Should We Have Children?
Dear Dr. Harley,
My wife and I have been married for 22 years. At the time we were married, we both agreed to have children but wait a few years before having them. After 5 years, I was ready to have them but she hesitated. This went on for the next 8 years. Finally, we sought counseling where it came out that she didn't really want children for various reasons. A few years ago, she tried to come to accept the idea of having children but couldn't.
We have now been married for 22 years. I occasionally feel betrayed by her and also feel that we really lost out on something wonderful by not having kids. I have been seeking counsel for depression and am interested in your comments. I am resigned to the fact we won't have children but I can't help at times feeling really sad about how life turned out for us.
If you've read much of my material, you know that I make the quality of a marriage relationship a couple's highest priority. Once that's achieved, a couple can reach mutually agreed to objectives in a most remarkable way. On the other hand, even when a marriage relationship is good, objectives that are not mutually agreed to are foolish to pursue, because they are not in the best interest of at least one spouse.
For whatever reason, the objective of having children was not in the best interest of your wife, so she could not agree to it. Since it did not meet the conditions of my Policy of Joint Agreement, my advice would have been not to have children, which is what you did.
But now you are resentful that you did not achieve your objective. How can you overcome that resentment?
There are two kinds of resentment: (1) Resentment from being forced to do something you don't want to do, and (2) resentment from not being able to do what you want to do. You are suffering from the second kind of resentment.
I regard the first kind of resentment as far worse than the second, and I'll try to explain why. Whenever you are prevented from doing something, there is always the option to do something else that would be of equal value to you. And it could also be something that would have your wife's enthusiastic agreement.
But when you are forced into your spouse's agenda, and made to do something you don't like, there are no choices -- you are certain to feel used.
I would expect that you and your spouse may have problems that go beyond your decision not to have children. It may be that your depression is not from being prevented from doing what you want, but perhaps from being forced to do what you don't want. Look your lifestyle over very carefully, and ask yourself, "am I doing what I like, or am I being forced to do what I don't like." Remember, just because you don't have children does not mean that you can't have something else in your life that is fulfilling.
Perhaps the reason you are depressed is not that you don't have children, but rather that there is nothing in your life that gives you much pleasure or fulfillment. It's time to take a hard look at your lifestyle, not at whether or not you have children. Your wife is probably quite willing to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement in reference to all other areas of your life, and you should apply the same rule you applied to having children -- don't do it unless you are both enthusiastic about it.
Dear Dr. Harley,
Thanks for your response. I started reading your book,Fall in Love, Stay in Love>, this past weekend to help me create a lifestyle that would be fulfilling for both me and my wife.
You're right in that my depression doesn't just stem from not having kids. It stems from mid-life re-evaluation. I don't like the way I have been living, and I am sorting out what I want to do with the rest of my life.
A couple of questions: Your Policy of Joint Agreement sounds great but it seems that one party could easily manipulate the other by saying no to almost everything. For example, my wife started her own business about 8 years ago and I supported her through this process. Now it is going great. I told her that I wanted to do the same thing, start my own business and I would need her financial support through the first couple years. She said absolutely not. This seems rather one-sided and unfair to me! I am currently working a full time job and trying to start the business on the side. Eventually I plan to focus full time on the developing business but we haven't discussed "when" that will be. Your comments would be appreciated!!
Fairness is a common issue in marriage, and the Policy of Joint Agreement gets to the heart of the issue. What's fair is what you can enthusiastically agree to. It's that simple. If you agreed to help your wife start a business, that agreement should have been made in isolation of all other agreements. Sacrifices are not allowed with the Policy of Joint Agreement, because you don't want to create a lifestyle where one of you suffers so the other can flourish. Unless you both flourish simultaneously, you should continue to negotiate.
You are probably ready for a career change, and the change must be something you look forward to. But your wife must look forward to it, too. Keep negotiating with her until you are able to agree enthusiastically with each other.
Now that the issue of having children has been resolved, you are free to create alternative objectives that will give you the fulfillment in life that you need. That, in turn will help rid you of your depression. But make sure that your wife's feelings are included in your plan. That's because your most important objective of all should be the quality of your marriage with her.