As more and more people1 question whether or not having children is the correct route for them, it’s understandable if this has become one of the most important questions in your romantic relationships.
To discuss how couples in both long and short-term relationships can effectively face this issue, Verywell Mind spoke with Anita Chlipala, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Relationship Reality 312.
“I’ve worked with clients where they didn’t have the conversations that went into the details about what it would look like to have a child,” says Chlipala. “Couples who are conflict avoidant can go years of dating each other without having significant talks, and sometimes time alone won’t help with clarity or answers.”
To help with these significant talks, Chlipala breaks down the ins and outs of couples who disagree about this critically important topic.
If You’ve Just Started Dating
This is one of those rare situations where a black and white answer is readily available: if you know from the very beginning that you want children and you find out that the person you’re newly dating does not, end it.
If you both are adamant about your stance and won’t change your mind, stop dating each other. It’s easier to walk away before you fall in love.
— ANITA CHLIPALA, LMFT
That’s right! Even if it feels like you’ve connected in every other way, no one deserves to face resentment from their partner about their basic desires regarding their future family.
“There’s really no middle ground here,” says Chlipala. “You’d be wasting your time and are better off finding someone with similar goals.”
If You’re In a Long Term Relationship
According to Chlipala, this is a topic that’s definitely not uncommon. That said, it is definitley common for couples to delay the hard conversations required to address the problem. “I’ve worked with clients where they didn’t have the conversations that went into the details about what it would look like to have a child,” says Chlipala.
These conversations go well beyond the simple desire and delve into the financial, familial, and social impacts of having a child.
“Although you don’t have to have every detail figured out, you both need to have these kinds of conversations to see how close or far apart you are in terms of expectations,” says Chlipala.
Reasons Why Your Long-Term Partner Doesn’t Want Kids
According to Chlipala, long-term couples may find several reasons why one party is hesitant to have children.
For each of these circumstances (outlined below), she recommends seeing a therapist because often, couples find it challenging to have these hard conversations. In addition, a therapist can help mediate these issues.
Many times, Chilipala says that these problems can be addressed once both parties are more specific about what bringing a child into their life would be like.
Here are some of the most common points of contention between partners:
Financial strain: This is a topic that frequently comes up and can often be dealt with once the couple has discussed the potential hurdles in more detail. If facing that discussion feels insurmountable, it is OK to want a therapist to help you through it. This can include discussing aspects like the cost of child care during the workweek, family support, and even necessities like diapers and formula.
Partner trust: Frequently, Chlipala explains that partners can feel concerned about the other partner’s involvement when caring for a child. Once things are discussed in more specific terms, like who will take care of what aspects, this can often be sorted out.
Repeating unhealthy family patterns: For people who have experienced abuse at the hands of their parents, these fears can seem plausible, even though that’s typically not the case. While this may be something that the partner experiencing the concern needs to address individually, couples can typically benefit from counseling as a unit. This way, both members are aware of the concerns and the specific sensitivities that might come from a less-than-ideal upbringing.
Body changes: Chlipala says that one of the topics that come up regularly between married couples who have been together for years is potential body changes. For this, she says that honesty is critical, and if that is difficult, seeking therapy is always an option.
Loss of friends and/or social life: While it’s inevitable that a thriving social life may wane, especially when a child is young, this alone shouldn’t be enough to keep someone from having children. This concern alone may also create a skewed view of what parenthood can look like. Couples with a therapist can often work through a more realistic look at social relationships after children are in the picture.
Additional reasons why folks may not want or be extremely hesitant about having kids:
Unpredictable and significant changes in/impact on lifestyle (i.e. sleep, expendable income, trips/vacations, free time, etc.)
Concerns about overpopulation and societal problems (i.e. inequality, bullying, racism, etc.)
Dislike of children
Unwilling to accept the responsibility
Not feeling paternal/maternal instincts or urges
Interest and commitment in pursuing and prioritizing career goals
It isn’t part of their life vision
Many people may simply not want to have kids. They just don’t want to and have no reason in particular. No explanation or justification is needed for such a personal life decision.
Why Being Married With Children Can Be Stressful
What to Do If Your Partner Changes Their Mind
When one partner changes their mind about having kids, it can lead to feelings of surprise, shock, anger, sadness, grief, heartbreak, and resentment. As a result, the person who changed their mind may be left struggling with feelings of guilt, sadness, or frustration.
This can be one of the most difficult topics to face down, especially if you’ve invested years into a relationship.
It can be helpful to explore each person’s level of assuredness. There is a big difference between “I’m not sure” and “I’ve made up my mind and definitely don’t ever want children.” Instead of asking why your partner doesn’t want kids, talk about how they arrived at their decision.
“Why” questions often put the other person in the position of having to defend, explain, rationalize, justify, and “prove” their choices. A question like “How did you arrive at this decision?” or “What shifted you to this choice at this time?” is less argumentative and allows you to explore the issue with kindness, curiosity, and compassion.
“I’ve worked with clients where Partner A changed their mind because they didn’t want to lose the relationship, but then years later they ended up breaking up anyway because Partner A just couldn’t bring themselves to follow through on having children,” explains Chlipala. “And for either partner, I also want to make sure they did the work to own their decision; otherwise, this could be a breeding ground for resentment down the road.”
To avoid this future resentment, she advises couples to talk explicitly about their non-negotiables early on in the relationship. Then, some compromises can be made on both sides.
For example, if you decide to have children, Chlipala suggests making quality time for each other, like going away on vacation without the kids or continuing to prioritize friendships. On the other hand, if you both choose not to have children, a compromise may look like investing the money you would have saved for a child in a new house.
When one partner changes their mind about having kids, it can result in a breach of trust and lead to conflict. This will require attention and care if the couple decides to move forward together with this new information.
When to Call It Quits
Signs that it may be time to call it quits:
If one partner wants kids and sees having children as core to their life purpose, staying together and not having children may lead to sadness, depression, despair, regret, remorse, and resentment. It will be hard, but ultimately it is kindest to separate so the partner who wants kids will have the opportunity to actualize their dream.
If there is no space or room for conversation, negotiation, or consideration of any compromise
If the issue is causing significant mental/emotional distress and it becomes more harmful than helpful to continue the way it has been.
If an ultimatum is made for a decision and the date of decision passes without a decision (although ultimatums are not recommended in relationships).
If you’re having a hard time determining what’s right for you, and this can be especially pertinent to those that aren’t sure they want to have kids but want the option, Chlipala advises that you go out of your way to get a sense of what parenthood may look like.
Try babysitting any nieces and nephews for a weekend. She notes that doing this may help you figure out if you want to be a parent. However, it is important to note that babysitting nieces and nephews may not be an accurate representation of whether or not you want to be a parent. Being the fun aunt/uncle is a very different role and experience than being the responsible father/mother.
If you have never spent extended periods of time around children, babysitting can be an informative experience, but remember that it is absolutely not the same as full-time parenting of your own children.
That said, if it’s your partner that’s on the fence, she emphasizes the importance of seeking out clarity by either having deeper conversations or going to therapy.
“I’ve had clients tell me that they kick themselves in the butt that they didn’t come in to do the work sooner to get the clarity that they needed,” says Chlipala. “Address fears and have an action plan for each fear if applicable. This will also let you know if you and your partner have similar ideas.”
More than anything, she emphasizes the importance of making a decision sooner rather than later and that it’s important to get clarity.
What Is Couples Therapy?
When to Keep Going
Even if your partner does not want kids (or you don’t), it doesn’t mean that you should necessarily end your relationship. Instances where you may want to keep going include:
If one or both of you are unsure, but not resolute in your decision to have kids one way or another
If the relationship is going strong with excellent communication, mutual respect and care, and consideration, you can plan to revisit the conversation in a predetermined amount of time. This might mean possibly shorter times like in a few months if you are in your 30’s or 40’s, or longer times if you are in your 20’s.
There is a willingness to consider additional options together such as adoption or fostering later in life, adopting an older child if one partner doesn’t want to raise an infant, or egg freezing for more time.
Will I Regret Not Having Kids?
A Word From Verywell
While this can be a difficult topic in relationships, try to see it as a comfort that this is one place where you can find a definitive answer. No matter what, if you’re choosing what’s right for you, you can trust that you will find peace down the road.
What If I Regret Having Kids?