How to Set Healthy Boundaries With Parents
When you were a child or teen, your parents set rules to protect you and help you learn independence. But now that you’re an adult, there’s been a shift. Roles look different. There is a need for different boundaries: boundaries set with your parents, not by them.
This is new territory for you and your parents.
You’re learning what it means to be self-sufficient, and your parents are finding out they’re no longer in control – to whatever extent they have been. Stress and tensions can rise quickly. Chances are, you’ve seen traits in your parents that may not be healthy. Or maybe you’ve simply decided to do things differently from your parents. There must be boundaries for your relationship to continue in a healthy way.
Without healthy boundaries, tension can easily build from things your parent may do, like:
- Frequent unexpected visits.
- Offering unsolicited advice about your relationships, social life, or career choices.
- Purchasing items for your home, personal life, and/or children without asking.
- Disregarding your opinions or choices and offering what they think is best for you.
This lack of boundaries can be frustrating. They may have the best intentions, but you must help them understand that you’re an adult. If you don’t address it, it may cause a rift between you and your parents. So now’s the time to set some boundaries. Addressing issues in the parent-adult child relationship leads to higher relationship quality.1
Here are some expert tips from therapists on how to set boundaries with your parents.
Remember the why of setting boundaries.2,3
Feeling anxious is normal because you love your parents and don’t want to hurt them. But remember, boundaries are essential for all types of healthy relationships. Without boundaries, there’s confusion and frustration. You are allowed to have your needs met, so practice self-compassion and remember that you’re doing this because you care about yourself. And you care about your relationship with your parents.
Seek outside advice if necessary.2
Approaching a difficult conversation with your parents can be scary. You may even need to seek professional help to prepare yourself for talking with them. A therapist can help you identify and address any toxic behaviors. If you recognize that your parents’ unhealthy behavior has caused poor boundaries, a therapist can help you and your parents resolve any deep relationship wounds.
Try to stay positive.2
This doesn’t need to be a fight between you and your parents. It may take time for them to accept what you’re saying and adjust their actions. However, if you stay positive, they may be more accepting of what you have to share. Help them understand that you love and respect them but that roles in the relationship have changed.
Have an open conversation.2
We all have a desire to be heard and understood. This goes for your parents as well. Approach the conversation with concern about how they’re doing. They may be lonely since you moved out. They may be concerned. Express your needs and wants by using “I” statements like “I feel like you’re…” No one likes being accused or blamed.
Be clear and concise.3
Before approaching a conversation about boundaries, ask yourself what is bothering you and why. If you have a clear understanding of your concerns, you’ll be better prepared to communicate them clearly. And when you’re ready to have the conversation, be respectful but direct about your desires.
→Instead of saying, “It’s really annoying when you drop by unexpectedly. Stop doing that,” try saying, “I appreciate that you want to come and visit, but I feel flustered when people drop by unannounced… Could you call before you come by?”
Show your gratitude for the care and concern they have for your life. Express that you recognize they want the best for you. Show them you value their presence and role in your life. You just have a desire for how they show up in your life to look a little different.
Know your limits.3
Be clear about where you draw the line. If your primary concern is that your parents frequently drop by unannounced, then be clear about what you’d like to happen. Maybe you have a busy schedule and a social life, and you’d prefer to spend time with them on the weekends only. If that’s best for you, there is nothing wrong with setting limits like this.
Be conscious of your feelings. You must do what is healthy for you.
Setting boundaries with your parents can be scary, but you can do this. Be clear, kind, and loving. You’ll be grateful that you addressed this issue, and your relationship will be better for it. Effective boundaries lay the ground for healthy, positive relationships.4
How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents (and Stick to Them)
Boundaries in Relationships and Stress
What To Do When Grandparents Undermine Your Parenting – First Things First
What to Do When You Disagree With the Ones You Love – First Things First
1Birditt, K.S., et al. (2009). “If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All”: Coping with Interpersonal Tensions in the Parent-Child Relationship During Adulthood. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016486
2Ertel, A. (2022, February 4). How to set boundaries with parents: A therapist’s guide. Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/setting-boundaries-with-parents/
3Mancao, A. (2020, March 25). 6 Steps to setting healthy boundaries with parents (and what that looks like). Mindbodygreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/setting-healthy-boundaries-with-parents/
4Buck, C.A. (2015). Establishing effective personal boundaries. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. https://www.vumc.org/health-wellness/news-resource-articles/establishing-effective-personal-boundaries
How to Keep Your Marriage Strong Over Summer Break
School’s out, and my kids are excited about a fun-filled summer. Mom and Dad… not as much. Don’t get me wrong; I love summertime. But summer schedules can be hectic when you’re juggling different camps, vacations, and activities. Sure, the school year is crazy busy, but at least it’s consistent. Summer schedules are a little more challenging. Are any other parents feeling the crunch?
Summertime can add more stress to your marriage as well. Focusing on our relationship can get lost in the frenzy if we aren’t careful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can keep your marriage strong over the summer, too.
Here are a few ways to get you started:
Date each other.
A regular date night is crucial to the health of your relationship. It can be so easy to fall into a routine in your relationship, especially when kids are in the picture. This is where date night comes in. Dating your mate takes a little more coordination if you have young children. If you don’t currently have a regular date night, now’s the time to start. Create a shared calendar on your phone (if you don’t already use one) and schedule one date night this month. Then flip to next month and plan another one. Keep it going. I mean it! Stop reading right now, and get those summer date nights on the calendar. I’ll wait…
Okay, now that you have dates scheduled… they are scheduled, right? Here are a few more ways to keep your marriage strong.
Make time for intimacy.
Before you put the calendars away, go ahead and schedule some time to get intimate. Wait a minute! Isn’t sex supposed to be spontaneous? Sure, but if you have little kids, you know the reality. Spontaneity is hard to come by. If you’re not intentional, it’s easy to let your sex life fall into the background. But your marriage needs sexual and physical intimacy. And what gets put on the calendar often gets done, am I right? So, decide how often and when and schedule it. Just to clarify, this is a conversation for the two of you. And don’t worry, just ’cause it’s scheduled doesn’t make it boring. [Read 3 Ways to Have Better Sex in Marriage.]
Share a hobby or activity.
Identify at least one common hobby or activity and make time to do that together. You may need to break out the calendar and schedule it depending on the activity. But there may be hobbies you can do at home while the kids play. This doesn’t have to be a family activity, but it can be if you both agree that you’ll enjoy it just as much.
As you’re going in different directions, getting the kids places, and working, it can be easy to spend less time talking as a couple. Carve out some time each day to check in with each other. Maybe it’s over coffee in the morning. Perhaps it’s 30 minutes outside together at the end of each workday.
When you check in on each other, give your spouse space to vent. If one of you is working from home while the kids are out of school, you may need an avenue to let go of stress. Give each other space to share what’s going on.
Show appreciation daily.
Nothing says love like appreciation, so don’t forget to show your appreciation to the one you share a life and home with. Here are some easy ways to show how much you appreciate your spouse:
- Send a text telling them how much they mean to you. (Bonus points if you’re specific about why you appreciate them.)
- Leave Post-it notes for them. If they leave for work, leave them in their bag or lunch. If your spouse stays home, hide notes somewhere they will find them throughout the day.
- Say it out loud and often. And say it in front of others, especially your kids.
- Give them a break (or at least a few hours) to do whatever they enjoy most.
Invest in your marriage.
Take an online course together. There are loads of resources to help strengthen your marriage during the summer or any other season. You can focus on intimacy, communication, parenting, or other topics. Investing in your marriage now strengthens it for the future.
Speak your spouse’s love language.
If the two of you have never taken Gary Chapman’s Love Languages assessment, now is the time. We all have a primary love language, and when someone speaks it to us, we feel loved and appreciated. We also usually express love using our primary language, so learning your spouse’s love language is crucial to helping them feel loved.
An easy way to keep your marriage strong is to simply hold hands. Holding hands releases endorphins, a mood-boosting chemical. It also releases oxytocin, making you feel more bonded to your spouse. And it’s a stress reliever, too.
Make this summer a great one for your marriage. Not because of a big trip, but because you both chose to be intentional and turn toward each other.
The Importance of MeaningLESS Conversations – First Things First
How to Talk About Sex in Marriage – First Things First
8 Ways To Care for Your Spouse’s Mental Health – First Things First
Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction
Walsh, C. M., Neff, L. A., & Gleason, M. (2017). The role of emotional capital during the early years of marriage: Why everyday moments matter. Journal of family psychology: Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 31(4), 513–519. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000277
Goldstein, P., Weissman-Fogel, I., Dumas, G., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2018). Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (11), E2528-E2537. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1703643115
How to Talk To Your Spouse About Being the Default Parent
The term “default parent” has become more popular in the last few years. Essentially, the default parent is responsible for most of their children’s emotional, physical, and logistical needs. If you and your spouse are parents, one of you is probably the default parent. And if you have to ask who it is, it probably isn’t you. The default parent carries most of the parenting load, which can be exhausting if you are overloaded with responsibilities.
Parenting may never truly be 50/50.
One of you may carry more responsibilities due to circumstances or a preference. What’s important is that the two of you agree on who will do what regarding parenting. Remember, first and foremost, you two are a team. Parenting takes a lot of time and energy, and it takes both of you working together.
So, fellow default parent, let’s have a quick chat. You’re probably exhausted and stressed out (to be honest, most parents are to some extent). You may feel unheard or neglected. You may be on the verge of burnout. And you may even be resentful toward your spouse. All of this can hurt your relationship. I don’t want your relationship to suffer.
It’s time to talk to your spouse about being the default parent. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Awareness is the first step toward change. You recognize you’re carrying most parenting responsibilities, but it doesn’t have to be overbearing. Let the following statement sink in: “Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.”
Remember that communication is key.
Good communication truly is the foundation of many solutions in a relationship. If we don’t talk to each other, how can we expect our relationship to grow and thrive? Schedule a time with your spouse to sit down and discuss what parenting looks like in your marriage.
As you have this conversation, you’ll want to keep a few do’s and don’ts in mind:
DON’T talk about this when you’re frustrated.
DO set aside a time with no distractions.
DON’T accuse or put all the blame on them.
DO express how you feel using “I” statements.
DON’T interrupt when your spouse responds.
DO listen to understand.
DON’T jump to conclusions about how you became the default parent.
DO seek to understand your spouse’s viewpoint.
Most importantly, be respectful with your spouse. Remember, marriage is a partnership, and you’re on the same team.
Write it down.
Make a list of everything you do to keep the house and family operating. Ask your spouse to write down everything they do, too. Don’t write it for them. You may think you know what they do and don’t do, but assuming isn’t helpful. After you’ve written it down, have a conversation about how best to address the imbalance.
Acknowledge what you both do in parenting and why it’s important.
As parents, it’s valuable to acknowledge what you both bring to the table. Stress the importance of what you both do. Even if you think your spouse doesn’t do enough when it comes to parenting, show appreciation for what they do for the family.
Reset (or set) expectations for who will do what.
Maybe you became the default parent because of circumstances. Maybe you stayed home with your newborn, then took on all the responsibilities and never stopped. Perhaps you have a more flexible schedule and can absorb more responsibilities. Maybe being the default parent was a conscious choice that you and your spouse discussed. Regardless of how you got here, it’s time to reset expectations.
Own the responsibilities you take on, and only those.
Trust that your spouse will take care of what they have agreed to be responsible for. They don’t need to be micromanaged or reminded constantly. Instead, encourage them and let them know you appreciate what they own. If it’s their responsibility, it’s their responsibility. I know people get frustrated when they ask me to do something and I respond by saying, “Let me check with my wife.” But she keeps the family calendar. I’m conscious of not committing us to something without checking with her first.
This shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation, either. Circumstances will change, and every stage of parenting brings on new challenges and responsibilities. Revisit this conversation often to check in with and check on each other. You’re a team, and your marriage is healthier when you move in the same direction.
Modern Marriage – Till Chores do Us Part – Today’s Parent
Roskam et al. (2022). Gender Equality and Maternal Burnout: A 40-Country Study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 53(2), 157-178.
Managing Expectations for Mother’s Day
Have you ever asked your spouse what they plan on doing for you on Mother’s Day? Raise your hand if they’ve replied:
Shoot… Is that THIS weekend?
Whatever you want to do, Babe.
Umm… nothing. You’re not my mom.
All wrong answers. That sinking feeling of being unappreciated, taken for granted and forgotten drowns out any last-minute plans they may try to scramble together. The damage has been done.
Your expectations to be thought of and celebrated have been shattered to dust. And if this isn’t the first, second, or third offense, you may even feel numb to it now. Disappointment is inevitable. No point in getting your hopes up, right?
You’ve probably figured out by now that motherhood is a thankless job. It’s not just what you do – it becomes who you are. It’s like breathing… and it’s natural, instinctual, automatic. But it’s also grueling, emotional and exhausting. So having your family acknowledge all that hard work AND celebrate it one day out of the entire year is not asking for too much.
But what trips up most couples is actually that – the ASKING part. “What are you going to do for me?” is a loaded question if you already have unspoken expectations of what you want.
But shouldn’t my spouse care enough to look at a calendar and plan ahead? Shouldn’t they know me well enough to know what I’d want to do/how I’d like to be celebrated? Shouldn’t they realize that even though I’m not THEIR mother, I’m a mother, and that’s what this holiday is all about?!
First, that’s a lot of shoulding… So let’s break down some expectation barriers together so we can all win on Mother’s Day.
Barrier #1: You expect your spouse to think and act like you.
It’s easy to believe that everyone (including your spouse) sees the world the way you do. This sets you up for some pretty unrealistic expectations and
disappointment. You want your spouse to magically know and do exactly what you would do (and probably are doing for your own mother). Maybe you expect them to…
- Speak the same love language as you. For example: Your spouse may think a signed card shows they care, while you long for a handwritten, thoughtful love letter. Or they may think flowers are the universal language of love, but you find them impractical and a waste of money. Or they may tell you to take the “day-off” and go get a massage or do your nails or whatever you want… but your love language is Quality Time, and you want to celebrate with your family (without any of the normal responsibilities of motherhood…)
- Have the same skills as you. For example: Your spouse is a spontaneous, in-the-moment kind of person. They don’t enjoy planning. So they wait ‘til the last minute to figure out what to do. But this seems lazy or unthoughtful to you (a planner) when really, it’s their natural temperament. Or they are very logical, and thinking of creative ways to show love is like speaking a foreign language to them. So they get you a super practical gift like new towels or a car charger when you want something meaningful.
Break down the barrier by realizing that your spouse is a unique individual.
They are not YOU. And that’s a good thing! Our differences make us stronger. Talk about your differences. You most likely are speaking different love languages, so discover what each other’s love language is and try to speak it fluently and frequently. If you already know each other’s love languages, a simple reminder can go a long way!
Barrier #2: You expect your spouse to read your mind.
Whether you’ve been together for 3 years or 30… your spouse cannot read your mind. We joke about this – but when was the last time you’ve thought or said, “You should know what I like! I’ve only told you 1 million times!”? Been there, said that way too often.
The real issue here is that you long to feel seen, understood, and known deeply. This requires intentionally working on your emotional intimacy, which is an ongoing process of growing in your understanding of each other’s feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, motivations, etc. You know what you want and need. But it changes over time and throughout different seasons of life.
Break down the barrier by telling your spouse exactly what you’d like for Mother’s Day and why it’s so important to you.
Sharing what would make you feel the most acknowledged, valued and celebrated doesn’t diminish your spouse’s effort; it encourages it. The more you tell your spouse how you feel loved the most and why, the more your spouse has the chance to love you in that way… and the deeper your emotional intimacy will grow.1 This doesn’t mean you have to plan the whole day. You just have to clearly communicate what you want or need. Leave the little details up to your spouse!
Barrier #3: You expect your spouse to be perfect.
No matter how hard your spouse tries, they’ll never be perfect. Expecting perfection sets unrealistic standards that will make them believe they aren’t good enough. It’ll push them away, and you’ll end up experiencing the opposite of what you wanted to feel.
Break down the barrier by realizing that your expectations may be unrealistic.
Take a moment. See if maybe you’re setting the bar too high so that it feels out of reach to your spouse. Have you criticized their efforts in the past? If you have, there’s a good chance they don’t want to fail again (and maybe they think they can’t fail if they don’t even try…). Think about what your spouse is good at and enjoys doing – that still fills your love tank. Telling them exactly how you’d feel loved and appreciated will set them up for success and set your expectations at a realistic level.
So this year, instead of asking what your spouse will do, try telling them what you’d like to do first.
Take the pressure off of them to decode your side-eye sighs and do your spouse a favor:
- Spell it out.
- Be clear and specific before any resentment starts to build. If you’re a planner, talk about it a couple of weeks in advance.
- If you like surprises, give your spouse a few options for things you’d like to do and let them choose!
You DESERVE to be celebrated, Mama. Mother’s Day is a great opportunity for your husband and family to do that. So be honest and open about what would make you feel appreciated and loved.
1McNulty, J.K., et al. (2004). Positive Expectations in the Early Years of Marriage: Should Couples Expect the Best or Brace for the Worst?
How To Support A Friend Experiencing Infertility
Imagine for a minute that you have just received a life-altering diagnosis*. The plans for your future have been shattered. The treatments you choose can leave you with debilitating migraines, nausea, bruising, mood swings, and extreme fatigue. Your new reality consumes your every waking moment. No one knows how to respond, so they tiptoe around your diagnosis. You can’t concentrate at work. Your friendships and marriage start to suffer. You feel alone, grieving the life you thought you’d have. This is what your friend who is experiencing infertility is going through. And it’s not an exaggeration. According to the National Survey of Family Growth conducted by the CDC, 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. And 7.4 million women, or 11.9% of women, have received infertility services in their lifetime.
You want to be supportive and empathic. You want to help your struggling friend in any way possible. But you have no words. You have no experience. In fact, you may have children of your own already and feel slightly guilty to bring them around or talk about them now. Or you may be pregnant and afraid of being a constant reminder to your friend of what they don’t have yet. You’ve entered into a delicate predicament where you don’t know what to do or how to act.
First and foremost, kudos to you. For realizing that you may not have all the answers. For acknowledging that this situation is worth researching and putting the work into. Learning how to best support your friend during this time takes courage and vulnerability.
Talking about such an intimate detail of a relationship isn’t always something people feel comfortable doing in the first place. Everyone has a different comfort level with what they are willing to share. Your friend may tell you right away that they’re struggling to conceive, or they may choose to wait until they get a prognosis. They may be feeling embarrassed, ashamed, in denial or in disbelief. But once they do share, take it as a compliment that your friendship is a safe place for them.
Support Through Empathy
The complexities of infertility go beyond one person’s journey into parenthood. It’s an experience involving so many layers that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it looks and feels like. There are different diagnoses under the infertility umbrella with varying plans of treatment. There are various emotions that are experienced daily, different support systems, and different financial situations. In other words, everyone has a vastly unique infertility experience, leaving them feeling extremely isolated and lonely.
We often think of empathy as “walking in someone else’s shoes” because it’s an easy concept to teach. However, that logic buckles under the weight of assumptions. Brené Brown, researcher and author of Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, explains, “Empathy is not relating to an experience, it’s connecting to what someone is feeling about an experience.”
Even if you don’t have a clue about what the struggle of infertility entails, you can relate and empathize with the emotions your friend is feeling. And the only way to know what those feelings are (as opposed to assuming) is to ask them and actively listen to their response. “How are you feeling?” goes further than “How is it going?” When they do share what they’re feeling, acknowledge and validate it. Providing support through true empathy is essentially saying, “I hear you, and I believe you.” Period.
Things That Are Not Helpful
In our attempt to be helpful and supportive, we often default to societal norms or what has been modeled in our lives. We rarely even realize when we’ve offended a friend because most often, it is NOT our intention to do so.
Here are a few things that are definitely not helpful and why:
“At least you have/didn’t/can…”
Not helpful because: Any sentence that starts with this phrase immediately minimizes and invalidates their feelings. It’s toxic positivity at its worst.
“It’ll happen if it’s meant to be…”
Not helpful because: Although intended to be reassuring, this phrase ultimately brushes their feelings aside. It can imply that if it doesn’t happen, then they aren’t meant to be parents. This is quite hurtful.
“Have you tried…”
Not helpful because: They have tried. And tried. And tried. Unless you are a fertility doctor, you are not in a position to give them advice on what to try.
“You could always adopt!”
Not helpful because: Adoption is not right for everyone. Offering it as a comparable solution is not what they need.
“I know exactly what you’re feeling. We tried for months, then went on vacation and it happened! Just try to relax!”
Not helpful because: It makes it about you and your experience – not about them and theirs. No matter how similar you may think your situations are… any type of comparison just isn’t beneficial.
“You’re just so brave!”
Not helpful because: As encouraging as you try to be, toxic positivity can creep in, even with your best intentions. We often jump to positive statements like these before validating their experience, which ends up dismissing their sadness, despair, grief, anger and fears. Also, they may not feel the way you think they do, and insisting they are brave, strong, resilient, etc., adds more pressure on them to live up to those expectations.
Not helpful because: Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Your friend is living with an ongoing, all-consuming, painful experience each and every day.
Things That Can Be Helpful
Supporting a friend through something as sensitive as infertility can feel like a big undertaking. You won’t always do or say the right things. However, if you devote time to doing even a few things listed here, you’ll develop a closer friendship through your genuine support.
Don’t rely on your friend to fill in all the details. To better support their journey, do some research to understand the terms and typical steps of infertility treatment options. Resolve: The National Infertility Association is a great place to start.
Ask Them What They Need
It’s simple, yet we rarely ask people what they need. Try: “Do you need me to listen? Give a distraction? Or give you space?” If they have trouble thinking of specifics, try brainstorming tangible ways you can be supportive such as attending appointments with them, babysitting (if they have older kids), or exercising together to get those endorphins flowing.
We are all human and make mistakes. If you accidentally say something offensive or insensitive to your friend, apologize. Let them know that you’re still learning but are trying to be as supportive as possible.
Check In Regularly
When your friend says, “I’m fine,” recognize that that’s not always the case. (I’m fine is usually code for: I just don’t have the energy to explain all the ways I’m NOT fine.) Sometimes a random care package or a “thinking about you” text can show you truly care and are there for them, no matter what.
Be a Shoulder to Cry On
Infertility is not a lighthearted discussion – it’s heavy. It’s emotional. Being a safe space for your friend to open up is a huge responsibility. How you react sets the tone for future interactions. Be gentle and understanding. Let them cry, and tell them their feelings are ok. It IS a big deal. It IS scary. And it IS painful. And if you can’t seem to find the right words in the moment, just say: “I’m here. I hear you. I believe you.”
Respect Them and Their Boundaries
Understand that certain social settings or holidays can be highly triggering for someone experiencing infertility. For instance, a baby shower or gender reveal party can just be too painful to attend. A birthday party or even a social gathering could cause extreme anxiety. Realize this is an incredibly difficult experience for them. Their boundaries are not meant to offend you, but to protect themselves. Reassuring them that you understand and respect their decisions can strengthen your friendship.
Encourage Professional Help
This is a huge life transition with a lot of complex emotions. Research has shown that women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as women with cancer. Sometimes confiding in a trusted friend just isn’t enough. Your friend may need the skills of a professional to help them through the journey. Remind them that it’s ok to ask for help and that reaching out to a professional doesn’t make them weak.
Support That Doesn’t Stop
So, does getting pregnant end your friend’s infertility journey? Unfortunately, no. A positive pregnancy test is not a guarantee. Breathing a sigh of relief that it finally happened isn’t in the cards for them because there is always the risk of miscarriage or genetic defects (just like any pregnancy). The difference is the stakes are higher. The anxiety and the fear of losing their “miracle” baby is greater. Your support shouldn’t end once they get a bump or have a baby. The experience of infertility is traumatic and life-changing. Your friendship might never be the same… but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Being a supportive, safe space can strengthen your friendship for a lifetime.
*There is division among medical professionals/global health experts over classifying infertility as a disease or a condition.
World Health Organization: Infertility
CDC Reproductive Health: Infertility
Resolve: The National Infertility Association
The Relationship Between Stress and Infertility
Coping With the Stress of Infertility | Alice Domar, PhD
Grieving Infertility and Miscarriages
Guide for Guys: Supporting a Friend Facing Infertility
Guide for Guys: Supporting A Friend Facing Infertility
You’re hanging out with one of your friends, and he confides, We’ve been trying to get pregnant for over a year, and it just isn’t happening. It’s been hard on our marriage. What can you say to help, encourage, and support your friend who is facing infertility? What shouldn’t you say even though you may mean well?
How can you support your friend during this challenging time of crisis and grief?
As men, we often have some generally unhelpful tendencies in these situations. Let’s acknowledge them so we can try to avoid them:
✹ When presented with a problem, we want to fix it. Often, the better move is to try to feel it.
✹ We project the help, support, and needs we would have onto the person we’re trying to help.
We forget that everyone is different, and everyone is not us.
✹ We’re frequently uncomfortable with emotions or feelings – our own or someone else’s. This can cause us to withdraw or avoid people and not engage in hard conversations.
1. We Need To Do Better For Each Other. Empathy Is A Must.
Here are things we know about infertility:
- It’s a sensitive topic.
- It can cause stress in a marriage or relationship.
- It can cause different struggles for men than it does for women.
- Resources and support for men are often lacking.
Understand & Practice True Empathy
Brené Brown is a researcher who has studied empathy. She makes some helpful observations about it:
- Empathy is a skill. We might have to work on improving it. Keep trying.
- There’s a difference between empathy (I feel with you) and sympathy (I feel for you).
- Empathy is a way to connect to the emotion another person feels. It doesn’t require that we have experienced their exact situation.
- Empathy allows people to feel, be fully heard, and be accepted when they are struggling. It encourages compassion, authenticity and intimacy to flourish in our relationships. Empathy: It sounds like you’re in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.
Each person’s needs may be different. Healthy empathy will ask: How can I support you? What do you need? This is where discernment comes into play. Be aware: These common missteps can cause more harm than good:
- We’re afraid to say or do the wrong thing, so we say or do nothing.
- We try to encourage people by downplaying their feelings and struggles. This is just a speedbump. You got this! You’re so strong. You’re smart. You’ll figure this out!
- Often, we attempt to make people feel better by telling a story from our lives (or someone else’s) that we believe is worse. At least you… I know this guy who…
- We jump to fixing the problem instead of feeling it. Listen, medicine is great today. You’ve got all kinds of options. IVF has a high success rate.
- We ask questions that our friend may not be comfortable with. So, is it you or her? Do you really want kids? You think you’ll stay together?
It’s completely ok to say something like: I haven’t been through this, and I don’t know much about it, but whatever you need, I’m here for you. (Even if you’ve been through this or something similar or know someone who has, resist the temptation to assume things or compare situations. Understand that your friend has their own unique experience and needs support.)
★ This brief video provides a great explanation of empathy.
2. Know The Basics Of Infertility, But Don’t Feel Like You Need To Be An Expert.
Remember: Your friend doesn’t need you to be a fertility specialist. They need you to be a good friend. Knowing these basic things can help you be that caring friend.
- The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has found that at least 1 in 7 couples has fertility issues. The inability to have a child affects 6.7 million women in the U.S. That’s about 11% of the reproductive-age population.
- Infertility is NOT an inconvenience; it’s a condition* of the reproductive system that impairs the body’s ability to reproduce.
- Infertility affects men and women equally.
- In about 40% of infertile couples, the male partner is either the sole cause of or a contributing factor to infertility.
- 85% to 90% of infertility cases are treated with medication or surgery.
3. Practical Ways To Support Your Friend
Be generous with your time, energy, and emotional support. Be discerning and respectful, too. Your friend may only let you so far into this part of their life and marriage.
Your friend may need different things at different times. Sometimes they may just want you to listen. At times, they may want to do something fun and be distracted for a bit. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need and follow their lead.
If your friend allows you to speak into this situation, here are some practical tips:
- Understand that infertility affects three primary things – your friend, their spouse, and their relationship as a couple. Take all three of these things into account.
- Understand that for most men, fertility issues impact how they view themselves. Your friend may feel less masculine/virile. Encourage him to follow his health professional’s advice instead of hollow or thinly veiled attempts to help him feel “manly,” which may come off as condescending and emasculating. Also, anonymous online support groups help many men with their sense of self.
- Understand that men, when faced with situations that cause stress, difficulty, or a sense of crisis or grief in their marriage, often try to stay “strong” for their spouse. This phenomenon is often called Partner-Oriented Self-Regulation (POSR).
They may bottle up their emotions, avoid bringing up the situation, and act like everything is normal. A person who “regulates” themselves in this manner mistakenly believes they’re helping their spouse. In reality, they may be sending a message to their spouse that they are unmoved and calloused. This can make a difficult situation worse. Encourage your friend to be honest, vulnerable, and real with his spouse as he seeks to support them. Assure your friend that this requires real strength.
When a couple is dealing with fertility difficulties, facing the issues as a team, maintaining quality communication, following health professionals’ and counselors’ advice, and having a sensitive support system are crucial. You can be confident that anything you do to encourage these things is being a good friend.
*There is division among medical professionals/global health experts over classifying infertility as a disease or a condition.
Mapping men’s anticipations and experiences in the reproductive realm: (in)fertility journeys.
The male experience of infertility: a thematic analysis of an online infertility support group.
Emoting infertility online: A qualitative analysis of men’s forum posts.
Research-Based Tips for Supporting People With Infertility | Psychology Today
Grieving Infertility and Miscarriages – First Things First
How to Give Support to Hopeful Fathers Facing Male Infertility
‘It tears every part of your life away’: The truth about male infertility | Men’s Health
How Infertility Affects Men Emotionally. Maternal Mental Health Institute
25 Things to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone Living with Infertility
I’m Unhappy In My Marriage. What Can I Do?
I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy in your marriage. I don’t need to tell you that an unhappy marriage can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and insecurity. That hurts. But the fact that you’re here is a sign that you’re looking for help. That means you’re still hopeful. Hold on to that hope.
Now let’s make a plan. (We’re going to look at your Marriage Mindset. It’s how you think about your marriage. There’ll be sources at the end to go deeper, plus a ton of practical help.)
If you Googled “unhappy marriage,” you know that most articles head straight to, “Should I stay or should I leave?” Fortunately, those are not your only options. This is a chance for growth.
Many “unhappy” marriages are actually feeling growing pains. They could potentially hit a growth spurt and go to a whole new level.
I recently heard someone tearfully say, “I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to make this relationship work.” I remember thinking: This person has the power to change the relationship and flip the whole story! (It looks like it’s working, too!)
Nobody knows you, your spouse, and your marriage better than you do. I won’t give you one-size-fits-all answers for your unique marriage. My goal is to walk alongside you and give you some things to think through. Together, we’ll discover actions to make tangible improvements to your marriage. (You may want to have a pen and paper ready.)
(1.) Is your marriage causing you to feel unhappy, or are you unhappy about your life in general?
These aren’t entirely unrelated, but they need different solutions. It’s easy to confuse the two. Settle in and give this some real thought. List issues in two columns on your paper.
(2.) Is this an “unhappy” marriage situation or an “unsafe” situation?
There’s a difference between “unhappy” and “unsafe.” If you feel emotionally, psychologically, or physically unsafe, please IMMEDIATELY seek out the professionals listed at the bottom of the page.*
(3.) Start with a positive mindset. (Before you roll your eyes, stick with me.)
We are what we repeatedly think. Let’s keep things positive and in perspective. Take a few minutes to write down five things each (about your life and in your marriage) that you’re grateful for. (If you can go past five on either list, keep going!) Look at both of those lists and try to immerse yourself in gratitude.
This is where it starts. Your marriage isn’t totally and completely terrible. See the positives for what they represent. The positives are real, concrete, and significant. It’s super easy to focus on the wrongs and overlook what’s right. Your Marriage Mindset can make all the difference.
Time Out For Some Optimistic Realism
Before we go any further, here are some things you need to understand for real, lasting change to happen. You may want to sit with these ideas a bit.
If you don’t believe you can be happy in your marriage, you won’t.
No one can make you feel anything without your permission. This doesn’t mean you’re responsible for your circumstances or your spouse, only that you’re responsible for how you respond to them – in your actions and emotions. We tend to misjudge our own power in these situations. What if you aren’t the Victim in an unhappy marriage? What if you’re the Hero?
If you don’t believe you and your spouse can change, you won’t.
Change in yourself is, by definition, change in your relationship with your spouse. Don’t underestimate that. As you change, you can be a catalyst for change in your spouse. (If you frequently fight, but now you’re aware of your words, it will help if you try to stay calm. It’s a powerful thing when you don’t escalate situations. Boom! Marriage-changer. And maybe a spouse-changer.)
If you don’t believe your marriage can change, it won’t.
Sometimes marriage feels romantic. Sometimes it feels like work. Marriages go through ups and downs and seasons. Make sure what you expect matches the realities of marriage.
Organize your thoughts.
Let’s keep keepin’ it real. You’re in an unhappy marriage. I want you to write down five things you wish were different in your marriage. Take your time. Now, look at your list.
How many things are mainly about your spouse? How many are mainly about you? And how many involve you both? What things can you control, and what things can’t you control? What things can you influence, even if you can’t control them? Which things are due to circumstances?
These aren’t just changes to your thought processes. These are radical perspective changes that can transform your marriage.
Assuming that many of the things on your list weren’t always that way, how have they changed? This should encourage you. Change works both ways.
Time to make a plan.
Take another look at the things you wish were different in your marriage. Where do you want to start? What would have the most immediate impact? More importantly, what can you control? How will you be the change?
Use the Principle of Replacement: Instead of __________, I’m going to __________. Set a reasonable goal(s) and go for it! Watch what happens!
Let’s get your spouse in on this!
Does your spouse know you feel unhappy in your marriage? Do you know how your spouse feels? Don’t be surprised if your spouse isn’t aware of how unhappy you are. Don’t be shocked to find out your spouse is unhappy, too. It’s time to talk.
How to have a productive conversation:
- Take turns talking and listening to each other’s needs and concerns.
- Use “I” statements (I feel, I need, etc.) and be respectful and kind.
- Avoid defensiveness, over-generalizing, trying to be “right” or “to win.”
- Work toward and commit to mutually satisfying compromises.
- You should each have a concrete list of 2-3 things to work on.
- Set a time to talk again to re-evaluate, make adjustments, and celebrate growth.
Be patient and gracious with yourself and your spouse. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourselves a month to work on these things. Be intentional during that month to work on being your best self, spend quality time together, communicate, and have some fun.
➤ Read 30 Tips On How to Have A Happy Marriage & 50 Marriage Tips From Couples Who’ve Lasted 50 Years.
Keep your positive Marriage Mindset. Restructure how you think about a “happy marriage.”
I want you to be able to say you did everything in your power to make this relationship work.
Effects of Conflict and Stress on Relationships
Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Relationship
Cognitive Restructuring for Stress Relief: Introduction
How to Survive in An Unhappy Marriage | Psych Central
The Five Stages of Relationship | Free & Connected
Does Couples’ Communication Predict Marital Satisfaction, or Does Marital Satisfaction Predict Communication?
Six Good Habits to Start for Your Marriage in the New Year – First Things First
5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage – First Things First
Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable? – First Things First
*National Hotline for Domestic Abuse
Are you nervous or afraid to disagree with or displease your spouse? Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.
Questions Couples Can Ask To Improve Communication
You probably don’t need convincing that ongoing, open communication is vital to a healthy, growing relationship. If we’re honest, it’s a struggle to make it happen in our marriages.
We all have our own reasons for why quality (and quantity) communication is hard for us, but I want to encourage you. I’ve yet to meet a couple whose communication was all it could and should be. We’re all in this together.
Sometimes you just need a little help getting started. Questions can be a catalyst.
Productive answers come from provocative questions. These questions for couples’ communication can spark quality interactions. And they can draw you toward a deeper marriage connection. Buckle up.
Why work at communication?
Let’s face it: Honesty, transparency, and vulnerability can go sideways – and fast. So, what are you trying to do? What do you need to try to avoid?
- The goal is definitely not to be “right,” open healed wounds or hurt each other. This doesn’t mean you can’t be true to yourself or say hard things in a constructive way. Genuine intimacy-building conversations aren’t always comfy-cozy.
- The goal is to go deeper into each other and your relationship. It isn’t to exchange facts about each other. You’re seeking insights that move your relationship forward. You’re trying to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings so you can love better. Look for ideas and solutions that improve your life and marriage.
- Agree to take a break, refocus, or stop altogether if the conversation escalates, becomes destructive, or creates problems instead of solving them.
Check out these questions for couples’ communication and get closer as you speak!
Group 1. Communication. Talking About Talking.
- What’s a topic we don’t usually talk about that you think would be interesting, important, or fun to discuss? Let’s go there!
- When you were growing up, how did your parents talk to each other? How did they speak to you? Has that influenced the way you communicate with me?
- If you could adjust one way I communicate with you, what would it be? Why?
- What’s a topic or area that you’re kinda uncomfortable discussing with me? How do I contribute to your discomfort? How could I make you feel more comfortable?
- What do you think are the main obstacles to improving our communication? Let’s make a plan!
Group 2. Understanding. Seeing How You See Each Other.
- How do you see me differently than you think I see myself? What are my blind spots?
- What do you think I haven’t taken enough time to learn or understand about you?
- Where in my life do you think I’m settling for less than the best? Inspire me!
- What’s an area where you think I don’t give myself enough credit or am too hard on myself?
- What are three of my qualities or attributes that you’re grateful for? How do you see them in action?
Group 3. Relating. Bringing Out The Best In Each Other.
- What relationship problems are we solving together? And what issues are we avoiding?
- What do you think is the most crucial factor in making our relationship grow? Do you think we’re paying enough attention to it? How do you think we could lean into it more?
- Sure, marriage takes effort, but are we having fun and enjoying each other? How would you suggest we “relax and enjoy the ride” more? What’s a fun thing we could do? Let’s put it on the calendar!
- What’s a part of our life where you feel a little under-appreciated? What could I do today to make you feel more appreciated?
- Where in our relationship do you feel like we’re totally a team? Where do you feel alone? Help me help you to never ever feel alone.
Group 4. Wildcard Round! Oh, We’re Doing This!
- OkayOkayOkay! So I’m not perfect. I’m sure there’s some little thing I do that annoys you. (Thank you for overlooking it all this time.) If you tell me what it is, I won’t get defensive. And I promise to work on it.
- What’s something I do for you that I obviously think is sweet and romantic, but it does next to nothing for you? What could I do that would be meaningful?
- If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Explain in psychologically revealing detail. (Set a timer for 30 minutes. Take turns.)
- I’m just curious… if I suddenly died (after you eventually worked through the paralyzing, soul-crushing grief), which of our single friends, co-workers, or acquaintances do you think you could have a high-quality, meaningful relationship with? Listen, it’s okay. Really. It’s just a hypothetical question. I mean, I’d want you to be happy. So, tell me: Who?*
*The only acceptable answer is: I would be in mourning for the rest of my empty life. Nobody could ever fill the hole in the meaningless existence I would have to sadly wander through, alone, until the end of time. I love you so much. ❤️
About these questions for couples’ communication: How do you know if all this talk is helping?
- You understand your spouse better, and you feel better understood.
- You’re taking action. You’re setting goals to improve your relationship and create deeper connections. Follow through!
- You feel a little uncomfortable with the process but still safe and secure.
- You discover things you have in commonalities, compromises, opportunities, and maybe even fun or forgiveness.
8 STEPS TO BETTER COMMUNICATION TODAY
17 TACTICS TO DRASTICALLY IMPROVE COMMUNICATION IN RELATIONSHIPS
8 SIMPLE WAYS YOU CAN HAVE MORE MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS
5 TOOLS FOR HEALTHY COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE
WHAT GREAT LISTENERS ACTUALLY DO
HOW TO VALIDATE YOUR SPOUSE’S FEELINGS