Relationship Problems During Infertility or After Pregnancy Loss — How couples therapy can help you avoid distance and create new connection

You and your partner have been trying everything to make your dream of having a baby come true. Nothing seems to be going to plan, and worse, you’ve started having relationship problems too. Now you’re both in pain, but you feel isolated—and maybe even lonelier than when you were alone.

Negative thoughts and feelings swirl in your head about your body, yourself, your relationship. You’ve been reaching out to your partner, but even though you can see him, it feels like he’s not there. You’re alone on this raft inside your head.

Then you find yourself retreating too, or you start picking at your partner to get him to respond. And so begins the negative cycle.

He either pulls deeper into work, games, social media, or another distraction, or he fights back.

You feel more and more alone but desperate to reach him.

In the end, the actions each of you takes push the other person further away.

There are any number of reasons a partner may become emotionally unavailable, but sometimes the challenges and traumas of infertility and pregnancy loss can make it seem even harder to reconnect.

The good news is, couples therapy is an effective strategy for couples struggling with relationship problems during infertility or after pregnancy loss.

Why Being Emotionally Unavailable Causes Relationship Problems

When one partner is emotionally unavailable, it leaves the other partner feeling like they’re just cohabitating with someone rather than moving through life as partners and lovers.

Partners face struggles like infertility and pregnancy loss together. They provide support in the form of a listening ear, a warm hug, and a comforting presence.

Research has shown that positive relationships are the best buffer to negative emotions and a way to cope with physical sensations of pain (Coan et al., 2006; Greenman & Johnson, 2012).

If one partner is unable to provide these types of comfort to the other, they drift apart, out of reach and the safety and comfort of the relationship.

How to Know if Your Partner is Emotionally Unavailable

Partners who are emotionally absent make you feel like something else is always more important than you. It might be work, their phone, or social media, and their attention can’t be pulled away from whatever that thing, task, or interest is.

For some partners, work is the biggest distraction. They seem to be staying at the job longer and longer hours, or they come home only to retreat into their study and work more. You try to talk to your partner during dinner and you can see his glazed eyes—he’s still mentally at work.

Other partners can’t seem to resist the pull of technology. They might be permanently attached to their cell phone, scrolling through nothing even while they’re face to face with you. They might spend all their free time gaming or posting the next thought or comment on social media.

The biggest indicator to know if your partner is emotionally unavailable is the disconnected and lonely feeling you have when you’re with them. Your attempts to engage them in conversation or physical affection aren’t working. You feel alone despite being in the same room.

How Infertility and Pregnancy Loss May Lead to Emotionally Unavailable Partners

Emotional absence can create relationship problems at any point on a couple’s journey. However, it can feel especially hurtful and desperate during the emotionally turbulent period of infertility or pregnancy loss.

Unfortunately, pregnancy loss and infertility can also contribute to partners becoming emotionally unavailable in the first place.

Emotional Absence and Infertility

Especially if you are dealing with male-factor infertility, your male partner may have withdrawn into his shell. It seems like he doesn’t want to talk and spends all his time with his friends.

You might notice he hints at feeling ashamed for what he thinks of as “not being a real man.” But he tries to hide it, and he can’t turn to you and share his pain and insecurities.

He may even push you away. 

In the end, you feel alone and frustrated. You know he’s struggling but you can’t reach him. And he’s not able to be there for you.

Emotional Absence and Pregnancy Loss

Your partner was so excited to be carrying your baby. After losing the pregnancy, grief struck her harder than you imagined possible. You want to support her, but she’s so sad and overwhelmed that she can’t even talk about it.

Now she says she wants to be alone and doesn’t want to see anyone. 

She says things that hint at her feeling she’s “not a real woman” if she can’t have a child. It’s like she can’t look you in the eyes, or feels she’s failed you as a wife.

You can sense that she feels broken inside, but she keeps her sadness and pain to herself and you can’t reach her.  Wanting to help isn’t enough if you don’t know how.

You feel alone and frustrated.

Resolving Relationship Problems that Stem from Emotional Unavailability

In all of these scenarios with an emotionally absent partner, each partner is using what they can to cope with difficult emotions. For some, it is technology, for others work, and for some it’s simply withdrawing into silence.

But all of these coping strategies leave the other partner alone, unsupported, and confused. This can lead to distancing or conflict—any number of relationship problems.

Fortunately, there are strategies that can help the two of you work together to cope. One of those is couples therapy.

Couples Therapy for Resolving Relationship Problems

One of the most targeted types of couples therapy is EFT, or Emotionally Focused Therapy. It is an evidence-based practice developed by Dr. Sue Johnson who also wrote the books Love Sense (2014) and Hold Me Tight (2008). Over the last thirty years, EFT has helped countless couples of all ages, ethnicities, religions, and genders rebuild connection.

EFT has also been studied specifically in couples going through infertility. In one 2015 study, researchers found that ten sessions of EFT counseling had a definitive positive effect on couples’ satisfaction with their relationships (Najafi et al., 2015). It also had a positive impact on their physical and psychological health.

About Dr. Irena

If your partner is emotionally absent due to the strain of infertility or pregnancy loss, an EFT-trained couples therapist who also specializes in those issues can help. Dr. Irena is a certified EFT therapist who offers in-person couples therapy for those who live in Houston and online therapy for those who live in Texas and New York. Call (281)267-1742 or email [email protected] for a free 10-minute phone consultation.

References

Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H. S., & Davidson, R. J. (2006). Lending a hand: social regulation of the neural response to threat. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1032-1039. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01832.x

Greenman, P. S., & Johnson, S. M. (2012). United We Stand: Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. J. Clin. Psychology: In Session, 68, 561-569.

Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight. Little, Brown Spark.

Johnson, S. (2014). Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. Little, Brown Spark.

Najafi, M., Soleimani, A. A., Ahmadi, K., Javidi, N., & Kamkar, E. H. (2015). The Effectiveness of Emotionally Focused Therapy on Enhancing Marital Adjustment and Quality of Life among Infertile Couples with Marital Conflicts. International Journal of Fertility and Sterility, 9(2), 238-246. https://doi.org/10.22074/ijfs.2015.4245

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