Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Problem Partner

Recently I was having lunch with a friend who is a psychologist. We got to talking about what we've been up to and I told her I was just finishing up my masters thesis. Of course, she asked me what it was about and I explained that it was about pronatalism and how our culture's message to women that they must have children in order to live happy and fulfilled lives is in conflict with the reality that most childfree women are very happy.

She told me that in the past week alone she's had 2 sets of couples (clients) dealing with the problem of whether or not to have children. In one case, the couple simply hadn't discussed the issue of children prior to getting married (something that never fails to amaze me), although the wife was pretty clear she had no interest in having children. So they got married and I guess the husband figured he'd talk her into it, or she'd "come around" and change her mind once they got married. Not. So here they are at couples therapy trying to come to some resolution.

The second couple, my friend told me, had both agreed (prior to marrying) they did not want to have children. They made a firm agreement on this important matter. Once they got married, though, the wife began to have seconds thoughts, and her second thoughts turned into a full-blown ticking time bomb, I mean, clock.

My friend then described to me her session with this couple and how she spent a good part of the session exploring the husband's reasons for not wanting children. She told me that the husband didn't seem able to articulate any specific reasons for not wanting children - he just doesn't want them.

So my question to my psychologist friend was, "so, what were the woman's reasons for wanting children?" Dead silence. It was clear she hadn't asked that question and it didn't even occur to her to ask the question. I found this interesting, especially since it was the woman's change of mind that was causing the problem in the relationship. After an awkward pause, my friend replied that they never got around to that question as the session came to an end, but it was clear from her awkwardness that she just didn't consider that the woman's change of heart and sudden desire to have children was something that should be explored.

And herein lies the problem. The partner who does not want children is addressed as the troubled person, even though it is the other partner who is attempting to reneg on the couple's agreement and is causing the problem in the relationship. Always the choice to not have children is seen as disordered - never the choice to have children, even though it is clear that bringing children into a relationship where one of the partners does not want children, is a recipe for disaster.


CFVixen said...

Wow, that's really kind of disturbing when you think about it. I'm guessing your friend has children and never thought about the alternative?

I know I've had a couple of female friends who really, REALLY wanted children and their husbands did not. I don't know if they discussed it before marriage though. Anyhow, in both cases, the husbands ended up giving in. Interestingly, in both cases, they winded up in divorce. I'm not saying that the kids were the reason (I don't know for sure), but I wouldn't doubt it!

Childfreeeee said...

Yes, my psychologist friend is a mother and really enjoys motherhood.

I think it's just disasterous when spouses "cave in" and have kids when they don't want them. It's not only horrible for the marriage, but it's so sad for the children.