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Empty Arms, Broken Marriage? Infertility and Divorce

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

As just about anyone who’s been through the rollercoaster of infertility treatment is likely to tell you, the process can be very difficult, invoking feelings of grief, frustration, loss of control, and low self-esteem. Couples may have to deal with awkward questions, family pressure, unpleasant or embarrassing medical procedures, and financial stress. Some people experience anxiety and depression symptoms. On top of it all, there’s no guarantee that any of the treatments will bring about the desired end result: a child.

How Does Infertility Affect Marriage?

What happens to couples who go through the stress and strain of this experience but do not eventually become pregnant and have a baby? Do they rebound back to normal, or could their relationships experience lasting effects? A large study of Danish couples recently looked at this question.

Over 47,000 women who had been referred to clinics for fertility treatment were tracked for at least 10 years to see if they stayed together with their spouse or live-in partner after treatment ended. The study looked both at women who already had a child, but were having trouble conceiving another, and those who had no other children. Overall, about 57% of women gave birth following their fertility evaluations, and 42% did not.

Couples Who Did Not Give Birth More Likely to Split

After looking at the data, the researchers found that women who did not give birth after evaluation were about three times more likely to divorce or split up from their partner in the following years than those who did have a baby. The risk of divorce or the relationship ending was highest in the first 5 years after the women were evaluated; after that, the chance of a split declined.

This pattern held true both for women with no children and those who’d had a child before, but were having difficulty conceiving again. However, it’s important to note this higher rate of divorce and relationship dissolution among women who’d sought treatment and not become pregnant (vs. those who sought treatment and had a baby) was hard to compare to that of the general population.

While there are many reasons why a marriage or relationship can falter or dissolve, there’s no question that infertility can create stress and sadness for couples. If you are experiencing infertility and find yourself feeling down, anxious, or depressed, or having difficulty relating to your partner, it may be time to consider joining a support group or seeing a counselor or other mental health professional. The resources in Further Reading may help.

(Photo credit: broken by bianca francesca. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading:

RESOLVE

Path2Parenthood

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: Infertility

Two of Us: Coping with Infertility in Your Marriage

References:

Cleveland Clinic. (2014). Infertility: Is it stress related? Retrieved from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Infertility_Is_it_Stress_Related