Q. I've been happily married to a wonderful man for almost two years and we are very much in love. I'm 37, he's 45. It's my first marriage, his second, and he has a lovely daughter, 23, whom he raised on his own since she was 18 months old. When we were engaged, he told me that he didn't want any more children. At the time, I didn't know what I wanted. Well, now, having kids is all I think about! We've had many long conversations about it, going so far as to pick out names for "our child." He even told his daughter we were thinking of having a baby. Then, all of a sudden, he changed his mind. Now he tells me he's too old, that we can't afford another child (our combined salaries are $120,000 plus a year!), and that he's afraid that if we do, he won't see me for 20 years. This man is the love of my life, and we have so much to offer a child. I think he just got spooked. How can I get him to change his mind?
Joann Paley Galst, Ph.D., an individual and couples therapist in New York City, answers:
A: When one partner has children from another relationship, it's not uncommon that the level of investment in having another child will differ. This inequity may contribute to feelings of anger, betrayal, loss, and guilt—on both of your parts. To reach some commonality, you both need to delve deeply and share your feelings, past and present. Only then will you be able to generate new ideas and plan for your future.
First, don't panic. In these situations, I've often found that "no" means "not now" — not necessarily "never." Second, instead of trying so hard to get your husband to change his mind, try to understand the reasons behind his decision. Validate his fears instead of trying to argue him out of them. For example, since he had sole responsibility for raising his daughter, I'd want to explore his concerns regarding not seeing you for "20 years." Clearly, he didn't have a loving, responsive marriage before and he believes he has one now. Talk about what that means and how you can make sure you don't begin to operate on parallel tracks if you do have a child. (Agreeing in advance to hire a babysitter regularly, to make a commitment to go out alone together once or twice a week, and to take vacations sans kids is one idea.)
Probe gently for other concerns he may be harboring—about money, space considerations, even how tired you both might be—and address each of them thoughtfully. Listen carefully, and though you'll be tempted to react immediately, hold your tongue. The more anxious, hurt, and angry you are, the less fairness you can bring to any discussion. What are the feelings behind his words? Can you put yourself in his position? Are there any you share? For instance, it's clear that you both regard your marriage as a top priority. Tell him that. Acknowledging out loud how much your relationship means to you, too, may allay his worries that he'll lose you if you have a child. Your husband also needs to hear why you changed your mind and why having a child together means so much to you now.
Talk to other couples that have been in a similar situation. What can you learn from their experiences? Sometimes, other people can suggest solutions that might not have occurred to you. Be patient and give yourself plenty of time to sort out conflicting feelings. Your decision has to feel right for both of you — and that will take many thoughtful discussions.