Infertility can assault a marriages and it is one of the toughest challenges a couple can face. One Danish study suggests that couples who are unable to conceive a child after years of trying are three times more likely to divorce or separate than couples who eventually succeeded.
Some infertile couples may stay married because they endure a common hardship together, drawing them closer. However, almost all couples that have faced infertility know the stress that it places on a marriage. Feelings of failure, inadequacy, despair, and anger are common reactions projected one spouse projects on the other. Women especially are prone to depression, low-self esteem, feelings of worthlessness and guilt following failed treatments, and as other research has shown, if one partner is suffering from depression, often marital satisfaction for both partners declines.
In a study from the Danish National Patient Registry and the Danish In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Registry, researchers in Denmark identified 47,515 women between 1990 and 2006 who were evaluated for or undergoing fertility treatments and followed each for an average of seven years. Their findings were published in the Danish journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.
By the time the study had concluded, 57 percent of the women had successfully given birth to a child while 43 percent had not. The researchers concluded that women who had not given birth were three times more likely to have split from their partner – which means “no longer living with the person with whom they had lived at the time of the fertility evaluation” – than the women who were able to conceive.
“Our findings suggest that not having a child after fertility treatment may adversely affect the duration of a relationship for couples with fertility issues, ” according to the lead author on the study.
These new findings may not come as a shock; the effect of infertility on relationships has been studied. According to a 2010 study, many couples were still grieving three years after failed IVF treatments.
“Most men and women were still processing and had not adapted to remaining childless, indicating the grieving process was unresolved,” wrote the authors, whose study was also published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.
Infertility was considered grounds for divorce at one time. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 10 percent of the population in childbearing years experiences some degree of infertility. Number of women ages 15-44 with impaired fecundity? (impaired ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term): 6.7 million, according to the CDC.
Couples experiencing infertility often suffer marital discord due to stress from several sources including the financial strain of invasive high tech infertility treatments that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and have no guarantee of success; the emotional strain – shame, guilt and inadequacy – that many men and women endure as they struggle with the inability to produce biological children; and the physical strain from treatments that involve hormone and other drug therapies that can cause fatigue, nausea, headaches, mood swings, weight gain and disruption of the sleep cycle.
In short, the frustration and resentment grows from years of failed attempts that can lead to irreparable damage to the emotional health of a marriage, especially for women undergoing IVF, who may suffer through multiple failed pregnancies.
While infertility is not technically grounds for divorce any longer in any of the jurisdictions, it might be the cause of many divorces across the United States. Moreover, undisclosed infertility discovered after the marriage can be grounds for an annulment.