Shutting down and withdrawing is a common response. T his occurs when one or both members of the couple turn away from rather than towards eachother. This often occurs when there is a protracted struggle with infertility. At first, as with Emma and Jonathan, the couple is united in their fight. After a prolonged struggle, individuals often turn inward to deal with their pain and hopelessness. This causes an avalanche of problems for both the withdrawn individual and the couple itself. Withdrawing by stuffing feelings down can lead to clinical depression and anxiety. Turning away from one’s partner and one’s support system eliminates many potential sources of help which is dearly needed during this intense struggle. Emma is a classic example of this response pattern. She has withdrawn and turned inward and is exhibiting symptoms of depression. Additionally, she has turned away from Jonathan, which has resulted in both parties feeling alone and abandoned.
Denial and resistance is another common response pattern. Sometimes individuals take to denying or minimizing the severity of the problem and the accompanying feelings. This reaction allows the person engaging in denial to avoid really sitting with the sense of hopelessness and helplessness they are likely experiencing. This can leave the other half of the couple feeling quite isolated and alone in their struggle. Jonathan appears to be minimizing the severity of the situation and Emma’s feelings by continuing to suggest that positive thinking and time will fix the problem. His denial of the gravity of the situation is making Emma feel very alone. In turn, Emma’s lack of positivity is causing Jonathan to feel completely powerless.
So how can this couple and others like them be helped?
First, it is critical that a couple in this state seek the assistance of a professional therapist who specializes in the treatment of individuals and couples dealing with fertility. Once this help is found, the following issues must be explored and treated:
1. Crises Management
The crises must be the first order of business. In this context, a crises means a psychological crises. Both individuals must be assessed for depression and anxiety. If they are diagnosed with a severe form of one or both, treatment must be immediately implemented. Treatment of such a crises includes an evaluation for psyhotropic medications with a psychiatrist, multiple therapy sessions per week, and the mobilization of a support system.
2. Co-morbid disorders
Both members of the couple should be assessed for any psychological issues/disturbances that have emerged or been exacerbated since the infertility struggle. Such issues could include things like: sleep disturbances, disruption in eating patterns, use or increase in use of drugs or alchohol. If any of these issues are problems are identified, they must be immediately addressed by the treating therapist.
3. Grief counseling