Dear Therapist:

I have been married for a long while with no children. There is a possibility that we will never be able to have children. Recently I have been extremely depressed about it, although still functioning through daily life. I do not feel therapy can help such an awful emotional situation but my wife disagrees. Who does the panel side with?



I’m sorry that you are going through this difficult situation. Unfortunately, many people have to deal with infertility issues. These can place emotional burdens on each individual, and can affect the marital relationship.

Although many of us deal with situations that appear to be very similar to one another, the ways in which we respond emotionally—and therefore our coping strategies—will differ. Many people tend to project their own feelings onto others. When we do this, we assume that everyone in a similar situation feels the same as we do. Naturally, when we consciously think this through, we can recognize that different people react differently, but we often do not stop to think about the reality. This allows our unconscious, emotional mind to lead us to believe that our emotions are the only ones appropriate to the situation.

There are many ramifications of this tendency to project our feelings onto others. One result is that we allow ourselves to believe that there no other way to feel—and that nothing that we do could possibly change our emotional reaction.

In reality, many people deal with similar issues, but each person reacts in a singular way that is specific to them. We all know people who appear to have an objectively wonderful life who are nonetheless miserable. Conversely, there are those whose lives appear to be fraught with difficulties, but who are genuinely happy and content.

Why do some people seem to shrug off adversity, not allowing it to deleteriously affect them, while others have trouble dealing with even minor difficulties? There are innumerable aspects to this. With regard to those who seem to be happy regardless of circumstances, these aspects can include unconscious defense mechanisms (that may not be ultimately healthy), conscious coping skills and support from family and friends. Those who do not deal well with life events may be responding to unconscious triggers and insecurities—and again defense mechanisms that are backfiring, or they may be defining themselves in part as based on the circumstances.

You mention that although you have been married for a long time without children, you have only recently become extremely depressed. I wonder whether something in particular triggered these feelings of depression, or if they have been steadily building. If they have appeared rather suddenly, I wonder whether you used to employ defense mechanisms (like denial, repression, rationalization, compartmentalization, and intellectualization) that are no longer working. Or did you have better conscious coping strategies (like leaning on friends or being involved in organizations) that you are no longer able to utilize.

Where does therapy come in? A therapist will not change the situation in any concrete sense. No therapist will help you to have children. The role of the therapist would be to help you to better understand your emotional reactions, and to help you to work on changing some of your defense mechanisms and coping strategies. The therapist would help you to identify triggers, insecurities, and feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem.

So, with whom do I side? With you of course! (And with your wife).

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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