No Kidding; What Happens at Home Doesn’t Stay There
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My boyfriend and I have been together for three years. He’s always concerned about appearing to “do the right thing,” and unfortunately (for me) that now includes having children. I have no issue with same-sex couples raising kids, but I’m young, and frankly I don’t want to tie up the next 18-20 years of my life just because my partner wants to be “accepted” by his parents, their friends, his co-workers, and who knows who else.
On top of it all, our relationship is not entirely perfect. He occasionally gets verbally abusive, and I wonder what the added stress of a child will do to his already on-edge personality.
What can I say to get him to forget this idea?
Dr. Hurd replies:
First, be honest with yourself. Do you not want a child under any circumstances? Or do you not want a child because your partner is the way he is? Either is OK, but you’ve got to be clear about this to yourself, and eventually to him. He’s entitled to know your true reasons.
People usually have several motives for wanting a child. It’s unlikely that “doing the right thing” is the only one. Talk with him about his other motives.
Your boyfriend’s desire to have a child has uncovered weaknesses in your relationship. In a relationship, if one person has a problem, then there’s a problem. He can’t just say, “You’re the one with a problem.” There are things that he does (such as being verbally abusive) that he either denies or minimizes, and he’s asking you to take on a life-changing responsibility before getting satisfaction in this area. You’re entitled to say this is not OK with you.
If you’re open to having a child—provided he changes some things—then you can come up with a plan for, say, a year. If you see consistent changes in his behavior, then you can take the next step toward parenthood.
However, if you really don’t want a child at all, then you have to face that fact. And somebody will lose the debate. If it’s really important to your boyfriend, you can’t just “make him forget.” That would be like asking someone to forget their religion or their career.
At the same time, you’re equally entitled to not become a parent if that’s not your vision. All couples, gay and straight, have to come to terms with the fact that marriage is not a fairy tale. “Happily ever after” is not a guarantee. People change, they misunderstand one another, and sometimes they want two very different things. Assuming your relationship is worth it, work through this calmly and then try to accept whatever comes out of it.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ve been living with my girlfriend for six years. There is not a fight or disagreement between us that she doesn’t tell her friends about. Nothing is private between us, and I’ve actually stopped confiding in her because I know everybody will know about it soon enough.
What’s worse, when we get together with these friends, I know they’re judging me, since I’m sure she tells them the “news” from her point-of-view. This is really getting on my nerves—enough to threaten the relationship. How can I convince her that this is just not cool?
Dr. Hurd replies:
The first question to ask is, “Why does she do it?” Most likely, she wants sympathy and attention. So you might want to look at how much of that she gets from you. If you can provide more of that, then maybe she’ll be less tempted to look for it outside the relationship.
I’m not saying she’s entitled to broadcast your conflicts. But you have to understand that people come to relationships with different expectations and “traditions.” A lot of this might stem from her family. Maybe she watched her parents air out their conflicts with others, so she thinks it’s reasonable.
It’s never a good idea to discuss private matters with friends, especially mutual ones. Quite frankly, that’s what therapists are for. Therapists are not only bound by confidentiality, but they’re also not a part of your personal life. People often ask me, “Why can’t I go to my friend who’s a therapist, just like I’d go to a friend who’s a veterinarian or accountant?” When you see a therapist, it’s private and it stays that way. With your friends, you unload on them at the time of the conflict, and then later on you expect them to forget it. Of course, they never do.
It’s not enough to just complain about what your girlfriend is doing. You need to offer a constructive alternative. Tell her you don’t mind if she goes to a therapist and talks about your skirmishes. Acknowledge that downloading onto her friends is an attempt to fulfill a need, and that you’re not against her fulfilling that need—except that it’s hurting you. Ask her to please work with you to find a better alternative.
I can’t help but mention that if you had fewer fights and disagreements, this issue might not exist. Try to reduce the conflict, or at least discover its causes.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.