Guest post by Lotte Smith-Hansen, PhD

If you’re building a family with a partner, what happens if you disagree about the next steps in your journey? Believe it or not, this happens more often than you might think.

A complicated family building journey involves so many difficult decisions, and so many points where you may choose to continue or choose to stop. It would be a miracle if you and your partner always agreed! 

The many bewildering decisions include…
          Should we keep trying Clomid or move on to insemination or IVF?
          Keep trying with our own gametes, or move on to donor sperm or donor eggs?
          In picking a donor, what should we look for?
          Should we just keep trying or pause to get more testing done?
          Stay with this doctor, seek a second opinion, or move to another clinic?
          Spend our savings, ask family for money, get a loan, or cash out a retirement account?
          Keep going? Stop trying to conceive? Explore surrogacy? Consider adoption?
          Or start planning for a life without parenting?
… to name just a few!

Here are some tips for how to navigate the common but difficult situation where you and your partner are not on the same page about next steps:

Do Your Own Soul Searching

First of all, try to identify why you prefer Option A over Option B and Option C.  Keep asking yourself “Why do I feel that way? Why is this important to me?” Keep exploring these questions, and try to get to deeper and deeper answers, as well as the underlying meanings and feelings. Remember, some of your reasons may feel “rational” and some may feel “emotional”, but it’s all good! Few things in fertility and family building decisions are purely rational; most are highly subjective and deeply personal. 

Talking it out can help you identify new meanings, feelings, pros and cons, so try to talk with a friend, family member or therapist who will validate your points AND help you explore all the options with a curious mind.

Pick a Good Time and Place to Talk  

We all know this, but we all need a reminder: Avoid talking with your partner when one or both of you are tired, hangry, dehydrated, stressed, distracted, etc. Make sure both of you are ready to talk about family building  before you dive in! Also, distinguish between informational conversations where you are looking at brochures, websites, etc. (perhaps best with a table and laptop) and emotional conversations where you are sharing feelings (perhaps best on the couch or during a walk). 

Avoid Assumptions and Polarizing 

It’s hard to do, but try to avoid the common assumption that the person who will have the final say is the female partner in a hetero relationship or the carrying partner or sperm source in an LGBT relationship. It makes sense in some ways. But it can alienate the other partner and lead to long-lasting resentments. It really takes two to make the decision! 

Also, strive to avoid the easy temptation to polarize each other, where one person argues for Option A and the other person argues for Option B. Remember, these are complex issues. Ambivalence is normal and healthy – black and white thinking is not!

Try to articulate what you see as the benefits of Option A, Option B and Option C, and practice holding the full range of feelings about all the options. 

Explain calmly and kindly why you prefer Option A, what it means to you, what your hopes are for pursuing this option, and your deepest feelings about it, even if they seem irrational. Practice saying “That’s how I feel right now, but I’ll keep thinking about it.” Also share your fears, concerns and questions about your preferred option. It is helpful to be honest and not paint it in an overly positive light.  

Take turns talking, which gives your partner a chance to explore and voice their full range of thoughts and feelings about all the options. 

Avoid implying that one option is the “best” or the “right” one; just express what your hopes, worries, and questions are about each option. Remember, there is no right answer here, just many pros and cons, subjective meanings, and deeply personal feelings. 

If you guys are trying to “convince” each other, and simply repeating your same old arguments, you are not really talking, so stop and take a time-out.   

Listen and Validate

This is couples communication 101: Listen carefully, summarize back what you are hearing, and validate your partner’s points and priorities: 

OK, I think I hear what you are saying. You prefer Option B because it prioritizes x, y and z. I do see the point of that. I don’t agree with everything you’re saying, but I do agree with you that the benefits are a, b and c.

Remember the Process 

When dealing with these high stakes decisions, we can get so focused on getting the thing we want, getting our way.  But remember that the process between you is important too, not just the outcome.  It won’t matter if you get your way, if you hurt your partner’s feelings and make them resentful in the process.  Remember, Your Relationship is the Main Thing – a potential child would be the third person!   

Also, notice any hesitation you feel about changing your mind or “giving in” to your partner, or thoughts like “she always gets her way” or “he disagrees just to pick a fight”, which can illuminate power dynamics and resentments that need to be addressed.

Talk to a Professional 

Consider talking to a professional if you and your partner seem to get stuck again and again, say hurtful things to each other, feel resentful of each other, or disagree about the most fundamental question (whether to try to have a child at all). 

Resolve New England maintains a directory of professional services that may help you find someone with family building expertise.

Strive for Real Compromise 

Ultimately, try to find a solution where both of you get something of what you want. 

Listen to your fears and reservations about your partner’s preferred option, and turn them into needs and requests, in order to reach a true compromise: 

I prefer to keep trying rather than stop and get more testing done. However, if we do pause for testing, as you suggest, I would need for us to get back to trying as soon as possible. We’re not getting any younger, and I am really concerned about time.  

I prefer for us to stop trying to conceive, because we have already spent so much money on this. However, if we decide to spend the money on another round of IVF, I request that we make sure to cut spending in other places.

I prefer to keep going with IVF, but if we decide to stop IVF and pursue adoption as you prefer, I really want to try to find a child who looks a bit like us.    

Above all, be kind and gentle with yourself and your partner.

Lotte Smith-Hansen, PhD, is a licensed psychologist specializing in fertility treatment and family building. She has a private practice in Sudbury, Massachusetts. 

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