Saturday, May 10, 2014

Seven Ways a Husband can Support a Wife During Infertility #2

For part one click here.

2.) Be a man unafraid of emotions – Besides prayer, this task is probably the most difficult thing for us men to do, which is why I am giving it considerable attention here. I urge you to go deeper into your wife's emotions, rather than running away or trying to suppress them. Sharing emotions is a necessary part of grieving well together. Remember you are in this together and you are not just two individuals fighting it on his or her own. So be willing both to share your emotions from time to time and to enter into your wife's emotions again and again even when you don't feel like it. Remember this advice from a great Catholic infertility speaker Kevin Wells, “The saint is one who does the opposite of how he feels.” Now, he is not suggesting that if we feel like sharing our emotions or do a good deed, then we don't do it or something ridiculous like that. No, he is suggesting that in times when you may feel like it is gut-wrenching hard to do x and you know x is good, then do it anyways. Listening to your wife's emotions is one of those instances to stress this motto because as men we want to run far away from feelings, especially sad feelings. Don't we try to avoid them at all costs? Be honest here! Well we need to stop doing this escape act and be willing to enter into emotions.

Also, get it out of your head that it is not okay or not normal for your wife to be sad so often in regard to infertility. If you think this (as I have), then it is important to remember that this false belief is an example of us being more out of touch with the grief because our bodies are less involved in the fertility process. In reality it is completely natural for our wives to be sad month to month as infertility is a suffering that is cyclical with each woman's monthly cycle. So it is a grief that occurs every month and it should be expected that she gets sad every month. Therefore, given the frequency of this cyclical suffering, she really needs to be able to express this cross to you and we should not explain it away as 'unnatural' or scoff at its frequency. It is all part of the cyclical grieving process of infertility to express her sadness many times on multiple and varied occasions.

But perhaps as a good Christian you say, “aren't we supposed to be grateful?” Yes, but there is such a thing as being both grateful and mourning at the same time. One is not ungrateful just because they are mourning. In fact, Christ didn't just instruct us to give thanks to the Father at all times for all good things, but also to mourn. Remember the beatitude? “Blessed are those who mourn.” Why are we blessed when we mourn? Because mourning is both a form of grateful love and an opening oneself up to healing. We will never get healing without sharing our pain with another and being listened to and loved in return. It is, therefore, tragic that many wives feel alone and abandoned by their husbands when it comes to emotions regarding suffering of any sort. Not only do they feel isolated, but also their path to healing is stifled by our fear of emotions. Therefore, do not see your wife's emotions as a burden to be avoided, but instead as an asset for your relationship. An asset because it is part of the healing, a healing that you can help bring about by listening and responding compassionately. Her emotions are your opportunity for love and for accomplishing that one flesh unity you so desperately seek in your marriage in order to compensate for the suffering. It is, thus, a big mistake to run away from emotions and it creates even more unnecessary suffering.

Still, perhaps after all I have said, you may remain unconvinced. You may still think her feelings are “irrational” and “dangerous to the health of your relationship.” So you believe that your job as a man is to temper her emotions with some good old stoicism towards feelings. Usually, this strong conviction to do so comes out of a sincere desire to help our wives because we feel that they are doing some destructive things because of these feelings. So we want to fix the problem by getting rid of the root feelings that have led to the bad behavior. Also, we tell ourselves that it is a just desire to help our wives by getting rid of harmful behavior. I get it. I totally understand this perspective and I am sympathetic to it as I have admittedly thought this on many occasions too. However, the mistake here is two-fold. First, we should never stonewall, which is trying to suppress talk about emotions. This will just create more problems. Second, stonewalling is often the result of a double failure: a failure to distinguish between feelings and your wife's reaction to feelings; and a failure to recognize how important listening and expressive sharing are to a marriage. Let me explain these two points in more detail as it was illuminating for me.

First, feelings are just feelings. They are not wrong or right and as such they need to have an outlet. They need to be shared with your spouse in a constructive way. If they aren't, then it will cause some serious explosions in anger, criticism, and other unhealthy reactions listed below. It is these reactions to feelings that may very well be wrong and need to be addressed. So while you should always listen to your wife's emotions, you don't have to agree with all of her reactions in regard to these feelings (like excessive anger to the point where they scream or yell at you, disrespect including calling names or slamming objects, globalization of negativity that extends to questioning the relationship, isolating oneself from others or God, escapisms, criticism, self-pity, despair, blaming God for problems, entitlement/victim mentality, envy, jealousy, saying intentionally hurtful comments to others, etc.). These unhealthy reactions to feelings do need to be discussed and changed slowly.

Second, it is crucial to understand that before a husband gives any wisdom on how “to fix” his wife's reactions he must first listen to his wife and enter deeply into her emotions. Why? Because it may just be his own refusal to listen that has provoked or contributed to these problems. Often the solution to her problems is just listening because listening is loving praise. Listening to her emotions sends the message to her that “you are worth being listened to.” This in turn builds up her trust in you and her self-esteem. As her self-esteem and trust increases, her happiness increases. As her happiness increases, your happiness increases. As your collective happiness increases, then these unhealthy reactions will decrease. Eventually you will find that by just listening well to her she is able to deal with this cross of infertility in a lot better of a way because you have built up her love and self-esteem. Do you now see the importance of listening well? Yes, you can 'fix' the problem, and this 'fix' chiefly begins and ends with good listening. Who as men would have thought that the solution was the exact opposite of what we were doing?! Stunning.

For even more motivation, contemplate that Christ in the Gospels was constantly mentioned as just 'sitting down' with his disciples without any recorded testimonies of spoken exchanges or dialogues. Then the Gospel account, after what seems like a dramatic pause where a reader waits for discussion or words, simply moves on to other aspects of a particular scene as if it was completely normal to mention such a mundane fact (cf. John 6:3 or Matthew 9:10). I think one reason why we don't have written conversations here and only a mention of Christ 'sitting down' with his disciples was because Christ simply listened at those times. He, the perfect man, recognized the importance of simply listening to others, as a form of loving praise, before giving any subsequent teaching. Therefore, avoid all of those nasty reactions to feelings and learn how to listen well like Christ. Be content to just 'sit down.' If you don't know where to begin because this is so foreign, like it was to me initially, then I strongly encourage you to follow the Relationship Enhancement Model of Communication. My wife and I use this model and I think it has a great balance of accommodating men and women's differences when it comes to communication. But above all, be a man unafraid of emotions. Share your own emotions and share in her emotions. By doing so you will be on the path of healing, happiness, and love.


  1. Very well-put. I will definitely pass this on to my husband. When it comes to suffering/grieving, men and women are SO different. Thanks for shedding some light on those differences, and offering helpful tips on how best to bridge the gap.

  2. This is an excellent summary of why an ordered approach to emotions is essential to surviving infertility. As a psychotherapist, I am obviously very passionate about the realm of emotions and you've done such a great job articulating so many important ideas. I think men will be quite surprised if they step outside of their comfort zones and follow your advice. Their lives will be much easier in the long run! My own husband has done a virtual 180 with regard to emotions the past 7 months and it has brought us both so much healing. I went from feeling totally along on this road to feeling closer to him than I ever have. I am SO grateful for the work he's done to respect my emotions and step outside of his fear of my grief and pain. Thank you again for sharing this. And I have to add- couples can get help from a therapist if this is all too much for them. Without a healthy example growing up, it can be impossible to figure this all out without some help. Finding the right therapist is key though- there are lots of useless ones.

    1. feeling totally *alone* not along:-)

    2. Thank you for your testimony and your witness as a pyschotherapist. I couldn't agree with you any more that "an ordered approach to emotions" is essential for dealing with grief and just to have a good relationship in general. I also agree that finding a good therapist can really help. I am really grateful to good therapists. We know a good psychologist down here, Dr. K, and her advice has been invaluable. Also, tell your husband to keep up the good work! From one man to another I will testify that it is not easy but it is so important to again as you say "have an ordered approach to emotions." It really amazes me how much it has helped our relationship. I am so mad I didn't learn (or refused to learn) this approach to emotions (the relationship enhancement model) earlier! It would have saved me a lot of headaches. I pray your husband and you both continue to build that oneness you pledged on your wedding day! Praying for an end to the infertility too!

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