The Impact of Infertility Stress on Couples’ Mental Health

By Dawn Kingston

The impact of stress on couples undergoing infertility treatment is common, underestimated and unaddressed.

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 fertilisation). 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 couple’s 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 
  • Rollercoaster 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. 

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