When faced with the financial challenges of infertility, couples tend to follow the same patterns and behavior as when facing other issues in their relationship. As with family building in general, couples are not always “on the same page.”
Financial planning expert Debby Fowles asserts that communicating openly and honestly about finances is the only way for couples to reach their goals. “Spending and saving habits can cause ongoing friction and resentment in a relationship, so it’s important to come to a compromise that each person can live with in order to meet their financial goals. Compromise is often the best route, and understanding where the other person is coming from goes a long way towards making that compromise possible,” says Fowles, author of The Everything Personal Finance in Your 20s and 30s Book (Everything Series, 2003) and 1000 Best Smart Money Secrets for Students (2005).
Robin Roberts, PhD, LCSW, agrees. “Couples need non-defensive ways of communicating about money. Couples easily misinterpret the uses of money, which can be dangerous.” For example, if the male partner is more concerned about the household finances, including sticking to a budget and saving, than the female partner, she may interpret this as “He’s not letting me get what I want” or “He’s controlling me.” However, managing the finances may simply be the male partner’s way of feeling as if he is contributing to the family building process, since most often the male partner is not the one undergoing all the medical procedures.
Determining how much money to spend on medical treatment for infertility can be a very emotional issue. “Conflict is a natural part of the process,” says Roberts, a RESOLVE support group leader. What often happens is that couples feel this conflict about finances is undermining the integrity of their marriage. “Couples often say to me in therapy sessions, ‘If we can’t agree about this, then our marriage must be in jeopardy.’” Not true, says Roberts. Often what the couple needs is an outside person, either a marriage therapist or a mental health professional skilled in the area of infertility, to help them realize that their differences are assets, not threats.
It is important for couples to explore each other’s feelings and beliefs about money without judgment or argument. “Talk about what money means to each of you, how it was handled or talked about in your family as you were growing up, how money or the lack of it makes you feel,” Fowles says. She is a firm believer in establishing a household budget and following it. “Whether a budget works is entirely up to the person budgeting. The #1 factor that determines successful budgeting is attitude. If you think of it as a financial diet or handcuffs, you’ll feel resentment and will eventually give up. If you think of it as a spending plan that will help you reach your financial goals, you’ll have a much better chance of success. An effective budget can help you feel in control, avoid financial crises, prevent arguments about money, and work towards common goals that are important to you as a couple and as individuals.”
Roberts advises couples to decide before beginning infertility treatment how much they want or can afford to spend, and, how far they are willing to go. “No one expects failure or for [treatment] to take as long as it might. Couples go into this process naively and alone.” In comparing the financial burden of family building to other major financial goals and expenditures for which couples plan, family building is the one area that they tend to pursue without the advice and assistance of others. “You don’t hear couples asking their friends, ‘Hey, how did you finance your pregnancy?’ Couples do not use other people as resources when faced with infertility,” Roberts says. Couples should ask their doctor how many treatment cycles they should plan for financially, and get information up front about all their family building options. As Roberts points out, “planning ahead can help you maximize your chances of success and building your family. It is that simple.”
It is quite possible to plan for medical and/or adoption expenses expenses, according to Fowles. “Work these expenses into your budget, designating a monthly amount for the adoption or medical expense fund. Transfer the money to a savings account each month as if you were paying a creditor. Keep a schedule of the amounts in your savings account that are earmarked for various goals, such as an emergency fund, an adoption fund, home purchase, etc. Otherwise it’s very easy to spend this money.”
The bottom line: Talk with your partner about your financial feelings, establish a workable plan of action, create a budget and follow it. And most important, seek help, assistance and guidance during your family building journey.
This article originally appeared in Family Building magazine, Winter 2006.
This section of the RESOLVE website is made possible in part by support from WINFertility, Inc.