The inability of a couple to bear a child is harder on the wife than on the husband, according to an ongoing study by University of Michigan researchers of 275 couples, about 60 percent of whom are undergoing treatment for infertility.
In a chapter in a forthcoming book on the psychological aspects of infertility, Michigan research scientist Frank M. Andrews and colleagues write that women bear most of the stress associated with infertility even when it is their husbands who are infertile.
Interviews with the couples confirmed previous research that the men discussed their problem with few people other than their wives, whereas the women drew support from friends and other relatives. "This suggests that infertile women experience an extra burden because of their need to provide virtually all of their husbands' social support," the researchers reported.
Moreover, the researchers found that the stress for women is enhanced because "the majority of tests and treatments focus on the woman's body. She is the one who must take her temperature each morning before rising and attend to her cyclical changes each month, including the depressing evidence of failure associated with menstruation."
Also, the researchers noted, people typically assume that infertility is the woman's fault so that wives in an infertile couple frequently feel personally inadequate and unfulfilled. Also they may feel left out of the "mother's in-group" among their friends.
Although the researchers suggested "efforts to help infertile men find additional sources of support so that the emotional burden placed on the wives is reduced," they noted that emotional support from a spouse is important to both husbands and wives.