The International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc

Uniting as a Couple to Beat the Holiday Stress


by Helen Adrienne, MSW, ACSW, BCD




Infertility is stressful; the holidays are stressful. Taken together, one plus one equals way more than two. Yet just as the Chinese character for crisis is a combination of the characters for danger and opportunity, the crisis of infertility can present an opportunity to turn to the marital relationship as a refuge from holiday stress.


It is no longer in dispute that both the mental and physical experiences of stress land in the body. That’s about the last thing that an infertility patient needs. Your body is the stage upon which the drama of treatment gets played out. Being poked and prodded physically evolves very naturally into a mental ordeal. And in this society, many of us are already living in a state of red alert, tolerating high levels of stress.


At holiday time, tensions abound even in the best of families. The backdrop for get-togethers may have to do with who expects what, who can’t stand whom, whose house is center stage, whose traditions “win,” who’s impossible to buy presents for and who’s jealous of what. And of course, a sharp and very long thorn is who’ll be present at celebrations with babies. The who’s whose and what’s go on ad nauseum.


This does not mean that all families are Looney Toons. It does mean that families can’t ever be perfect, and you are not likely to be in the mood for anyone’s imperfections. Often, well-meaning people who know about your struggle do not know what to say and say the wrong thing. If they don’t know, keeping the secret creates additional stress for you.


Infertility may be the first crisis of major proportions that has hit you in the time that you’ve been together. Any crisis will demand that a person locate his or her coping methods, and infertility might put you in a spin if you need better coping mechanisms. It is only the rare couple whose coping mechanisms are congruent at the time a crisis hits.


The holiday opportunity for any couple lies in the fact that it is critically important to be on the same page when it comes to making decisions about how to handle the holidays. You may already be supportive of one another; most couples are. But there is a difference between the general support that flows out of compassion for someone you love and the achievement of a united front, which works best.


Whether on your own or with professional help, successfully deciding and declare your decisions about the holidays will help to minimize the impact of family holiday stress on your bodies. It may feel dangerous to set limits to holiday celebrations with one or both families. But it is very important for any couple to define their “coupleness.” As married adults, it is your job and your right to let both families know what your boundaries are. It is highly recommended that if you cannot get past the pull of your families, you seek the guidance of a therapist with skills in both infertility counseling and family counseling.


Beyond the logistics, now is the time to explore holiday activities and techniques of mind/body relaxation that you can enjoy together. Being on the same page, and feeling loved and understood, is palliative. 


As hectic as the holiday time can be, it would make a difference if you could find a nonsexual way to release physical stress together. Perhaps you can locate a yoga or massage class for couples, or go to a spa together for a weekend. Couples can learn methods of breathing, muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation and self-hypnosis that go a long way toward breaking the grip of the infertility challenge from the inside out. These techniques are extremely empowering at a time when couples tend to feel powerless. By focusing on gaining physical relief from tension, you can break the grip that the infertility challenge has on your bodies.


Infertility is nasty. But the silver lining in the clouds is that as a couple, you can and should put your needs front and center. You need to keep your love alive, for each other and for yourselves. The best way to do this is to acknowledge the enormous stress involved and take the opportunity to learn to communicate so you can land on the same page. And you can pursue the myriad of techniques available these days to reduce stress on the body and the mind.




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