Amazingly, 10% of women across the US will struggle with fertility issues during their lifetime. That means that at any given point there are millions of women who are quietly trying to start a family, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account the countless men who find themselves in the same situation.
Infertility, though oftentimes treatable, can be a heavy burden to bear for the affected couple. But thankfully, we have our friends and family members to support us, reassure us, and tell us everything is going to be alright. Which is exactly what an infertile couple wants to hear, right? Well, not always! Sometimes those struggling with infertility just want to be listened to, understood, acknowledged, and valued.
Being a good friend or family member means listening – becoming a better, more empathetic listener. Here are some tactics to help you hone this skill, so you can more ably support your friend or family member.
First, let’s understand why it is important to become a better listener.
- You’ll build respect and trust – and that’s important if you’re truly looking to connect with the infertile couple. They need someone they can count on for support, and that requires that all of you approach the issues at hand in an open and communicative manner.
- You can help them solve problems – sure, you do not want to approach the couple as their Knight in Shining Armor, ready to explain exactly what they need to do to work through the infertility issues. But, if you learn how to become a better listener you may find that your trained ear will help pick up nuances in the couple’s approach to fertility that can make your suggestions more helpful.
- You’ll minimize tension and support emotional release – your listening skills and supportive approach can help reduce tension when talking with your friends and family and that may allow them to open up more easily, release pent up emotions, and generally feel better about their outlook on starting a family.
So now that you know that becoming a better listener can help those struggling with fertility concerns, let’s talk about how to actually become a more empathetic listener:
Focus on your posture, where you’re sitting or standing, and how you’re interacting with the infertile couple. Make lots of eye contact – it is a sign of effective communication, and try to find a relaxed place to have a conversation. Remove distractions, too. Put your phone on silent and put it out of arm’s reach. Turn off the television or radio, and send any kids in the house outside to play. The idea is to create a safe and inviting space in which to talk, free from judgement and distractions.
Then, listen to the actual words spoken as well as the overall theme of the conversation. Many of us fail to “actively” listen because we only wait until the speaker is forced to take a breath – then we jump in immediately and stake our claim of the conversation. Listen to understand, not to simply use the speaker’s words as a springboard for your own thoughts and ideas.
Another important piece to actively listening is to restate what was said. This shows the speaker that you were, in fact, listening. Then, refrain from throwing your opinions or “two-cents” into the conversation immediately – the idea of suffering through another person’s ideas and suggestions during an infertility conversation can be too much for some struggling couples. You can ask some clarifying questions, if you’d like. They may even show the speaker that you aren’t just actively listening, but also actively engaged in truly understanding the conversation.
Lastly, be present. You can look someone in the eye, nod your head, and even ask some basic questions, but they’ll know if you’re secretly thinking, “hmmm… what am I going to make for dinner? Do I need to stop at the store on the way home? I guess Tom can make something for the kids…” In the 30 seconds you may have spent on this mental vacation, the speaker may have mentioned something profound or simply asked you for feedback. Be present, and if you do have something pressing on the backburner, take a break for a minute and tell your friend you’ll be back shortly.
To summarize, couples experiencing fertility issues want support, a helping hand, and an empathetic friend. But they also don’t want others telling them what they “should be doing” all the time. Learn to actively listen and you’ll emerge as a true friend who can support others as they work through the struggles of infertility.