Hello, Carolyn: Can you suggest a good way to bring up the topic of starting a family to my wife? She has expressed much ambivalence over the years but never officially ruled it out. We’ve been married 15 years, and when we got married, I was upfront about my desire for a family. She expressed a similar sentiment.
As years have passed, my desire for a family has only grown, but hers has diminished while her ambivalence increased.
We’re now in our early 40s, so obviously the window for having a child through natural means has closed, but I’ve been researching adoption and surrogacy and think it may be the path for us.
I don’t want to wait any longer to start a family, considering our ages, but she keeps wanting to put it off, and anytime I press the issue, she becomes combative. “Couples’ counseling” is also out, as she views it as too expensive and a racket.
Any suggestions you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Anonymous: I’m so sorry. She’s said no in all ways but “no.”
Foot-dragging, lashing out, stiff-arming efforts to talk, scoffing at therapy.
“No” in itself isn’t bad — kids or no kids, both are valid choices — but this is a bad “no” between you in at least four different ways.
1. She hasn’t just said it outright. Awful. Adults own their own stuff — and respect their partners! She’s jerked you around since 2006. Even if it was never intentional — ambivalence about child rearing is common and needs no justification — your open enthusiasm for having kids means at some point, her choosing not to choose became a selfish act.
2. Her refusal just to say it out loud has given you room to deceive yourself, which it seems you gratefully accepted. You’re researching surrogacy and adoption, and telling me how badly you want a family, when you feel you can’t even breathe the f-word around her?
3. She played out her aggressions here, passive and otherwise, up to and possibly through the end of her fertility. Again — that might have begun innocently enough but it curdled into bad faith, because of its cost to you both.
4. And you let that happen! Without insisting she join you in some decision, one way or the other, articulated and agreed to — albeit binding only in the sense that mind-changes must be shared promptly. At Year 10, say: “I have been upfront with you. I want children. Putting it off until it’s impossible isn’t how I want to decide this. Please have the kindness to answer me. I will take any more deflection as a definitive ‘no.’” Instead, you’re still “press[ing]” a clearly reluctant mate.
So here’s where this bad “no” brings us: Even if she were somehow, improbably, sincerely open to having children with or without outside assistance, then I would still be very wary of co-parents who don’t trust and respect each other — and themselves — enough even to talk about having kids. The second-easiest part.
The next reckoning from here is with yourself: What’s your plan after “no"?
The reckoning after that is with her, about frank conversation itself. You’re at odds, not talking, not deciding, pushing and pushing back: If you can’t speak freely, then what is this marriage about?
More from Carolyn Hax
From the archive:
Delete a friend’s confession about having an affair
A husband’s put off by his wife’s procrastination
A widower’s request to his child is a lot to unpack
Saying ‘I do’ for all the wrong reasons
Mother-in-law wants you to apologize for something your husband did. Heck no!
Sign up for Carolyn’s email newsletter to get her column delivered to your inbox each morning.
Carolyn has a Q&A with readers on Fridays. Read the most recent live chat here. The next chat is March 31.
Resources for getting help. Frequently asked questions about the column. Chat glossary