How Do You Talk About the Baby Thing Without a Fight?

Last week I told you about the book I was reading, Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy. Cathy’s husband Neil had announced he didn’t want any children. In fact, he insisted they had agreed on that. No, they hadn’t. She was willing to wait a few years, but she did expect to have children eventually.

What happened? She got pregnant. He was furious. He wanted her to have an abortion. What happened to his belief in a woman’s right to choose, she asked. She chose not to terminate the pregnancy.  

At 14 weeks, she had a miscarriage. Her husband tried not to be smug about it, but he was clearly relieved. What about future babies? Well, by then, their marriage was falling apart. The baby issue wasn’t the only one where he made rulings instead of asking what she wanted. By the end, they couldn’t have a civil conversation.

Finally, trying to save the marriage, he said, okay, you can have a baby. But it was too late. Cathy left him. He took a job in Africa that he had wanted all along. Meanwhile, Cathy’s work partner Tom had dumped his girlfriend. Soon he and Cathy were getting cozy. They will probably get married and have a dozen kids who will all grow up to work in their catering business.

But this is fiction. Cathy left the guy who didn’t want kids and fell into a relationship with the real Mr. Right, who can’t wait to be a dad. I suppose it could happen. But can we count on it?

For hundreds of pages, Cathy and Neil couldn’t seem to talk about their issues. They were both too busy at work, and neither one wanted to risk an argument. So Neil assumed they were on the same page about kids when they weren’t. Cathy was afraid to stand up for her right to be a mom. When she got pregnant, she put off telling him until people were starting to guess. There were so many issues where he wanted A and she wanted B, and neither would compromise. He didn’t respect her work, and she didn’t trust him not to cheat on her. They kept saying they loved each other, but was that enough? Not for Cathy and Neil.

What lessons can we learn here? Couples have to talk about the important issues. Even if it’s difficult, even if the other person keeps changing the subject, even if you’re both so busy you can’t see straight, you have to have do it. That includes discussing whether or not you will have children and when, what you will do if the woman falls pregnant when it’s not planned, and what you will do if you have trouble getting pregnant. I know it’s hard. Some people clam up when it comes to feelings and touchy issues, but it has to be addressed. This applies to living arrangements, work, and other big choices, too. When you’re a couple, one person is not supposed to make all the decisions.

How do you do it? People don’t react well to ultimatums or whining or accusations. Perhaps it’s a matter of asking questions and really listening to the answers. Why is this so important to you? What are you afraid of? Could you give in on this issue because it’s so important to me? In some cases, an intermediary, a counselor, a priest, a friend, might be needed. But I would hope if you’re really in love, you can find a way to have those important talks and check back in occasionally to see whether you both still feel the same way. Don’t be like Cathy and Neil. Find the time to talk.

Some helpful websites:

“How the 5-5-5 Method Helps Married Couples Work Through Conflict”

“10 Tips for Resolving Relationship Conflicts”

“7 Ways Happy Couples Deal with Disagreements Differently”

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If They Don’t Want Kids, Do You Have to Break Up?

That’s the question that arises in the majority of comments here at Childless by Marriage.  So many people, mostly anonymous, write that their partner says he (or she) does not want to have children. In some cases, they both agreed on not having kids in the beginning, but now the writer has changed her mind and is frustrated because her partner has not. In other cases, the partner has just announced that he isn’t interested in having kids. Not now, not ever, he doesn’t want to discuss it.

The heartbroken writer says: Now we have to break up. They may have been together for five, ten or twenty years, but it’s over because their partner does not want to be a parent.

Yesterday, Anonymous wrote: My girlfriend of 8 years has just told me she does not want children. She won’t even discuss it. I’m gutted and know I can’t stay with her. It is incredibly painful. She loves children and is great with them. Instead of even giving a reason, she just says she is ‘at peace’ with her decision.

But is it over? Should you really throw away a relationship that is good in every other way over this issue? God knows it’s a huge issue. The Catholic Church considers it grounds for annulment, declaring the marriage was never valid. Having children or not changes the whole course of your life, and if you have always wanted to be a mother or father, shouldn’t you pursue that?

Maybe. But how do you know whether you will find someone else in time to procreate or that you will ever love another person as much as the partner you have now? You don’t. So hold on. Don’t be too quick to jump ship or to broadcast to the world that your partner is a rat. Take a breath. Talk about it. I know, they don’t always want to talk. Give them a little time. Find a way to approach the subject without accusations and threats. Maybe say, “I love you so much and I want to understand . . .” Maybe you could each write a letter explaining your feelings. Maybe you could try counseling. Maybe there’s a good reason or an obstacle that you can help them get over. Or not. Just don’t give up too quickly. If you really love someone, you have to accept them as they are. If up until now, this person was The One, maybe he still is.

If the relationship is new and you really haven’t established any strong ties, then adios. Tell them it’s a deal-breaker and move on. But if you have given everything to this relationship, maybe it’s meant to be.

What do you think about this? Have you ever broken up over children? Are you thinking about it? What would you advise if it was your brother or your best friend? Please comment.