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When One Partner Isn't Ready

Maybe you never talked about having a baby. Or you said that you wanted kids -- sometime. You might even have agreed to have your first child at 25 (or 30, or 35). But now one of you is ready to move ahead -- and the other isn't so sure.

Ambivalence about making the leap into parenthood is extremely common, according to Austin E. Galvin, CSW, a New York-based psychoanalyst whose practice includes many couples "on the brink." According to Galvin, the first question to ask isn't "Why worry?" but "What's your hurry?"

Galvin notes that when one partner is suddenly desperate for a baby, it may have more to do with the marriage than with the desire to be a parent. He suggests that maybe the desperate partner is hoping to solidify a shaky relationship by drawing his or her spouse in more deeply. Maybe on some level, there's a hope that the baby will provide a level of trust, or intimacy, that's currently lacking in the marriage, he suggests.

On the other hand, if the baby was planned and one spouse suddenly starts throwing up roadblocks, there could be childhood issues at stake. Galvin notes that the resistant partner may need to work through unresolved feelings about his or her own parents.

So how can you figure out what's really going on, and decide on the next steps?

According to Galvin, concerns like finances and whether the house is big enough are usually not the core issues. Lack of time, lack of money, and other external barriers are almost always fabricated resistances, he says. Galvin suggests that the person voicing the concerns needs to break through to an understanding of the real, internal resistance.

While he recommends talking things through as the best way to identify the problem, Galvin doesn't necessarily think couples should approach every issue together. He recommends that the resistant partner needs his or her own, safe, objective sounding board, whether a therapist or a nonjudgmental friend. Sometimes one or two productive sessions are enough to get to the root of the problem and start clearing the ground to move forward, he says.

In addition to historical issues, the ambivalent partner may be questioning his or her own ability to remain in the relationship, and/or to parent a child. A baby makes things real for people in a way that can be very overwhelming, Galvin notes. More than any other decision in life, a child -- and the person you have that child with -- is forever, he continues.

When a couple with one ambivalent partner comes to Galvin, he asks them to talk about the feelings and incidents that led to their current dilemma. "Even if they agreed in the past to have a child, either partner can change the rules, he says. But he recommends that it's important to understand what's at stake, and really make them responsible for their decision and its consequences.

Galvin says that he asks each of them, "How important is this? Are you willing to give up this man or woman over this issue?" Unless the relationship is in serious trouble, they always say no, he says, and once they've strengthened their commitment to being together, they're able to negotiate a solution.

According to Galvin, in many cases, the best solution is to keep working through the ambivalence -- which can be a lengthy process -- while at the same time trying to conceive. He also points out that the most resistant spouses often become doting parents. He's had clients who felt extreme anxiety throughout the nine months of pregnancy. But he says he's never had anyone hold their baby in their arms and then come back and tell him it was a mistake.