The prospect of children is one major purpose of marriage for many couples. Mom and dad playing with the kids in the summer, seeing children light up at Christmas time, and the many firsts that children experience – these things are all rooted in the minds of prospective parents. Because the parenting experience is such an integral part of marriage, fertility can play a defining role. However, when a couple is unable to conceive, or there is a miscarriage, these events could lead to the end of the marriage.
A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan found that couples who experience a miscarriage or some type of pregnancy loss at 18 weeks have a 22% higher chance of divorce than couples who have a successful pregnancy. 40% of couples experiencing miscarriages at 20 weeks and beyond divorced. According to the researchers, couples endured feelings of guilt, anger and sorrow in coping with their loss.
While most people eventually heal and do well after a miscarriage, there are couples that cannot handle the emotional strain. Some couples must deal with the onset of depression or other chronic ailments that take a toll.
In a story featured in USA Today, a Colorado woman explained that even though she already had three children, the experience of having a miscarriage left her depressed and disengaged. The experience affected her marriage because she was still grieving long after her husband had moved on. It was as if they were moving in different directions.
The problems couples experience center around three distinct emotions: blame, anger and regret.
People often feel they can control everything that occurs in their bodies. They take substances to stay awake and fall asleep, rely on medicines to will themselves through pain and exercise to regulate how their bodies maintain weight. When something goes wrong, they believe that there is always a solution…or at least a reason as to why it happened. When there is no one to blame or nothing to attribute the loss, people naturally blame themselves. This can be especially destructive when miscarriages occur, because they often happen without any specific triggers. Despite this, women will believe that they did not take care of themselves or that they are inadequate human beings since they were not able to carry a pregnancy to term. Men believe that they did not do enough to protect the woman or that they could have done something to prevent the miscarriage.
Blame can also spill into other areas of the relationship, where people will begin to blame themselves or their partners for money problems or a lack of intimacy.
Anger is often the result of feeling violated or having suffered an injustice. While it is common (and acceptable) to be angry about the lack of control experienced through miscarriage, problems arise when couples become angry with each other and lose perspective on what happened.
Similar to the illusion of control described above, people may question every decision they made prior to the miscarriage and wonder about everything they could have changed to prevent it. If they stop living life as it once was or make rash decisions under the pain of the miscarriage, the stigma of regret becomes a continuing, destructive cycle.
Working Through Tragedy
However, there is a way to overcome the problems of infertility or miscarriage. Author Susan Pease Gadoua says that when couples can see working through the pain as a common goal, they can make their relationship work. She also identifies a number of supportive factors, including kindness, fidelity, honesty and mutual respect, that help couples navigate the complicated emotions that can change a relationship after a tragedy.
When couples do not share these factors or fail to build on them, their relationships may not survive and may end in divorce. It is important to be honest about your emotions and take steps to deal with them. Counseling is a common strategy. It works with many couples. Before you contemplate divorce, you should strongly consider the added emotional turmoil divorce proceedings will bring. Speak with an experienced family law attorney to help guide you.