It’s a sensitive issue and needs to be handled with care, says an expert on the matter of counselling men with fertility problems.
Most fertility clinics employ counsellors and psychologists who offer emotional support through this challenging journey.
Priyanka Bhatia, Fertility Journey Coach, Bourn Hall Fertility Centre, explains: “A couple diagnosed with infertility experience a variety of challenges and stressors. Infertility and its effects have a trickle-down effect — they impact a marriage, relationships, and affect many kinds of decision-making. As a couple find ways to cope with the issue, there are many differences that can crop up between them.”
According to Bhatia, men generally use the ‘fight or flight’ approach to deal with infertility while women engage in the ‘tend and befriend’ method.
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“Men generally use distancing, self-controlling (keeping their emotions to themselves), and making plans, to solve the problem of infertility.
"In keeping with expectations about masculinity, many husbands will tend to suppress their emotions. The withdrawal of the man may be a way of protecting his wife from his pain, even though most wives would not find it a helpful approach,” said Bhatia.
On the face of it, this coping style might seem like men are in denial and want to run away from the problem but that is not the case. Much of the response is also based on a reluctance to disappoint their spouse.
According to Bhatia, men experience a severe emotional setback when they realise that the male factor is the sole cause of infertility.
According to a study, male patients have reported appreciable impairment to the quality of their personal and sexual lives even if they already have children, says Bhatia.
Another study on 206 infertile couples (compared to 190 fertile couples) also showed that a diagnosis of male infertility correlated with the lowest average intimate life satisfaction of women and men.
The prevailing support system in the realm of couples facing infertility issues predominantly addresses and seeks to alleviate the distress of women.
Many men, studies report, say that they can overcome their stressors alone, and so men are usually not the primary target for infertility counselling, says Bhatia.
The whole system, she says, from the clinic, to the treatment protocols, to support groups, generally treat the infertility experience as one of observer and participant, with the husband being the observer.
To make the process of infertility counselling and coaching more men-friendly, Bourn Hall Fertility Centre uses many methods:
Offers free emotional support to all patients, male and female.
Makes personal and direct contact with male patients, addressing them in consults, etc.
Provides other male patients views
Provides educational brochures for men to improve their participation
Addresses men’s ambivalence at seeking help
Addresses men’s discomfort with emotional matters and attempts to normalise it
Educates the woman and validates for the man the reality that men need more time to identify their emotions and name them
Helps the male patient distinguish between self-perception of ‘feeling guilty’ as not being the same as ‘being guilty’
Helps change the man’s internal attribution of ‘being a failure’ [due of male fertility] to an external ‘out of my control’ attribution as it is not something that he is responsible for.