In collaboration with Dr Camilla Rosan
Trying to have a baby is a major transition in any couple’s relationship, and it can undoubtedly place pressure on your relationship, with many people report feeling less happy in their relationship. You may find that within your relationship your intimacy decreases. Outside of couple relationships, your wider relationships with your family and friends can also become more fraught.
Experiencing fertility difficulties can have a profound effect on couple relationship quality, with differences in responses to the difficulties impacting the relationship further.
If you have a male partner, it’s important to recognise that many men also suffer from mental health problems during this time. Research suggests, for example, that around 5 to 10% of men experience depression during preconception and between a quarter and half of men with depressed partners, are also depressed themselves. There has been some interesting research looking at how men and women respond to difficulties conceiving. Men report that their greatest concern tends to be the well-being of their partner, but frequently cite fearing they might say the wrong thing, so commonly ‘withdraw’ or ‘avoid’ conversations around it. This lack of partner support and open communication, has been found to be a critical factor maintaining women’s increased emotional distress, and may further increase distance and conflict.
Below are a few tips of our top tips to maintain a healthy relationship while you are trying to conceive.
1.Take time to communicate
The way we communicate or connect with others can have a big impact on our relationships. Paying close attention to how well we’re communicating with our partner can help stop small disagreements turning into bigger problems.
It’s important to take the time to talk. This is true no matter what stage you are at in your relationship, but especially when you are trying to conceive as your relationship may be more fraught or tense than usual. Set aside time to talk when you will not be interrupted. Maybe go somewhere that you both find relaxing, maybe the park or a cafe.
Here are some tips to improve the quality of your communication:
- Take it in turns to talk and allow space for both of you to talk without interruption.
- Using ‘I feel’ statements, rather than ‘you…’ This takes ownership of your feelings rather than attacking, criticising or blaming your partner.
- Remember that communication isn’t all verbal. Think about your body language, and avoid closed or aggressive stances.
- If you’re talking about a difficult issue, put a limit on amount of time you talk about it. If you don’t come up with a solution within ten minutes, leave it and take some time to think about it separately. Agree a time when you will revisit the issue, then go and do something fun together.
- Consider writing letters to each other. This way you both can express yourself without being interrupted. Many couples have said that by writing, they are able to more clearly articulate their feelings and understand each others’ emotions.
Don’t be surprised if there isn’t an improvement straight away – good communication takes practice!
2. Be a good listener
We tend to think of communication as just being about expressing ourselves, but that’s really only half of it. It’s also just as important to be a good listener.
Being able to listen to your partner effectively means you’re able to better understand their perspective. It means you’re more likely to have constructive conversations where you both feel your point of view is being considered.
Being a good listener (also known as active listening) means fully focussing on what the other person is saying, and being aware when the mind wanders and bringing your attention fully back to the conversation. It can also help to repeat back to people what you heard them say, to make sure you are fully on the same page.
3. Get your relationship 5 a day!
Award winning relationship therapist Dr John Gottman made a key observation of couples who stayed together – that they have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in their relationships.
A positive interaction might be a thoughtful action, asking questions, showing empathy, a kind word, a hug, a gift, a shared joke, a romantic gesture. And a negative interaction could be a criticism, a disagreement, hurt feelings, anger and hostility etc.
Gottman says the balance is not equal because negative interactions have more power to damage your relationship. But Gottman also believes that the one negative interaction is just as important as the five positive in this ratio because conflict and arguments are also necessary to keep our relationships healthy and strong.
So to keep your relationship healthy, make sure that for every one negative interaction you have with your partner, you have five positive interactions. This will make your relationship more stable overall.
If you’re going through a difficult time with your relationship, try to park your differences for a while and put your focus on positive interactions. Here are some ideas:
- Plan a date night – go out for dinner, go to a museum, go to the movies
- Be thoughtful – has your partner had a stressful time recently? Could you do something to make them feel better? Perhaps you could make the dinner or just give them a hug.
- Show gratitude – the next time your partner does something you are grateful for, can you acknowledge it and say thank you?
- Have fun – laugh and joke with your partner.
- Show them that you love them – What about writing a love letter to your partner, or if that’s not your thing – send a nice text?
4. Express gratitude for your partner
Research finds that individuals who take time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
Gratitude helps you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack. And expressing gratitude to your partner can help you nurture your relationship. This doesn’t have to a big gesture – it can simply be taking the time to say you appreciate your partner or taking the time to thank them for something.
So the next time your partner does something you are grateful for, can you acknowledge it and say thank you?