Tips for navigating conflicts in your relationship – how to deal with resentment or rejection.Mar 21, 2022
Relationships are tricky at the best of times, but add infertility into the mix, and it can become a real test of your commitment to each other.
You either feel completely supported, or you feel like you’re alone on this journey. Of course, there are varying shades of grey, however in my experience, most people fit squarely in one category or the other.
If you’re feeling completely alone and you are filled with resentment, I can tell you that it isn’t just you. If sex has become a source of stress, pain, failure, and rejection, you are definitely not alone. It’s not because you’re doing it wrong, it’s because this is a f*cking hard journey, and I’d be surprised if it isn’t having an impact on your relationship.
I’m going to share with you some strategies you can use to reduce the resentment and conflict you’re having, so you feel a little more supported, a little lighter (because resentment and anger are heavy emotions to carry) and a little more in control. Hopefully it will also help you understand WHY you’re feeling this way too.
Let’s start with sex and intimacy. I have, shall we say…..an intimate knowledge of this one. You see, my husband and I started trying to have a baby on our honeymoon. At first it was fun and exhilarating. But the longer it took, the harder (or not - excuse the pun), it became. After six months of marriage, our sex life was in tatters. Sex was no longer a source of fun, connection and pleasure. It was a constant reminder of failure and disappointment month after month. We struggled.
And then my husband started resisting. I was basically begging him to have sex with me, which made me feel desperate. Of course, I took it personally – and how could I not? It felt like rejection and triggered a whole lot of insecurities. I had been cheated on in my previous relationship, which really rocked me. So now this felt like I wasn’t wanted, yet again. It didn’t feel good.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that my husband was also struggling. And I didn’t know he was having a hard time, because he looked like he was dealing with it just fine. In fact, our fertility struggles didn’t seem to be bothering him too much at all.
And I hear this all the time too. It feels like you’re going through this by yourself. It feels like they don’t care, because they seem to be functioning just fine. Which makes you feel even worse, because then you begin to question what’s wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with you, this is completely normal. And here are some tips to help you work your way through the heavy emotions of resentment, anger and jealousy in your relationship.
ACCEPTANCE & UNDERSTANDING THAT WE ARE DIFFERENT.
It’s true that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Our brains process and operate in a completely different way. This is not my theory – if you want to go to the source, I recommend you watch A Tale of Two Brains, by Mark Gungor. It’s enlightening, entertaining, and definitely rings true for me.
In addition to that, more often than not, society tells men from childhood that they need to be brave, and that they need to strong. Their role is the provider and the fixer, and as a result, they feel the need to put on a brave face for us – which means that they don’t talk about how they’re feeling either.
We are also having a different experience. While we are both on the same journey, we aren’t. Because our role and our perspective are very different.
As a woman, our role is emotional AND physical AND it’s constant. We are the ones monitoring our cycle, and if you’re going through IVF, we are the ones organizing the appointments, and injecting ourselves in the stomach. There is no escape from it. And because of that, we can feel resentment. Why are we the ones who are having to put ourselves through this? We are a complete mess, we’re googling like crazy, no longer drinking alcohol, we’ve changed our diet, drinking horrible fertility teas, and being completely consumed, mind, body and soul.
Then we look over to our partners, and there they are, sitting on the couch (sorry – this is a gross generalization, however you get my drift) or going out with their mates, having a lovely time. It’s infuriating. And then that anger turns to jealousy.
We see our partner’s stoicism as uncaring, unfeeling and unsupportive.
Understanding and accepting that we are different and are therefore having a different experience is the first step. Also understanding that their outward appearance, may not accurately reflect what is going on inside, is also important.
Never assume you know what is going. They are dealing with things in their own way. Or maybe, they just aren’t dealing with things at all. Perhaps they’re in denial. Whatever it is, I promise that their reaction is about them, not you. AND…..your reaction is about you, not them, which leads onto…….
BLAME – OWNING OUR OWN SHIT.
When we see our partner seemingly unaffected, our automatic reaction is to bring him into our pain/anger bubble. If they’re not hurting, we’ll try to drag them down too. Which never ends well, and only serves to make us feel even worse. Because now we feel like a shitty partner too.
It’s easy to displace our own emotions onto our partner.
A lot of the time, our frustration is based on our own insecurities (just like my frustration with sex, was based on my own insecurities and trust issues). We project onto our partners, our own fears. We already think we’re crazy. Because that voice inside our head tells us that we’re horrible - because we can’t be happy for our best friend or sister who is pregnant, or it tells us that we’re weak when we find ourselves running to the bathroom at work when a work colleague comes in with their newborn baby.
And then when our partner shows confusion about why you can’t be happy for others, or when they even just make a facial expression…... it triggers that horrible voice you’ve been hearing on repeat, and all of a sudden, we explode, and all of our insecurities, the standing argument you have in your head about being weak, or horrible comes to the surface. That facial expression just confirmed your fears. And now we have a target for all of the confusion and rage. And that target is our partner. We shift to BLAME mode.
We blame him because he doesn't feel as broken and devastated as us or understand everything we are going through. We blame him because he doesn’t want to talk about it and doesn’t seem to care about it or want this as much. We blame him for how shitty we feel. We blame him because we are the ones carrying all the stress and grief on our own.
But none of this is our partner’s fault. It’s not our fault either. And displacing our anger and frustration on others, may help us feel strong and like we have an outlet for our rage. But it doesn’t help in the long run.
I love that quote - The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. So, yes, this advice may annoy you a little.
It all starts with us. We have to own our own shit. The truth is that you resent the fact that YOU are struggling. If you weren’t at rock bottom, you wouldn’t be angry that other people are happy. And the thing I learned on this journey is that when you are at rock bottom, other people’s happiness can make us feel worse, because it shows us how deep we are. The gap between us and them is a great divide. And we feel like we need to put on a façade, or that we’re doing it wrong.
Instead of displacing your anger and frustration, own it. And do something about it.
Yes, I’m telling you to do more work. And yes, it is frustrating that you have to do the work when others don’t. But the work I’m referring to is about develop coping skills…..for life. These aren’t just necessary for this journey you’re on, you will be able to use these skills now, with your work, through motherhood, but most of all, in your relationship. Because there will always be bumps in the road. Just when you think you’re out of that rut, there will always be something that happens to drive you back down.
And developing coping skills and owning your own thoughts, feelings and emotions and working through them, will help you bounce back a lot easier.
Focus on what you can control. Focus on working on you. Not trying to change your partner or the world around you (because you can’t).
Do the work on you so you can have more helpful discussions and experiences together.
LEARN HOW TO COMMUNICATE PROPERLY
It’s hard to talk to our partners about this, and can often times, lead to conflict and arguments. So how do you communicate in a way that is helpful?
Before you enter into a discussion, ask yourself – what am I trying to achieve from this conversation? Are you trying to change their reactions? If so, you can’t. Are you trying to make them feel the same way you are? Once again – you won’t (refer to the first point). Are you trying to justify your emotions and reactions? If so, you don’t need to – refer to point 2 above. But if you’re trying to explain how you feel…….then it’s a big YES.
It takes a LOT of emotional restraint to be able to have a conversation about our fertility struggles without getting emotional, right?!
The issue is that we’re in our own heads so much, that we forget that they aren’t. And they have no idea what we’re going through. Try to explain how it feels without the need to justify your reactions. When we get into a defensive mode, all rationale goes out the window. We’re responding from a highly emotional state (which is completely understandable), but because of that, our partner can tend to shut down. I don’t know about you, but when I talk to my partner when I’m angry, or overly emotional in trying to get my point across, I can see him shut down before my eyes. Yep, that little flicker goes out.
So, write him a letter. Not only is it a great way to process and understand how you’re actually feeling yourself, but it’s a sure fire way that you are going to say what you want, and in the way you want to. It takes the pressure off you to get it right. Because I don’t know about you, but when my emotions are high, my intelligence is extremely low. I start repeating myself, I say things that I wouldn’t normally say, I say hurtful things.
Avoid leading with YOU statements i.e. YOU made me feel….. or YOU did this…..It puts them on defensive mode. And when they’re feeling defensive, they can’t process the information you’re providing them.
Instead, use I AM statements. I AM feeling …….. etc. It’s based on fact, not assumption, and it isn’t as triggering.
LIGHTEN THE LOAD OF OVERWHELM.
For me, resentment always bubbles to the surface when I’m feeling overwhelmed. When I’m running around and my husband is sitting on the couch, I see red. But if I’m feeling calm, and he’s on the couch, it’s (kinda) ok.
Let’s work on the overwhelm, which is the source of the problem. Yes, as I said before, this starts with you. Give your partner some things to do. Give them actions. Unfortunately, you may need to ask, because if you’re waiting for them to offer to help, you may be waiting a while (yes, I apologize to the partners out there who are proactive, I am once again generalizing).
Look at ways your spouse is trying to support you, and build on that. What can they do? It could be taking over the laundry, paying your bills. Write down a list of all the things you currently take care of (yes, it may take a while), and circle the things you’d like to offload.
Start with I NEED statements.
I NEED… help around the house / a hug / for you to listen to me and not try to fix me.
SEX AND INTIMACY.
The first step in rebuilding your sex life is recognizing that this is not about you personally. It may feel personal, but it’s not.
Next, it is important to have the conversation about it, using the tips above.
And then it’s about relearning HOW sex can become fun again.
I wrote a separate blog with some suggestions on this that you can read HERE.
CONNECTING OUTSIDE INFERTILITY.
It’s hard to find that connection when all your conversations surround fertility, right?
So, try to rebuild your relationship. Organize dinner and date nights where you’re not allowed to talk about any fertility related issues. It may seem awkward at first, because it takes up so much of your life. What did you do for fun before you started trying to conceive? When you first met and were in dating mode, what did you do?
Try to laugh again.
This is such a tough journey, and it’s so easy to go our separate ways and feel completely alone. But you’re not alone, you’re merely experiencing it differently.
Implementing some small tweaks and changes can help you start to rebuild and release the resentment that is bubbling inside you. It’s not easy.
I know that you want to blame someone. But this is no one’s fault.
You deserve to feel supported on this journey.
p.s. if you are a man and you are reading this, you may be a little insulted. For that I am truly sorry. I realise I have assumed and generalized a lot here. However, I receive emails from distraught women all the time regarding this very issue. So, while this may not apply to you personally, it does apply to them.
Would you like to know more about how you can work with me, so you can get back control of your life and start moving forward? My 1:1 coaching program is packed with information, tools and support. Find out how you can get on the wait list now.
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