In an ideal world, family planning conversations — how many kids you want to have and when — happen before the wedding. But even when couples do tackle that question life barrels on and answers change, especially after a couple has had a baby. Perhaps a pregnancy was difficult. Maybe the daily grind of parenting is more overwhelming than one parent thought it would be. Space and money might be issues, too. In any case, desires for a larger family shift. Or get more intense. But what do you do when you don’t want another child but your partner does? It’s a tricky situation, one that can rock the foundation of even the happiest partnerships. So what’s the best course of action for couples to take? We asked five therapists to weigh in on how to best have the conversation.
Relax and Wait It Out
As families typically have one child at a time (unless they have twins) this is not a pressing issue that needs to be solved right away. There are usually other issues impacting such a decision. If the relationship is not in the best place, there may not be a desire for one spouse to have additional children. If a particular child is difficult, it may lead one parent not to want to have any more kids. All of these things can change with time and through working on building a strong relationship. While it is possible that there will always be a dispute regarding whether to have more kids or not, I have seen multiple times where people wound up having more children even though initially one spouse wanted to cap it at a smaller number. Furthermore, you don’t necessarily control the number of kids you have. Some couples can’t have children, others have them even when using birth control, so sometimes these conflicts are moot. — Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC, co-founder of the Marriage Restoration Project
Talk It Out and Be Willing to Compromise
It’s important for parents to openly explore the pros and cons of each position when they disagree about whether or not to have more children. Was one parent an only child? Do they not feel that it is possible to give multiple children the degree of attention that a singleton receives? Or conversely, are more children desired so that the first child can have the companionship that siblings provide? Did one parent come from a large lively family and cannot imagine having anything less?
Sometimes the parent who is the primary caregiver feels overwhelmed and overextended by the responsibility and effort involved in parenting. Would the parent who wants to expand the family be able and willing to provide more hands-on help?
Often decisions about whether or not to increase family size involve work and career considerations for both parents. Is there a way for each parent to achieve a desirable degree of focus on both parenting and career if a new child enters the picture?
Finally, if all options are thoroughly explored, and a consensus has not been reached, it may be wise to settle on keeping the family small. After all, it is preferable for both parents to be happy and willing to attend to the child or children that they have than for one partner to be resentful of the other, or even worse toward the children. — Dr. Erika Doukas, Clinical Psychologist
Ask What the Desire for More Kids Is About
This often comes down to poor communication. In Emotion Focused Therapy, people often recognize that their partners wants have deeper meaning. Does one partner want more kids because they feel their biological clock is ticking? Do they feel pressure from family? Are they having trouble connecting to a child you already have? Do they not want to have kids because of financial stress, or because they are feeling overwhelmed, wanting some of that freedom they lost back? These are conversations that need to be had. If you can understand why your partner has the position they do and communicate yours you far more likely to come to an understanding. — Victoria Woodruff, LMSW, MSW
Use Logic, Then Emotion
It’s very important that couples come to a unified decision. This isn’t really a space where compromise can, or should, happen. That will lead to resentment and negative outcomes to the family overall. There are basically two ways of making decisions, and one of them would be to rely upon logic. Examine the practical resources of time, financial resources, and the way that having more children might affect the other children in the family. You have to really assess all of those things in order to come to a logical decision.
Sometimes, the decision to have more kids can come from emotion and the great meaning that having more children has for the family. That can really stem from someone’s life dreams about what their family is going to look like. The most important thing that couples or dads can do whenever they are faced with this, is to have a series of deep and meaningful conversations with their partner. Those conversations shouldn’t be aimed at making the decision, but in understanding what their partner needs.
Of course, there are going to be instances where you might change your version of what your dream family would look like after you have a child and realize what that means for you. I think it’s also important to note that couples can expect to have a bigger, more difficult conversation when they are going from zero to one, vs. three to four. If a decision is not going to be reached, someone is going to have to give up on something if they are going to remain in this relationship. Someone is going to experience a loss. It’s important to examine what that loss means. When two people can meet each other’s feelings with understanding, they can work through that grief and sadness. If that’s done in a supportive way, the relationship can be unharmed and healthy. — Stephanie Wjilkstrom, MS, LPC, MCC, Founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Talk It Out Over Time
It requires a lot of communication to work through this issue, and can be revisited at several points throughout the marriage, or over the course of childbearing years. People evolve and change as they develop and navigate different life stages. It’s very possible that on the heels of having a kid, one partner may feel very strongly about not having another, and then a year later, they’ll change their mind.
If one partner is completely unwilling to discuss it at one point, but would be open to revisiting it in six months, there is value in setting a time to talk about it in six months, and that’s okay. Couples should be sensitive to when and where they are talking about it. Giving space and room for each partner to be able to express themselves in the conversation is validating. Show understanding of where that partner is coming from. Ask them, “What is it that makes you want what you want or don’t want?” Each partner can glean a deeper understanding of where the other partner is emotionally. This could require a grieving process of the fantasy of what one parent had hoped for. — Dr. Dana Dorfman, MSW, Ph.D.