#1278: “My partner is pushing me to start a family before I’m ready.”

Dear Captain

My fiancé and I were supposed to get married this April but the wedding was postponed until May 2021 due to the pandemic. We are both in our early 30s. He’s always been keen to start a family, I’m open to having a baby but really want to be married first. This is very important to me but he doesn’t understand why, as my belief in marriage before kids doesn’t come from religion. It’s more the importance of having a secure family unit, my parents weren’t married and my dad took off without a second thought.

When I try to explain this my fiancé says “I’m not your dad though” or “it’s not like you’re a virgin!” He’s desperate to have kids now as he’s concerned we’ll be too old when they’re grown up. (He also hasn’t seen his family much during shelter-in-place – and has been frustrated by their lack of adherence to the health guidelines – so I think he’s also a bit lonely and wants to fix his sense of distance from his parents and siblings by creating a family of his own.) He doesn’t get my point of view and I don’t understand his either as if we waited till next year to start trying we’d be mid-30s at the latest when having a baby.

Bringing the wedding forward isn’t an option for various boring reasons I won’t go into. Can you help us communicate better? I’m firm on not getting pregnant before marriage and I’m frustrated he keeps nagging at me.

Hello there, thanks for the question.

If you don’t want to be pregnant, don’t be. That’s a good enough reason.

You’d like a recognized legal tie with the other parent first: That’s also a good enough reason.

Pick a reason, any reason: Your personal pandemic risk-assessment says: Not quite yet? Great reason. (By the way it is okay if your risk-assessment is subjective, unfair, not what anyone else would do, might be perfectly safe, cleared by your doctor, etc. “I’m not ready yet” or for other readers, “This is the right time for me!” is a good enough reason on its own.)

Having a kid to fix your loneliness is a highly suspect reason to become a parent and you’d rather make that decision from a joyful place? Reason logged.

You don’t want to be pressured into pregnancy before you’re ready: EXCELLENT REASON, THAT.

This is really, really tough, because you love this person and you do want to marry him and start a family, just, not quite yet.

But what you’re perceiving as a communications problem about getting your reasons across better is reading to me like a consent problem. And that is a relationship-shaking sort of problem that isn’t about finding just the right words. What happens if we step back and assume that actually, you’ve been explaining yourself just fine so far?

If you have to give your fiancé a good enough reason that you don’t want to be pregnant yet before he’ll stop pressuring you about this, and he shuts down and pokes holes in any reasons you supply, where does it stop?

Does he actually understand that you get to say “no” to this until you are absolutely ready, even if you never supply a good-enough-for-him reason?

Does he truly think that people who can become pregnant get to be the boss of when and if they ever do that?

This is not a negotiation. You actually do get the final say on when and if you do want to start a family. So let’s stop treating it like a debate tournament where if you lose* the Lincoln-Douglas session in the afternoon you get a baby you aren’t ready for instead of a runner-up trophy with your name misspelled.

My immediate recommendation is to lock down your contraception situation to a method that only you control and one that does not require your fiancé’s participation to implement successfully. Also, stock up on emergency contraception methods for just-in-case. I would suggest this even if you aren’t currently having sex (or having sex yet). Contraception & reproductive choice is one of those Girl Scout Motto situations: Be prepared!

You do not have to consult your fiancé or even inform him in order to do this. Forgoing contraception & trying for a pregnancy should be a joint decision with consent from both partners, but preventing one isn’t actually up for negotiation. You get to be the sole decision-maker about that.

And I have to say this: If he does find out on his own or because you do want to discuss it with him, and he increases pressure or tries to punish you or accuses you of “breaking his trust” or blames you & shames you ’cause you made a medical decision about your own body, your next step is: RUN. Get a door, a city block, a tri-state area, or an ocean between you and a man who yells at you about birth control, ’cause that’s not a fiancé, that’s a coercive ex you just dodged signing expensive paperwork with.

Does that seem extreme? When a communication issue is really a consent issue, reckoning honestly with the ways that can turn into a control issue is part of protecting yourself. If your fiancé would never actually yell at you about this or sabotage your birth control or get lax about condoms or pressure and wheedle and coerce you break whatever “let’s not get pregnant just yet” protocols you currently use, then, great! That’s by far what I hope will happen, that it’s a total non-issue anticlimax with zero friction.

Shoring up your situation doesn’t actually hurt any of that, but it does default to protecting you if something does go wrong. And enough guys who “would never do something like that” actually do do “something like that” I feel ethically obligated to at least point readers to the possibility.

Now for conversations.

I think your script next time this comes up could be something like:

I don’t want to get pregnant yet, so the answer is, we’re not doing that right now. I’ve told you my reasons, and I’m not going to argue about them anymore. I need you to accept my decision and I need you to accept that I’ll be the one to let you know when I’m ready to try for a family. I predict & hope that will be sometime after our wedding next year, if we do get to go ahead as planned, but I need you to take the pressure off completely.” 

He’ll say a bunch of stuff, you can hear him out, but don’t budge. “I understand how much you want this and why you think it’s a good idea to get started now, but the simple fact is, I don’t want to yet, and since I’m the one who has to be pregnant, that’s a good enough reason. You must stop pressuring me about this.” 

Stop asking for permission or trying to find just the right supporting arguments. Stop negotiating. Stop treating it like a decision where he gets the final say. You have been treating it like a respectful joint collaboration all this time and he’s been trying to steamroll you, so it’s time to stop assuming that there is a secret mutual decision that makes everybody happy if you just word your “nope” gently enough. You know your own mind and heart and “I don’t want to” is a good enough reason.

I know you love this guy, and you want to be gentle and reasonable and be on the same team and not create ultimatums or escalate conflict. But some decisions really do have to be this simple: You are the boss of your own body and your own reproductive choices, and anybody who is going to love you and marry you has to treat that as the bedrock for the decisions you make together. His feelings about his own readiness to be a parent and his family can be whatever they are (and he can work through those with a therapist, a friend, a relative, a pastor, a mentor, etc.), but the intensity of his feelings don’t compel you to do something you’re not ready to do. Feelings are information, not the deciding vote. You’ve got the uterus so you’ve always got the quorum and the floor in the “pregnant y/n?” discussion.

You do not have to find a gentler, more reasonable, more logical, more airtight way to communicate with him about this because your logic is already airtight. He’s the one who needs to fix this, he needs to get it and stop pressuring you, and he needs to take you at your word. I sincerely hope he does and I do wish you every happiness. ❤

P.S. * “It’s not like you’re a virgin” = BIG YIKES

That is an automatically losing argument with a side of YEESH, NO, AAAAARRRGGHHHHH, WHAT THE FUCK?

I reiterate for the record that you’re not the one who has to do any work on communication skills & practices in this relationship.