The question: When we got married my husband said he wanted to have kids. Now, several years into our marriage he has decided that kids are not part of his future. I still desperately want to have children. Knowing that there isn't much to compromise on this, what should I do? Do I wait for him to potentially change his mind (which he has said could happen but could not) or start filling out the divorce papers?
The answer: Every couple faces two types of issues in their relationship: solvable and perpetual problems. Solvable issues for one couple can be perpetual issues for another, and vice versa.
An important part of resolving conflict in a relationship involves accurately identifying which type of problem you are facing, as that determines how to move forward. Often, couples confound the two, and reach a stalemate if they are approaching the issue with a mismatched approach.
Solvable problems are those that have potential workarounds, meaning a solution can be both found and maintained with appropriate dialogue. These are about a situational issue, and often don't have deeper meaning when it comes to one or both partners' personality or fundamental needs.
Perpetual problems are those that relate to fundamental differences in personalities or lifestyle needs. Research demonstrates that couples need to initiate effective dialogue about their perpetual issues to effectively move forward, otherwise they become engaged in gridlocked conflict.
There are two important things you have mentioned: that your husband has previously voiced a desire for children, and he also indicates that he may change his mind. Have the two of you been able to have effective dialogue about what has led him to change his mind yet be somewhat open to this changing in the future? Are there other factors at play, such as job uncertainty, concerns about finances, or other core relationship problems that the two of you have? If there are contributing factors to his decision that are solvable, the approach would be to target those first.
Or, is his stance on children independent of the quality of your relationship or other extrinsic factors? If it boils down to a fundamental difference in your lifestyle needs for the future, the two of you have some more difficult discussions and decisions to make. Ultimately, it comes down to weighing how much importance each of you places on your relationship over children. One of you either has to accept the other's position (which could lead to long-term resentment and contempt in the relationship) or make a decision to end the relationship.
One thing is for certain, forcing the issue of kids if your partner is strongly voicing he doesn't want them is a no-win situation. I've seen many couples where the husband eventually succumbs even though he has repeatedly voiced not wanting children, and this more often than not leads to significant problems in the long-term. Emotional disengagement, lack of emotional and physical intimacy, and lack of involvement in child-rearing are all potential consequences.
Dr. John Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert is an excellent book that I would recommend you and your husband read through together to help you navigate the tricky waters of having these conversations. If you find the two of you are unable to effectively move forward, I would suggest seeing a couples therapist to exhaust all other options before you consider potentially making the difficult decision to end your marriage.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra
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