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I want kids, she doesn’t

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My wife and I have been married about two years, and had dated two years before that. Prior to getting married, we’d discussed our plans for having children many times, and it was clear that children were more of a priority for me than they were for her. Before marrying we agreed that we would have a single child, but not before we were both done with graduate school and settled into permanent jobs. This seemed to me like a very responsible and reasonable compromise, and I happily agreed.

Now that those criteria have been met, things are starting to change. If I bring up having children, she becomes irritable. She avoids spending time with our friends with children, and she has developed an unreasonable hostility towards my sister’s two children, ages 5 and 3, whom we see occasionally.

Most recently she’s started using pregnancy as a trump card whenever we have disagreements, saying things like, “well, I’m not going to bring a child into the world with someone like you”, or “if you won’t do this for me, I’m certainly not going to go through pregnancy for you”

I’m not a perfect angel. I have my strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. And when we argue (usually over stupid stuff), I know that I’m to blame half the time. But there is no way that she could really think I would be a risky parent. I’m not violent, I don’t smoke, I drink only moderately, and I love kids. We have a comfortable standard of living, and we would have outside support (family and friends) to help if we needed it.

I know that it’s not uncommon for one person within a married couple to be more gung ho about kids than the other, but it seems less common when the wife is the ambivalent one. My question is this: Are her actions pretty typical behavior, or should I be worried that they are red flags? We can’t seem to discuss this issue directly without it escalating emotionally, and she isn’t willing to speak to a counselor with me about it (ironic, as she herself is a clinical psychologist).

I love her, but I’m angry and a bit worried. I’m angry because I feel like she is using the whole pregnancy thing as a manipulative tool, but worried about going ahead with it. Will she resent our child? What would happen then?

You’re asking very important questions. Unfortunately, being a psychologist is no guarantee that someone like your wife will be able to see her own issues clearly.

You were smart to negotiate this issue before you married. My guess is that your wife loved you enough to try to get herself to a place where she could see herself mothering a child. But now that all conditions are met, she seems to be in a panic. What looks like manipulative behavior is a scramble to find a way out of the agreement without taking responsibility for doing so. Of course, that misses the point entirely. . Arguments and hostility to kids on her part are only cover-ups. She doesn’t want children but she also doesn’t want to break a promise she made with real sincerity at the time. Your efforts to hold her to her original agreement put her more deeply in the bind.

To parent or not to parent. That is the question It’s time that the two of you stopped dancing around the issue and dealt with it directly. If she absolutely can’t see herself as a mother, she probably shouldn’t be one. If you absolutely can’t make peace with the idea of never having a family, you’ll end up bitter and resentful. If neither one of you can budge, you’ll both have a very, very hard decision to make about whether you should stay together. It’s hard to leave a good loving relationship. But it’s even harder to live your whole life feeling bitter about being in a lifestyle you never wanted.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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