take on a secondary role during infertility, in the background supporting their spouse through the experience. It can also be hard for men to find a way to share what is going on in their heart as they struggle with infertility, especially if it is male factor. Most men will not be talking about it with their buddies in the locker room or over a game of golf. Thus, through the process, a man’s needs and emotions can easily be forgotten or overlooked. Supporting your male partner through infertility is just as important as him finding ways to support you.
Traditionally, men feel and deal with their emotions differently than women. Women will use conversation as means of weaving the fabric of a relationship, while men are interested looking at the end result—cutting the cloth and making the product. Thus, when an issue is presented, men are often solution focused, searching in a “tool bag” for how to solve a problem. So while a woman may need to talk to work through her feelings and feel better, her partner may not.
Male Factor Infertility
Another layer is added when infertility is identified as “male factor.” Men will often struggle with a great deal of guilt, shame, and private anguish, not only for how it makes them feel about themselves (i.e., less of a man, impotent, etc.) but also, what they feel they are putting their wife through (i.e., infertility treatment, sadness, other’s thinking she is “the problem,” etc.) as a consequence. Men may have difficulty acknowledging these painful, shameful feelings, which can be hard for both partners to live with.
A friend once said that asking her husband to talk about a problem or feeling was like asking him to chew ground glass. She learned quickly that when she saw her husband struggling, she needed to help him in a way that suited him, not her. While men may have differences in the way they deal with their feelings, they still have feelings, and finding creative ways to support your husband through infertility is important.
Click to watch Facebook Live video featuring Male Fertility Specialist, Paul Shin, M.D., on how to deal with male factor infertility as a diagnosis.
Tips for Supporting Your Male Partner through Infertility
Go out and do something.
While talking may help you, doing something physically active may help him. Arrange an outing with friends, encourage him to go hit some golf or tennis balls, or send him to a happy hour with his buddies.
Figure out what soothes him.
Man caves are there for a reason and sometimes he may just need to retreat as a means of de-stressing. Observe his behaviors when he is distressed and try to help him identify what mellows him.
Practice the art of seduction.
Sexual intimacy may also be a way to help your man feel loved and comforted, so consider surprising him with a playful, unexpected sexual encounter.
Take him on a date.
Plan an activity or outing that you know he will love and make it happen without telling him what you are planning.
Go as a couple to one of our support groups.
While men seldom will seek out a support group on their own, many are willing to join their wife or partner in attending a meeting. These groups are a very normalizing experience to the feelings and experiences of infertility, and often help men greatly.
For more information about SGF’s psychological support services, supporting your male partner through infertility, or to schedule an appointment, please contact our New Patient Center at 1-877-971-7755.
About the Author:
Sharon Covington, MSW, LCSW-C, Director of Psychological Support Services at Shady Grove Fertility is a licensed clinical social worker in Maryland and a Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work with over 40 years of experience as a psychotherapist. An internationally recognized leader on the psychological aspects of reproductive health, Mrs. Covington is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Associate Investigator in the Intramural Research Program on Reproductive and Adult Endocrinology at the National Institutes of Health. She recently edited and authored Fertility Counseling: Clinical guide and Case Studies, and is the co-author and editor of the classic text Infertility Counseling: A Comprehensive handbook of Clinicians.