You Need Help: I Don’t Want Kids But My Partner Might, Does This Mean We Can’t Get Married?

Q:

My partner and I have been together for about 2 years and we live together. Our relationship has grown stronger throughout this past year, even with everything going on in the world, and I feel our relationship progressing. I love her so much.

We’ve talked about getting married sometime in the next few years and have talked about getting engaged sometime later this year. However, when we’ve had conversations about what we want our marriage to look like, my partner says she doesn’t know if she wants kids or not. I’ve offered to give her time to figure that out and have encouraged her to explore that. She says she knows she doesn’t want them anytime in the next five years or so, but can’t know how she’ll feel beyond that. She says she doesn’t want to carry a child or raise a young child, but might want to adopt an older child at some point down the line. She also says she doesn’t think she needs more time to figure this out, and that she doesn’t think she’ll become much more certain on this for quite a while.

I feel very sure that I don’t want children. I know I don’t want them anytime soon, and I don’t know that I will ever change my mind on that. I know for sure that I never want to physically carry a child. I feel afraid of raising kids for a number of reasons related to my history with my own parents. Financially, I would like to live a certain lifestyle (lots of travel, going out to eat, being able to afford nice stuff, etc.) that I think would be more difficult to achieve if I had children.

I currently feel like I would want my partner to know whether or not she wants kids before I’d be comfortable getting married. Is it possible to ever really know how you’ll feel far into the future? I’m afraid of her deciding she does definitely want kids and then hoping I’ll change my mind, and then when I don’t, she’ll come to resent me and we’ll have to break up. Please help. Does this mean we shouldn’t get married anytime soon? I would appreciate any suggestions on how to have these conversations, and any advice on what things are necessary to be 100% percent on the same page on before you marry someone. Thank you!

A:

The very short answer to this question is easy: there is no way to guess the future and your current self cannot make promises for your future self. No one can say for certain if a choice you make today or tomorrow or a year from now will remain the right choice for forever. Arguably there is no such thing as the right choice and the wrong choice, there is simply the choice we make with the information we have available to us when we make it, and we do the best we can with what we have. If you don’t think you have enough information to know if you want to marry your partner or not yet, you simply do not have to get married yet. Problem solved!

But you bring up a lot of worries in your question, and also a lot of valid questions that I think we all ask ourselves when trying to build a life or even just spend some ongoing meaningful time with another human, so let’s dive into the slightly longer and less clear cut answers to those thoughts.

I think it’s very cool that you are thinking about major compatibility points when you think about planning for the future with your current partner. As we all know, no matter how much we love a person, simply being in love is not enough when it comes to legal and logistical choices like marriage, creating a family unit, and ultimately building a life together, whatever that may look like for you and your partner specifically (and if that’s something you’re both invested in doing). I think it’s great to make sure you don’t have major incompatibilities before considering marriage, and I think good communication in general is the key to sustaining a partnership that feels good for both people and doesn’t lead to resentment or anxiety on either side.

That said — there’s a difference between communicating about where you’re at and where you hope to be in the future and trying to control every aspect of your present and future life so that it all goes exactly according to plan. The first — communication! — is a vital and necessary tool in a healthy relationship. The second — control — is frankly impossible, and at best will lead to frustration and at worst may lead to the end of a perfectly lovely partnership.

I don’t know you and your partner, so I may be missing out on some nuances, but everything you’ve written in this letter actually tells me the two of you are pretty much on the same page when it comes to thoughts about raising kids right now. You do not want to have children, period. Your partner does not want kids for the next five years, does not want to carry a child, and may want to adopt an older child. She’s also indicated she doesn’t need more time to interrogate this and that how she feels about that is pretty much how she’s going to feel for a good long while: not entirely certain, but sure enough for the next five year period. So… you actually have your answer. Right now, your partner does not want kids. In five+ years she may or may not decide she wants to adopt. Right now, you do not want kids. In five+ years you will still not want kids. (We’ll come back to this in just a moment.) But if what you want is an ironclad 110% answer that your partner will never ever in a million years want to raise a child, you’re not going to get it, because she’s already communicated to you how she feels. She does not need more time to consider and explore; she actually sounds pretty certain, and it’s your job to respect that and make your decisions accordingly.

But let’s get back to that parenthetical — because you asked a good question in your submission, one that I think lies at the heart of your concerns: Is it possible to ever really know how you’ll feel far into the future? And the answer to that, tragically, is absolutely not. Is it likely to know how you’ll feel about pretty major choices? Sure. I am by no means suggesting that you should or will change your mind and suddenly realize you actually do want kids, and I am equally not suggesting that your partner will definitely change her mind and realize she absolutely never wants kids. I’m just saying… one or both of you could always change your mind. About anything! About everything! We all become different people over time. Growth means change and honestly, that’s beautiful. Our present day selves cannot make promises for our future selves. It is not possible to know beyond a shadow of a doubt how you’ll feel about something far into the future. That is both the magic and the hideous reality of being alive.

So what do you do? You make a decision with the information you currently have. I cannot make it for you. If I had more information I might tell you what I personally would do — for example if you’re in your early twenties I am biased against marrying that young and would tell you to wait a few years regardless of this particularly conversation because why not? — but I still wouldn’t be able to make the “right” choice for you because ultimately life is not a standardized test. You’re being very responsible by having big conversations about big choices (kids, marriage) but these are not conversations with a finite end point. Nothing you decide today will guarantee that you and your partner will always be on the exact same page, and nothing you choose to do will insure that your partner will never change her mind, or you will never change yours, or one or both of you will never grow to resent the other. That’s just part of it, the whole thing of building a life with someone. You keep growing. You keep changing. With any luck, your growth and change happen in ways that accommodate and support the other. You keep communicating, you keep having the conversations, you create an environment that breeds honesty and generosity and security and you hope those skills help keep the resentment at bay. And sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you still change in ways that make you no longer compatible, if you ever were, and then you part ways. If you’re legally married that requires divorce papers; if you’re not it will still be an intense emotional split. But that’s just how it goes.

You asked for advice about how to have these conversations, and my answer is honestly and regularly. If you have trouble navigating the specifics or find yourselves getting trapped in a feedback loop or a negative cycle, it can be really helpful to attend a few couples counseling sessions just so have a neutral trained third party guide you and teach you new communication skills. I am a huge advocate of couples therapy for all relationships and I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to learn better and more sustainable ways to be in partnership with another human. You also asked for advice on things that you must be 100% on the same page on before getting married, and for that I’d say you’re already on the right track, I would just approach it with broader strokes. Do you value the same things? Do you want the same kind of life? Is having kids a real true dealbreaker for you? If yes, okay — but if your current partner cannot promise she will never want a child, does not need more time to think about it, and is being honest that in five+ years down the line she may in fact say, “Hey, I do want a kid after all!” is it the sensible choice to end things now or could you stay together for a few more years and see how she feels when that comes up? What does she think about that? Does she have certain dealbreakers that you haven’t even considered because you’ve gotten so wrapped up in the potential child in your potential future? Is marriage even the ultimate thing you both want when you think about your continued time together on this earth?

I encourage you to parse out your dealbreakers together and speak with honesty and clarity as opposed to fear of current or future resentment. Together you will come to a clearer picture of what the present day version of you and your partner see for your individual and collective futures.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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Vanessa is a writer, a teacher, and the community editor at Autostraddle. She used to be hot and fun but now she’s mostly hot and sad. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 356 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. ooooh hellooooooo highly relevant and uncomfortable question. . .

    this is all just a big plus to what vanessa said with some specifics from me thrown in – hetero/nuclear marriage norms and assumptions have made this really hard for me to sort out for myself. there are some real timeline considerations with parenting, but the more i think about it, where they seem to conflict with marriage timelines the conflict seems contrived. . . like what does marriage mean??? to be a bit facetious but also spell out one of those (unrealistic) norms – if it means maximizing the number of yrs we share as lovers & roommates & potentially coparents with one other person before death do us part, then, yes that can be in direct conflict with uncertainty about children. but if it means supporting each other NOW and into the future (possiby apart) in living one anothers’ fullest lives, that does not conflict with uncertainty about children. coparenting outside of my romantic partnership is a possibility too.

    in processing my parents’ divorce, i swore to myself i’d let go of the concept of a marriage being ‘failed.’ like WHAT THE FUCK – how do you fail at sharing life? you can’t. you can hurt one another, but i don’t think a partnership is ‘failed’ or ‘successful’ it is what it is, and most importantly how the ppl in it are while it’s on. but my own muddledness about kids & partner commitment is still mired in the idea of ‘what if we want something different in 5 or 10 yrs and part ways then?’ and for me, that is still about a fear of ‘failing at marriage’, and a little bit of that weird assumption about maximizing time with exactly one other person, and for me those both come from heterocolonialnormativity, so I am working on banishing them. it’s a process adn i’m not done. being honest with myself that a part of me still cares about what my relatives will say behind my back, or their potential looks of pity, is really painful, but if i’m honest about it at least i can look that part of my brain in the eyes and say ‘get out’ and sort out what’s mine and what’s imposed.

  2. Vanessa this is such good advice to a tough question!

    I just want to second everything said here, as someone who is divorced from a very long-term partner, and the kids issue did become a thing eventually but was not, ultimately the dealbreaker.

    You just cannot know what is going to happen later. Sometimes the thing you focus your worry on is nothing and something else sneaks up and catches you completely off-guard. You can continue to communicate clearly with each other, and continue to love and support each other through whatever changes come. But nothing is guaranteed.

    And a relationship ending, even a marriage ending, is not a failure. It only means that something changed, as hard as it can be when you’re in the thick of it. And you cannot predict those changes.

    I recently turned 40 and I have an amazing girlfriend now and we love each other so much, but what we’ve learned through experience is that there is no rush. Do I want to spend the next however many years I have on earth with this person? Absolutely yes. Can I control anything beyond how I show up for her and for myself every day? Nope. We are just taking it all as it comes.

    It sounds like you and your partner are very compatible! And that you both know what you want right now and that’s each other! Which is big and amazing! And it sounds like you two have many years of happiness ahead of you. Keep asking those big questions, but also keep returning to how good you feel together, in the moment, every day.

    You’re asking all the right questions and communicating well. You don’t have to have all the future answers to enjoy the love you have right now.

  3. Really great answer! I wanted to add that it’s worth thinking about (and maybe talking to her about) how strongly she “maybe wants kids”. I also have vague feelings of maybe wanting kids in the future, but I am certain I could live a fulfilling life with OR without kids. If your partner is along those lines, she may be willing to compromise with your desire to not have kids. I don’t think this is necessarily a recipe for resentment, as long as you are both honest about how you feel. It may not be easy, and she may need some time to adjust to a different vision of the future. But I don’t think break up is inevitable. There also may be ways that she can play some role in raising a child without you two “having children”: maybe a sibling or close friend will have children, there are programs for supporting foster youth without full time care required, etc.

    I feel like straight society has convinced us that if you “want kids” there is no way you will ever be happy without kids, and that is absolutely not true for everyone

  4. Cannot agree more with other commenters about no such thing as failed marriage. Im just sayin’: go ahead and marry! You may or may not break up in 5 years for one reason or another, but there are a bunch of financial and legislative benefits in being married. Nobody can be 100% sure any marriage will last til death do ppl part, even between ppl who are very sure none of them want kids ever.

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