Sexuality & Couples

Sophie Bergeron  Ph.D


Distress tolerance could promote couples’ healthy adaptation to fertility treatment

Infertility and fertility treatments have been linked to many adverse psychological outcomes, including anxiety and depression. However, few studies have assessed the relationship between emotion regulation processes (such as distress tolerance) and psychological adjustment of couples faced with a fertility problem. A study conducted at the Couples and Relationships Research Laboratory examined the association between distress tolerance – i.e. the ability to experience and withstand negative psychological states – and anxiety and depression symptoms in 182 couples enrolled in fertility treatment. Couples completed online questionnaires measuring their ability to tolerate distress, their infertility-related quality of life, and their anxiety and depression symptoms.

What did we find?

Our results showed that low distress tolerance was positively associated with anxiety and depression symptoms in men and women undergoing fertility treatment. In other words, individuals who had difficulty tolerating negative emotions were more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression in the context of infertility.
However, among both men and women in our sample, high distress tolerance was positively associated with their partner's anxiety symptoms. This suggests individuals coupled with a partner who tolerates and accepts unpleasant emotions were more likely to experience anxiety symptoms.
These results suggest that fostering distress tolerance in individuals undergoing fertility treatment may help them adapt to this life stressor, but that it also may be associated with partner anxiety. Therefore, measuring couples’ ability to tolerate distress when enrolling in fertility treatment could help identify those at risk of experiencing more anxiety and depression during their fertility journey. In future studies, it would also be important to identify other emotion regulation skills that may promote healthy personal adjustment, and positive dyadic adjustment to infertility and its treatments.

For more details, we invite you to consult the full poster:

Jacmin-Park, S., Jean, M., Hébert, E., Beaulieu, N., Rossi, M., Rosen, N. O., Brassard, A., Bergeron, S., Péloquin, K. (2021, June). The association between distress tolerance and anxiety and depression in couples seeking fertility treatment. Poster presented at the 82nd Canadian Psychological Association Convention, Online.

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