Should she leave her childless marriage?

Dear readers,

In response to last week’s post regarding regret if we choose our mate over having children, Heavy Heart wrote:

“First of all, thank you for posting this as I would like to hear advice from the ladies who remained childless past their child bearing age. I am going to be 36 years old very soon, married to a man who has a 10 year old son. We agreed on having our own child when we first started our serious relationship five years ago. Fast forward five years. Now married for 3 years, bio mom drama subsided, financials are more stable. My husband says his life is finally ‘good.’ um…can we now start planning for our child?? My husband has been avoiding the conversation as much as he can. Excuses, excuses, and excuses. I am very close to asking him “YES or NO” and if the NO is the final answer, leaving him, but I can’t get to that final answer and I don’t want to hear that final answer. He says he is on the fence because of the financial burden of having two children because he has to take care of his son first before having his second. He knows it’s ‘unfair’ if he said no and he knows that I will probably leave him so he is avoiding the conversation altogether.”

In responding to Heavy Heart, something suddenly clicked in my head. If they had the kind of relationship meant to last forever, she wouldn’t think about leaving. I know that for me, leaving Fred was not an option. He was my person, period.

So I ask you: Is the marriage already too shaky to last if one of the partners is thinking about leaving for any reason, especially if they’re giving their spouse an ultimatum: Say yes, I stay; say no, and I’m gone? And what about the husband in this case? People do change their minds, but they had a deal. Does he not love her enough to stick with that deal?

Heavy Heart, if you’re reading this, I hope it’s okay that I’m sharing your comment more widely. You are not alone in this situation. I hear variations of the same story all the time. One of the partners balks at having children, despite having agreed to them earlier, and now the other is thinking about leaving, wondering if they can find someone else who is more willing before it’s too late.

Me, I want to scream at Heavy Heart’s husband, and I want to go back to simpler times. I have asked my father about deciding to have children. His answer is always that, “You just did.” In those years shortly after World War II before birth control was easy to get, people got married and had babies, period.

So what do you think? What is your advice for Heavy Heart?


My dog Annie had her knee surgery last Thursday. I have been in full caregiver mode since then, doling out pills, watching to make sure she doesn’t tear up her incision, taking her on short, careful walks, and just sitting with her. Right now, she’s snoring beside my desk. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.




19 thoughts on “Should she leave her childless marriage?

  1. Wonderful blog. People need to really really realize this: When someone says they don’t want children, and you do, don’t go on a second date. There is a high chance they won’t just “change their minds later.” Honesty now helps avoid heartache and problems in the future.


    • I don’t think it’s that simple. First of all I do agree with you, if you first meet someone who comes out and flat out says, I don’t want children, yeah, you should be heeding that message. However, it is well known in the dating community that women are not allowed to start talking about having children at the beginning of a relationship. I think it should not be that way, but it is. Second, even in the engagement stages it isn’t “cool” or even accepted to talk about having children. And this is even more pronounced with young couples because they have more time. And now here we are in the marriage, and men are still not willing to talk about it. This is not a rare situation. It seems like men float the possibility out there that children are possible and then reneg on the whole nonverbal promises. It’s cruel, and not an integrity move, but happens to the best of us. Honesty would help a lot but heartache can still happen if you happen to love someone who doesn’t want kids.


    • In my case, we did talk about it while dating. He promised me a house full of kids. Then we got married and he changed his tune (just one of the many things he lied about before marriage). It’s not always as simple as telling someone that they should have asked.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Sue,

    Thank you for sharing my story. I really need other ladies’ opinions and to see if there is any other way to look at the situation. You are right on that the marriage is shaky if I am thinking this already. The back story to this is, I never told anyone, not even my husband of course, but sensing that he may be changing his mind, I tried to forget about having my own children forever for two years. I read books and blogs to come to terms with the “childless forever” idea. After two years of trying to train my brain, no. I still wanted to have my own.

    So I once tried to forget about becoming a mother because leaving him was not an option. But after a while, tired childless stepmom brain started to think “if my husband says No, then I don’t want to continue to live this very painful life of a childless stepmom.”


  3. “…I want to go back to simpler times before birth control was easy to get…people got married and had babies, period.”


    My grandmother was one of the thousands of young women in the decades before reliable, available birth control (and before Roe v. Wade) who got pregnant “out of wedlock” and was sent out of the country to give birth to a baby she never saw again. She came back home, was married off to a man she didn’t like, and had more children that she didn’t really want and never really connected to. She – and her children, and their children – paid the price for your rosy “simpler times”.

    Not in a million years would I ever want to go back to those “simpler times.” I treasure the fact that I (and my sisters, cousins, colleagues, college professors, care workers, political leaders, etc. etc.) can control when (and whether) we have children. I am glad and grateful for it every single day.

    Yes, some of us will make a “wrong” choice. Some of us will have regrets. But that’s what being an adult is all about: you make the best choice you can, and then you make the next choice, and the next. Wanting to be insulated against the possibility of regret means wanting to be insulated against the awesome, grown-up, human responsibility of making choices.

    Heavy Heart, you find yourself in the position of having to make a difficult choice. We all end up there, sooner or later, whether it’s around relationships or jobs or children or any number of important questions. There is no option you can choose here that will be without regret. You’re going to have to decide which way is right for you. No one else can make that choice for you. That’s your awesome, grown-up, human responsibility. It’s going to hurt. I’m sorry.


  4. I say a deal is a deal. He agreed, time is right, and he needs to keep up his end. It’s
    not fair that bio-mom had kids and you haven’t. I say leave him with all deliberate speed
    if he says no. Frankly, I’d have pulled the plug when he started getting flaky about it. If you
    don’t leave him, you’ll resent him. And resentment will turn into hatred. Then what?


  5. Thank you NY, I will just have to have the talk. (once again and I know this time will be the last time).

    Tony, thank you for your reply. I think a deal is a deal, too. My husband didn’t know his ex-girlfriend was pregnant and gave birth to a baby (she thought the baby was her new boyfriend’s not my husband’s) until his son was born, so I always thought that he didn’t have guts to actually “plan” for a baby because last time the baby was already born. But you are right. He has to own it if he promised it in the beginning. I am planning to talk to him soon and hear his final decision.


    • Hi, Heavy Heart,
      There is a lot I could say about this post. But I have said comments on this before. Your husband really reminds me of way, way simpler times when the firstborn son was the sole heir to the farm or manor, or castle. So, who does your husband think he his? Lord of the Manor??? I would just like to say that we are past that now. It is 2018. I know a lot of people on this blog come from a strong religious background, as the author is Catholic, I am also Catholic, and this blog is about childless by MARRIAGE, which implies a religious ceremony and commitment. I don’t want to influence you to leave your marriage, but I want to encourage you to feel confident that you are perfectly capable of raising a child on your own. That might mean you and your husband having a baby while you are the main provider for the child, or it might mean something else. I would also encourage you to encourage him to have confidence that the two of you are perfectly capable of caring for two children. Our Catholic selves tell us the husband and father of the family is the decision maker, the boss, the provider, but we can’t continue to live in this made-up, out-dated version of reality. I know many single moms who are killing it, and there are also single moms out there who actually chose to become single moms. Also women are good providers as well, in my case. I make a bigger salary and my job provides our family health insurance plan.

      Please let us know the outcome of the conversation. I would like to know if he can look you in the eyes when he gives you an answer.


  6. I lived this. Husband had a 13-year-old son when we married. The subject of children was on the checklist, so that I made sure I covered all the bases. He definitely wanted more children. Two years into the marriage, I was about 32, I started up THE conversation. I got….welllll, my son will be grown in a couple years…and I’m not sure I want to start over. And….think carefully because the bulk of the responsibility of a child will be yours. I opted not to pursue having children, reasoning that many people had full active lives without them.

    I got divorced not quite two years ago, 20 years after those conversations. That selfishness he showed then–take care of my kid, but none for you–rang loudly throughout the marriage. It was his job, his career, his health problems and on and on, There was nothing close to a full, active lifestyle. And then his child had kids. I was dubbed “Auntie” and expected to pick up the slack to make Grandpa look good.

    I’m now divorced, 54, trying to put my life together alone as an only child, childless, nearly relative-less, caring for an elderly mother…alone. (Not that he would have helped with her at all.) As difficult as it is at times watching everyone else “with theirs.” I am confident that I made the right choice not having children with him. After all those years, I know for certain he meant that it would be my responsibility alone. My regret is not leaving then and having the courage to just go get knocked up and be a single parent. (I said that on the Catholic annulment he filed for on the terms that I did not want children. I think O even said I’d just go to the nearest bar and find anything drunk on a bar stool as it would be better than what I ended up with. lol)

    Walk. Just walk. He told you it wouldn’t be “fair to his first child” if he had a second. Seriously, you’re his WIFE. He just told you exactly where you stand.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Crystal, mdoe37 
    Thank you so much for sharing your story and advice. I talked to my husband, a 30-minute conversation. In a nutshell, He is not 100% agreeing, but it’s “not fair to me and it is important to me.” He agreed to start trying for a baby from next month. I am waiting to see if he follows up. I wanted to argue my case until he is 100% and wanted him to be actually “excited about it,” but I decided to pick a battle and let this one go. I am happy for now that he actually agreed, but again, I will see for sure next month.

    Thank you again, everybody, for sharing your story and advice. I am very grateful.


  8. If you leave, I would recommend being ready to think about if you want to be a single mom. I left at 36 thinking that I still had time to find someone. I’m now 39 and realize I should have thought about the option of being a single mom at 36. I’ve been through difficult breakups and am not any closer to having a child before 40. I’m trying to make my peace about being childless not by choice, but it’s difficult. I don’t regret leaving, but it’s not easy to find someone with whom you connect who wants a family and is serious about that and actually considers the time you have left to have a child.


  9. heavy heart,

    I’m glad to hear that he wants to try for a child. I believe he
    knows that you’ll leave him if he doesn’t keep his end of the
    deal. I pray this happens for you.


  10. I am 25 and my partner is 51. We’ve been together 2.5 years and live together. I love him very much. However he had a vasectomy in his thirties and doesn’t want children. He already has two grown children of his own from a previous relationship. I understand this could be a big issue, although I’m okay with not having children now, I’ve not been shy in admitting my feelings on this could may well change in the future, particularly as my friends start having babies. He says he will not ever change his mind. He doesn’t want to start over and feels it would be unfair on the child to have an older dad. I’m aware chances of a successful reversal are also poor due to it being done so long ago, so even if he did come around to the idea there’s still no guarantee of a baby. I feel like I can’t walk away yet because the desire for a baby isn’t as strong at the moment as my desire to be with him, but at the same time I’m worried the opposite will happen and I don’t want to miss the boat and regret things in the future. It’s very hard.


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