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You're hanging out with one of your friends, and they confide, "We've been trying to get pregnant for over a year, and it just isn't happening. It's been hard on our marriage."

What can you say that will help, encourage and support your friend who is facing infertility? What shouldn't you say even though you may mean well? How can you be a caring friend during this time of difficulty, crisis and even grief?

This week begins National Infertility Awareness Week. It's a week to bring awareness to the stigmas around infertility and help break through those stigmas. And a big piece of that is learning how to be a great friend to someone facing infertility.

We sometimes have some generally unhelpful tendencies in these situations. If we can acknowledge the things that don't help, we are more likely to avoid them:

When presented with a problem, we want to fix it. Often, the better move is to try to feel it.

We tend to project the help, support and needs we would have onto the person we are trying to help. They may not apply. We forget that everyone is different, and everyone is not us.

We are frequently uncomfortable with emotions or feelings — our own or someone else's. This can cause us to withdraw or avoid people and not engage in hard conversations.

The key is understanding and practicing empathy. Each person's needs may be different. Healthy empathy will ask someone, "How can I support you? What do you need?" This is where discernment comes into play.

Often, we are so afraid to say something wrong that we don't say or do anything. Or maybe we downplay our friend's feelings and struggles with phrases like, "You've got this! It's just a bump in the road." Or perhaps, even worse, we try to make them feel better about themselves by telling a story of someone who has it worse.

But it's completely acceptable to say something like, "I haven't been through this and I don't know much about it, but whatever you need, I'm here for you." Even if you have been through this or something similar or know someone who has, resist the temptation to compare situations and make assumptions. Understand that your friend is having their own unique experience and needs support.

Be generous with your time, energy and emotional support. Be discerning and respectful, too. Your friend may only let you so far into this part of their life and marriage.

Your friend may need different things at different times. Sometimes they may just want you to listen. At other times, they may want to do something fun and be distracted for a bit. Don't be afraid to ask them what they need and follow their lead.

When a couple is dealing with fertility difficulties, facing the issues as a team, maintaining quality communication, following the advice of health professionals and counselors, along with having a sensitive support system are crucial. You can be confident that anything you do to encourage these things is what a good friend would do.

John Daum is a content creator at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at john@firstthings.org.

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Contributed Photo / John Daum
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