How Infertility and Stress Are Linked (And What to Do)


The impact of stress on couples undergoing infertility treatment is common, underestimated...and un-addressed

Stress and anxiety from infertility

The beginning

We find that when couples begin their journey of infertility treatment, there is a sense of apprehension, but underlying that uncertainty is a sense of hope. The big step has been taken. The decision to move into treatment made. The frustration of past months put on hold and a new path embarked upon.

But if pregnancy isn’t forthcoming, the familiar strain begins again. Only now, it’s coupled with a sense of stress, anxiety, and at times, loss of hope.

The human side of the infertility treatment experience

Although many clinics promote “emotional support available,” it is often reserved for a very small proportion of couples seeking infertility treatment (such as those undergoing in-vitro fertilization). And, that support is often further limited to one or two visits with the clinic psychologist – barely enough to make a dent in the emotional strain that has built up over months or years in a couples’ life.

Our work shows that by the time couples are a few months into treatment, their emotional resources – as individuals and as a couple – are pretty depleted.

Almost all couples experience:

  • High levels of stress and anxiety

  • Roller coaster emotions – up and down journeys of hope and despair with every monthly cycle

  • Less life enjoyment

  • Less life satisfaction – at work, home, and in relationships

  • Relationship strain (e.g., more frequent arguments, irritability)

  • Inability to support and console one another

  • Hesitancy to reach out to family and friends for support for fear they won’t understand and the embarrassment of revealing their challenges…leading to a sense of isolation

  • Fear and worry about whether a pregnancy will occur before the financial resources run out

Did you catch that? Almost all couples….

In fact, it is the rare couple that does not experience some measure of “the human side” of the infertility treatment experience.

The reality

The reality is that undergoing infertility treatment is one of the toughest things a couple can go through. The pressure, uncertainty, emotional strain, and high financial cost are akin to the most serious medical issues. Yet, unlike other serious health issues, most couples face this experience in isolation and without support. And while that may be okay at the beginning, it’s not a sustainable journey. And by the way – it doesn’t matter what kind of infertility treatment you are undergoing. Couples experience the same challenges.

What you can do

If this resonates with you or someone you know, here some things that you can do:

1. Recognize that infertility treatment always comes with an emotional cost. It is the norm – not the exception.

2. Understand that the vast majority of couples experience tension, and this ranges from mild irritability to difficult and unresolved conflict. Again – this is the norm and not the exception. Put aside the guilt and belief that you are alone and less-than because you and your partner experience conflict because it is much more common than you think.

3. Be intentional about managing the stress and relationship strain that inevitably accompany infertility treatment. It isn’t business as usual in your relationship. It will take more time and effort. Some ideas for taking care of your relationship are:

  1. Take time for a date night

  2. Be extra-patient and extra-kind with each other

  3. When you start to get irritable with each other, hug. Physical touch does wonders for defusing high emotions and reconnecting emotionally

  4. Remind each other how tough this experience is – and how you’ll walk through it together

I truly hope that this article has been valuable for you and that you realize that you are not alone.

For more support, join our empathetic community, chat with an emotional support listener, or start online therapy today.


Dawn Kingston, RN, PhD

Dr. Dawn Kingston is Canada’s leading expert on perinatal mental health and for over ten years she's been at the forefront of research on how to prevent postpartum depression.

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