My husband recently found out that he likely won’t be able to have a genetic child because of poor quality sperm. I can tell that he’s hurting and disappointed, but he won’t talk to me about it. How do I support him after this loss?

Written by our mental health expert, Dr. Karen Kranz, Registered Psychologist.

It may help to understand that like many men, your husband is likely trying to cope with this loss by not talking. Many people, when deeply hurt, withdraw from others because they either have not had the experience of being supported when in pain, or if they have reached out, they have not been met with support. People often avoid emotions that make them feel vulnerable; emotions such as sadness, grief, and fear. As such, your husband may not even know how to express or deal with all of the emotions that are arising within him and struggle to communicate what he is feeling. Additionally, men in particular, have been socialized to be strong and independent which leads some men to believe they have to go through difficulties alone. A familiar refrain is, “Why talk about it if talking doesn’t change anything?” It’s true that talking does not change the facts of the situation – but talking can help to build connection and deepen relationships. Also, going through painful life experiences with someone who cares, is definitely better than going through them alone.

I suspect you are reading your husband correctly when you say he is hurting and disappointed. Being unable to father a child often leaves a man feeling like a failure as a man and husband, and feeling he has disappointed you and that you may be better off with another partner. Other common feelings include: grief and loss, fear of other possibilities such as sperm donor or adoption, shame and embarrassment about his masculinity, isolation, and sadness about never being able to father a child.

The best you can do for your husband is to be patient with him. Reach out to him, invite him to talk, and share your thoughts with him. Let him know you’re there for him, on his terms, if and when he needs you. I am sure you and he have been through challenging times before in your relationship. Remind him how together you have gotten through difficulties in the past, that you are a team, that together you get through this experience, and that infertility is a couple’s issue. Eventually your husband may be open to connecting with other men who also have fertility challenges, but that usually takes time.

Keep in mind, both you and your husband need to time grieve and heal before looking seriously at alternatives such as donor sperm, adoption, or choosing not to bring children into your lives. A counsellor may be able to help you both to understand and work through the feelings associated with your fertility challenges, heal from this diagnosis, and then explore the next steps. The following resources might also be of assistance.

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