Great Post on That's Fit
Maybe he's collecting booties and you're dreaming about backpacking through South America. Or maybe you're looking enviably into every stroller you pass while he's window shopping for big-screen TVs. Should you start poking holes in your diaphragm or just call it quits? What happens when one partner wants kids and the other doesn't? We asked Dr. Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist and the author of The Secrets of Happy Families, to discuss some of the issues involved and offer some tips on what you can do.
Q: If you want a baby and your partner doesn't, where can you start? Are those reconcilable positions?
A: It depends on how you define "partner." If your current partner doesn't want to have kids, but it's not the partner you plan on having for life, that can work really well. One might even argue that it's the best thing. But if it's a life partner with whom you are working together to form plans about the future, then it is a pivotal issue. Not everybody that wants to have a child ends up having a child. Sometimes it's just because of someone's social situation or it's due to infertility -- but the inability to have a child doesn't keep couples from connecting even if they want a child. But when one person wants a child and the other person doesn't, it becomes a built-up resentment because one person feels like their partner is preventing them from accomplishing a life dream, or the other partner feels like they're being forced into something that goes against their wishes.
Q: Can you bring someone around to your point of view, or is it dangerous to even try?
A: Usually in these situations, the person who ends up coming around is the one who doesn't want a child. People don't usually have a dream of having no children; it's a lifestyle choice. Often, they'll be able to say that it was a positive thing and they were glad that they did it. Research shows us that people are happier when they do something and then live with the consequences versus when they don't do something and then imagine all of the what ifs? If someone acquiesces and agrees not to have a child, they'll always wonder about the what ifs.
Q: If somebody is perfect for you in every way except this one, should you view this as a deal breaker?
A: It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it's definitely a discussion maker. It needs to be explored a little bit deeper. The discussion usually has to be framed as "Why do you not want to have a child?" because how far can you go with "Why do you want to have a child?" So much of that stuff is just a biological imperative. If you listen to the reasons and it seems like they're temporal - like, I don't have a job or I don't feel stable enough or good enough about who I am as a person - then you might be able to look at it as a phase they're at in this stage of life and it doesn't mean they'll never want to have kids. But if someone says that it's not a change they're willing to make ever, then it absolutely is a deal breaker.
Q: Is this something you should discuss fairly early in a relationship?
A: I wouldn't say very early -- it's definitely uncool to do it on the first date. But the topic should come up at some point -- like, "I notice that you're really good with your nephew; do you ever think of having children of your own?"
Q: Is it more common that women want children and men resist?
A: Assuming they're a young couple that's trying to decide their future together, it's usually men who are reluctant to have children. One of the reasons might be that men tend to view life as more of a struggle. Two, men tend to be drawn more to recreational behaviours that don't involve children and they recognize that having a child will pull them away from the things they do for enjoyment. And third, men recognize that bringing a child into the fold will mean that they're going to have less of their wife's attention. A very small percentage of men are also wary of some of the changes pregnancy can bring in a woman's body.
Once couples decide to marry, they've already made the decision to be together. The challenge at that point isn't deciding that you're not compatible; the challenge is deciding how you can live together, care for each other and be by each other's side even if your partner isn't able to make all of your dreams come true.