The question as to whether having children puts a strain on relationships has angered some and made others question their relationships. In 2011, a study conducted by OnePlusOne, a UK charity that helps couples with relationship issues, found that the toughest period in a marriage occurred during transition to parenthood, with couples "failing to see the problems" until it was too late, the Daily Mail reported. A new study, published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, further supports that finding that couples who had marital problems because of failed fertility treatment were more likely to end up in divorce or separation.
Researchers found that, over a span of 12 years, 27 percent of women who did not have children after their fertility treatments were no longer living with their partner. Trille Kjaer and his team used the Danish National Patient Registry and the Danish In Vitro Fertilization Registry for their research. They study was comprised of 47,515 Danish women averaging about 32 years old when they were assessed for infertility between 1990 and 2006. Seven years later, the researchers followed up with the hopeful mothers. They found that 57 percent of women had at least one child post-fertility treatment and 43 percent did not have any children. The women who did not have a child were three times more likely to divorce or end things with their partner.
“This research is important because although earlier research have shown that fertility problems and its treatments are major stressors … especially if the treatments are unsuccessful, we did not know how many of these couples who actually decides to split up if they did not get a child,” Kjaer said in an email to Medical Daily.
In fact, previous studies have shown that when attempts to get pregnant failed, even with fertility treatments, there were increased levels of stress and depression in women. Researchers found that, “Unsuccessful IVF affected mental health negatively. One male reflection was that not everyone undergoing IVF was mentally strong enough to deal with failure after failure. Women explained how they had been putting up a shield of optimism prior to treatment and not showing any reactions after failure,” according to another study conducted by Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.
Now that we know that there is a higher probability of divorce if you do not get a child after a fertility evaluation,” Kjaer said, “the individual couples and also the medical staff that work with these women can initiate proper interventions earlier and hopefully prevent some of the break ups.”
Conversely there is also research to point out that some hardships might bring couples closer together. The research refers to this concept as "marital benefit." However, this research does show that not having children is a more negative than positive effect, especially for couples who are actively trying. "Our findings suggest that not having a child after fertility treatment may adversely affect the duration of a relationship for couples with fertility issues," Kjaer said. “Further investigations that account for marital quality and relational well-being of couples with fertility problems are now needed."
Source: Trille K, Vanna A, Allan J. Divorce or End of Cohabitation Among Danish Women Evaluated for Fertility Problems. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 2014.