Advice: I want a family. She doesn't. Do I end the marriage?
Q: I’m 33 and my wife is 32. We’ve been married for five years and have a pretty good life—a nice house, interesting jobs, a great group of friends. Of course, our relationship isn’t perfect (whose is?). But I never had serious doubts about our future until recently, when my wife made it clear that she does not want to have children. She has always been ambivalent on this front, but when we met we were so young that I figured her views would change as we gained the financial means to support a family. While I would never force her to have children she doesn’t want, I also don’t know if I can be happy forfeiting my chance to be a father. I love my wife, and don’t want to leave her. But I’m still relatively young. Should I get out while I still have time to start over?
A: My sense is that you have had many indications along the way that your wife would not ultimately want to have children. Presumably, you have been with her since she was in her late twenties. “Young,” yes, but certainly old enough so that her doubts about starting a family should have been deemed real. You state that you figured she would change. Instead, fantasy has now set reality, which eventually happens when the assumption is that the other person in the relationship will do the changing.
It is important for you to acknowledge that your wife has clear vision on her decision not to have children. You must accept that she is not going to “give in” and that you cannot change her mind. That leaves only one decision, and it is yours to make: Do you stay in your marriage and forego fatherhood, or do you leave the relationship to pursue a new path with the hope and expectation that it involves fatherhood?
First of all, consider what it is about fatherhood that appeals to you. Are there ways to accomplish that without having children of your own? For example, if you have nieces and nephews that live close by, you could strive to be the most involved uncle in the world from infancy on up. Or you could volunteer in a mentoring program for children. Or you could participate in children’s programs through your church, temple, or other organizations. In other words, there may be lots of ways to enjoy children, and to provide them with guidance and love that may be satisfying to you. It is possible that exploring these avenues could meet your fathering needs well enough without actually becoming a father.
If you do choose to stay in the marriage, you must accept your wife’s decision—and this acceptance must be absolute (this may require some outside help). Choosing this option means dropping the subject, bearing no resentment, and placing no blame.
However, if you know this will never be enough for you, or if you cannot give up the urge to change your wife’s mind, staying in your marriage will probably lead to resentment and dissatisfaction for you both. The fact that you have doubts about your future says that you have some serious soul-searching to do. In your letter, you ponder if you will be happy forfeiting your chance to be a father by staying in your marriage. Here’s another way to look at it: You would be forfeiting a known good thing for an unknown chance at parenthood.