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What would you do if after several years dating you discovered that the love of your life isn't interested in children, when you see a future as a family man? If she's more than content remaining a childless couple and not continuing the gene pool, what options do you have? Do you stick with her and hope she changes her mind - or dump her? We look at the choices men should contemplate if dealing with this important dilemma.
When to discuss?
Some psychologists have suggested discussing the issue of reproduction early on in a relationship. In one book the writer even advises raising the subject after just three dates. Dr Helen Nightingale, clinical psychologist and therapist, stresses herself that the subject is "one of the most important life issues you're ever going to face" and emphasises the need for a guy to do some serious thinking about what he wants in life.
How soon is too soon to discuss having children or not? Early dating would seem too early
But should a guy be probing his girlfriend about her views on having kids after just a few dates? "Choosing whether you want to breed is probably one of the most serious life issues you will ever deal with" says Dr Nightingale. "A guy might be with someone for a long time and then discover that she has no intention of procreating. If marriage is on the cards but it's suddenly going to be no kids - and you're taken aback by that, then you obviously haven't asked the right questions in terms of entering into a relationship."
Dexter, 37, is facing such a scenario now. "I've been with Tamsin for eight years. She's a year older and I feel the biological clock is ticking away. At the moment she's keen on marriage but not on the idea of having kids. I'm just hoping that she'll come round to the idea. I love her but want a family as well."
What are the risks?
Most relationships like Simon and Tamsin's are fraught with insecurities. So should guys who are determined to have a future that involves kids risk a relationship by setting out their cards right from the start? Dr Petra Boynton, social psychiatrist at University College London believes that a guy should tread carefully.
"It could be quite off-putting to bring up the issue so soon. Because whether you're saying you want them or you never want to have them, it's saying to the person that you're dating that you're thinking about this in relation to them. And that could scare them off."
Petra certainly doesn't agree about having a set time to bring the issue up. "If you're saying on date three that you never want to have kids, well that's as full on as saying that you would love to have kids. I think the idea that there is always concrete planning that happens in relationships, that you can have these conversations at set times is not what most of us do."
Listen to your partner
Wherever and whenever you choose to discuss things with your partner, make sure you pay attention to what she says
So imagine you've been dating for months and the situation gets serious. The subject of children crops up over a drink and she says she has no intention of having kids. What are the options that won't necessarily mean finishing the relationship? Dr Boynton believes in talking honestly about the situation and the future together.
"I think your first thing to find out is what they're actually saying. Is it that they don't want children right now or is it that they don't want kids until a particular situation, ie marriage? Or is it that they can't actually have children? Or finally is it a no, not ever? So there are all kinds of scenarios and it doesn't necessarily mean the end of a relationship. But it's important to listen to what's being said and not jump to conclusions or presume things for the future."
Marty is in his late 30s and has been dating a 35-year-old divorcee for eight months. "If she was enthusiastic about having children I'd propose to her now," says Marty. "But there is no indication that she wants a family. I have to consider whether I should continue with the relationship before we get too involved. I want kids by the time I'm 40. I hate the idea of being an 'old dad' but we'll stick in there for a while."
Dr Boynton believes it can be a risky strategy for couples to stay together in the hope - for him at least - that a partner will come round. "If it's a case of your partner saying 'no not ever' then your options are to hang around and see because people do change their minds. But then be brave enough to ask if they think it's just a temporary relationship. The other option is to move on because if the couple are approaching their 40s then for her the chances of getting pregnant become diminished."
Jake, 32, had been with his partner for a couple of years when the discussion about children came up. His girlfriend who travels abroad a great deal due to her job told him that under no circumstances was she "going to ruin her figure for a sprog".
"She's everything I want - sexy, good fun, like-minded soul mates," asserts Jake. "But she doesn't have a maternal bone in her body. I think in hindsight we may have stayed together too long because we both know we want different things in life - but I just can't bear to give her up."
Can a couple such as this survive the pressure of understanding that there is a time limit for making decisions? "It depends on how much of a deal breaker it is," says Dr Boynton. "The guy may be so into the lady that he's willing to compromise or he takes the view that they're having a good time and just to give it a period of time. So they could agree on staying together for another six months or a year just to see where they are just to break the impasse."
Couples counselling might be a useful place to discuss and resolve your differences
Another avenue to explore is counselling for couples who love each other but have found themselves in a crisis over such matters. Doing therapy together is helpful to come to terms with realities. Dr Boynton believes it's one of the best ways to see a clear path. "The therapist can help broker the conversation and get both partners to understand what it is they really are saying. If it is a case that it looks like you're going to break up then counselling can help you do that less painfully. It's important to make a choice based on your decision whatever that may be - a future together without kids or splitting up."
Some guys - like women - assume that the biological clock will kick in at some point and that a desire to have children will finally materialise. Dr Boynton believes continuing a relationship, secretly wanting kids and hoping to change a partner's mind is a recipe for disaster.
"I think there's a danger to feel 'well, if we have kids she/he will love it' but the downside is if that isn't the case then you really are in trouble. Because being in a happy relationship when you have kids and actually wanted them tests the relationship enough! If at the end of the day you've had the painful, frank conversation and your partner is adamant - then even if you are crazy about them it sadly isn't the right relationship for you."
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