The Conversation That Could Change My Relationship

Illustrated by Emily Zirimis.
I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years, and it’s the easiest, healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. We have the same sense of humor and hobbies, and I never get sick of being with him. However, we had a conversation recently that has me really worried: He says he doesn’t want kids.
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We started dating when I was 25 and he was 28. We were both building our careers, so kids were a topic that never really came up. But, now that we’re talking about marriage and our future, he says he loves our life “with just us” and that having children isn’t something he ever saw for himself. I shouldn’t have assumed that kids are something everyone wants, but I already see him as part of my family and know he’d be a great father. I can’t imagine my life without him, but I can’t see a life without children, either. Should I wait it out with the hope that he’ll change his mind? Or is this a deal breaker?
Bea Arthur, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
When Compromise Isn't An Option
"Deal breaker" is a strong phrase, especially when it comes to relationships, which are living, breathing entities that change and grow at various different milestones. In the healthiest relationships, both parties respect each other enough to be flexible when tough decisions need to be made — and that often involves compromise. In your case, however, compromise may not be an option — ultimately, one of you will have to sacrifice what you want in order to give your partner what he or she needs.
This happens at some point in most relationships in several different iterations: Deciding where you want to live, dealing with difficult family members...even political preferences could be considered “deal-breakers” for some. Basically, what it comes down to is: Would you stay in a serious relationship with someone if you knew you couldn’t be together in the future?
Illustrated by Emily Zirimis.
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How This Topic Opens Up A Larger Discussion
You say that you see your partner being a great father, and that may be true, but your hunch is not a good reason to try and change a grown man’s plans for his own life. Plus, I’d hate to see you hang your future on a fantasy when the reality of the current situation would provide better guidance. So, to make an informed decision that you can find peace over, you need to get more information, and this will require a serious sit-down. Actually, probably a few serious sit-downs. You weren’t wrong to assume your partner had the same vision for your future as you did. In fact, if you’ve been together for three years and this topic “never really came up,” it could be that he assumed children weren’t a priority for you, either. He might also be feeling blindsided and confused by hearing what you want, so it’s time to find out what else might have been left unsaid.
Illustrated by Emily Zirimis.
How To Get On The Same Page
No, I don’t mean you using Jedi mind tricks to try to convince him to see things your way. In fact, ask yourself if you really want to have to convince someone to join you on something as major as starting a family. You’ll need all hands on deck, especially in the first year of parenthood, which is the most challenging for new parents. Once you start a family, you won’t have the energy to continue trying to convince him it's a good thing. He needs to feel personally involved, so sit down and find out what he actually does see for your future together.
If neither one of you can relate to where the other one is coming from, then your rational discussion will invariably turn into a heated argument; remember that the goal of this discussion is to get answers, not to get angry. Stick to your questions and don’t get upset when he answers honestly. It also helps to discuss specifics rather than broad personal ideology, so that you don’t talk in circles. For example, instead of saying “Why don’t you want children?” which might make him defensive; try asking “How/when did you know you didn’t want children?” Sometimes, people who had rough or uncomfortable childhoods don’t want to relive that experience, even vicariously. Sometimes, people just like sleep, time, or disposable income way too much to give that up for another person. Others have simply never had the urge. Whatever it is, understanding his reasoning will give you more insight into his opinions and whether or not they’re likely to change.
Illustrated by Emily Zirimis.
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Why You Need To Have A Conversation With Yourself
In the meantime, you also need to have a very honest conversation with yourself. There are decisions you make as a couple and decisions you make for yourself. You say you can’t see your life without him, but that choice could involve major consequences. Which thought feels more urgent: being with this man, or being a mother? You could go through all the what ifs: What if we don’t have kids and I resent him forever? What if we do have kids, and we don't end up staying together? What if he changes his mind when he’s older, but by then, it’s too late for me?
Because there are so many different ways this could play out, all you can do is base your decision on the information you have right now. On the other hand, although people rarely change, sometimes their opinions do. He’s young, so as he gets older, he could change his mind. You don't want to wait around forever, of course, but I suggest that you keep discussing it openly — if he's willing to. If you believe there's room for growth and a potential change of heart, you don't necessarily need to break it off right now.
Life is about choices, so you have to be intentional with yours. I’d hate to see you base such an important decision on “maybe.” I also don’t recommend you ignore the issue and hope it resolves itself over time. If your lifestyles are incompatible in any way, a breakup is inevitable. Even if you’re doing something selflessly, it will likely become a source of resentment for the partner who sacrificed. It’s one thing to have to choose whether or not to rent or buy; having a child is a major choice that will require full commitment from all parties involved. Also, I think it's important to consider that if this is something you have wanted your whole life, you shouldn't ignore that instinct.
If you’re not ready to give up on him or your dream yet, my final recommendation is to consider your long-term options and set a timeline of six months to a year to see if you're closer to being on the same page.
Wishing you the very best.
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