Helen Mounsey's - Interviews and Articles

Abortion and its impact on a relationship

When a woman experiences the trauma of abortion, it is undeniably an unnatural death experience, and there will be reverberations for everybody involved.

We all have an opinion about abortion, but regardless of the many different political and moral stands people take, negative responses from others will usually ensure that couples are silenced, usually as a protection from further shame and they will keep it a secret.

There are many reasons underpinning the decision to have an abortion.  To begin with, an unplanned pregnancy can complicate the beginning of a relationship – or it can impact on the resolve of one partner to leave it. It is especially awkward if it results from an extramarital affair (especially when the husband has had a vasectomy), when there are already grown children, when genetic tests are uncertain, or when career plans are affected.  There also can be pressure from a partner for a range of reasons such as financial concerns.  One study in the USA found that 44% of terminations were instigated by the partner. 

Whatever the reason, abortion definitely has an adverse affect on a significant number of couples and the crisis it presents can bring considerable instability within a committed relationship.

The complexity of an unplanned pregnancy is often not understood.   Initially, there is usually the pressure of time, as a rapid decision has to be made.  “It was the heaviest decision I have ever, ever made. The delay in procedures at the hospital meant that I had to try to dissociate from my body in which there was a growing baby – my body was changing and I had to fight its normal responses to nurture this growing infant, which we had both decided not to keep.  It was torture.”

 As a consequence, couples don’t have the opportunity to weigh up the situation fully and this usually leads to reduced communication between them.  This young woman said  “Time passed and I thought he didn’t have any more to say, so I decided that what was going through my head was not important.” 

Another potential block to communication is the requirement for a woman to prioritise her own individual needs, at the time she is making the decision.  How will this decision affect me and my future?  And what about those close to me – my partner, my family, my friends?  These will be among her concerns as she interprets the powerful pressures of the political and moral positions of her wider social circle.

The consequence of a couple not processing the abortion experience fully will have a dramatic impact on their relationship.  Many do not talk much about it, and because the final decision rests with the woman, it is often felt as an unequal experience within that relationship.

Terri Reiser, the author of ‘Help for the Post-abortion Woman’ believes that a major issue impacting on a committed relationship after an abortion is disillusionment experience by the woman, leading to a cooling in her feelings.   She believes that in spite of the energy from feminist movements to empower women, they still seek a partner who is entirely committed to the family.  When he fails in this role and doesn’t support the pregnancy, she can feel deserted and it is likely that she will disengage emotionally.  In this lonely place, she will find it very difficult to talk about her feelings and the distance will widen.   

Her sexual response is also likely to be affected in a number of ways following an abortion.  While physical problems can occur, the fear of another pregnancy is common.  In a study of 100 post-abortion women, of whom 75% were married or had long-term ongoing relationships, 33% reported that their sexual relations were negatively affected to some degree after the procedure.

“I will never forget the way his face lit up when I told him I was pregnant. He supported the termination and we ritualized the loss and did our very best, but I do believe it contributed to the end of our relationship.  We just weren’t strong enough to carry the burden of it.”

Further perspectives of this subject will follow in the next column.

Helen Mounsey, Christchurch therapist, is part of the Sex Therapy NZ referral network team. Those seeking professional help with any sexual matter should contact www.sextherapy.co.nz  

6th February 2011 doc Mid Life Crisis (0.03MB)