The following is an excerpt of "The Baby Decision: How to Make The Most Important Choice of Your Life"
Probably the hardest decisions of all are the ones made by couples in which one person wants a child and the other does not. Although many marital conflicts can be resolved through compromise, there is no such thing as half a baby.
Even couples who are in the habit of listening to each other may turn a deaf ear during baby conversations. It’s hard to accept someone else’s needs if they clash so brutally with your own. You may find yourself saying or hearing, "How could you do this to me?" or "If you really loved me, you would do what I ask."
Happily married couples can slide unknowingly into less empathic listening when considering the baby dilemma. This can happen for two reasons. First, most couples aren’t accustomed to such major conflict since people generally marry someone whose needs coincide or at least do not conflict with theirs. But the baby decision can divide otherwise compatible couples. When they said “I do” to marriage, they may have also said “I do” or “I don’t” to children, only to change their minds a few years later. Second, the stakes are high either way, and accepting your partner’s choice may seem like an invitation to disaster. People feel much too strongly about the decision to be able to compromise. Even in an excellent relationship, your partner may suddenly seem like an ominous barrier between you and your goal. This may feel extremely lonely, especially if you are used to feeling close.
What generally happens when a couple disagrees? There are four possible outcomes:
1. They postpone the decision until agreement is reached at a later date.
2. The ambivalent partner agrees to the choice of the partner who feels more strongly.
3. One partner twists the other’s arm.
4. The partner who feels more strongly about the issue resorts to devious tactics to push for his or her choice. This is similar to arm-twisting, but the methods used may be subtler.
The first possibility has the least potential for harming the relationship, as long as the postponement period is mutually agreed upon and as long as the couple set a definite date for re-evaluation. Postponement gives both partners a chance to think over the issue privately and in a less tense atmosphere. Often, they are more willing to negotiate and compromise the second time around. Remembering their earlier battle can motivate both to find a better way this time.
The second solution can be a good one if the ambivalent partner is genuinely ambivalent and can swing either way. In such a case, he or she generally would be able to find either choice satisfying. However, ambivalence sometimes may mean that one partner simply hasn’t had the time or the chance to make his or her own decision. Sensing this, the other partner may play on this perceived weakness by pushing for his own choice and making it difficult for the other to come to a personal decision.
Arm-twisting, in any form, is dangerous. Whether you issue a direct ultimatum or resort to more devious manipulations, you are treating your partner as an object by refusing to listen to or respect his or her wishes.
Although the direct approach is the best, many couples can’t or won’t relate that way. Instead, they resort to games based on arm-twisting or subtle manipulation—often with disastrous consequences.
If you want to resolve the issue, involve your partner. Resolve to listen carefully and silently while he or she is talking. Give feedback to show that you understand. Remember that expressing feelings about the situation, empathizing with your partner’s feelings, and deciding what to do about the feelings are three separate processes.
Decision-Makers’ Bill of Responsibilities to Partner
You are obligated to:
* Listen to your partner’s needs, desires, arguments, concerns, and preferences.
* Give verbal feedback to show that you understand his or her point of view.
* Explain your needs, desires, arguments, concerns, and preferences rather than assuming that your partner can read your mind or would already know “if you really love me.”
* Recognize that your preference is simply that—a preference, and that neither your choice nor your partner’s is right or wrong in any absolute sense.
Following these guidelines, you may be thrilled to discover a choice that you both can be equally happy about. But even if that is not the case, you are setting yourselves up for a positive future. This kind of dialogue indicates that you accept your partner as a human being in his or her own right who exists for more than your pleasure. It shows that you accept your partner’s right to seek his or her own identity and fulfillment. You can take pride in the quality of your interactions. You have each respected each other and validated your feelings. This leads to feeling close, feeling like partners, and more optimistic about living joyfully with a choice that wasn’t your first.
The following is an excerpt from "The Baby Decision: How to Make The Most Important Choice of Your Life" reprinted with permission. For more information about the author, Merle Bombardieri MSW LICSW, visit her website www.thebabydecision.com