When you and your spouse disagree over a big issue, you may–understandably–worry that you’re incompatible. Perhaps you fear that you are headed for divorce. After all, how can two people go forward sharing a life when they have very different ideas about how they want to live?
But marriage is all about figuring out how to live with someone who is different from you in some major ways.
And while sometimes a couple may decide to part because they want to go in two directions, there are other ways to proceed.
The decision to parent (or not) is often seen as a classic “dealbreaker” issue. Here’s a letter I recently got for my Washington Blade advice column that gave me the opportunity to discuss how a couple can find ways to stay together even when they have very different dreams for their life.
My wife has decided we have to have a baby, but I have no interest in becoming a mom.
She never brought this up as something she wanted for the two years we were dating. In fact we often poked fun at the new expectation that gay couples should be just like straight couples, settling down to have children after the wedding.
But we got married a year ago and here we are in this predicament. Ashley turned 38 last month and her younger sister just had a baby who is the first grandchild in the family. Ashley says that seeing her sister bond with our new niece has made her realize that she wants to be a mother.
Because she’s afraid she’s getting too old to get pregnant, Ashley is pushing me to get on board so that she can start trying right away. But there’s no way I want to do this!
I’m not interested in putting in the time to raise a child. I’ve never particularly liked children and I don’t even like spending time with our new niece, who mainly wails.
I’m also far more interested in using my free time and extra cash for leisure than for monitoring playdates and paying tuition.
Ashley says I am being selfish, not thinking how important this is to her. By that logic, isn’t she being selfish by not thinking how important it is for me not to have a child?
She also says that it’s important to “give back” to the world by raising a child. But I give a lot of money to charities that help animals and the environment. I think there are too many humans already and we are making a mess of this planet. It seems crazy to go out of our way to create more.
Very seriously, I also wonder what any child’s life will be like when they grow up, given the increasingly dire predictions about global warming. Why bring someone into this world that is likely going to be a scary and difficult place to live?
But above all, I just don’t want to put in the time and resources necessary to properly raise a child.
Yet Ashley is determined to do this and I can’t reason her out of this. We are at a stalemate. Any pointers for how we can figure this out?
You’re finding out how challenging marriage can be.
We think we know the person we marry, we think we’re on the same page regarding all the important stuff, and then, wham! The other person keeps changing. And so do we.
If you are determined not to have a child and it is more important for you to be childless than to be with Ashley, and if Ashley would rather have a child than be childless with you, then the two of you have three choices: You can end your marriage right now; you can stay together and feel resentful and miserable about your lot in life going forward; or you can challenge yourself to wholeheartedly change the vision you have for your life.
So, before considering deal breakers and end games, talk with each other about why what you want is important to you. And listen to your spouse’s answer with an open mind. The winner/loser dynamic is a surefire way to destroy goodwill in a relationship, so stop trying to talk your spouse out of her opinion.
Instead, strive to be curious, to learn why your partner has her dream for her life. One of you might decide that because you love your wife and do not want to lose the relationship, you are willing to support her dream, even if your life won’t play out exactly the way you’d hoped.
This is not about compromise. Supporting your partner’s dream means being all in.
One important aspect of marriage is dealing with our differences. If you can manage this without losing yourself or losing the other, you’re likely to have a vital, resilience-building journey through life.
That said, if you remain married there is no way for Ashley to be a mother and for you not to be a mother. If you do agree to become a parent, you will have to be a loving parent and give your child your best. It would be an injustice to the child not to do so.
Even with a small child, it is possible to have some life of your own and some leisure time. If you speak with parents whom you know with children of varying ages, you might learn that the picture is not as bleak as you imagine. Kids don’t remain wailing infants forever, but at first they can be all-consuming.
I understand your concern about bringing children into this world. At present, things do seem awfully bleak for humankind going forward. Though there are no guarantees, perhaps you would raise a thoughtful child who might make a positive difference toward a better future for our planet.