Wants the Picket Fence Now

Dear Toni--

My spouse Peter and I are childless, in our early 30's, and have been married for four years. Before we made the decision to marry we agreed that we did want to own a home and have children when we felt financially stable and before I reached my late thirties. That time is here, however Peter is saying he feels it may be too soon to take on the financial responsibility of a mortgage and all that goes with owning a home. My feeling is that we need to get a house in a good school system, put down roots, and establish a stable environment before we bring a child into our lives. He says he is still on board with the idea, but not now.

I hate to sound like a cliche, but lately I have been hearing this loud ticking. Like most women my age I am aware of the increased risks and complications associated with pregnancies where the Mom is past her early thirties. I also want to have the energy and health to enjoy my children and hopefully, grandchildren someday. I believed we felt the same way about this, but I am beginning to wonder if somehow I misunderstood or just didn't listen well enough and instead moved forward on assumptions. I also wonder if I am doing that now when I hear him say "yes," when the timing is right. Is that code for something else?

I am alternating between anger, resentment and panic. I would really appreciate your thoughts on our situation, and help with how I can talk to my husband about this and come up with something we can both live happily ever after with.

--My Clock Feels like a Bomb

Dear My Clock Feels Like a Bomb,

You come across as a woman who knows what you want, is above board in expressing it, and who chose a partner with both your head and heart--all of which are good things as long as you are able to temper your wants and needs in a way that leads to mutually satisfying goal setting. Where you might have tripped is in the area of assuming he felt the same way if he didn't expressly say otherwise, which you identify as a possibility in your question. If this is the issue, the good news is that you have some decent insight into yourself and the situation--but now that you are married you will need to take an approach to negotiating and problem-solving that might be new and uncomfortable for you.

It begins with flexing your expectations and tweaking those timelines. Before marriage it probably all felt like a slam dunk as you made your plans, checked boxes as you moved along?and then (for you) knew you had reached the home purchase milestone. However, Peter hasn't and therefore, you have no choice but to talk about a new plan that he can be on board with. It won't be easy given your anger and panic, but if you and Peter have an otherwise solid relationship, decent communication, and commitment to one another--there's no reason to think you won't be able to find a win-win solution here, which is the only kind that will keep your relationship strong and life together happy.

You need to sit down and have a heart to heart discussion, laying everything out on the table. You can begin with larger points and then fill in the smaller details, whatever works best. If this seems impossible right now, consider contacting an experienced counselor who can help you to have this talk and follow-up ones that will lead you to a workable plan. It will be important for both of you to not only speak honestly, but to listen deeply and really hear what the other is saying. You can make sure you are getting the right message by paraphrasing what you have heard Peter say which gives him the opportunity to clarify or correct something. He should do the same in return. We call this reflexive listening and it's a great tool.

It will be important to have ground rules, whether you think you need them or not. Things like no interrupting, no shouting or name calling, no huffing away and then refusing to continue the discussion, etc. If it gets too difficult for one of you, ask for a 10-15 minute break to collect your thoughts and lower your affect. Then try again. If you need more time, ask for it, but don't leave it open-ended by saying something like "later", or "when I feel like it."

Peter has strayed into this by saying "not now," without giving you any feedback on when he thinks that time might come and/or what you need to have in place as a couple for that next step to happen. Therefore you should list your goals, a time plan for action, then step by step objectives on how you will get there. For instance, what do you and Peter need in order to be ready to buy a home? Your list could include a specific amount for a down payment, cash for closing, taxes, furniture and other related purchases, and a savings fund just in case. Maybe one or both of you needs to pay down or pay off a school or other loan, or perhaps a job change is on the horizon and a home purchase would be contingent on that happening first. Whatever these objectives are, they should be measurable, concrete and ones you both sign on to upfront. This helps take the subjectivity and any assumptions out of it. You will have your list and it will be clear to both of you.

This might not sound very romantic, but this practical approach will serve you well when making this and any major life decisions in the future. Too many marriages go off the rails because of assumptions and the resentment and anger that these often lead to. Begin the discussion immediately and remember that neither of you will be happy unless both of you are happy.

(from July 2015)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"Celebrating Father's Day When You Are Infertile"
List of more
"Relationship Challenges"

This is the last "Relationship Challenges" column.


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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