One of the hardest parts of going through infertility is figuring out how to talk about it. The emotional toll is heavy, and when we are dealing with difficult emotions we need a good support system. In order to get support, we have to start telling our friends and family what’s going on. But how? How do you talk about something so deeply painful? How do you talk about something dealing with your sex life with other people? How do you talk about something you think no one really wants to talk about?
It can be a big challenge, which is why I spend a lot of time with my clients discussing various ways to talk to people about infertility and other painful experiences. There are many different ways that people try to help in these situations, and many different ways the person going through it wants help. People don’t often spend a great deal of time analyzing their interpersonal relationships (unless they are in therapy), and these conversations can quickly turn into a big mess when neither party understands the other person’s intentions and needs. Based on my experience, I have named four distinct types of responders: the fixer, the minimizer, the existentialist, and the blamer.
Hopefully you have already read the first three parts to these series so that you can get a sense of each type of responder (and maybe recognize which one you are!) and the understanding that each type of responder does want to help and support you, they just don’t know HOW. This post will focus on the last responder – the “blamer.” The blamer is the person that’s looking for understanding. They want to help you, but they really don’t fully understand all the pieces of this puzzle. The blamer is the friend that needs all the puzzle pieces in place before they can see the big picture, and therefore they are not able to jump into help mode until they collect those pieces. Here’s how a conversation might go with a blamer (person I is the person going through infertility):
Blamer: “Are you going to start trying for a baby soon?”
Person I: “Actually, we are trying but it’s not going so well. We’re having some trouble getting pregnant.”
Blamer: “Well, whose fault is it, you or him/her?”
Person I: “We’re not sure yet, it’s kind of in the beginning phases.”
Blamer: “After you get some testing done, you’ll know whose fault it is and then you can start treating it. If it’s you, what will you do?”
Person I: “I don’t know yet, but it’s really hard so far. I’m having a hard time with it.”
Blamer: “It’ll be ok once you figure it out. You just need to wait for the tests and then whoever it is will do what they need to do. Do you have a doctor yet? What do you think it could be?”
The “blamer” is an interesting responder because they are quite invasive and the medical and sexual details of the situation don’t really bother them. They are open and willing to ask about anything and everything. We need blamers in our lives at times because they are the ones that can listen to just about any gory or gross detail we have to share and not bat an eye or close off from us. Blamers ask good questions and help you think about things differently. Because of their openness and stomachs for all things uncomfortable, they often don’t have a filter and that’s where the insensitivity can come in. They don’t always consider the emotional component and even if they do (because that’s a super important puzzle piece), they’re not always present in this moment with you. Sometimes blamers are in their heads trying to put the whole thing together and they just keep asking you for more pieces without even looking up from the puzzle to interact with you in that moment. When that happens, they miss things, such as your teary eyes or the inflection in your voice as you’re fighting off a crying spell.
Here are my tips for how to deal with a “blamer”:
1. Respond to their questions in a non-defensive way: When anyone feels like they are being blamed or attacked, the walls instantly go up and the person starts preparing for battle. Responding with defensiveness is a really good way to escalate a fight quickly. It will take some practice and understanding on your part, but eventually you will be able to address these questions without getting defensive. The best way to do this is to focus on how you feel from your own perspective. If the way they asked the question hurt your feelings, you have to let them know that first, and then continue to give them the information they are seeking. Remember, they need those puzzle pieces to move forward.
2. Give them some information: When you’re dealing with a blamer, you already know they are going to have a million questions to ask you and want all the nitty gritty details you have to offer. Give them a lot of information up front so that they have something to process and use as they are trying to figure this all out. A blamer needs as much information as possible, and their questions can become exhausting…quickly! Don’t wait for the next question to come out of their mouth and spill it all from the beginning. It will probably help you feel better too that you have someone that you can get it all out without censoring yourself.
3. Explain the appropriate verbiage: Blamers are asking so many questions and processing information so quickly that they aren’t really considering the words they use. If they are using incorrect verbiage or a word that hurts your feelings (i.e. fault), slow them down and share a better way that they can talk about it. Showing them how to change the language early on will help as you both move forward in this journey. You’re probably going to have several conversations about this topic, so start correcting the language from the beginning.
4. Bring them into the present when that’s what you need: Don’t be afraid to interrupt a blamer and tell them they are asking too many questions. They will always have more questions to ask and they’ll be ready to listen. That’s what they are good at. But sometimes that’s just not what you need. You need them to cry with you, you need them to hug you, you need them to tell you it will be ok. Blamers are usually really good at responding to your needs, but they’re not very good at knowing what they are all the time. You have to be honest about that, and if they are missing what you’re saying or they’ve moved past something important, bring them back by saying “I’m really feeling sad in this moment, and that’s ok. I don’t think I can handle answering those questions right now. Instead I need to be quiet for a few minutes.”
We know that having meaningful conversations can be very healing, and I can’t say it enough-that conversation about infertility will start with you. You can’t control what other people are going to say and how they will react, which can be extremely frustrating and painful at times. But you can control the way you communicate about communicating! Although it feels a little unfair, you will be responsible for your own healing and that means understanding that people aren’t going to always get it right. Inevitably someone will say something hurtful, typically by accident, and it’s your job to help them understand. In the end, guiding someone to help you heal with pay off in so many ways, for both of you.
Infertility is considered a life crisis, one that most people are unprepared for. It will take some time to understand how to communicate with people in your life about your infertility journey. This would be a good time to get some extra support from someone who really understands what you’re going through and can help you navigate through your emotions. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. Call me now for your free phone consultation to learn how I can help you heal, (832) 827-3288. For providers in your area, visit Resolve.org.