Women often wish to share their infertility woes with other women to seek consolation and solace.
Researchers at the University of Iowa and Penn State University found that when the woman is concerned about people's reactions to their infertility, both the husband and the wife disclose more to their social network. If the man is feeling stigmatized, both partners share less.
Based on interviews with 50 infertile couples, study author Keli Ryan Steuber, assistant professor of communication studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences speculates that it has to do with protecting the husband's public face, and responding to societal pressure to pursue motherhood.
"It aligns with the idea that couples do more work to maintain the husband's public persona," said Steuber.
"For women, it may be a response to our pronatalist culture. There's an expectation that women want children, and sometimes those who are voluntarily childless are labeled as selfish or too career-driven. We wonder if that stigma overrides the stigma of infertility, to the point that women and their husbands feel compelled to clarify: 'We're not choosing to not have children. We can't have children.'"
The researchers discovered that couples were generally OK with spouses having different privacy restrictions for different support-network members. The key to keeping peace, Steuber said, is explicit conversations about privacy rules and the reasons behind them-like whether preferences are related to personal insecurities, general discomfort with disclosing the information, or trust issues with specific individuals.
"But boundaries are easy to violate if they're not crystal clear. It's important to have detailed discussions, and to reevaluate the rules in light of a new development in the process," Steuber added.
The study was recently published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, and the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.