Words: Rachel Sharp
Maybe one of you is a few years younger and doesn’t yet feel ready for kids. Perhaps a thriving career, or wanting to escape a toxic one, means nappies and midnight feeds aren’t one partner’s priority. Or maybe it’s a case of nerves and doubts creeping into just one side of your double bed.
No matter what the reason you and your life partner aren’t on the same page about babies (yet), it’s important to know you’re not alone. “It’s not uncommon for couples to be at different stages when it comes to thinking about starting a family – the decision to start trying, or even when to start, is a big one,” says Evelyn Zwahlen, fertility counselling services manager at Genea in Sydney.
“It’s true that it’s usually the female partner in a heterosexual couple who is ready first, and while this isn’t always the case, we find women are more mindful of their biological clock and also more aware of those around them having children.” Sound familiar? We asked Evelyn to share her expert advice on how to approach a partner with a vastly different family schedule.
Given your years of clinical experience, what are some of the most common reasons you’ve seen for couples having different baby timelines? And of those, which are normal and healthy versus a serious red flag?
There can be many reasons, including their ages, their career situations, lifestyle choices and fear of commitment. There could be misunderstanding about the impact of age on fertility and for that reason, information from a reliable medical source could be valuable. Career or lifestyle goals may be taking priority, with one partner feeling the need to have achieved a certain level in their career or income, before embarking on this next step. Understanding and respecting these values is important.
I have met couples where one partner has a fear of becoming a parent based on their own negative experiences in childhood. These fears need to be addressed and a counsellor or therapist would be the best choice to deal with these issues. Any significant conflict can be very destructive in a relationship. Often the best indicator of future compatibility is not what the conflict is about but how well you are both able to negotiate your difference and manage conflict.
What is the best way for women to communicate with their partners if their family dreams aren't aligned?
If you discover you’re out of sync with your partner, that’s the time to talk about it. Given there’s probably a sense of disconnect or conflict around this already, it’s easy for discussions to quickly become heated and challenging, so planning is helpful. Here are some tips we offer when counselling fertility patients at Genea:
- Make a time to have a discussion when you know you will be uninterrupted and ideally not dealing with other significant pressures.
- Be prepared to listen to your partner’s point of view, not just have them hear yours.
- Using ‘I statements’ to convey your feelings and thoughts can be helpful.
- Be prepared with what your thoughts are and what your timeline is, and how flexible you can be.
- It’s important to acknowledge the validity of your partner’s viewpoint.
- Agreeing to consult with a GP or fertility specialist to assess your fertility and understand the impact of age and time, is often a good starting point.
You’ve mentioned some of the things women should consider and communicate. Is there anything she absolutely shouldn’t say or do if she wants a healthy outcome?
Threats and ultimatums are not helpful, though sometimes they are real. The goal is to reach a compromise, but if that’s not possible it could mean the need to reconsider if and how the relationship can progress.
It’s important to try to find a way forward to achieve a resolution you’re both comfortable with. As counsellors, we certainly see couples where the decision to delay trying has had a really negative impact on the relationship when getting pregnant proves difficult. There is blame and guilt and these are not very constructive emotions in a relationship.
When is the right time for one or both of them to turn to a professional third party, like a counsellor or psychologist, for support?
It’s always the right time to consider accessing support to have a challenging conversation that has such significant implications for the future. The value of the counsellor is in providing a safe space where both parties can be heard. They won’t advise you about what you should do, but they can help you discuss your concerns, explore the options and help provide some clarity.
Sometimes a third party who can ensure both sides are heard can be just what is needed to help a couple find a mutually acceptable path forward, or to realise they actually want different things.