The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Children vs Romance

My boyfriend wants kids but I can't physically have any.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      And right now we’re going to turn to the after hours line.


Female:           Hi. I’m in a relationship with a guy. We both love each other very much. The first time a conflict has come up has been now. He has revealed a desire to have children. I had to have a hysterectomy five years ago and I can’t have children. He still loves me. He still treats me the same as he always has. We’ve talked about this. But I’ve got a lot of anxiety and worry that this will end the relationship at some point and I just want to know if there’s any hope, if there’s anything we can talk about to resolve this in any way. I don’t want to end it. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and he has said the same about me. Please help me to help this anxiety I’ve got and let me know if there’s anything I can do. Thanks.


Dr. Kenner:      Let me talk about your anxiety first. The anxiety that you’re having is there because this is a top value. He’s someone that you cherish and it’s very rare to find a partner that feels like a soul mate, feels like another self. Like you can wake up in the morning and enjoy life with this person. You come at the world the same way. It’s not chronic frustration and anger and, “I can’t believe she did that again or he did that again.” This is, you’re living in a lovely garden with him. It’s just very nice for you. So why would either of you want to walk away from this? Well, he’s bringing something new to the table. One question I have is why did he not bring this up earlier, or how did you not know? How did the child question not come up, or is it just coming up now? Why is that the case?


If he suddenly decided – as my husband and I did, we didn’t want kids for five years and chose to have a sailboat instead. That was the decision our first five years of marriage. Then one day I said, “You know, I would really like to have kids,” and fortunately my husband said, “I do too,” because we had just been with friends of ours who had a lovely, very playful daughter, and they were wonderful parents. That made us want children and start looking at that. In your case, because you’ve had a hysterectomy, you cannot bear a child, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have children. So you did not tell me in the phone conversation that you want children. Because you can adopt children. No, it’s not easy, but it’s possible. There are many loving families that decide they want a kid and can’t have one and they adopt. You could see if, with modern technology, I guess you can’t bear a child, and I guess I’m not going to go on the fringe things where someone else carries the sperm and has the kid. That gets very complicated.


But if you don’t want kids, if that’s the main issue, if you don’t want kids and he wants kids, then you’ve got to be able to talk about this openly. If adoption is not an option because it’s that you don’t want kids, then he’s got to make a decision. It’s really in his lap. Can he live with an unmet longing, the longing for kids? Can he do what an uncle of mine did, which is to become very involved with Boys and Girls Club? He doesn’t have children of his own but he becomes involved with children. He becomes involved with helping students at the university level too. So there are other ways to get some of those longings met. He can become a great uncle to a child that’s in the family. So you need to sit down at the table and decide, and he needs to do this, how high a value is this for him? If this is a non-negotiable value in his life, if he’s decided that he wants kids and a wife is secondary, then that will mean the end of the relationship. Very, very sad. You’ll still love each other and you’ll still always love what you love in each other, but you’re not matched.


If he decides that he’ll put up with it, he’ll stay with you even though you never “gave him a child,” I would not stay with him then. Because he’s going to feel resentful every time he sees a kid in a playground, every time he watches cartoons, every time Christmas comes, he will feel resentful toward you and that’s unfair to you.


If he says, “I love you so much that even though I have this unmet longing, I’m going to grieve the loss and accept you for who you are and accept our love. I would never want to give you up and if not having a kid is part of that, then that’s fine.” You may have wanted a husband that was six foot tall and very well built but maybe your husband is short and – I don’t want to say fat because that’s something he can do something about – but short and balding, but you love him! That’s an unmet longing. We all have unmet longings in our relationship. And the best way to deal with them is to recognize that you can’t have all your values in a relationship, but you want to make sure that the most important ones are met. I hope that helps you out.


Male:               Every time he watches cartoons?


Dr. Kenner:      Yes, you think of kids when you watch a cartoon.


Male:               I mean, if he sits around and watches cartoons all day, maybe –


Dr. Kenner:      Maybe there’s a problem.


Male:               Maybe not having kids isn’t his problem.


Dr. Kenner:      That would be true.


Movie clip       

Male 1:             Help!

Male 2:             If you want to see me, you will not do this. You will make an appointment.

Male 1:             Dr. Green, how can you diagnose someone as an obsessive-compulsive disorder and then act as if I had some choice about barging in?

Male 2:             I can help you if you take responsibility to keep regular appointments.

Male 1:             You changed the room around.

Male 2:             Two years ago.

Male 1:             You know how hard it was for me to come here. I changed just one pattern, as you always said I should.


Dr. Kenner:      That’s from As Good As It Gets, with Jack Nicholson. Now what happens when he comes into the office and he goes, “Listen, I’m a patient. I can’t help myself.” Now, that belief alone – I can’t help myself – has got to go. That’s a cancer in him. If you keep saying to yourself, “I’ve got a disorder. I can’t help myself. I’m an alcoholic. I can’t help myself. It’s in my genes or biochemical or they have brain imaging now or I’m bipolar and can’t help myself,” that is BS. I apologize for the medical community and psychological community that keeps telling you that it’s a medical disorder. Just like diabetes. I’ll pat you on the back and you can’t help but feel good about yourself and just realize you need to live with it. There is so much you can do. If you hold the wrong ideas, you’ll have the emotional consequences. If you have the wrong ideas about yourself, if you feel like you always have to be subservient to others, and you’ll always feel anxious and depressed because you’re not living your life. You haven’t discovered it. If you feel angry that the world owes you a living, if that’s the ideas that have been taught in childhood, that things come too easily to you and you get angry when things don’t come your way and you don’t learn psychological independence and how to be productive, then that’s your responsibility. You have to change your fundamental ideas, not just pop a pill. I have very strong views on that and I agree with the cognitive therapists that say, “Pills don’t teach skills.” So if you’re hearing yourself say, “But I can’t change myself,” it may be true that you don’t know how. It may be true that you need more information. But give yourself that advantage. Get the information.