Q: Last November I married a wonderful man who struggles with grief and anxiety. His mother was killed in an accident when he was twelve, and in 2012, just after we got engaged, his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Our engagement was a tough time because my husband struggled with the idea of getting married; he didn’t know if he’d be a good husband or if he could make me happy. I knew that life together would sometimes be difficult due to his struggles but that I could handle it.
I’m now thirty-four and ready to have a baby. Here’s the heart of the issue—my husband is no longer sure that he wants children. Again it comes back to him not being sure that he can deal with the pressure of having children and a family, both emotionally and financially. Since pressure and stress are the last things that people who have anxiety need, then the whole idea of having a baby is causing real issues between us, from our sex life disappearing to the strain of having emotionally draining discussions. I have been reassuring my husband that his fears are normal, that we will support each other and if we need help, we can always ask family and friends. He is confused and feels overwhelmed by the fact that there is a timeline to this decision.
I’ve realized in all this that having children is really important to me, and while we agreed we would have kids, now that it’s crunch time it might not happen. Selfishly, I feel robbed of an experience and don’t know what comes next. Sometimes I imagine myself walking away, then never having the opportunity for children and ending up alone. I love my husband, and while our relationship is sometimes hard work, is a baby worth throwing it all away?
Tick tock goes the clock
A: Dear TTGC,
Well, clearly I can’t decide for you which is more important to you, husband or children. But I think you can do a little bit more before you’re forced to make that decision. Namely: counseling. (More on that here.)
That’s the pat answer when it comes to “Should we have kids?” isn’t it? But, I’m not even talking about the kids decision. In fact, set that aside completely right now (which, I know, can be hard with that clock ticking in your ear).
The bigger issue is this anxiety that’s so infiltrated your lives that it’s impacting the big life choices. That’s what you need to see someone about. These big decisions aren’t handled well when they’re addressed from a place of fear. Ideally, you want to make big plans by looking ahead and determining, “Here’s what I think I want for my life,” and then picking a path that seems likely to get you there. That’s completely different than looking ahead and saying, “I’m too afraid to see what happens if…” Find a professional to talk to about this anxiety so your husband can make decisions that first way rather than the second.
Your husband lost his mom at the same age that I lost my sister. It might have been a long time ago, but those wounds take a long time to heal. (Actually, they don’t ever really heal fully. You just learn to live with and manage the pain.) When you’ve had a tough childhood, people expect you to move on after a certain amount of time, so it becomes essential for the purpose of functioning in society that you mask that pain and pretend it’s not there any more. If you don’t take the time to face your issues as an adult, or if you bury them for long enough, it’s possible to even forget you have those issues, and then they end up manifesting later in life in places that are loosely related to the trauma you experienced as a kid.
My guess is that has a little, or a lot, to do with what’s happening here. If you had a kind of shitty childhood (which my guess, losing your mom at twelve is probably really shitty), the idea of having kids of your own brings up a lot of issues. What if you also abandon your kids? What if you just perpetuate the cycle and give your kids the same kind of shitty childhood you had? How can you bring children into this world when life is uncertain and cancer is a thing and you might just ruin their lives so why even bother?
Being someone who has similar anxieties, I can say that things get worse when change is right on the horizon rather than just being some dream in the far-off future. Your husband might still want children, while being simultaneously paralyzed with fear about what having children means (the potential for the utmost joy and the utmost heartache, in short). So Liz isn’t wrong. Counseling, counseling. In large part, because I think there is a lot more going on under the surface than you may even realize. And because if your husband is like me, the anxiety is probably the worst of it. This same cycle perpetuates in my own life any time I’m about to take a big emotional risk (getting married, getting a dog, moving away from home), but once I’m on the other side, I can’t imagine life any other way.
So give yourselves space to explore what’s going on inside his head and his heart. If for no other reason than because if he does decide he wants kids after all, for the sake of your children, you want these issues resolved before they’re in the picture, or they’ll end up bearing the burden of his childhood too.
Meg also adds:
As someone who had similar anxiety issues around kids as your husband (and as Maddie), the best thing David did for me was to remove as much pressure as possible. While he really wanted kids and knew there was a timeline in play, he told me that he was in it for life, even if I decided I couldn’t go through with it. You might not be able to go that far, but the more pressure you can take off the better. Perhaps counterintuitively, it was knowing that I didn’t HAVE to have kids to save my marriage that made me able to make the move. Without that, anxiety would have frozen me, or I would have made the right choice for the wrong reason.
There’s a possibility that, even still, he won’t want kids, and you’ll need to choose between this person you love and the family you envisioned. But chasing down the life you want for yourself always involves a bit of a risk—that goes for you as much as your husband.
Team Practical, how do you and your partner face these big decisions (and the sometimes accompanying anxiety)?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!