Academic journal article Family Relations

Coping Processes of Couples Experiencing Infertility

Academic journal article Family Relations

Coping Processes of Couples Experiencing Infertility

Article excerpt


This study explored the coping processes of couples experiencing infertility. Participants included 420 couples referred for advanced reproductive treatments. Couples were divided into groups based on the frequency of their use of eight coping strategies. Findings suggest that coping processes, which are beneficial to individuals, may be problematic for one's partner. Couples where men used high amounts of distancing, while their partner used low amounts of distancing, reported higher levels of distress when compared to couples in the other groups. Conversely, couples with women who used high amounts of self-controlling coping, when paired with men who used low amounts of self-controlling coping, reported higher levels of distress. Implications of study findings are discussed, and ideas for future research are proposed.

Key Words: coping, couples, depression, infertility stress, marital adjustment.

Although the majority of people enter marriage and expect someday to have biological children, many couples will unexpectedly experience difficulty in conceiving and carrying to term their own biological child. The latest national estimates, based on data collected in 2002, indicated that nearly 4.3 million married women or their partners have impaired fecundity, defined as difficulty in conceiving or carrying to give birth a child, or infertility lasting 36 months or longer (Chandra, Martinez, Mosher, Abma, & Jones, 2005). These couples represented approximately 15% of the 28.3 million married couples in which the wives were between the ages of 15 and 44 (Chandra et al.).

As recently as the mid-1980s, researchers proposed that infertility had psychological causes as opposed to psychological consequences (Greil, 1997). Furthermore, the prevailing belief was that women were primarily responsible for infertility (ascribed to unconscious resistance to motherhood), and thus, women became the main participants and focus of infertility research. However, medical technologies have shown that both men and women contribute equally to infertility and that emotional factors only represent 5% of infertility cases (Robinson & Stewart, 1996; Seibel & Taymor, 1982). Consequently, the experience of infertility is truly one that couples share.

In an effort to better understand how infertility impacts both men and women, researchers have called for studies that examine the emotional responses of both members of the couple as they jointly cope with the experience of infertility as opposed to focusing solely on women's responses to infertility (Greil, 1997). The present study examined how couples cope with the experience of infertility and how their coping patterns were related to their adjustment to infertility.

Coping With Infertility

When a couple is faced with the experience of infertility, it is commonly interpreted as a stressor that needs to be managed. According to Lazarus and Folkman's (1984) stress and coping theory, cognitive or behavioral coping strategies are used to manage stress, and stress occurs as events in the environment are perceived by an individual to exceed his or her resources. Couples experiencing infertility commonly face severe strains on their emotional, social, and financial resources, and thus, they are likely to use coping strategies at some point during the experience. Coping strategies such as avoidance of the problem and accepting personal responsibility for one's infertility are commonly associated with increased distress, whereas coping strategies such as seeking social support and engaging in active problem solving tend to decrease distress (Jordan & Revenson, 1999).

Although understanding the relationship between coping and infertility stress is critical in understanding how a couple copes with the experience of infertility, most studies examining the issue have used the individual as the unit of analysis and have focused more on women than men (Abbey, Andrews, & Halman, 1991; Hynes, Callan, Terry, & Gallois, 1992; McQuillan, Greil, White, & Jacob, 2003). …

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