If you’re in a toxic relationship with a partner who’s physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive, or is hyper-controlling when it comes to money, sex, or daily life, it’s probably best to delay trying to start a family until your relationship reaches a more healthy place.

Can a toxic relationship really affect your ability to conceive?

If you’re in a toxic relationship with a partner who’s physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive, or is hyper-controlling when it comes to money, sex, or daily life, it’s probably best to delay trying to start a family until your relationship reaches a more healthy place.

But a toxic relationship can spring up in almost any area of your life: at work, with your boss or a colleague; with your siblings or parents; or with someone you think of as a friend.

If you’re in a toxic relationship, you might find it hard to concentrate at work, difficult to enjoy yourself when you’re with your friends, and even struggle to sleep well at night. But have you considered that your bad relationship could also be affecting your ability to conceive?

Toxic relationships can increase your stress levels

Having a conversation with a toxic friend or relative can be incredibly stressful, and stress can impact fertility levels. Even seeing them or just thinking about them can raise your levels of alpha-amylase and cortisol, the primary stress hormones, and trigger your brain to release adrenaline which preps your body’s “fight or flight” response.

As well as leaving you feeling jumpy and exhausted, when these hormone levels are elevated, it throws your body’s hormone balance out of whack and that can affect production of vital reproductive hormones.

Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) is the substance your body produces to trigger the release of sex hormones like estrogen, which controls a woman’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, and testosterone, which governs men’s sperm quality and sperm count. Scientists have suggested that higher stress hormone levels could interfere with GnRH production, and thus affect both male and female fertility.

When men experience high levels of stress, it can also boost the release of glucocorticoids, which are steroid hormones that influence testosterone and thus affect sperm production.

Bad relationships cause mental health issues

Being in a toxic relationship means that you are frequently attacked, demeaned, undermined, and generally made to feel worthless and like a failure. No matter how much you tell yourself that “it’s them, not me,” or how many times your friends and partner reassure you, this kind of attack can drag down your self-esteem and trigger depression, anxiety, or both.

Both depression and anxiety can affect your fertility. As well as causing stress hormone levels to rise, anxiety disorders can be accompanied by an imbalance in your estrogen or testosterone levels.

Depression can interrupt the regular functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is the central system controlling the menstrual cycle, or disrupt the body’s ability to regulate the luteinizing hormone that is responsible for ovulation.

Your coping mechanisms could harm your fertility

It might not be the relationship itself which affects your fertility, but the way that you cope with its impact on your life.

If you’re in a toxic relationship, there’s a good chance that you’ll use alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco products, and “comfort foods” to help yourself calm down and recover from a painful interaction.

Drowning your sorrows could affect your fertility

Although moderate drinking hasn’t been found to have much effect on either male or female fertility, drinking too much — defined as 4-6 drinks a week or more — can be harmful. One study found that women who drink more than 4 alcoholic drinks weekly are more than twice as likely to have a miscarriage as woman who don’t drink, and women who are heavy drinkers could experience menopause at an earlier age.

For men, heavy drinking is often associated with erectile and ejaculatory dysfunctions, which make it difficult to conceive, while long term, heavy alcohol use can lower testosterone, cause testicular atrophy which damages sperm production, and trigger liver dysfunction, which in turns leads to hormonal imbalances when the liver can’t metabolize estrogens effectively.

However, if you’re undergoing IVF, even one extra drink a day for women can significantly affect your chances of success. It’s also known that moderate to high alcohol consumption during early pregnancy can damage the unborn fetus and cause alcohol-related birth defects.

Smoking is bad for your fertility

If you quit smoking, you’ll know how easy it is to restart when times get stressful, but any amount of cigarette smoke can make it harder to get pregnant. One study found that if one member of the couple smokes, it can take them around twice as long to conceive than for non-smoking couples.

For women, the chemicals in cigarettes can harm the ovaries and produce poor-quality eggs, as well as disrupting your brain’s endocrine function which is responsible for producing and releasing sex hormones.

Men who smoke are affected too. Cigarette toxins can damage the DNA in sperm and reduce sperm quality, affecting their ability to fertilize the egg and increasing miscarriage rate when conception does occur. 120,000 men in the UK aged 20-39 are infertile because of smoking.


Emotional eating can harm conception rates

When men and women turn to food to soothe their feelings, they are very likely to eat foods that are high in fat, sugar, and chemicals, speeding up weight gain and obesity which in turn affect fertility.

One study found that your chances of getting pregnant naturally within 1 year (the definition of normal fertility) drop by about 5% for every extra BMI point a woman has above 29. Men who have a BMI of over 25 could see sperm counts fall 22% and sperm concentration drop 24%.

Women who become obese, or eat far too little, could experience anovulation, where the ovaries stop producing eggs on a regular basis or quit altogether.

Toxic relationships can harm your sleep

It’s not surprising that people in toxic relationships have trouble sleeping, because their anxiety and stress levels are so high and they struggle to wind down enough to sleep. But the body uses sleep to regulate hormone production, so if you’re not sleeping well, it can throw your sex hormones out of sync.

A toxic relationship could poison other relationships

Finally, toxic relationships have a way of taking over your life. Everything you do revolves around your reaction to the last incident, or your attempts to avoid having another bad interaction, to the extent that you can’t even enjoy sex. Less sex is practically guaranteed to lower your chances of conceiving.

A toxic relationship can even end up poisoning the other, healthy, relationships in your life, causing your stable marriage or partnership to fall apart.

There’s any number of reasons for leaving a toxic relationship, but it seems like you can add fertility to the list. If you’re hoping to start a family, whether through IVF or by conceiving naturally, removing toxic relationships from your life can only be a good move. We hope your path to parenthood will be smooth and stress-free.

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