No decision alters the course of the rest of your life quite like whether to have another child – or not. So it can be a real shock to discover your partner, who you’ve always had so much in common with, is not at all on the same page.
With such huge ramifications either way – for your existing children, your health, your careers and your vision for your family – there’s little room to compromise.
So is it possible to find a win-win solution to such a tricky conundrum?
Use curiosity to uncover your “whys” and understand theirs
Before you can talk with your partner about your own reasons for wanting or not wanting another baby, what are they, really? Megan Kozak, a Brisbane-based couples therapist, says articulating your rationale isn’t easy.
“It's really hard for most people to be able to explain it, because sometimes they don't necessarily even know how to put the words around it themselves, or understand what matters so much. And it's so fascinating as we start to dig into it a little bit and get curious rather than defensive,” she says.
“If we're able to lean in towards our partner and say, ‘Help me understand, because that doesn't fit the picture that I had in my head. Where does that come from for you?’, there's a real gift.”
With this curiosity, sometimes couples will discover that their differences stem from their family of origin. Like having a precious bond with their siblings, or having thrived as a single child. Varying cultural expectations can also explain different ideas of the “ideal” family. For instance, some parents dream of a joyful, busy, rambunctious home with a multigenerational crowd around the Christmas table.
Battle the problem, not each other
Megan encourages couples to avoid making the tricky decision a “me versus you” issue. She says instead, look at it as: “‘us versus this really interesting situation’, where you're going to navigate that together.”
This team approach means it isn’t about one person or the other getting ‘their way’ and the other ‘giving in’. “Instead of trying to persuade our partner, let's seek to understand,” says Megan. “And if that happens in a mutually respectful way, then together we can figure this thing out. Rather than one person being persuaded into a position of something that's actually really important.”
Again, Megan reminds us that curiosity and defensiveness can’t coexist in a conversation. So it’s smart to choose curiosity. But if the discussion isn’t going well – if someone does feel defensive, lashes out or rolls their eyes, for example – that’s time for a break.
Possibilities to compromise
After working out what matters to you and your partner, you can take this team approach to meeting those needs.
What if one partner is drowning in the chaos of family life and can’t fathom adding to it? Perhaps the answer is for one or both partners to change their work arrangements, spending more time at home for a few years. Or to fund a weekly cleaner, babysitter and/or meal service.
Sometimes the previous birth or postnatal period was so difficult the mother can’t risk going through that again. If this is the key reason she doesn’t want more children, could better support make a difference? Simply meeting with a private midwife, a postpartum doula or a perinatal psychologist could be the first step.
In looking for areas of compromise, Megan makes the distinction between a person’s core needs vs flexible preferences. For example, perhaps someone has their heart set on a family of 5 kids. Could they achieve the same joyful, busy household but with only 3 children? Their core need is to have more than one child, but they come to realise having 5 cherubs is a flexible preference.
A great compromise for any couple feeling pressured into making decisions they’re unhappy with is to press pause on deciding. Agree to revisit the conversation in a few months.
And in the meantime, know that you aren’t the first couple to face this issue. With curiosity and self-compassion, many others have navigated this dilemma and created a family that meets everyone’s needs.
Megan Kozak is the co-founder of Lighthouse Relationships in Brisbane with over 15 years of experience. She uses the evidence-based Gottman Method to help couples create a loving, lasting relationship.
By Louise Wedgwood, freelance health and sustainability writer