TJ’s husband doesn’t want children and has even gone off sex for the last eight months – she asks our resident therapist Sally Brown for advice on this complicated matter
I have been with my husband for 13 years now (married for 7) and generally things have been good. He had a daughter (now 15) when we got together and I have been a part of her life and have loved and helped raise her (on our days) since. We have a home together, dogs, the whole package. What we don’t have is a child of our own together. When we first started out, we talked about kids. He said he wanted one more. I wanted two, but with my step daughter, I was willing to compromise on just the one. The thing is, he wanted to wait. Wait for me to get a driving license (I didn’t really need to drive at the time) then wait for me to get a better job, wait until we bought a house..wait wait wait… We have done all of the things on his big stupid list. Still I was waiting for him. He is now 44 and I am 34.
We have gone up to seven or eight months without having sex (Super frustrating by the way!)
Our friends and family constantly ask when we are having a kid. He tells them we are trying, which we are not. We rarely have sex at all, and have gone up to seven or eight months without. (Super frustrating by the way!) He had one conversation when he told me he wasn’t really interested in sex anymore, and that he found me too clingy, but he still loved me. I didn’t speak to him for around two weeks after that (I don’t think he even noticed) then we had another row when he admitted he had issues with ED (erectile dysfunction).
I am the one who pretty much always initiates sex, but he makes excuses or pretends to be busy. He even shut me down when I tried to kiss him a couple times. He actually pushed me away. Last summer I was really frustrated and we took a walk together and talked about sex and babies and our relationship, but it morphed into a conversation where he told me how clingy I am (which I am really not, I swear) and pointed out things that bothered him about me, how he wasn’t really interested in sex much anymore, but then told me how much he loved me. I was floored and didn’t know what to say. We ended the conversation with him saying how much better he felt now that we had talked. I just felt hurt. We talked a little more again later and I just felt more angry and sad. He had said that he didn’t think I was serious about having kids because I’m always joking about things!!! For real.
I barely spoke to him for two weeks after that. We were in the car and he asked me what I was thinking about and I had had enough. I unloaded all of my thoughts and feelings on him. He hadn’t even noticed that I had not been talking to him! Even my mom and sister knew something was wrong five minutes into seeing us, but he didn’t. By the end of it, he admitted that he had been avoiding me because he was embarrassed about some ED issues. I asked why he didn’t just say that, instead of making me out to be some monster.
He promised to work on our issues and to go to the doctor. He never went. He did, however make an effort at the relationship. Things got a bit better, but then got stagnant. I was getting frustrated again, so I wrote him a letter detailing my feelings because when I talk with him I can’t stop crying and don’t make my point clear sometimes. It was pretty much the same as I had said a few weeks before, but he took it more seriously. He has made a huge effort to be more open and affectionate and communicative towards me. I appreciate it, but I’m feeling once bitten-twice shy.
He never went to the doctor and I have been periodically asking him if he has an appointment or if he wants me to make one. He said he would do it but ended up asking me to make one for him a couple days ago (mind you, it’s been like eight months).
I’m worried that he’s not going to be able to have any more kids after making me wait 13 years. I feel bitter and like I have been wasting my window of opportunity for children.
I love him and our life-generally, but my heart has been broken and I think that staying with him will end any chance of kid(s) for me. We worked so hard to build this life, but I think about what it would be like to start over every day.
I need some help deciding what to do. If you have any good advice, it would be much appreciated.
Thanks for your time,
I wonder if you have ever heard of the ‘sunk cost bias’? It’s the psychological term for throwing ‘good money after bad’, and it applies to any kind of investment – money, time, effort or emotions. Once we’ve invested in something, we are reluctant to give up on it, even if it’s not working, because we feel that doing so would negate the investment we’ve made so far.
The sunk cost bias makes us watch a terrible movie to the end because we’re already an hour in, or stick out a miserable week at a holiday resort because we’ve paid for it. But it’s a fallacy, because you’ve made the investment and lost the money (or time) whatever you do. Enduring misery for longer does not get your investment back.
I think you’re caught in this thinking trap. Here’s what the logical part of you knows – staying with your partner greatly reduces your chances of ever having a baby, something that matters very much to you. You feel heartbroken, frustrated, ignored, misunderstood, and rejected by this man. You think about what it would be like to start over every day. And yet, you hang on because you’ve ‘worked so hard to build this life’.
Short of actually cutting off his penis, he couldn’t do much more to ensure you don’t get pregnant.
I wonder if you know, in your heart of hearts, that your husband is unlikely to change his mind about having a baby? He’s throwing whatever barrier he can get his hands on in the way of it happening – you getting a driving license, then a better job, then the move into a new house. Now that he’s run out of reasons to delay, he’s physically withdrawn sex, and developed an erectile dysfunction problem. Short of actually cutting off his penis, he couldn’t do much more to ensure you don’t get pregnant.
But there’s a voice in you that still says, ‘Maybe’, that holds onto the hope he will change his mind, come home one day, scoop you in his arms and say, ‘Let’s make a baby!’ And why shouldn’t you hope – after all, you have built a life together, a home and dogs that you love. Dismantling that life would be scary, with no guarantee that it would bring the result you want – a happy relationship and children. There is no question that leaving your husband would be a gamble. You have a relatively short window in which to recover from your marriage break-up, meet someone else, then get the relationship to a point where making a baby would be a responsible thing to do. But it’s not impossible (and I say that as someone who was very single at 35, but met a wonderful man at age 36, then had two babies in quick succession before I hit 40).
it’s perfectly possible to love someone very much, and still not want to have a baby with them, even when you know that denying them that chance will break their heart.
I am not saying that leaving your husband is the right thing to do, or that he doesn’t love you. He has recently made a huge effort to improve your relationship which is his way of communicating his commitment to you. But it’s perfectly possible to love someone very much, and still not want to have a baby with them, even when you know that denying them that chance will break their heart. He’s already had a child, so he’s under no illusion of how all-consuming having a new baby is. I wonder whether at 44, with his daughter now a teenager, he’s longing for some time for himself, for life to become easier, or for the headspace to focus on his career or interests. I wonder how long it has been since you were able to set your anger and resentment to one side, and tried to step into your husband’s shoes, and look at the situation from his point of view? From your brief description of his behaviour, it sounds like he could be suffering from depression – he’s so withdrawn that he doesn’t notice you haven’t talked to him for two weeks, he feels overwhelmed by your needs (calling you ‘clingy’), he lies to evade questions, and he has experienced ED problems. He must feel very trapped. He knows that if he came out and told you that he doesn’t want to have a baby, he’d risk losing you, so he delays and dodges instead. Not wanting to have a baby doesn’t make him a bad man. It just means he wants a different future from you.
Getting your husband to go to the doctor is a great first step, and the doctor should explore the issue of depression with him. Now, could you get him to go to couples counselling? You both need a place where you can communicate with each other honestly, without feeling attacked or defensive.
It’s time to stop fixating on that ‘sunk cost’ – those ‘wasted’ 13 years. Those years have gone, whether you stay with your husband or leave him. What counts now is the future. Your vision of a happy, fulfilled, purposeful life centres around having a child, but it seems that your husband’s doesn’t. You both need to understand the reasons he feels like this. It may be that he has fears that your relationship will change once the baby is born (is this what happened in the relationship with the mother of his child?). Facing his fears and reservations may help him overcome them, so he feels ready to have a baby. But it may also reinforce his conviction that he doesn’t want another child. Either way, you will know, and your waiting game will be over.