‘My wife wants to separate. The only explanation is my fertility issues’

Tell Me About It: She refuses to seek counselling and is adamant that our marriage is over

PROBLEM: Three months ago my wife of five years told me she wanted us to separate. I was taken by complete surprise. Our marriage has never, by any means, been perfect — we would often row about very minor issues, but any disagreement was only ever very brief and we would move on quickly.

We have had some great adventures and have travelled most of Europe and Asia together, and we are both very close to each other’s families. Both of us were very clear from the beginning that we wanted to have children. We delayed trying for a family until 18 months ago, while we pursued our careers and bought a house together. However, we have had no success with our fertility journey. Our GP recommended that I undergo sperm analysis, and the results, which were returned just before my wife announced that she wished to separate, showed that the quantity and quality of my sperm is very poor and that even through IVF I am unlikely to ever father a child. A reanalysis confirmed the findings. My wife showed me very little empathy. Even though I was visibly devastated, she became withdrawn and refused to discuss the issue.

When she decided that she wanted to separate she said that she no longer loved me and did not want to discuss it any further. She returned to her parent’s house within a week and has barely spoken or replied to any of my messages since. She refuses to seek counselling and is adamant that our marriage is over. The only explanation for any of this is my fertility issues. I know, as I am sure she does, that there are now many solutions to these difficulties, the obvious being sperm donation. I have respected her by maintaining a distance, but I cannot accept that she no longer loves me and that our marriage is over, when there may very well be solutions.

ADVICE: The great difficulty here is that when one person wishes to leave a relationship, and offers no opportunity for reconciliation, there is little the other person can do but accept it.

However, you got married and you deserve an explanation so that you can come to terms with your new existence and begin to rebuild your life. If you could understand better, it might allow you some ease, and this might be worth investigating. What is the history of your wife’s family? Are there stories of issues with parenting or fertility in her family? Such stories may be hidden, so it can be difficult to decipher the true situation, but it is a very sudden decision on her part to leave so close to knowing that you have fertility issues.

You say you are respecting her by allowing distance, and this is laudable, but it does not allow for any conclusions or next steps to happen. Is it possible that you are reluctant to engage with her for fear of hearing that your marriage is truly over? Fertility issues are common: one in six Irish couples will experience it, so it is something that most people have some knowledge about.

As you are suffering so much, some action needs to be taken to allow you to move on from the shock phase of this disclosure

Couples can experience intense closeness through going through such difficulties together, but they may also experience huge distress, as one or another person can feel blamed, often with nothing being said. These difficulties are often compounded by the silence that surrounds the situation, with little support being offered to the carrier of the blame, in this case you.

As you have long held the desire to father children, you have your own grief process to go through, and it may be that this has been put in abeyance as you deal with the separation issues. You would benefit from getting emotional and psychological support at this time, as your losses are many, including the increasingly likely loss of connection with your wife’s family, with whom you have enjoyed such a close relationship.

One of the ways of having a conversation with your wife is to make use of the national family mediation service, as it allows for all the issues to be raised and discussed. However, you can only initiate this service if you are both clear that separation is on the cards, and it seems that you are not at this point yet. But it may be a way for you to open a conversation while also forcing yourself to accept that the relationship is at a crisis point that might result in it ending.

As you are suffering so much, some action needs to be taken to allow you to move on from the shock phase of this disclosure. Invite your wife into a series of open discussions where you can untangle the issues — if this is impossible on your own, seek a third party to assist (mediation, counselling, a trusted friend or relative).

There is a possibility that you did not see this coming because you were not alert to what was really going on in your relationship, and bringing this up as a topic for conversation might allow your wife to participate as someone who is not wholly responsible for the situation you find yourselves in. Be persistent in the need for discussion, and seek your own support as you through this difficult and sad time. Free mediation for separating couples can be found at citizensinformation.ie.