Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Husband and Wife (me) have been married for about a year. Wife is 31 and wants babies before fertility becomes an issue, and independently has begun to crave parenthood primally. Husband wants kids eventually but says he isn’t emotionally ready yet (and doesn’t have an ETA on when he’ll be ready).
Husband suddenly wants a dog. He’s just always wanted one, but on another level, he seems to believe a puppy will placate my baby yearning. Ridiculous, of course.
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I would be OK with adopting a dog AFTER starting a family, but resent the idea of doing it now. It certainly wouldn’t replace a baby, and I also worry the extra responsibility would sour Husband even more toward the baby idea, because the dog would take up more time and money that he already guards preciously.
However, I also don’t want it to seem like I’m “punishing” him for not having a baby. Please help!!!
DEAR MARYLAND: There are at least a half-dozen ways you don’t respect or trust each other, and instead you’re operating as independent agents. That’s no environment for a baby or dog.
Take his “not emotionally ready,” for example. Even though it’s better he admits that, if true, than pretends or deludes himself otherwise, he’s also not 17 and he’s married to someone raring to go. He owes you a more thoughtful answer and a better effort. And do I detect an eye-roll in your “doesn’t have an ETA”?
The would-be dog, meanwhile, best be sturdy, with all the subplots, suspicions and ulterior motives he’s carrying.
I suggest marriage counseling or a reputable marriage seminar or workshop (even premarital, since they’re more common); if one of you refuses, then put that on the list of ways you’re acting as individuals vs. teammates.
If you can go to him now and say, “Neither dogs nor kids will work if we aren’t in this together,” and if he can be receptive enough to discuss things openly, then maybe you can talk yourselves, sans referee, to an answer that suits you both.
RE: MARYLAND DOG/BABY: I can see it now, Carolyn — Husband gets the dog, Wife does all the work … Wife has baby, Wife does all the work. Husband guards his personal time, goes out a lot with co-workers, has an affair … how am I doing so far? Do you ever get the feeling that couples replicate just a few life scripts, and this is the way the most common one works out?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: I wouldn’t call this the “most common” — so unfair to men — but yes to the script … and you forgot Husband blames Wife for affair, for pushing Husband into things he didn’t want.
It’s not sure doom though. If they just make basic efforts toward understanding what they: have taken on; assumed going in; owe each other as well as themselves; and stand to gain if they both go all in (versus stand to lose if they keep guarding their own interests), then there’s still room for an “aha” moment.
Good intentions can be overwhelmed by bad emotional examples and habits. I hope that’s the case here, and that both are open to learning and committing to some new ones.