What to Do if You Want a Baby but Your Partner Doesn't

Young couple in disagreement about whether or not to have a baby

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The decision to have a baby is a major one, and sometimes partners don't always see eye-to-eye on timing—or whether to start a family at all. This can be a challenging situation, and can potentially lead to an impasse.

Engaging in open, honest communication can build to a positive resolution that keeps the couple together, says Karen Gail Lewis, EdD, MFT, MSW, a marriage and family therapist and author of multiple relationship and family therapy books.

"Ideally, you have this discussion before the partnership, but even then sometimes people change their minds," explains Lewis, who reports that this is a common relationship issue that often comes up in couples' counseling. She adds that it can be difficult to know for sure when the "right" time is to have children, and people could end up wanting more—or fewer—children than they originally planned.

When approaching a conversation about children, there are a few strategies you can employ to help have the most productive dialogue possible, uncover what each partner truly wants, and learn what you're willing to compromise—or not—in order to stay together.

Talk About Kids as Early as Possible

In the best-case scenario, a couple has discussed and decided whether or not to have kids (and how many) before they make a commitment to each other. "When you're talking about children before you decide to partner, make a point to discuss what you will do if one of you changes your mind," advises Lewis. "That way if it happens, you already have a framework and mutual understanding about how you will proceed."

If you're at the point where you already know you feel differently about this issue, it's important to really listen to where the other person is coming from. There are all sorts of reasons why people do or do not want children, and active listening is an essential factor in even the toughest of these conversations.

These discussions may look different if you are discussing a hypothetical family down the line versus wanting to make a decision in the present. Either way, it's important to look at your partner's perspective as non-judgmentally as possible, says Jane Hammerslough, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist licensed in New York, California, and Massachusetts. "Try to find some compassion and understanding for the other person’s stance, even if you don't fully agree," she adds.

How to Navigate Disagreement

Sometimes you can both get on the same page regarding having a baby. However, the hard truth is that not all couples can come to an agreement about their childrearing plans, says Lewis. Regardless of where you are in your decision-making, it's key to open up to your partner and consider both viewpoints without judgment. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer, just the equally valid desires and feelings of both parties.

When having this conversation, avoid blame or belittling your partner's perspective. Instead, really listen to them, and aim to use "I" statements, says Hammerslough. This means, say, "I feel..." rather than leading with "You..." When you affirm the other person's feelings, they feel heard and valued. This doesn't mean you necessarily agree, just that you are making an effort to understand, says Hammerslough.

"It’s worth trying to walk your partner through your thinking and have them walk you through theirs," says Hammmerslough. Keep digging, with open minds, for underlying motivations and emotions. "For example, if you think your family isn’t complete yet, try to articulate what that incompleteness means for you. Go into as much detail as you can to explain how you feel. If you're still at an impasse, it might be a good idea to see a therapist to help you navigate this decision," adds Hammerslough.

Reaching a Compromise

While there is no guarantee, by fully talking through your feelings and desires, you and your partner might be able to reach an understanding. This is more likely if you are able to consider and fully address what worries them most about having a baby, says Hammerslough.

For instance, your partner may be concerned about finances, losing closeness with you, a change in lifestyle, or giving up free time. They might worry that they won't bond with the child, or that they won't make a good parent. See if you can collaboratively come up with solutions that could mitigate these underlying fears or concerns, says Hammerslough.

It's important to know that finding compromise can be quite challenging with a topic like family-planning, especially when both partners feel strongly. Sometimes, the reluctant partner may agree to pregnancy in efforts to stay together. But Lewis warns that resentment, anger, or distance can brew between the couple in this type of situation, and this solution typically is not healthy for a relationship.

"Another scenario is that the partner who wants a child says, 'Fine, you don’t have to do anything except support us; I'll take full responsibility,'" explains Lewis. "Sometimes, this can work out, but equally as often, the couple may either split up or one partner does it all and both people end up feeling alone and resentful."

When to Get Help

If both partners are very far apart on this issue, it can be hard to figure it out on your own. "Some couples might not want to talk to a counselor about this, but thinking of the therapist as a mediator to sort through emotions can really help," advises Lewis.

When searching for a counselor, it might be helpful to find one who specializes in assisting couples who are facing issues surrounding childrearing. A therapist can help get to the root of any lingering fears, and shed light on whether or not there might be a solution waiting at the end.

"It can be heartbreaking to watch couples that love each other have to work through these decisions," says Lewis. However, at least by talking it out and each doing some serious soul-searching, you will know what you both truly want and then can evaluate your options openly.

When Breaking Up Is the Only Option

The hard truth is that such an impasse may be difficult to get beyond, and couples may decide to end their relationship if they cannot come to an agreement about having children.

Ultimately, only you can decide if your desire for a baby outweighs your desire to continue the relationship, says Hammerslough. However, working through these issues with a therapist can help you come to a decision you feel confident in.

A Word From Verywell

It can be challenging when one partner wants a baby and the other does not. It can be difficult to compromise, as the decision to have a baby is a life-changing one. However, with honesty, compassion, and active, nonjudgemental listening, you and your partner can engage in a productive conversation to discover where you both land on this important decision.

If you're having trouble coming to a resolution on your own, it might be time to seek out the guidance of a therapist trained in working through these issues. Ultimately, you will need to do what's best for not only your relationship, but yourselves as individuals, in order to honor each person's wants, needs, and goals.

1 Source
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  1. Fiori F, Rinesi F, Graham E. Choosing to remain childless? A comparative study of fertility Intentions among women and men in Italy and BritainEur J Popul. 2017;33(3):319-350. doi:10.1007/s10680-016-9404-2

By Sarah Vanbuskirk
Sarah Vanbuskirk is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering parenting, health, wellness, lifestyle, and family-related topics. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, including Activity Connection, Glamour, PDX Parent, Self, TripSavvy, Marie Claire, and TimeOut NY.